a child being silenced

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.

For more information on child abuse:

Adult survivors continuing relationships with abusive family

Why people discount the (adult) child and defend the abuser

Why do parents murder their children?

When parents are too toxic to tolerate

Child Help: Child abuse statistics

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Child abuse & neglect statistics

When parents kill

Experts say some children are singled out for abuse

Struggling with an abusive aging parent

Why do people sexually use or abuse children?

Why do adults fail to protect children from sexual abuse or exploitation?

A risk in caring for abusive parents

The undeserving parent

Poisonous parents: Should you cut them off?

Written by Michelle Daly

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74 Comments

  1. My mother was abusive (verbally, mentally, physically) while growing up. She was so good at manipulation that I thought I was always in the wrong, not her. Fast forward to 2012, when she had a massive stroke. This is when she became even more violent due to mental decline. I was 23 when her stroke occurred and was obligated to care for her because I was “her daughter”. I quit school and my job then moved 3 states away to do so (even though she had 3 sisters and her parents living close by). Her family never helped, but stood by to criticize. Unfortunately her abuse worsened and by the age 28, and the cops called to rescue me from her grips, I recognized that I had been manipulated to it finest. After that I walked away from her even though her family would command me to come back to care for her. I am 32 now and just recently completely blocked her and her side of the family. This is what had to be done to heal and care for my own family. Its not easy, but I know I did my best by trying to set boundaries and care for her to my best ability. Learning that its not my fault has been a process.

    Reply
    • Wow Lindsey…I hope you have found a support system that honors your life-affirming choice!! Go you!!

      Reply
  2. I have a mother who has dementia but remains nasty to everyone. Other members of the family stay away and no longer call. She is near the end of her life, and one thing that I told her for years; you get more from people being nice. My mother is not a nice person. When my dad was alive he had an ability to control her anger. She had dementia when he was still alive, but it has gotten a lot worse, since his passing in October 2016. She has an amazing doctor who has been able to give her some drugs to stop the violet episodes. Her mouth is another problem. Having the facility in lockdown, since March has been a blessing for me, I no longer can visit. My suggestion to anyone who has a parent in a skilled nursing facility do not allow them to have phone. When the complements stop, that is a time to let the professionals handle your parent. This has been going on for four years, and the doctor told me hospice is not that far away (in time). My mother was a nice person till she hit 95, then a switch was thrown and I put up with her constant complaining for four years. I’ve reach a point in my life, the quicker she goes the better. As I previously stated, though painful for anyone dealing with a parent, once they get dementia, cut off the phone. Do not allow a parent to have a phone. Even with dementia they will recall your phone number.

    Reply
  3. I can’t wait for my father to die. He deserves nothing, least of all my forgiveness.

    Not that he’ll ever ask for it.

    Reply
  4. When my stepdad physically abuse me Mom never stopped him because she was a bad parent.

    Reply
    • Lately I’ve done everything I can to ensure my abusive mother is safe, financially safe, and has things that allow her to be as happy as she can. Before she developed dementia she tossed me out when I was severely disabled, but when she lost $200,000 of their retirement her last spouse (now departed) whom she was abusing physically and emotionally asked for help, so I did. Basically it was never good enough, and money was used as a cudgel. The $9000/mo caregivers are being co-opted to being flying monkeys (her pattern) and guilting me to be in touch with her more. But I’ve been both suicidal and landed in the hospital trying to do more than I am now. I’ve also not told them to knock it off because I’m trying not in any way to interfere with the quality of her care.

      But the guilting makes me hate myself and there’s only a couple safe places to talk about it.

      Reply
  5. My father was an high-functioning alcoholic with a tyrannical streak & a big heart. For years, I kept him in my life, but on my terms.

    He developed alcoholic dementia (Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome), which I learned when he went missing, in a large city, for three days. He needed full-time nursing care, immediately. As a result, he lived in nursing homes for over eight years – eight years of enforced sobriety.

