Overcoming a Hard Childhood: My Story, Part 1

I was fifteen the last time I was beaten. The burger joint where I worked part-time closed late. There were hours of cleaning equipment and mopping floors to finish the day. My shift was supposed to end earlier in the evening but someone didn’t show up for work so I had to close. It must have been after midnight as I sat in my supervisor’s car, waiting for a ride. She was saying goodnight to her boyfriend in his car. I just wanted to go home and go to bed, to get a few hours sleep before getting up for school the next day.

Suddenly a car came screeching to a halt nearby. I recognized it and got out of the car where I was waiting because my parent had come to pick me up. I had no idea what awaited me.

Apparently my parent had fallen asleep earlier and woken up to find that I wasn’t home yet. Somehow they were convinced that I had been partying on the streets instead of working too late for a ninth grader. They started screaming at me, calling me awful names, hitting, slapping, pulling my hair until I crouched in the floorboard of the car, just trying to get away.

The next morning I woke up with an ugly black eye and cut, swollen lips. Something shifted in me that day. I clenched my fists and vowed that if they ever hit me again, I was going to hit them back.

Memories of a Hard Childhood

I’ll admit that was hard to remember and write. It’s so different from the life I live now with my family, it seems like a bad dream. Both of my parents are gone from this world, and we were reconciled before they died. I don’t share the story for vengeance or shaming anyone, and I continually forgive when memories crop up. Instead, I’ll share my story because it could encourage someone, somewhere, who has struggled with overcoming a hard childhood.

My earliest memories include being slapped without warning, getting yanked out of bed from a sound sleep and spanked for wetting the bed, and nosebleeds from being hit in the face. Who knows what I’ve blocked out and don’t remember. That’s okay, I don’t want to.

Please know that I’m not a psychiatrist, therapist, doctor or any other professional. No college degree here. It’s not the point of this post to diagnose or treat emotional issues. I’m just sharing my personal experiences and thoughts, partly because I was challenged by a mentor to do so.

Being treated this way from birth creates a certain self-image and self-talk. Anxiety and fear feels normal. Shame is a way of life so we shame others. Like many of you, I’ve spent a lifetime learning awareness about the effects of a hard childhood.

Growing Up Broken

I finally stopped wetting the bed when I got married at age 20. What a sad and embarrassing indicator of my emotional brokenness. I remember that, to my surprise, I began to cry at the sad parts of movies after I was married. I think I finally felt safe. My husband was kind and never spoke a word of criticism to me. He was a safe harbor after years of harsh words and unpredictable punishment. The problem was, I took my parents’ place and shamed and beat myself up because that was what felt normal to me.

Our first baby was born when I was 22 years old. She was followed by a brother twelve months later and before long, I was the mother of four under the age of four. I knew very little about cooking and keeping house when I married, and even less about babies and toddlers. It didn’t take long for me to wrestle with the question:

How do you give someone what you yourself did not receive?

I entered motherhood so depleted, so devoid of acceptance and self-worth. I didn’t know what normal looked like, and I didn’t know how to be a good mother.

Thus began my journey of learning about love: understanding that God loves me far beyond what I think, learning to love myself, and overcoming fear and shame so I can open up to loving others. I’ll share more of that journey in Part 2 of Overcoming a Hard Childhood.


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9 thoughts on “Overcoming a Hard Childhood: My Story, Part 1”

  1. Wow. Who would have ever thought that this was part of your journey and story Charlotte? When our Lord invites us into His healing journey it’s not usually easy or quick, but it is thorough. I myself came from an unsettling childhood with constant moves, changing schools 13 times and incest from 3 family members who should have valued, cherished and protected. Much of my healing came because, like you, I was blessed with a godly, gentle husband who still loves me 45 years later.
    I’m reminded of a favorite quote I heard many years ago. You’ll know you are healed when the painful memories and emotions become simply historic facts with the pain no longer attached. Bless you dear one and thank you for sharing!

