Coping with abusive parents is hard even if you can escape by going to school, work, or to a friend’s place. But how do you survive the abuse when you’re stuck in the house? You can’t just pack up and leave home – especially if you’re isolated or have nowhere to go! These 10 tips for surviving an abusive mom or dad 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 who can’t leave a home with abusive parents? How can a child put into practice all your nice tips if their mom or dad uses 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.”
Ruben is right. The internet is full of articles on how to cope with controlling moms, difficult dads, abusive partners, elderly parents and toxic family members. But what about kids stuck at home? Social isolation can lead to higher rates of domestic violence for both children and adults, which is why I wrote How Do You Leave When You Have Nowhere to Go? Adults have more choices and possibilities when it comes to surviving abuse at home – even when they feel like they can’t leave. But children and teenagers who are stuck at home and can’t leave are in a particularly vulnerable – and ver painful – situation.
Do you have the same questions and problem as Ruben? If you read the comments below, you’ll see you aren’t alone. Maybe you’re a 10 year old girl with an abusive mom, or a 17 year old with a controlling father. Maybe your parents aren’t “just” abusive; maybe your mom is an alcoholic or drug addict or your dad has serious mental or emotional health problems. If you’re coping with parents who are abusing you, you may feel trapped and hopeless even if you could go to work, school or out with friends. But if you’re socially isolated you can’t go anywhere or can’t move out of the family home, you have to learn to survive abusive parents.
10 Ways to Cope With Abusive Parents When You’re Stuck at Home
I can relate to Ruben’s problem. I’m not a kid stuck at home anymore, but I grew up with a schizophrenic mom. She was emotionally, mentally and physically abusive. We slept on the street several times, even when we had an apartment to live in. She was often hospitalized and underwent shock treatments. I lived in three different foster homes throughout my childhood; I never went to the same school or lived in the same home for more than six months.
It wasn’t easy, but I survived! And if I can do it, so can you.
1. Know that this, too, shall pass
Growing up with an abusive mom or dad is so crappy. It’s not fair or right. I can’t even count all the ways it sucks or describe how hard it is…but I can tell you that this, too, shall pass. It doesn’t feel like the abuse will ever end…but it will. It doesn’t feel like your wounds will heal or your body will be healthy, but it will.
You may not know when you’ll be living on your own, safe and free, but one day you will have your own home. Maybe it’ll be a house with a roommate, or an apartment by yourself. Maybe you’ll rent a room in a million-dollar house in a beautiful neighborhood owned by an old lady who calls you “dearie” and “sweetie” (that’s what I did! It was awesome). You won’t always live with a dad hitting you, a mom calling you names, a brother putting you down, or a sister beating you up.
This, too, shall pass. Remember that. Your life won’t always be like this. And this – growing up with abusive parents in a home you can’t leave – doesn’t have to define you. It is one part of your life, but it is not your whole life.
Not only will this pass, you will heal and even forget. Would you believe I forgot what my mother did to 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 how verbally and physically abusive my mom was. I always knew my mother was mentally ill and had paranoid schizophrenia, but I forgot her exact words and actions. The effects of her abuse are in my cells now and forever, but my memories faded and I only vaguely recall her specific acts of violence and words of cruelty.
2. Tell someone what is happening to you
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 because my mentally ill mom was abusing me. A social worker came our apartment the next morning; I was in a foster home that night. We lived in a small town in Saskatchewan; not all towns or cities have social service departments that can act that fast! But we were “in the system”, which meant the social workers knew how sick my mom was. They knew how abusive parents can be, and they didn’t want me to be stuck at home with a schizophrenic parent who might become more violent.
If you can’t take your parents’ abuse anymore, visit the National Child Abuse Hotline or call them 1-800-442-4453.
You might also learn what child abuse is and how to know if you’re being abused by your mom or dad. The National Child Abuse Hotline has a good definition of abusive parents. They also have tips on how to protect yourself from abuse when you can’t leave home.
What is abuse? 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 or church
- 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 who are actually abusing you physically, sexually, mentally, or emotionally.
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.
3. Be specific when you talk (and write) about how your parents abuse you
I didn’t tell anyone how abusive my mother was because I was embarrassed and ashamed. I thought like everyone else had normal parents except me. I was stuck at home (and on the street) with a crazy sick schizophrenic mother who called me names and hit me. Who could I tell? I didn’t think I could tell anybody….until I DID tell somebody. I called Social Services, talked to a social worker, and escaped. I never thought it would happen but I got to leave home.
Who can you talk to about your abusive parents? That is how you will survive and maybe even escape. Nobody can speak up for you; you have to find your voice and speak your truth. If you don’t make an effort to protect and help yourself, you can’t expect anyone to perform a miracle and get you out. Visit a kids helpline that has a chat function, call a domestic violence hotline, or find a local Social Services organization. Talking about how you are being abused by your mom or dad will both hurt and help you.