    As a result, we talked about the difficult past, got real with one another. The amazing person trapped below all that came out. And I found out what had likely lead to his alcoholism, in reading family correspondence from decades before. I got to make peace with my father, and he made amends. In my case, I got to develop a close & honest relationship with my father, got to work through years of pent-up resentment, got to experience resolution in a deep & sacred way, with my beloved father. If there had been any abuse, and if he had not changed due to the enforced sobriety, I would have checked on his basic welfare, but no more. I wish peace & healing to those who will not have this – you deserve to have a life with no guilt, and no artificial duty or shaming put upon you.

    Reply
  6. My father beat me an verbally abused me. I have forgiven him. He’s in a nursinghome now. He has dementia so he doesn’t remember what he did to me. He’s a different person. Not the one he was when I was a kid. So forgiving him was easier.

    Reply
    • My dad was always angry and verbally and physically abusive when I was a young boy. And I was nevet good enough. I’m 61 now he is 83 and still an asshole. I’ve tried to love and forgive but his damage is too deep. I have nothing for him. I hate to say but will be glad when he’s gone. Nasscisstic lover of himself. This articles talk of forgiveness doesn’t reach me. My dad will always be the msn who beat me ran me down discouraged me an belittled me. I believe he never wanted me or my brothers. He is a prime example of someone who should have never had kids. So I can finally say I don’t like love or care about him.

      Reply
  7. NO one is required to endure abuse of ANY kind. Yes, the Bible does say that we’re to care for our parents & grandparents out of gratitude, but nowhere does it say ‘even if they were or continue to be abusive’. Forgiveness is good, because it’s a ‘release’ to the abused. It does NOT give the abuser a ‘get out of jail free’ card. My own personal belief is that IF an abused person is willing and able to care for their abuser, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too. It just has to be a really personal decision that the abused person makes, based on the situation.

    Reply
  8. What Do Children Owe Abusive Parents? by Stefan Molyneux

    Reply
  9. Absolutely nothing. My father abused me and never felt any remorse. He will rot in the worst hell hole I can find when that day comes. Normally I don’t believe in an eye for an eye but I feel no anguish in my emotions.

    Reply
    • I very much agree with your comment. My mother acts like such a saint but she is always thinking about herself. others think she is a kind person who cares for my handicapped father. But growing up she was verbally abusive and since I was the oldest I had to do everything. we recently had to care for my dad while she was in the hospital. He was in terrible shape. his support socks hadnt been taken off for months. He hadnt had a bed bath for years, He didnt even have a family dr. Or ever had his eyes tested.. My mother of course had all these things even surgery on her eyes to help her see better.
      Any way long story short my father accused us of abusing him. ( we only set down ground rules for our home)and Im sure she put this into his head… . I am not his slave and when his friends call they disrespected me.. so now my mother is telling everyone we abused dad and he is crying out in his sleep from what we did to him… Oh and I have to mention I had to take off work to care for him… over a month.. my sister and brother kept working and one of my moms friends said my job was not so important and it was easy for me to take off work…I told my sister I would not take off again. so she had to care for dad.. and her care was like my moms… not bathing him, not going to the dr for a pressure sore… not cooking for him… she even told me off and accused me of abusing dad… so I have cut all ties… I guess when I never even got a phone call from them for my birthday I knew then I was done with the both of them I want to cut them from my mind and not think about them.. any ideas… I am currently taking three mental health meds. i just want to be happy and to live my life without thinking of them….

      Reply
    • My mom was very verbal and sometimes. Physical abusive. I am 55 and she still puts me down when I see her. Now she worried about who is going to wipe her butt. She want me to do because she doesn’t want to go to nursing home.

      Reply
  10. Nothing!!!!! Karma teaches them back…

    Reply
  11. I was never in that situation so I can’t say for sure,

    but I think a child owes nothing to a parent that has been abusive unless the parent has acknowledged the abuse and received help to get better. If parents wind up alone bc of the abuse they have no one to blame but themselves.

    Reply
    • For some of us, the most challenging part of recovery was accepting that we do not owe them our forgiveness- even if the parent acknowledged the abuse. As many of us went back to the abuser time and time again, choosing not to forgive the abuser is sometimes more healing- and far harder.

      Reply
  12. My mom has always been physically and verbally abusive, but my sister and I still take care of her out of duty.

