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Confused & Trapped In Rocky Relationship With Mom

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear Confused & Trapped In Rocky Relationship With Mom,

My mom and I have always had a rocky relationship. She loses her temper easily and I seem to be her least favorite child. I'm the youngest of her three children and when she yells or lashes out I don't yell back or anything. I have to admit I'm really scared of her. I was spanked as a young child, and I think spanking is fine, but when my mom did it, 90% of the time it was because she was stressed out and i did something she didn't like (most of the time I didn't even break any rules, she just got frustrated and took it out on me) so she took me to her room and spanked me over and over again. Often she'd threaten to give me a spanking I'd never forget or something like that. As I got older my parents believed spanking shouldn't be allowed, and she didn't spank me again. All during this time she still took out her anger on me, but more with ridiculous, unnecessary chores or just screaming and hurtful words. Then my mom's mom died, and everything took a turn for the worse. A month or so after my grandma died, my mom got angry about something and hit me over and over. The next physical incident happened maybe a little less than a year later, the next half a year later, then two months, one month, a few weeks. Sometimes they were just a shove, sometimes it was really bad, where she hit me and threw stuff at me and i lose count how many times she struck me. She'd be nicer for a few days after, and sometimes even apologize, but always assure me it was my fault and she wouldn't have to do it if (fill in the blank). The thing is, I don't think I've ever had serious bruising (at least, on the exterior) so i dont know if its true physical abuse. But I also know she knows it's not right because sometimes when she's yelling at me and lunges at me or brings her hand up to my face, she stops herself before impact and glances at the person in the room with us. It'd be so helpful to me if I knew if it was true physical abuse, because at least I could tell if I really deserve this and if what she says is true. My dad doesnt know but i told my sister a little bit once she said something like that has happened once years ago but never again. Whether it's abuse or not, it's really taking a toll on me. Sometimes i cut myself, though im trying so hard to break the temptation. Im getting scared because its becoming more and more and more frequent and once ill be alone with her when my siblings leave for college, (my dad probably wont be with us too often) itll probably escalate and ill be even more trapped. Im a thirteen-year-old girl and i want a mom who will be there for me for all my questions and comfort me with my boy troubles. Am I being abused? And what should I do, even if I'm not being abused? Thanks for your consideration. Confused and Trapped

Dear Confused & Trapped In Rocky Relationship With Mom,

TeenHealthFX is glad you wrote into us because we are very concerned about what you have been dealing with, as well as some of the feelings and thoughts that may have developed for you in connection to the aggressive way your mother has related to you at times.

FX wants you to consider the following:

  • No matter what the nature of the spanking, it is generally about a release for a frustrated parent. There are other more effective means of disciplining a child that can be used instead of spanking that don’t have the negative side-effects spanking can have. When a parent turns to a spanking, again, it is usually because they are angry and need an outlet for their emotions.
  • One of the many problems with spanking is that there is a complete lack of respect for the child in it. There are methods of being firm, having rules and having consequences that can be done in a way that is much more respectful for the child. FX thinks that having rules and enforcing them in a way that is respectful is extremely important for the health of the parent-child relationship.
  • Children never “need” or “deserve” to be hit. Children benefit from rules and structure, and they benefit from understanding there are consequences for certain behaviors and decisions. But rules, structure, and consequences can all be implemented in a way that does not involve hitting or yelling – in fact, they work better when hitting and yelling are left out of the equation.
  • When parents are cruel (physically or emotionally), the way kids often make sense of it is to assume that they, the child, are bad or deserve it. Because of where a child is with their social, emotional, and cognitive development, it is understandable that a child processes it this way. However, FX wants to point out that if a parent is cruel to a child it is statement about the parent’s limitations, NOT a statement about how lovable or likeable that child is.

As for your question about abuse, child abuse is doing something or failing to do something that results in harm to a child or puts a child at risk of harm. Child abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional and can also be in the form of neglect. Physical abuse can include hitting, kicking, slapping, shaking, burning, pinching, hair pulling, biting choking, throwing, shoving, whipping and paddling. To be considered physical abuse, there do not necessarily have to be bruises or marks, just some kind of non-accidental injury.

FX also wants you to keep in mind that while some children may show physical signs of being abused, such as with bruises or fractures, there are other symptoms of abuse that are not physical in nature. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists several behavioral changes that can be a result of abuse, including:

  • Fearful behaviors (i.e., nightmares, depression, unusual fears)
  • Abdominal pain or bedwetting
  • Attempts to run away
  • Extreme sexual behavior, especially that is inappropriate for that child’s age
  • Sudden change in self-confidence
  • Headaches or stomachaches with no medical causes
  • Difficulties in school
  • Extremely passive or aggressive behaviors
  • Unexplained or dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Desperately affectionate behavior or social withdrawal
  • Big appetite and stealing food

Each state has its own definition of abuse and FX cannot speak to what the specific findings of a child protective services investigation would be in your case. What we can say is that what you are going through could certainly be considered abuse. The more important thing here is that no matter what it breaks down to in legal terms, your mother’s physical violence towards you is NOT OKAY. You are being hit, you are suffering emotionally, and you are in a situation that sounds like it is escalating, putting you at increased risk for physical harm – this is a serious problem that requires immediate attention.

That said, FX thinks it is important for you to talk to someone ASAP about what has been going on. FX does think you should let your father know about what it going on. But since you have not yet told him and alluded to his not being around much, FX thinks that you should not rely solely on him, but that should talk to someone outside of your family as well. You could speak to your school nurse, a teacher, your principal, or your primary care physician. Let them know about what has been going on and be clear with them if you have any concerns about how your mother may react to your talking to someone about her hitting you as precautions can be taken to ensure she does not take any anger about this out on you.    

For support and guidance in what to do, you can also call The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453), a hotline dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. The hotline serves the U.S. and Canada, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and provides crisis intervention, information, and referrals to emergency, social service and support resources. This hotline operates anonymously and confidentially.

FX thinks it is extremely important for you to reach out for help with this for the following reasons:

  • It is important for someone to intervene to ensure your mother does not harm you any further.
  • It is important for your mother to get the help she needs. For her to be doing this to you she is obviously dealing with her own emotional issues.
  • It would be helpful for you to be in therapy with a qualified mental health professional. FX imagines there is a great deal of hurt and anger regarding your relationship with your mother that needs to be worked through. In addition, we are concerned with how much you have come to believe that you are bad, not lovable, or somehow deserving of this treatment – those self-beliefs need to be addressed as well for you to get to a place of greater emotional health and happiness
  • This is not something you should be dealing with alone. Just as anyone else in your situation would, you need help and support to deal with this overwhelmingly difficult situation you are in. FX also imagines you have spent enough time not feeling like you can rely on others – FX thinks it would be extremely helpful for you to have people in your life you feel you can trust to be there for you.