When kids hit mom

Oct 8, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. ET

"Lisa" has four children — one has a really good job, two are in college and the fourth hits her.

Abused woman

After enduring years of verbal and physical abuse from her teenage daughter, Lisa finally breaks down and tells her story. Family experts reach out to help this hurting mom overcome her silent struggle.

"My daughter's frustration has always been shown in anger and yelling. I have holes in my walls. She has pushed and punched and cursed at me. Her mouth is worse than a trucker's. Sometimes I can see sorrow in her eyes but at other times there's just rage," abused mother Lisa tells us.

The household environment can change drastically when a child becomes a teenager. For Lisa, the teenage years have been the culmination of problems that began many years ago.

The early years

"Shannon" was a sociable little girl. She had older siblings, and Lisa babysat other children in their home. During preschool, Shannon was outgoing and active and made friends very easily.

But something happened in kindergarten. Shannon's teacher had a nervous breakdown in front of the class and walked out on them. "Shannon gets very attached to people and felt really betrayed," says Lisa.

Shortly after the incident, Lisa noticed a change in Shannon. "She got so frustrated with me," recalls Lisa, who began to suspect that Shannon had dyslexia or some other issue.

"In 1st grade, I spoke with our pediatrician about ADHD, which runs in both sides of the family," says Lisa. "The doctor referred me back to the teacher, who told me that Shannon absolutely did not need to be tested."

Fitting in

"I always told Shannon to treat others the way she would want to be treated and be kind to everyone," says Lisa, "but I don't think anyone ever fits in unless they want you to fit in."

Before long, the cliques began and Shannon was told that she wasn't "popular." She was uninvited to birthday parties. She enrolled in and dropped out of after-school activities. A young classmate unexpectedly died of an illness. All of these things left Shannon heartbroken.

Physiological changes

Before she reached the 6th grade, Shannon was diagnosed with a grapefruit-sized cyst that doctors thought was cancer. "Praise God, it was benign," remembers Lisa, "but she got her period right after that, her hormones kicked in and she became so mean!"

Everything Lisa did or said was met with resistance by Shannon. "I asked the doctor about medication but was told she was too young."

A turn for the worse

"Things started getting really bad in the 8th grade," says Lisa. "I'm not really sure what the trigger was." When there was a drop-down, drag-out fight with another girl at school (Shannon won), "I knew it was the start of trouble," says Lisa.

"Shannon got very angry and spiteful... almost like she lost control and became another person — swearing, calling names and screaming at the top of her lungs."

Shannon played the victim. "It makes me feel so bad that she told people I never gave her Christmas gifts, treated her badly, never bought her school clothes, refused to let her have parties, and on and on," says Lisa.

"Yet no one knows that she beat on me — and on her sister when I wasn't home. No one knows that she sneaked out of the house to meet guys and flaunted her naked body on video chats. But I'm the bad one for taking the technology away."


Shannon has always been really close with her dad, an over-the-road truck driver. She loved to go trucking with him, but he was away a lot. "I was mom and dad, and did the most that I could," says Lisa.

Dad was supportive with Lisa's "decisions and discipline" until Shannon was a freshman in high school. "He began letting Shannon do things that I said 'no' to," says Lisa, but the low point came when he told their daughter, "The reason you and Mom fight all the time is because she never wanted you to begin with."

Lisa is no longer with Shannon's dad, gets no support from him and faces the verbal and physical abuse alone.

"If I try to stay calm, Shannon accuses me of being sarcastic," says Lisa. "It's a no-win situation because then I do get mad, which fuels her anger and makes me even more frightened. I was abused by [an old boyfriend], and that feeling never goes away."

"I don't feel safe around her"

Lisa understands that Shannon is using abuse as a form of power. "It scares me, but I won't back down because I don't want her to know I'm afraid."

Lisa took Shannon — now a senior with a 22-year-old boyfriend — to a doctor who diagnosed depression and provided a list of psychiatrists. Shannon still has that list, but it remains unused.

"I don't feel Shannon will change until she either matures quite a bit or hits rock bottom and has no choice but to show respect and follow household rules."

Seeking help

Lisa, always the mom, just wants her daughter to be well. "I would love to help Shannon be able to manage her anger. And I would love to be able to trust her and for us to be able to respect each other."

"[Shannon] may be suffering from a depressive or mood disorder and must be evaluated by a professional," says psychologist Michael J. Salamon. "If the disorder is not treated, it will get worse."

Lisa believes that Shannon doesn't want to behave this way. "I can tell it makes her feel bad, but she would never admit it or back down." She won't meet Lisa even halfway.

"If she refuses, there is no way to force her to change or get an evaluation unless the authorities are involved, usually by calling a domestic violence hotline," says Dr. Salamon. "Most parents are highly reluctant to do that."

The behavior cannot be ignored and will not magically resolve itself. "I suggest the mother have a trusted individual — a clergy member, physician, family member — do a mini-intervention. Speak with the daughter in an open, non-threatening manner to recommend a professional evaluation and begin the process of evaluating and treating the problem or, at the very least, moderating between mother and daughter."

Shannon, meanwhile, is relying on her faith to pull her through. "This is something I pray no parent ever has to go through with a child. All I feel I can do now is put her in God's hands."

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