Why Did Dave Pelzer’s Mother Abuse Him?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why did Dave Pelzer’s mother abuse him? What was wrong with her?

If you’re wondering, “why did Dave Pelzer’s mother abuse him?”, it’s hard to know. Dave doesn’t speculate in A Child Called “It” but does note it wasn’t always that way.

Read more to try to answer the question: “why did Dave Pelzer’s mother abuse him?”

Was Mother Always Abusive?

David’s earliest childhood memories are happy ones. He looks up to his fireman father, and he loves his warm, caring mother who goes to great lengths to create memorable and magical experiences for David and his two brothers. 

Those early years are filled with day trips to San Francisco, cherished family vacations, and memorable holiday traditions. But amidst it all, there are a few hints of Mother’s odd behaviors. 

For example, one day Mother seems unlike herself and claims to be sick, but after dinner she manically paints the garage steps and tacks on rubber mats before the paint has dried, making a mess of the wet paint. When David asks her why she didn’t wait until the paint dried, Mother simply says that she wanted to surprise his father. 

Since the book is written from David’s childhood perspective, he doesn’t question or analyze details like this with an adult’s insight. Rather, he accepts them as a child would. 

Epilogue: Why Did Dave Pelzer’s Mother Abuse Him?

This is the only part of the book that offers David’s retrospective as an adult, as opposed to his childhood perspective. But he never answers why it happened, only how it made him feel.

David reflects on how helpless he felt during the abuse and how endless it seemed—until one day it abruptly ended when he was taken from Mother’s custody. 

David attributes his survival to the fact that he took control of himself and his circumstances any way he could. He also credits his horrific experiences for shaping him in several ways:

  • Going so long without any positive reinforcement helped him develop a strong intrinsic motivation
  • Living through such unusual circumstances gave him a unique perspective on life
  • Enduring terrible conditions made him adaptable
  • Being deprived of so much—including food, a warm bed, and basic dignity—made him appreciate simple luxuries
  • Overcoming such huge obstacles made him strong

Despite losing faith during the height of his abuse, David feels that God has always been beside him. Having survived and escaped, David vowed to make the most of his life by creating success and pushing himself to be the best person he could be.

As an adult, David found a community and a feeling of purpose as a member of the United States Air Force. Later, he had his own son, Stephen, and fostered a loving relationship with him in spite of his dysfunctional relationship with his own parents. 

David still returns to the Russian River whenever he can—and now he brings Stephen so they can enjoy the area’s beauty and serenity together.

Why Did Dave Pelzer’s Mother Abuse Him?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It'" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Child Called 'It' summary:

  • How David Pelzer survived horrific abuse at the hands of his mother
  • How victims and survivors of abuse can find support and overcome their painful past
  • Why child abuse may go unnoticed by other adults

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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