Why Do People Hit Their Kids?

People who read this blog know that I had an abusive childhood. Hitting, berating and neglecting children is a time-old tradition in my family. It’s how my parents were raised and it’s how my grandparents were raised. When I was a kid, my grandma used to tell me about the time my grandfather’s dad broke his leg with a fire poker and the time his mother pushed him through a glass table. These stories were meant to soothe me, since I only got a punch here and again. Technically, every generation I know of (which is only the 2 before me) have done better with their kids than their parents did with them.

Grandpa’s dad was a drunk who, in addition to breaking bones, never held a job or provided for his family in any way. Unlike hid own father, when he married my grandmother and took on the responsibility of my mom and my uncle, he provided for them, and then he provided for me when I came along. He made no secret that he hated all three of us, but he paid for everything we needed, and he never broke a bone. He was by no means a good parent, but he was better than his own father had been.

I’ve talked about this before, but my mother was raped by my grandfather when she was 13, and then he kicked her out of the house. She’s been on her own ever since. Unlike him, my mom gave me a home until I was 18, and then I left of my own accord because of her drug abuse and erratic behavior. Again, not a good parent, but a better parent to me than she’d ever had.

So do I continue this saga with my own, far in the future children? Do I try not to be as big of an asshole as my parents and call it a day? Part of me thinks that I turned out OK, surely any person with an even better childhood than mine would be fine. There is a fatalistic streak in me that thinks every parent fucks up their children in some way, that we’re all doomed to a certain degree of failure where child-rearing is concerned. But sometimes I wonder if that is too fatalistic a conclusion for even me.

I’ve had people tell me that my ability to pull myself up by my bootstraps has been nothing short of a miracle, that having the odds stacked against me in the way that they were, that climbing out of that pit in order to live a somewhat normal life where I have this great boyfriend, and amazing friends all around me is a major accomplishment. But I’m not really interested in all that. I can fool all the people I only see once a week or once a month into believing I’m great. Kids, on the other hand I’m not so sure about my ability to keep my cool around.

Granted, Ben sees me every day, but I know that it bothers him when I rage-quit things, or when I yell, or bitch at other drivers on the road. I’d say I’m currently the least angry I’ve ever been in my entire adult life. But what does that mean? Having had no barometer for what’s healthy and unhealthy anger growing up has me kind of adrift here. I understand some basic guidelines, but that’s all there is. Mostly I operate on the theory that if I feel bad about what I did while I was angry, then it’s time to work on how to not do that specific thing again. So I go through all the things an angry person could do, one by one and try to change my response based on the feedback from this piecemeal trial and error. I’ve got through the majority of the really shitty ones, but I can’t just reprogram everything for good. My grandfather trained me to be a rage ninja, sometimes I don’t even see it coming until it’s already punched a dent in my car (my old car, not the current one.)

I called my dad to ask about this, but he wasn’t answering his phone. I’m pretty sure him and my mother never sat around thinking about how they were going to continue to use drugs during my pregnancy and afterward to such a degree that an abusive rapist would be a better parenting prospect than they were. I wanted to know if they talked about me at all, or if they just got pregnant because that’s what you do next. Did they ever swear to each other that they wouldn’t make the mistakes with me that their parents made with them? To a certain extent, they did actually dodge that bullet. Mostly by fucking up in completely different ways, though. I know that after I was born, when I was already a walking and talking, free-thinking person, I had conversations with both my parents to the effect that they had meant to give me a better life than their parents gave them, but I wonder what their intentions were before the reality of a child forced them to consider their history and their skills.

My grandmother freely tells anyone who will listen that she never should have had children. As harmful that kind of talk can be to my mom and uncle, I think it holds a lot of insight into what happened in our family. It’s not just that we’re operating off of generations of bad parenting, we’re also operating off of generations of bad planning. My great grandma had her children in order to please her husband, who (According to my grandmother) she’d have rather had all to herself. My grandma had kids because it was the 50’s and you were supposed to. My mom had me, I think, because she wanted something to love her. She should have gotten a dog.

So does this concern years ahead of time on my part mean that I actually could be a good parent, and not just a less terrible one than my own parents were? I think the fact that I’m analyzing this is a good thing, but also a sign that I am far from ready for anything close to the responsibility of child rearing. And that gives me a lot of compassion for my own parents. I turn 28 in 5 months. My mom and dad at 28 and 31 were the oldest parents in my family at that time, everybody else already had kids, and many of them were younger than them. If I were to try and take on the responsibility of a baby right now, I have no idea what I’d do. I’m sure I would do better than they and my grandparents did (that’s not difficult), but I know I couldn’t do as good as I’d want to do.

One Reply to “Why Do People Hit Their Kids?”

  1. Okay, here’s the thing. You aren’t your parents or your grandparents. You came from them, but you think and act differently than they do. You have different attitudes and coping skills than them.
    I worried a lot about this exact thing when my kids were young. Because not only did I have crappy parents, I was a teenage mother *GASP* so that made me automatically a potential bad parent.
    Except I wasn’t. I had enough emotional intelligence to figure out how to do things differently than my parents. I had my moments…but they had a pretty good life.
    One thing I carried over was that I think my kids were much more independent than other kids their age because I expected more from them (I was expected to be very independent from an early age), but I think that’s a good thing in hindsight.
    You will make mistakes as a parent, and at times you will yell and scream (and possibly even hit your kids) but if you love them and give them a good home and a good life, they will love you back more deeply than you can imagine.
    My biggest concern with my parenting at this point is worrying that my children had much too easy a life, and will be unprepared for the world at large. They are much softer then I was and have a sense of entitlement I never had. And if that’s the worst of it, that’s okay.
    Marina, you will one day be an awesome mother (if that’s what you choose for yourself) because you are asking these questions.

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