While I never suffered abuse at the hands of my mother or father (she was more of a talker than anything and tried to get us to understand our bad behavior by grounding us and he insisted that he could not teach his son that it was wrong to hit girls if he spanked his daughters), I witnessed it all around me. Family and friends alike who would only speak of the abuse at their homes in the presence of other children, who thought their parents behavior normal. I didn’t recognize then that the things my playmates were enduring were dangerous. I didn’t understand that my friends were being abused and by the time I did come to understand it, I didn’t believe that it was my place to relay these stories to the adults in our lives who could have done something.
Similarly, my mom and her siblings can’t sit through a family gathering without discussing the “whippings” they received as children. If we get enough of the family together, they compare stories to determine “who had it worst”. Some of the stories are unbelievable. Extension cords, house slippers, fly swatters, branches taken from trees, skinned braided and soaked in water to form super switch. As children, none of them spoke of the “whippings” they received, which seems to be a common theme.
The culture of silence that surrounds child abuse is what allows these cycles to continue. While children who are abused won’t generally talk to adults about the abuse they endure, they will talk to other kids. As a mentor, I try to speak with my girls about recognizing the signs of abuse in their own homes and in their friends’. If we don’t encourage these conversations, abuse will continue to pass for discipline and the cycle will continue.