Help, please! I'm Stuck with Toxic Parents for the ENTIRE summer!
June 27, 2011 4:42 AM   Subscribe

How I deal with my toxic living situation until the end of August? I'm an adult child of a mother with PTSD and a father who suffers from untreated addiction and depression. Both my parents have very short tempers. I am unable to move out until August when I leave the country for a new job. I arrived home in April from a completed job overseas. I wanted to see my family---hoped they had changed---foolish me. Now I'm stuck for the entire summer.

My father has had anger issues for as long as I can remember. He blows up over small things and large things. Mom calls him Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You never know when he will shift to his Mr. Hyde persona. He treats work colleagues and friends with respect and even has a different tone of voice with them. It's upbeat sounding. I've only heard him sound upbeat when he is drunk.

He not only lashes out verbally, but he reacts physically, too. He doesn't hit us, but he'll drive recklessly--speeding--swerving--jerking the car all over the road--putting our lives and other motorists in danger if he becomes angry in the car. In public, he acts like an asshat when he doesn't get his way. He acts like a bully. He thinks he is entitled in every situation. It makes it miserable to go anywhere with him.

At home, he yells, curses, calls us names, sulks, and throws things around when stuff doesn't go his way, or someone crosses his magic line. He was an alcoholic when I was child, and has since switched over to food and shopping as his addictions of choice. My mother and I suspect he drinks beer a lot when he is away from home on work assignments.

He had gastric bypass a few years ago and has already gained back 80+ pounds. He refuses to eat properly, or to go to the doctor regularly, or to see a shrink or attend a support group for his food addiction.

My mother has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from two failed marriages to other idiots. The first marriage was to an alcoholic. The second marriage was to a man with untreated bipolar disorder who was a monster. She has flashbacks about the nightmares he put her through. I still don't know how she managed to remain sane enough to raise my three older half-siblings.

Mom has a lot of health problems---no doubt stress-induced. Type II diabetes, severe arthritis, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. She is miserable, folks. She said she would have left my father a long time ago, but she feels she has no option but to stay. She puts on a happy face for my older siblings. They probably don't realize just how BAD it really is here.

My father is in-between out-of-state work assignments right now and is home until his company finds something for him. He could be laid-off. He is sweating it, but isn't trying very hard to land another job. He's in debt up to his eyeballs, too, from his own stupidity. He's behaving crazier than usual as a result.

Basically, my friends are all abroad, or living in another state. I don't have enough cash to travel outside the immediate area right now. I'm trying to save all of my money for the first few weeks of my new job overseas. My sisters are all very busy with their children and careers. They live about an hour away from here. I don't see them very much. I don't want to burden them. I hate feeling stuck. I try to get out of the house, but my parents live 30 minutes away from everything and gas is expensive. Damn.
posted by thatgirl1985 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
if you can, go visit your sisters and offer some (responsible, helpful) child care while you're on your visit. i'm sure they'd be happy for the relief and you wouldn't be in your current (toxic) situation.
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:55 AM on June 27, 2011 [11 favorites]

It doesn't matter if he doesn't hit you. If this He doesn't hit us, but he'll drive recklessly--speeding--swerving--jerking the car all over the road--putting our lives and other motorists in danger if he becomes angry in the car is true, first of all you need to never get in a car with him. Bus it, walk it, get a used bike off Craigslist.

I'm an only child so sorry if this comes off base, but this seems like EXACTLY the time when you need to count on your sisters. Sure you can offer to help out with the kids, but getting you out of this situation also needs to be a priority in their lives (certainly ahead of their careers). It's temporary, you're in danger, and you're family, NOT a burden.

If they are cold hearted enough to tell you they can't help you I might consider using some of your saved up money to find a roommate situation and maybe get a part time job until August. Yes it sounds that bad and I hope you come out of it ok. You need to take care of yourself enough so that you can help your mom out. As it is, you are as much of a victim as she as for now.
posted by like_neon at 5:09 AM on June 27, 2011 [11 favorites]

You're not "unable" to move out. It could be difficult, but it could be done; it would take money to pay for it, and a place to go to. Your options for money include getting an interim job, and making new friends who will help you do so; and for a place, include answering ads, and again, making new friends.

