Every year over 500 children in the US are murdered by their parents.
In fact, that number is a low estimate. Other organizations say over 1,500 children died of abuse or neglect in 2012. 80% of murdered children are under the age of 7. Half were beaten to death. Murdering their own children is one of two crimes that women commit as frequently as men.
In the US, children who are too young to go to school are murdered by their parents more often than by anyone else.
Of course, most children who are abused or neglected survive. Nearly 1 in 3 children have been physically abused, while 1 in 5 have been sexually abused, and 1 in 10 suffer criminal neglect (CDC). Nearly 1 in 10 witness family violence (Safe Horizon). Half of the men who abuse their spouse also abuse their children. In cases when only one parent is abusive, the other parent will often permit the abuse or refuse to believe it. Half of homeless youth are running from abusive situations, many because of sexual abuse.
Children who experienced multiple instances of abuse have an average life expectancy that’s 20 years shorter than children who were not abused.
Some parents continue to abuse their children into adulthood, while others only abuse them when they are young or for a certain period of time. Other parents leave their children in the care of relatives and re-emerge years later. Or raise their children in loving homes, only to disown them for coming out as gay, trans, or marrying outside of their religion.
That leaves millions of adult children to grapple with the decision of whether or not they should provide support to their abusive or estranged parents when they become ill or elderly.
One study of 1,000 caregivers found that 19% had been abused as children and 9% had been neglected. Caregivers of abusive parents were more likely to experience signs of clinical depression.
Some people make peace with their abusive parents, but that doesn’t mean there will ever be a healthy relationship between them. As Laura B. pointed out, many of “the abusers don’t feel guilt…[they] feel the world has cheated them and they are owed and no one has cheated them more than their own children.”
Providing care to an abusive parent could be a beautiful opportunity to build a new relationship…or it could mean putting yourself back into an abusive relationship. The potential psychological cost of attempting to care for an abuser is high. Those who decide to care for an abusive parent will need to be very aware of their boundaries and needs in order to make it through unscathed. Many abusive parents suffer from untreated mental illness and substance abuse — issues that make abuse easier to come to terms with, but suggest children should stay away until there has been adequate treatment.
Survivors who decide to distance themselves from their abusers may face judgement from relatives and friends, who often minimize the abuse or insist that family ties overcome all things — even with parents who’ve raped, beaten, and starved their children. This becomes especially complicated when only one child was abused. People fault women for staying with abusive husbands and condemn them for cutting ties with abusive parents. At least states with filial responsibility laws exempt children of parents who abused or abandoned them.
After reading The Debt: When terrible, abusive parents come crawling back, what do their grown children owe them? our community had a strong response. A number of people opened up about their relationship with their parents, the abuse they faced, and how they decided what level of care (if any) to provide.
We don’t owe them anything but forgiveness. – Rene L.
My father was a massive manipulator to keep his secret life of a pedophile away from my Mom during their 50 year marriage. I don’t believe my Mom knew but by the time all this was disclosed, she had Alzheimer’s & no longer knew me, their only child. Her last lucid comment was that she didn’t want to be in the same nursing home or buried with him. I could not have him around my children anymore. He should have been in prison but I found a facility about 90 miles away that accepted him. I went every two months, met with staff & spent 15 minutes with him. I made sure he had personal items. I would recover in a couple of weeks. I had his body donated to science, with the cremains never returned. Each situation is different. I did what I had to do for my comfort level, to honor both my Mom’s and my children’s wishes & maintain my sanity. Anyone, that has to care for their abuser, don’t allow others to guilt you into doing what is uncomfortable for you. I lost family & inheritance but the secret stopped with me & for me, that is priceless. – Lynne K-D.
Parents don’t get a free pass to treat you horribly just because they are your kin. If they refuse to respect boundaries and continually make your life miserable, I say, move on. At some point, your self preservation and your immediate family’s welfare has to matter to you. – Denise G.
It is not about being bitter and angry, but deciding to not be caught up in their drama and manipulation. My son would be the one to have to suffer the most if I had to take care of them. They take your soul and stomp to pieces any beautiful about you. Why would I expose my child to such people? That would be abusing my child by proxy. – Joanna B.
Mom’s been dead three and a half years. Haven’t missed her yet. Estranged for nine years, keeping my children away from her, I went back to care for her after her lung cancer diagnosis. Boundaries, written by Cloud and Townsend, was my life saver. She hated that I stood my ground. God knows my pain. I did the best I could with what I had to work with. – Dianne E.
I had a narcissistic father who was a big shot in the city when he worked, Only my mom and I knew how he really was. Outsiders who didn’t have to live with him thought he was the greatest guy on earth. I was an idiot, I promised I would never put him in a home. I took care of him to the bitter end. And believe me, the abuse was never ending. If I had to do it again I wouldn’t. All I have is the satisfaction of keeping my promise of taking care of both my Alzheimered parents in their own home. – Hawk B.
Both of my parents passed away with in the last 2 years I did not attend the funerals and I have not shed 1 tear… when you are not believed about being raped by your sibling for 6 yrs and they live with him there last days and left me out of the will you betcha there is no love lost here. – Brenda P.
My mom favors the others but that didn’t make me love her any less..we became close when she became ill..I love her because she is my mom. – Lotomai T.
Being related doesn’t give anyone the right to abuse you, walk on you, threaten you and then expect you to put up with more and play kissy. Forgive, yes. forget…no. – Lillian F.
I recently had to “cut off” my own abusive mother because it was just to hard and to much work for me. Why do so many people, including myself until recently, feel like it’s okay to let someone treat them bad simply because they are family. I’m 37 and have tried for the longest to have a good relationship with my other when it has finally come to a point where I cannot do it anymore, nor should I have to just because. – Tanya E.
I cut off contact my mother when I left home because I had to save myself. – Jan R.
I tried so hard to [care for my parents] because I am a Christian. Even when my father said I was a mistake and that he hated me…I made sure his basic needs were met and that he was safe. I pray he asked forgiveness before he died. I had to set up a hedge of protection around my Mom, my children and myself from the evil person he was. – Lynne D.
When either of your parents abuse you mentally or physically from your early years they don’t deserve your care – Nancy M.
Just because your parents raised you doesn’t mean you have to give up your life to take care of them. You have you in life and if nobody else understands that God does. – Laura H.
I didn’t have the best parents but I did the right thing and also what the Bible said. I honored them for giving me life and forgave them for they did the best they could with what they knew at the time. That is what love is all about. Forgiveness is a soul cleanser. – Martha R.
You do for your parents out of love and concern for their well being. When situations arise that the become angry and verbally anusive then it I’d time, not matter what age to make the decision. It is your sanity that is at stake. You cannot allow them to belittle you. You must stand. We honor them. But when they do not honor you. Your life is just as important. You must honor yourself. You must allow them to have what they want. You do not have to agree. It is to much work doing you. Life is precious. Live it for you. – Julia W.
Some posts have been lightly edited for clarity. You can read the original posts here.
Want to share your experience? You can add your comment below.