The qualities of parents who batter their children have been determined by interviewing known abusers. Because most studies lack controls and because family characteristics may be changed by abuse, a prospective study was instituted. Fourteen hundred low-income mothers were interviewed in a prenatal clinic, and the characteristics of 23 reported for abuse within two years were compared to the characteristics of the remaining mothers. The predominant antecedents of child abuse were: unwanted pregnancy, aggressive tendencies, and aberrant childhood nurture in which disturbed family relationships were more important than outright abuse. Abusive mothers had slightly less self-esteem. Factors which increased exposure between parents and children seemed to increase risk for abuse. In contrast to retrospective findings, abusive mothers did not differ in support available from others, age, education, isolation, family alcohol or drug problems, and expectations of child development.