As an 11-year-old, to stand in front of the very man who terrorized you and to pretend like nothing is wrong, it can pull out every bit of courage that you have. When Julia Roberts smiled for the camera as she stood next to her abusive stepfather, she learned to put on a show and give nothing but her cheerful smile, using it to hide all the horrors that she faced as a child.
A young Roberts grew up in a house where she despised the only father figure in her life, her stepfather, Michael Motes. He “alternately ignored, pushed around, and denigrated his two stepdaughters” and Roberts “feared and despised” the man who was raising her, according to the 2004 biography Julia: Her Life by James Spada, as reported by Mail Online.
From 1972 to 1983, Motes was married to her mother, Betty Lou Motes, and it was the decade that the entire family’s lives were made miserable. Betty even called the marriage “the biggest mistake I ever made” and cited his ‘cruel treatment’ for the grounds of her divorce petition.
While he was stepfather to Roberts and husband to her mother, he was also accused of assaulting and blackmailing a teenage boy, as reported by The Hollyweird Times.
“Motes is a former alcoholic and when he was drunk he was a nasty piece of work who would often have raging arguments with the mum Betty and the children,” a source revealed. “There were horror stories of how he once threw Julia’s Walkman against the wall smashing it in a rage.”
Her brother, Eric Roberts had said in a previous interview, “It was common knowledge where we grew up that Motes was a freak,” as quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald. “He would have stood out in a crowd of ten thousand.”
Although he moved out of the house soon after his mother married Motes, he still didn’t stop worrying about the trauma he would put his sisters through. “Whether he married my mother to get close to her children or not, I don’t know,” Eric Roberts said. “But clearly, marrying him was not a good decision or a healthy thing for her children. Our mother’s husband terrorised and abused me, and I fear he terrorized my sisters, Julia and Lisa, as well.”
Home wasn’t a place where she felt safe and “would often stay over at friend’s houses to escape it. Motes didn’t have a steady job and Betty was so busy working all the time to keep the family afloat.”
The star chooses not to talk about her childhood rather than revisiting painful memories. The source added, “Julia never talks about him and frankly she probably would be happy if she never saw or heard from him again.”
While there is nothing she can do to change her past, Roberts still hopes to give her children the kind of childhood that she had longed for. According to Good Morning America, the mother of three said, “Coming from the kind of childhood that I had, I raise my kids now — I don’t want them to have to have some of the struggles that I had…”
She fiercely protects them from the hardships that she faced, but also makes sure that they develop the essential life skills they need, from knowing how to make their own bed to doing their own laundry. The three-time Golden Globe Award winner said, “You have to weigh the differences between what you look at as some of the maybe hardships I had, or things that I missed out on as a kid, but also — they have to run their own race. They have to have their own experience.”