Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Shania had a tumultuous childhood. Her mother and stepfather struggled to pay the bills, and the family was often left with little food to eat and not enough heat in their home. It was Shania's mother who pushed her into singing gigs, seeing it as a way for the family to earn money. "I think she really did see something genuine there, but she grabbed onto it as though it was a lifeline for her," Shania says.
Even more difficult than her family's financial troubles was the violence Shania witnessed at home. Shania loved her stepfather, who adopted her and her sisters when they were very young, but she says he was abusive and beat her mother. "When you're little, you don't even really know what's going to happen. You just know it's really bad," she says. "The house is shaking, and there's pounding and yelling and screaming and crying, and you don't even know what's happening. You just wait for it to be over like a bad thunderstorm."
Shania says she remembers the first time she witnessed violence between her mother and stepfather: She was just 4 years old, and she watched as her father dunked her mother's head repeatedly into the toilet. "My father had her by the hair, and she just really looked dead to me," Shania says. "I was screaming because I thought she died. I thought I lost my mother at that moment. Now, you relive that all—every time there's a violent episode, now you're going to relive that fear."
Since Shania was just a child, she says she would often go and hide when the violence started. By the time she turned 10, she started to fight back—attempting to attack her stepfather. "Anger started to take over from all of the other emotions that I would feel," she says. Shania says her stepfather was so startled the first time she hit him that he hit her back, and she says she "learned very quickly to run away fast."