It might feel horrible, embarrassing, and even shameful to admit what is happening at home. You might get into worse trouble from your parents if you tell someone about the abuse. Is it worth the risk? This is something only you can decide. It’s a terrible decision for a kid to have to make — I know! But you may discover something important: you have more control over your life than you think, and you may be able to leave home and escape the abuse.
4. Try not to trigger your dad or push your mom’s buttons
I often knew exactly what made my mom mad and abusive toward me, but not always. Summer holidays were the worst because I was home more, and I got on her nerves. It wasn’t the coronavirus social isolation we’re experiencing now; my family was always isolated from the world. I grew up knowing that one of the worst parts of living with a mentally ill parent is the unpredictability. Sometimes I would get punished with the stick for some mysterious or tiny infraction; other times I would do something clearly wrong (eg, I got drunk and threw up all over the front hallway). I didn’t get any punishment or abuse for the big things, only the little unpredictable ones. I never knew what to expect, and I hated that. It was confusing, and it made me feel insecure and uncertain.
If you can’t move away from your abusive parents – or even leave the house because you’re stuck at home – 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.
Just be smart. Like Jesus said, be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove. Don’t do things you know will trigger your mom or dad to act abusively.
5. 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. Hide your writing somewhere private. You might even mail it to your best friend, a relative, teacher, coach, youth leader or guidance counselor to keep it safe for you.
Write down how you feel about what’s happening to you. This is how you will survive your abusive parents when you can’t leave or 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! I wrote the ugliest, meanest, most honest things. I think that’s how I healed, how I forgot about the exact types of abuse and focused on moving forward.
6. Learn your “Secret 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 survived my abusive childhood is for your sake 🙂 ). I learned how to survive abusive parents when I couldn’t leave home by writing about everything that happened to me. I also had a strong faith in God even though I didn’t pray deeply. I felt His presence though. Now I understand that God didn’t bring me out of it, but He did bring me through it.
What are your Secret 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 “Secret Survival Powers”
- The choice to speak up and talk to someone about your abusive parents. You have a voice – and you can use it!
- The ability to use the internet
- The courage to take the first step for surviving abusive parents when you can’t move out: searching the internet for help
- The possibility of using your phone to call a child helpline
- The knowledge that you do have friends and family who love you
- The ability to write down how your parents are abusing you and how it makes you feel
- An imagination to plan the possibilities for your future home, relationships, job, life and destination!
- Your unique combination of personality, talents, skills and gifts that nobody else has
Here’s the Secret Survival Power that saved me: I took the risk of calling Social Services for help. I was honest with the social worker. I said 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. Or maybe I said “I hate my crazy mom. Can you get me the F out of here?”
Either way, it worked.
7. Know that you are not alone – read the comments below and
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. Read the comments section below. Know that others have survived abusive parents even when they were trapped at home and couldn’t leave.
8. Call for help – even if you’re scared
Asking for help is hard, especially if you’re scared you’ll get your parents in trouble. I was terrified my mom would be enraged and violent if the social worker told her I called Social Services. But something told me I had to tell, I had to reach out for help. I had nobody to help me, no family or friends. I’m glad I found the courage I needed to call Social Services. I was only 13 years old but I knew that the only way I could survive my abusive mentally ill mother was to get out.
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? Something else is stopping you back from calling a kids’ helpline or child abuse hotline. That’s okay. 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 leaving or moving out of your family home. Just ask for emotional support and practical tips on how to survive abusive parents when you’re isolated at home with them.
9. 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.
10. Take good care of yourself
No matter where you end up or how long you live with an abusive mom or dad, learn how to take tender loving care (TLC) of yourself. Promise me that you won’t treat yourself the way your mean mom or bad dad does! Promise me you won’t let their insults, criticisms or attacks beat you down for long. Hold on to the sense of identity you knew when you were little. You have a divine spark of God in you. He created you and is watching over you. I don’t know why God lets children be abused or why God doesn’t stop abuse from hurting kids. I don’t know why we live in a world full of wounded, abused men and women who become mothers and fathers who wound and abuse their children.
But I do know that we can put obstacles in front of ourselves. We fall into the trap of believing the lies that abusive parents tell. We start to let the insults of mean sisters and attacks of bad brothers change our self-image…and we begin to hate ourselves just as much as we hate the family members who abuse us.
Take good, tender, loving care of yourself. If you won’t, who will?
What do you think of these tips and resources on how to survive abusive parents when you can’t move out? Share your story. Read through the comments, respond if you feel led.
Questions for you:
- How are you coping with abusive parents?
- How do you escape mentally when you can’t go to school, work, or to a friend’s place?
- What do you do when you’re stuck in the house?
- If you could pack up and leave home, where would you go?
- What tips wold you give kids or adult children on how to survive an abusive mom or dad when you’re trapped at home?
- If you just want to take a break and forget about all this, read 137 Best Things to Do When You’re Bored.
Remember that this, too, shall pass. xo