What my emotionally abusive childhood taught me about parenting
Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

From the outside looking in, I had the picture perfect childhood. I lived in a four-bedroom house with a dog and a fenced-in backyard. I wore department store clothes and Stride Rite kicks, and I had the latest and greatest clothes and toys. From Barbie and Cabbage Patch Dolls to a Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Gameboy, and SEGA Genesis, I had it all.

I also had two loving* parents. My mother and father attended all of my productions and plays in school. They never missed a single honors luncheon and saw me get all of my attendance awards.

But behind closed doors, things were different. They were different, and my mother was a nightmare. She mentally, emotionally, and verbally abused me for years.


Of course, I didn't know it. Not initially. Not until the damage was already done, but that is because—like most abusers—her mistreatment began as manipulation. She loved me, coddled me, and held me close. She would say things like "Mommy loves you. Mommy needs you. You don't want Mommy to be sad, do you? Do this and I'll be happy."

She made me believe I couldn't trust anyone. My childhood was full of silence, shame, and secrets. She separated me from my friends. She told me I couldn't go out or have playdates. I was never allowed to have company over, and then she began putting me down.

I was bad. I was stupid. I was a "disappointment" and a "failure."

Things only got worse. Sometime between my twelfth birthday and my thirteenth, the yelling began. Both I and my house shook from the noise and fear. By my fourteenth birthday, my mother's insults were laced with expletives. Sometimes she tried to hit me or hold me down, and because I was groomed from a young age, I felt helpless.

I was scared, isolated, depressed, and alone. I lived in fear. I walked on eggshells in my prison, aka my home.

The good news is that (eventually) I got out. When I graduated high school, I moved myself and my meager belongs 100 miles and two states away. But the damage was done. At 36, I still struggle with self-confidence. Trust is an issue, as is my reaction to criticism—actual and implied—and I have very few friends.

But my abusive childhood also taught me a lot about parenting. I know what my kids need, what they want, and what they deserve, and for that I am thankful. I consider myself #blessed.

Make no mistake: I know that sounds odd and twisted, and in a way it is, and yet it also makes perfect sense because my broken and neglectful childhood made me a mother who loves deeply and fully. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I give my children what they need most: my time, ear, patience, and support.

My broken childhood taught me to lead by experience. I, for example, have trust issues because my trust was betrayed (and because I was told to keep others beyond my reach), so I make it a point to push my own boundaries when my children are around. I want them to see what I didn't. I want them to rely on others in a way I never could.

And my broken childhood taught me what I shouldn't say. I rarely use the words "can't" or "don't." I praise my daughter on a regular basis. I focus on her achievements and not her failures or shortcomings, and when she "acts up" or makes a mistake I choose my words wisely. I seperate her feelings from her behaviors, i.e. "It is okay to be upset. I would be frustrated too. But acting out is not a healthy way of dealing with your feelings."

I also tell her how I am feeling. Why? Because growing up I was told things like "stop crying" and "calm down" and these directives didn't just cause me pain and anxiety, they kept me from processing my emotions.

I still struggle to say much more than "I'm fine" or "I'm okay."

So while I am not happy I grew up in a distant home, a neglectful home, and an emotionally and verbally abusive home, I am happy that my daughter will not because my experience taught me what my children need and don't need. My experience taught me how I can—and why I need to—break the cycle.

Caleb Anders / Anderson family photo

I am not sure what you were up to at 12 years old, but I can tell you what I wasn't doing: going to college. The same cannot be said for Caleb Anderson, who recently started his sophomore year at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, GA.

It is no surprise that Caleb is on such a fast track. Before he could even speak he had learned sign language, according to First Coast News. At two years old, he was not only reading, but at a rather high level. As his family recalls, "By nine months old, he was able to sign over 250 words, and by 11 months old, he was speaking and reading."


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Lainey and baby goat Annie. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse
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Oftentimes, the journey to our true calling is winding and unexpected. Take Lainey Morse, who went from office manager to creator of the viral trend, Goat Yoga, thanks to her natural affinity for goats and throwing parties.

