When you’re a child or underage teenager, you can’t just leave home if your mom or dad is abusing you. These tips on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out of your family home are inspired by a reader who said…
“You gave words of wisdom for adults whose parents try to control them,” says Ruben on 7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents. “What about a 10 year old child with abusive parents? How can a child put into practice all your nice tips and tricks if their parents use physical and mental abuse? Sorry but the Internet is full of tips and tricks on how to do this and that but this is not gonna work with abused children. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this an article about the ‘light version’ of controlling parents? Thanks anyway.”
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Ruben’s comment because it sounds like he’s in a lot of pain. He’s coping with parents who are abusing him, he feels trapped and hopeless, and he thinks he can’t find help or support on the internet. He can’t just leave home. Ruben didn’t ask for tips on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out of your family home, but I’m writing this article anyway.
Can you relate to Ruben? Are you trying to survive abusive parents – and are you stuck because you’re too young to move out? I’ve been there. My mom is mentally ill; she struggled with schizophrenia my whole life. I was in and out of foster homes throughout my childhood, and I never went to the same school or lived in the same home for more than six months.
Here’s how I survived.
9 Ways to Survive Abusive Parents When You Can’t Leave Home
When I was a kid, I didn’t think of calling a helpline – but I did call Social Services and talk to a social worker about leaving home. If you can’t take your parents’ abuse anymore, visit the National Child Abuse Hotline or call them 1-800-442-4453.
1. Learn what it means to have “abusive parents”
Would you believe that I completely forgot how my mom abused me and how bad the abuse was? It wasn’t until recently, when I read my diary from when I was 13 and in grade 8 that I realized that she was incredibly verbally and physically abusive. I always knew my mother was mentally ill and had paranoid schizophrenia, but it wasn’t until recently that I remembered that she was actually a very abusive parent. I guess part of how I learned to survive my mom’s abuse was to forget about how bad it was. I also didn’t know what it meant to have an abusive mother.
I won’t answer the “what is child abuse?” question here; you can click the National Child Abuse Hotline link above or search the internet for the textbook definition of abusive parents (look for tips on how to leave home while you’re at it!). Here, I just want to tell you how important it is to remember that sometimes we call something “abusive” when it’s just rules or boundaries.
My mom was not abusive when she:
- Gave me a curfew of 10 pm
- Grounded me when I was late coming home
- Refused to let me stay up until 2 am
- Made me go to school and do my homework
- Told me to exercise
- Made me to go church
- Made me to go Girl Guides
- Wouldn’t let me stay at the roller skating rink as late as I wanted
- Wouldn’t let me hang out with certain friends
- Got so mentally ill that she had to go to the hospital for shock treatments, and I had to live in foster homes
It’s important to recognize the difference between parents setting rules because it’s their job to protect and raise you, versus parents abusing you physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually.
My mom was abusing me when she:
- Hit me with “the stick” (a heavy piece of wood, much heavier than a wooden spoon. It really hurt)
- Called me evil, bad, stupid, fat, and lazy
- Refused to let me see our other family members
- Hit my sister in front of me
- Neglected me
- Harmed our pets
That’s all I care to remember right now! I know I’d remember a lot more examples of how my mom abused me if I read my diaries from when I was a child and teenager, but I don’t want to. Why? Because it hurts. And because one of my most important tips for how to survive abusive parents is to grieve the pain and loss, but don’t let it consume or overwhelm you.
You are welcome to share your experience and story in the comments section below. Writing about what your abusive parents do and how it makes you feel will help you start healing and dealing with it.
Are you an adult who grew up with abusive parents? Read 3 Ways to Cope With Difficult Parents – for Adult Children. But if you’re a kid who can’t leave home and need to survive abuse, keep reading…
2. Talk about how your parents are abusing you
I didn’t tell anyone how abusive my mother was. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like everyone had a “normal” mom and dad, and I was stuck with this crazy sick schizophrenic mother who called me names and hit me. Who could I tell? Nobody. I thought. Until I DID tell somebody. And then my life changed. I got to leave home!
Who can you talk to about your abusive parents? That is how you will survive. That is the ONLY WAY you will survive the abuse. You have to speak up for yourself! If you don’t make an effort to learn how to save yourself, you can’t expect someone to just rescue you. If you talk about how you are being abused by your mom or dad, then you might find out something really important: you might discover that you CAN move out of your family home after all.
If you talk about it, you might go beyond learning how to survive abusive parents. You might find a way to move away from the abuse at home. Wouldn’t that be something?
3. Don’t poke the bear
I usually knew exactly what made my mom mad…but not always. One of the worst parts of living with a mentally ill parent is the unpredictability. Sometimes I would get “the stick” for something little or stupid; other times I would do something really bad (eg, I got drunk and threw up all over the front hallway) and I didn’t get any punishment at all. I never knew what to expect, and I hated that. It was confusing, and it made me insecure and uncertain.
If you can’t move away from your abusive parents, then don’t provoke them. Don’t set yourself up for abuse by doing whatever it is that makes them abuse you. This is not to say the abuse is your fault! It is NOT your fault your parents are abusive. You are not causing them to abuse you or the other kids or pets in your family.
Be smart. Don’t do things you know will trigger your mom or dad. Stay away from dangerous situations. Protect yourself – and use the brains in your head for good, not for evil.
