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Child Abuse Survivors: The Fear of Having Children

I’ve often wondered what kind of mother I would be. I thought I’d be a terrible parent, unable to make any decisions on my own. I thought I needed someone watching my every move or I’d screw up royally. Then I’ve swung the other way and thought I’d be the greatest mother in the world. And among all that ambivalence, I wonder if I’ll ever be a mother at all.

Growing up I saw plenty of bad behavior and poor coping skills. I spent much of my adult life trying to unlearn those unhealthy ways of dealing with my emotions and with the world.

I’ve feared being a permissive parent because “live and let live” is the guiding mission statement for my life in recovery. As a kid, I was never allowed to make decisions, and I would never want to be overly-controlling to anyone let alone my child. At the same time I know that indulgent parenting can lead to insecurity, poor boundaries, and lack of self-discipline.

I’ve feared being unaffectionate as a mother. I tend to cuddle and kiss my dogs more than people. I always had pets and often they’ve been the best “people” around me. Dogs are safe. Growing up, people weren’t. So I give everyone a wide berth and respect their personal space. I often have to be asked for a hug or kiss.

I told my husband once that my biggest fear about having children is that I can’t imagine they would never be happy because I can’t remember ever feeling safe or being happy as a child. My childhood memories are colored in fear. Even if I was having a good time at a friend’s home, I was always worried I was going to be picked up and taken home too soon. I wanted to stay in a place where boundaries were respected, where I didn’t have to walk egg shells or wait for the other shoe to drop.

I can’t imagine what the world looks like to a kid with no trauma history, so I can’t get in touch with how they see and interact with the world. I know everything must be pure and innocent through their eyes, but I have no frame of reference.

I’ve spent all my life trying to recover, to be normal, to unravel this straightjacket of traumatic experiences. I just always figured that’s what everyone else was doing, too, including children. But it’s not. Trauma isn’t the norm, and I’m thankful for that.

Someone told me the important thing about becoming a parent isn’t that you’re the most prepared parent in the world. The important thing is that you care about being a great parent and you keep trying to do right by your kids.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea of having kids, but I have accepted that fact. I don’t mind if I’m ambivalent, but I refuse to beat myself up about it any longer. I have just as good a change as anyone to be a wonderful parent and so does anyone with a trauma history.

Abused child photo available from Shutterstock

Child Abuse Survivors: The Fear of Having Children


Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review. She is also the cohost of the podcast Excuse Me, I Have Concerns where she discusses personal boundaries, personality and other psychology topics.


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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Child Abuse Survivors: The Fear of Having Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 19, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/child-abuse-survivors-the-fear-of-having-children/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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