    Reply
  13. Thank you for sharing this article, I don’t see a lot of articles or other people discuss these situations for us caregivers
    In these
    Particular situations

    Reply
    • Consider yourself lucky if it bothers you.

      Reply
    • Current dilemma. I can’t. I won’t. I will take care of the derelict down the street before you will get my help, concern , love and attention. You lost that.

      Reply
  14. Nothing, as far as I’m concerned. Not the case in my situation, but I would not have done any of this for an abuser.

    Reply
  15. Abusive parents need to be arrested and held accountable. They do not belong in public any longer.

    Reply
  16. This is a real issue and those of us who support caregivers need to honor whatever decision the potential caregiver makes.

    Reply
  17. I ask my self that question every day.

    Reply
  18. They are owed absolutely nothing.

    Reply
  19. I put my mother in a nursing home without a backward glance. She could be nice to everyone but me. To me she was just my abuser.

    Reply
    • A few of us get this and you did the right thing.

      Reply
  20. Some “empathy” goes a long way!!

    Reply
  21. what if they are still hurting us and stealing from us? I can forgive childhood abuse/problems but if they are still doing it and not sorry, it complicates it. At the end of the day I make choices that reflect who I am, not who they are.

    Reply
  22. This topic needs to be touched on this page! Many caregivers have been trapped by their narcissistic parents to care for them! I finally figured her game out after 40 years of Stockholm syndrome and I finally handed the job to someone else!

    Reply
    • I can relate. I was raised by an abusive grandmother who I cared for my entire life till she passes this past March now I could end up losing the house since I couldn’t work and care for her the past 3 yrs.

      Reply
    • Im sorry 🙁 I refuse to caregive again. It really screws up your whole life in every way. Anyone who says they are blessed to be caregiving are full of it. Theres nothing blessing about it unless you get a paycheck.

      Reply
  23. If they suffered from mental illness maybe we owe a smidgen of compassion and empathy.

    Reply
    • Why? They dont for us! Were only their supply.

      Reply
    • Julie Pauley if you really believe that, then you’re just as abusive as them.

      Reply
    • Here we go with the mental illness . My mother was and still is at 73 a violent , selfish , bitter , just plain mean bitch . And I finally had enough abuse .

      Reply
    • Omg Julie …here you are trying to get people to understand the victim’s side and obviously not everyone does. That’s the reason these pages are wrong for people trying to move forward, in that we can’t be honest. We can’t say that they tormented us for 40+ years and we’ve had enough. We can’t say that our NP is a crazy, flaming bitch and doesn’t deserve our time. We can’t say we are only a product of biology… mom laid on her back and got knocked up and they basically made us pay for her mistake. Yep, it may be some sort of mental illness but what about the mental and emotional screwed upness that they instilled in us. If that makes me abusive then so be it!!!! I can’t be punished for all of her life’s mistakes, I can’t carry her load and mine. Best thing I ever did was cut her out like the CANCER that she is and if that’s mean….oh well, chalk it up to mental illness!!!!

      Reply
    • “Anyone, that has to care for their abuser, don’t allow others to guilt you into doing what is uncomfortable for you.” GOOD ADVICE!!!!

      Reply
      • I concur. Their perception is not reality

    • No maybe it’s that we don’t have to take the abuse anymore. Having our boundaries and staying clear from someone who selfishly abandoned or abused us, mental health related or just narcissistic, is not abusing someone. Maybe we’ve endured enough than to let someone else tell us we have more guilt to bare.

      Reply
  24. What do we owe them? Not a FUCKIN’ THING! Cept maybe broken knees, fingers, mutilated sexual organs, etc. etc. etc…. Have a nice day 🙂

    Reply
  25. NOTHING! we don’t owe our abusers a damm thing! anyone who says we do needs to spend some serious time with a shrink.

