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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less