Back in 2015, Lainey bought a farm in Oregon and got her first goats who she named Ansel and Adams. "Once I got them, I was obsessed," says Lainey. "It was hard to get me off the farm to go do anything else."

Right away, she noticed what a calming presence they had. "Even the way they chew their cud is relaxing to be around because it's very methodical," she says. Lainey was going through a divorce and dealing with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis at the time, but even when things got particularly hard, the goats provided relief.

"I found it impossible to be stressed or depressed when I was with them."

She started inviting friends up to the farm for what she called "Goat Happy Hour." Soon, the word spread about Lainey's delightful, stress-relieving furry friends. At one point, she auctioned off a child's birthday party at her farm, and the mom asked if they could do yoga with the goats. And lo, the idea for goat yoga was born.

A baby goat on a yoga student. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Goat yoga went viral so much so that by fall of 2016, Lainey was able to quit her office manager job at a remodeling company to manage her burgeoning goat yoga business full-time. Now she has 10 locations nationwide.

Lainey handles the backend management for all of her locations, and loves that side of the business too, even though it's less goat-related. "I still have my own personal Goat Happy Hour every single day so I still get to spend a lot of time with my goats," says Lainey. "I get the best of both worlds."

Lainey with her goat Fabio. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Since COVID-19 hit, her locations have had to close temporarily. She hopes her yoga locations will be able to resume classes in the spring when the vaccine is more widely available. "I think people will need goat yoga more than ever before, because everyone has been through so much stress in 2020," says Lainey.

Major life changes like Lainey's can come around for any number of reasons. Even if they seem out of left field to some, it doesn't mean they're not the right moves for you. The new FOX series "Call Me Kat", which premieres Sunday, January 3rd after NFL and will continue on Thursday nights beginning January 7th, exemplifies that. The show is centered around Kat, a 39-year old single woman played by Mayim Bialik, who quit her math professor job and spent her life's savings to pursue her dreams to open a Cat Café in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jeff Harry started making similar moves when he was just 10-years-old, and kept making them throughout his life. After seeing the movie "Big,"Jeff knew he wanted to play with toys for a living, so he started writing toy companies asking for next steps. He finally got a response when he was a sophomore in high school — the company told him he needed to become a mechanical engineer first.

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Here in the U.S. many of us had our eyes glued to the news yesterday as a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, disrupting a constitutionally-mandated session of Congress and sending lawmakers into hiding. We watched insurrectionists raise a Trump flag on the outside of the building, flinched at the Confederate flag being marched through its hallowed halls, and witnessed the desecration of our democracy in real-time.

It was a huge and horrifying day in our history. Our own citizens attacking our own government, all because the president refuses to accept that he lost an election. In their minds, they are patriots defending democracy from an illegitimate election. In reality, they are terrorists destroying the foundations of what makes America great.

The disconnect between what these people believe and actual reality could not be starker. Years of misinformation and disinformation, bald-faced lie upon bald-faced lie, and conspiracy theory upon conspiracy theory have led to this place. It was predictable. It should have been preventable. But it was still stunning to witness.

As an American, it's a little hard to digest in its entirety. We've been in this weird space of "alternative facts" for years, and have grown accustomed to hearing blatant lies pushed as truth. We've gotten used to being gaslit daily, from the highest office in the land. That constant deluge of falsehood has an effect on our psyches, whether we fall on the side of eating it up like candy or spitting it out like the poison it is.

So seeing what happened at the Capitol through the eyes of another country's media is really something.

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Annie Reneau

I've never been a gardener. I love the idea, but my history of killing plants isn't terribly inspiring. However, this year is different. I am doggedly determined to grow all the things because I will not allow 2020 to defeat me.

Is there a better symbol of hope than a garden? Planting a seed means you believe the future is imminent. Watching a sprout emerge from the soil and grow into a flourishing plant means life goes on. In addition, reaping the fruits and veggies of your efforts and giving thanks for the bounty that nature provides is perhaps the most basic, fundamental human act I can think of.

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