  2. Unfortunately I relate. Thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate your bravery and the effort to offer hope to those in the messy middle of working through difficult childhoods. ?

  3. Thank you so very much for opening up and sharing so deeply. I’m in the midst of my own personal healing from my childhood and this post was pure encouragement. Something I needed right here right now! God is so good and his timing is spot on. Looking forward to part 2 : )

  4. Thank you for sharing, it must have been very difficult to do. It is so encouraging that you were able to break free from the cycle of your childhood and not pass that down to your own children. May God bless you and your family!

  5. Hi Charlotte,
    Your story was so familiar I had to write back. My mother was similarly abusive and neglectful since my infancy and I went into marriage eager to get away and start again and find healing. And It was healing. My husband was kind and good and humble and a haven to me. He passed away in a car accident when the youngest of my six children was two and my oldest was 12. I feel pretty lost now bc his mother was abusive toward him too and now we are left with only the dysfunctional relatives for help. I turn to friends and the church and they have come through for me.
    Your post just emphasized a growing irritation I have with the current women’s movement to pin everything bad on men. That’s just not honest. Women are capable of sin and evil and what’s worse – I think they get away with it more than men. If your father or boyfriend had been the one to pull up to the parking lot like that (violently, with threatening behavior) your supervisor might have called the police. But because it was your mother it was ok.
    It’s like we as a culture are just all blocking out the women have hurt us… it’s just not true.
    The point here isn’t revenge against those women… just that I am deeply grateful for the kindness and love shown me by my husband. They don’t deserve the recent negative blanket statements in the media or the “why can’t we hate men” opinion piece in the Washington Post. I feel like starting my own hashtag movement about the evils of women.
    The things they get away with toward their children, the way they target eachother for character assasination, their manipulative and dangerous games they play with husbands, boyfriends and ex’s… (calling police and claiming crimes that didn’t happen for instance) anyone can see that sin and evil are not only located in one half of humanity and yet
    That’s what looks like people are practically saying in the public sphere.

    thank you for sharing!
    I know that must have been hard,
    I look forward to part 2

  6. Precious Charlotte, thank you for trusting us with your story. I am so thankful for the healing you’ve experienced and I’ll be praying for continued healing every single day. God bless you.

  7. Wow you are so gentle and mild-mannered, this was not what I was expecting to read when opening your email. Interesting because email was sent 11/2 and I normally read right away but decided to leave unread and read later. I almost had a mental breakdown two days ago but a friend pulled me through and I’ve been struggling. I have a few quiet minutes right now and decided to read your message. Again wow. See- I was 28 the last time I was beaten by my mother 🙁 I’m 39 now. Besides lupus, I have many neurological problems and my thoughts keep turning to ‘was it all the blows to my head’ (from mom and abusive men). I feel very sad. I also feel very happy, encouraged and inspired by you – that you overcame and your husband is such a blessing. In turn you became such a wonderful mother. Wow! Thank God! Things could have turned out so differently. BTW – I too am not placing blame or shaming… it’s hard being a mom (I have a 3.5yo & 17yo) I feel sad for my mom that there must be some mental illness issue that was never addressed and “frowned upon” in her day. Anyway…. I could go on and on lol. Looking forward to future emails as always…

  8. I too can relate. I think talking about it is a sort of therapy for me. When I finally lost my parents and went to live with a gmother, who took me as “a responsiblity”. I decided I would never let mine feel that way. I am a teacher and I use my story with parents who don’t think I understand their side of things. As SURVIVORS we cope and try to do better. Thank you for sharing a painful memory

  9. Thank you for sharing the first part your story Charlotte. My heart aches for the pain and abuse you had to suffer. Child abuse left an awful imprint on me as my father was mean and abusive but it wasn’t as bad as what you went through. I weep for you and pray that you will get healing from sharing your story. I look forward to your next installment if you feel up to sharing more.

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