4. Write down everything that happens to you
In 5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship, I encourage women to document everything they experience. Write down the dates, times, activities, and places the abuse occurs. Write down who was involved, what happened, and how long it lasted. And hide your writing somewhere private. Ask your best friend, a relative, teacher, coach, youth leader or guidance counselor to keep it safe for you.
And, write down how you feel about what’s happening to you. This is how you will survive your abusive parents when you can’t move out of your family’s home. You need to stay strong and healthy; one of the best ways to do that is to express yourself. You should see what I wrote about my mom when I was 13 years old in grade 8! I wrote the ugliest, meanest, most honest things. I puked up my guts into those journals.
5. Learn your “Superpower Survival Powers”
Writing saved me. That, and God. Neither writing nor God took me OUT of my abusive home immediately (probably because if I was rescued right away I wouldn’t have anything to say to you right now). I learned how to survive abusive parents when I couldn’t leave home by writing about everything that happened to me, and by trusting God. As Joyce Meyer says, “God didn’t bring me out of it, but He did bring me through it.”
What are your Superpower Survival Powers? You may have 100 more than you realize! I want to know what your survival skills are. Here are some possibilities….
Examples of “Superpower Survival Powers”
- The ability to speak up and talk about your abusive parents. A voice! You know how to talk, and that is pretty amazing
- An internet connection that you know how to use
- Your brain that figured out the first step for surviving abusive parents when you can’t move out (searching for help on the internet! Good job, brain)
- A phone to call for help
- Friends and family who care about you
- The ability to write down how your parents are abusing you, and how it makes you feel
- Your personality, your unique combination of talents and gifts that nobody else has
Here’s the Superpower Survival Power that saved me: I swallowed my pride, and called Social Services for help. I talked to a social worker and said that my mom is abusive and I can’t live with her anymore. I asked if I could go live in a foster home because my home environment wasn’t conducive to a healthy upbringing for a young girl (actually what I really said was “I hate my crazy mom. Can you get me the frig out of here?”).
6. Hold on to the fact that you are not alone
In Spilled Milk, KL Randis tells the story of Brooke Nolan. She is a battered child who makes an anonymous phone call about the escalating child abuse in her home.
When Social Services jeopardize her safety and condemns her to keep her father’s secret, it’s a glass of spilled milk at the dinner table that forces her to talk about the parental abuse she was hiding. In her pursuit for safety and justice, Brooke battles a broken system that pushes to keep her father in the home.
Spilled Milk is based on a true story, but it is fiction. It is a novel of shocking narrative, triumph and resiliency – and it will help you see how courageous and strong you can be! Find other survivors of abusive parents. Gain strength from connecting with people like Brooke, and KL, and me. I survived childhood abuse to become a happy, strong, successful, married woman of faith who loves writing for a living.
7. Call for help – even if you don’t want to leave home
Asking for help is hard. But I did it, and I am SO glad I found the courage I needed to call Social Services! And I’m super proud of myself now. I was only 13 years old, and I knew that the only way I could survive my abusive mentally ill mother was to get the hell out of Dodge. So I called for help.
What about you? You may say “I have nobody to help me” but I don’t believe it. If you have an internet connection – which you do or how else would you be reading my tips on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out? More likely, it’s your fear and pride that is holding you back from calling a kids’ helpline or child abuse hotline.
And that’s cool. When you’re ready, you will reach out for help. You’ll take a deep breath and you’ll speak up. You’ll speak your truth, even if your voice shakes. You’ll save yourself. You don’t necessarily need to ask for help moving out of your family home – you might just ask for tips and ways to survive the abuse without letting it destroy your life.
8. Learn how to survive wherever you are
Even if you call Social Services or a child abuse hotline – or you talk to a teacher or your guidance counselor at school – you may not be allowed to move out of your family home.
You may have to keep learning survival skills because the grownups may not be able to magically whip you a new place to live. When I called Social Services, the social worker asked me who in my family I could go live with. I suggested my grandma. My sister went to live with her dad. It was painful and said – I hated that I couldn’t live with my sister anymore…but we didn’t have to live with our mother, so there was that.
If you’re calling for help, read What You Need to Know When You Call a Shelter or Safe House.
9. Don’t self-destruct or implode
No matter where you end up, you will need to learn how to survive. That’s what life is: a series of things to survive and mountains to conquer. Don’t get me wrong – lots and lots of great, wonderful, miraculous, amazing and beautiful things will happen to you!! But bad things happen too.
I did some really stupid things when I finally was old enough to get my own apartment. I could’ve easily gotten pregnant as a teenager, or overdosed on drugs, or got killed drunk driving. So stupid! I didn’t think think of it as “self-destruction”, but that’s what I was doing. I didn’t cut myself or attempt suicide, but I could easily have ruined my life.
How are you self-destructing? It’s a natural way to deal with the pain you feel. You’re grieving what you should have had (i.e., a life that doesn’t involve searching for tips on “how to survive abusive parents”). To deal with the pain, you may be doing drugs, having lots of unhappy sex, eating too much crap, starving yourself, cutting yourself – there are 1,000 ways to self-destruct.
What do you think of these tips and resources on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out? While I can’t offer advice on your specific situation, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience. Writing often brings clarity and insight, and can help you process your feelings.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.