Breaking the Generational Cycle of Abuse & Neglect

Several years after adopting a nine-year-old boy named Travis, I accepted an unsettling possibility. Breaking the generational cycle of abuse and neglect wasn’t guaranteed – no matter the intensity of my parenting.

In other words, my love would never be enough.

For starters, I underestimated the challenge of transitioning him into my family. He crossed the threshold of a new home, and the devastating effects of childhood trauma followed close behind. 


Three steps forward, two steps back. My son simply couldn’t shake his past. It clung to him like glue that no ordinary effort could remove.

After all, Travis had a family. He never asked to be adopted.

I picked him, but he didn’t pick me. A committee of adults made that decision for him.

Then people expected him to be grateful when he desperately needed to survive – by controlling his every move.

That’s a lot of trauma – heaped upon previous trauma – for any child to handle. Much less accept.

From the very first day in my home, my son was full of fear – especially at bedtime when darkness filled his mind. “What if I wet his bed? Would this new dad give me back? Was he another adult who lied?”

Once we connected and established a reasonable amount of trust, the work didn’t end. For the next decade, I focused on the mal-adaptive behaviors from his first nine years of life.

One layer at a time. Not always successfully.

It was a monumental task that I never envisioned.

At 16, he hit a brick wall. Even though my son was capable of success, he was more afraid of failing. That never-ending fear! Although arrogance showed on the surface, it masked the lack of self-confidence within in his soul.

After secretly re-connecting with his birth family online, he put an ill-conceived plan into action – one month into his senior year upon turning 18. That’s when he bolted three hours downstate. In search of greener pastures. A life with no rules.

For the next three years, he tried his best to create distance between us – as if our relationship never existed. But I refused to cut all ties – even more so when learning that his first child was on the way.

The generational cycle had to end!


After his daughter was born, he struggled financially and emotionally. An addiction problem re-surfaced. Yet he reached out for help – which was incredibly painful for him to do. Eventually, I agreed to assist but not too much.

The time had come to “father up” and put his child first.

In another twist of irony, he displayed more maturity than I ever imagined – finally admitting one simple truth. I was his role model.

Through the many years of arguing and passive aggressive behavior, he was paying attention after all!

When his son and another daughter later arrived, he clearly was over his head. Some days I wasn’t sure if he would sink or swim. But his priorities remained in place – most of the time. And they hopefully will become further entrenched in the coming year.


Best of all, three young children are safe, healthy and happy. No doubt, my son intends to keep them that way. DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold


One thought on “Breaking the Generational Cycle of Abuse & Neglect

  1. Thank you for sharing your stories, Craig. You have such a strong, powerful and credible voice with all you’ve lived through with your children. It gives me hope in the midst of hard times with mine. Thank you.

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