    Reply
  26. I have an 88 year old mother who has dementia and thankfully, is cared for at home by her devoted husband (who btw is only 6 months older than me). All of my life, this woman has abused me emotionally, physically and sexually. She was a classic narcissist who at every turn, would constantly remind me that I was ugly, fat and stupid. I grew up with my self esteem completely in shreds. She has never stopped this abuse, even though I am an adult. Now I am expected to make visits, phone calls and do care-giving on occasions. I am one of four siblings, two of us live within 1-2 hours from our mother.

    My mother is more evil than ever, as her dementia has given her newfound freedoms, due to the loss of personal/social filters.

    I recently stayed with her for several days and nights, while her husband went out of state to deal with a family death. I gave my mother my complete attention, showered her with attention, acquiesced to her every whim and made savory, healthy meals. She is now like a vindictive 5 year old and must be watched constantly, or she will inadvertently do something dangerous to herself or the house. She was constantly inappropriate, mingled with niceness. What a mind phuck! My last night there, she twice pulled a Mommie Dearest (minus the hangers) at 2am. I finally had to lock my door and boy were there repercussions! She then became like a Pod Person out of The Body Snatchers.

    So here I am once again, trying to recover from her abuse. It usually takes me 1-2 weeks to stop feeling horrible about myself – and her. I try my best to look the other way and forgive her. My spouse begs me to stop putting myself through this, just to be the ‘honorable daughter’. When I put long distances between myself and her, I get criticism from my siblings. I just can’t win.

    It was great to find sites like this one, as I decided to start searching with different search strings 🙂
    The search words that lead me here were “child abuser dementia parent.”
    Teepa Snow has great words for ALZ/Dementia caregivers, but she never addresses those who are [victim] caregivers for an abuser parent.

    Thanks for listening 🙂

    Reply
  27. (( sigh )) I wish they’d go away. I don’t want them back. Sorry, this topic is really hitting home right now. I’m 37 and would rather not have my parents in my life currently after so long.

    Reply
  28. The old timers say: when a person makes their bed hard it is hard to lay in. Children who are abused owe their parents nothing. I am sorry but a person does reap what they sow. We must practice kindness and gratitude and love.

    Reply
  29. we owe them nothing. however we owe ourselves whatever it takes not to have guilt and regret for the rest of our lives.

    Reply
  30. That is an excellent question. i had many years in therapy to get to the point where my parents and i talked about all of what happened when I was a kid. I forgave them. i can only imagine how horrible it would be to have still abusive parents to care for. It would make it very hard to be humane. I know that they exist. I know that i was lucky but i also had to work hard to get to the point where i could talk about issues when I felt like it. They did not always appreciate it.

    Reply
  31. My mother emotionally abused me in the name of religion when I was a child and teen. When I was 31, she became disabled. I took care of her for 6 years. It destroyed my marriage. It almost destroyed me.

    I did find a book called , “Caring for your difficult older Parent.” That became my lifeline.

    One day I moved from GA to KS. Leaving my husband , my mother, my life. I started over alone. My mother was put in a home where she lived another 2 years.

    I just had decided that my self worth was more important than any alternative that I could stand. I had had enough verbal abuse.

    Reply
  32. “Children who experienced multiple instances of abuse have an average life expectancy that’s 20 years shorter than children who were not abused.”

    Reply
  33. I remember a friend once mentioned that his sister sent him a book, entitled something like “how to care for the parent who never cared for you.” So sad!

    Reply
  34. Mom’s are the most important people in the world.

    Reply
    • Not when their abusive to u and ur family

      Reply
  35. Abusive parents are owed jail time and nothing more. If they want counseling, they can get for free behind bars.

    Reply
    • I’m a 56 year old female who was neglected, abused, manipulated, abandoned by my mother throughout childhood and part of my adulthood. My mother hated me so much she wouldn’t stop my brother from molesting me for years, wouldn’t let me come home when I was in abusive relationships , abandoned me at an airport.

      Now my mother is 80 and living with my half brother who abused her mentally, physically and monetarily. Now she’s living with me? we have good days and bad moments. Now she has forgotten she hates me because she “conveniently” has dementia. I have so much anger, hate, hurt, pain, from my mom.

      I go to therapy which seems to be helping some but I really feel this pain is so intense I can’t stand it. My mother needs to move for her sake and my sake. Please help.

      Reply

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