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Lifelines: Hitting Streak

It’s the truth. I hit my kids. But my worst fear was that I would lose my children, so I was afraid to tell anyone how out-of-control I became

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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OLD PATTERNS If I didn’t make the effort to overcome my anger, I’d slip right back into my old patterns of physical abuse. The difference was that now, I could choose to overcome my natural tendencies

I was talking to my therapist about the issues in my marriage, when I decided to open up to her and tell her about a different problem that was bothering me.

“When I get angry,” I began hesitantly, “I sometimes hit my kids.”

The therapist stiffened. “You realize that I have to report this to child services,” she said. I started to cry. “Please don’t report me!” I begged her. I tried to backtrack, explaining that it wasn’t really such a big deal.

Apparently, she didn’t report me, because I never heard from child services. I never went back to her, either.

My husband was difficult and abusive, and in the end, our marriage fell apart. We were Americans living in Israel, and my ex-husband opted to move back to America, where he remarried shortly afterward. I considered moving to America as well, but I didn’t want to further traumatize my two children by transplanting them and moving across the world. They were doing well in school, I had a decent job, and we were comfortable in our community. So I remained in Israel, far away from my entire family, and retained full custody over the children.

As a single mother, my worst fear was that I would lose my children, so I was afraid to tell anyone how out-of-control I became when my kids misbehaved. With my family living so far away, I felt that I had to constantly reassure them that I was managing just fine. Besides, I was too embarrassed to tell my parents that I was smacking my kids left and right. There hadn’t been any corporal punishment in our home when I was growing up, and I knew my parents would be horrified.

I myself didn’t understand why I hit the kids. I knew it was wrong, and I never actively decided to hit them. It was just that when they would make me angry, I would immediately react with physical force — not just hitting them, but also shoving them, dragging them by the arm, and gripping them too tightly.

Being a fun-loving, outgoing, capable person, I was able to put up a good front to the rest of the world. My kids looked put-together and well-cared-for, and nobody realized that I was handling them too roughly.

Once, I admitted to a friend that I had hit my daughter the night before because she wouldn’t go to bed.

“I did that once, too,” she commiserated. “It feels horrible afterward, I know. But don’t worry — you’ll feel so bad about it that it won’t happen again.”

I was too ashamed to tell her that it happened practically every other day, notwithstanding how bad I felt about it.

Another time, I confided to a different friend that I was really concerned about my anger problem. “Sometimes I just let loose on the kids,” I said. “I know it’s not okay, but I can’t stop myself.”

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