You very much need to meet supportive people who are pleasant company. Perhaps there are MetaFilter members local to you who might be willing to meet up for a chat, or suggest local activities you could get into? "Hiya. I'm a MetaFilter member too. I'm between jobs, bored and a bit stressed, and I'm looking to get out of the house. Do you know of anything interesting around here to do?" Anything. Acting class, animal shelter volunteering, charity work, jogging group, neighborhood watch, religious activities, bridge or Scrabble club, knitting circle, stamp collector's club, dance class, free seminars or lectures ... anything that will let you meet people would be worth you doing it. It really, really doesn't matter what those people are doing; from the sounds of it, nine human beings out of ten would be more fun to be around than your parents, however dull the activity that brings them together may seem.

Your siblings do have a right to know what is going on with your parents, indeed they have a familial duty to know, and you do need to tell them. (Though I'd expect that they know already, and have been keeping it from you, so as not to "burden" you!) Visit your sisters. It's not a burden, and even if it is, it's a family burden, which makes it their burden as much as it is yours, and you are entitled to ask them for help with it. An hour's travel is nothing much, if you're not in a hurry just take a bus rather than driving, and to sleep on a sister's couch for a night or two is really nothing much to ask. Visit them. Impose, in some small way, on them - perhaps suggest they leave their husbands sitting the kids for a night, and take you out to meet their friends. Or alternatively, offer to take the kids out to give your sister and her husband a night to themselves. A bit of time really isn't much to ask. That you see yourself as a burden implies you are suffering depression.

Your family have severe emotional problems and from the sounds of it, this includes you. What local resources for mental health help are there? If you could tell us where you are, at least down to which city, people could perhaps point you to mental health support groups.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:17 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Bunch of stuff to sort through, here.

First off, practical matters. It would be a great idea to find some temporary employment if at all possible. That would get you out of the house for periods of time and get you some running money. You'd be ahead if you just break even for gas money. Fantastic if it's something you could put on a resume, but not a requirement. And you can learn something from any job.
A visit to sisters or friends would be a parentally approved/accepted way to escape for a while. Fund it from your savings or from temp job.
While at the house, try your best to stay out of internecine warfare. Use books, films, tv. See if you can study up on subject you've been wanting to look at in depth. You could also see if there's a project (clearing out garage, painting, repairs) at the house which could help your folks out while also giving you something to do and to talk about with them other than anger and history. I realize this could be fraught (he promised, she always, I guess we just can't have nice things), so tread carefully.

Secondly, I wonder if you realize how much you are defending your mother and attacking your father. When means: you are totally caught up in their dynamic. You've been pulled into their story, and this will only worsen as time progresses if you don't find some sort of life outside their home while you're there. Not great preparation for your next job, and you are not helping them. You are perpetuating their life theory. Stop. You are not your parents, and you do not have any responsibility for their choices. You are only responsible for your own involvement. And your own response. It's an old saw, but it's true: you can't change other people, only your reaction to them. Please try to disengage. Again, you're not helping them, but you're harming you.

This doesn't mean become uncaring. This doesn't mean being somehow disloyal. This is self-preservation. You can still listen to your mother's litanies or your father's rants and make sympathetic noises - or even dispassionate suggestions, if you're capable. But it's better not to feed these fires. Disengage, get out of the house, and try and keep things light when you are there. Retreat to your room on a regular, hourly, daily basis and read/think/meditate/watch tv.

Finally, it might be a good time to examine your interaction/dependance on your parents. With love and compassion. This dynamic and history has formed you, marked you, scarred you. Be kind. To yourself and to both of them. But be firm: no unkindness tolerated. The magic word is "leave". Mentally or physically.
posted by likeso at 5:29 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

See if you can find a summer au pair job with live-in benefits. Quickly.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:36 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Your sisters know what you're going through. It's ok to talk to them about it. The way I dealt with it, as a teen though but I'll post this anyway, was to explore the outdoors and online world as much as possible, though the later means you need a private place to do so. When you say you're 30 minutes away from everything, you mean you're in a rural area, right? I'm not sure what area you're in (how safe is it?) but there's plenty to do outdoors.

Long walks, first and foremost. Exercise is good. Sports. Go swimming. Read. If you've a camera take photos of what you find beautiful (people scale and way up close with a macro lens if you have one). Otherwise try grabbing a pencil and paper and sketching things. Join online communities where you can share these. I like Photographica.

There's also the naturalist angle: Observe animals and try to get them used to you. How do they interact? What are their habits? What's the smartest bird? Study the weather. Plants. What grows where? Why? Since it seems you have access to the internet you can research things online and go from there. Study how you behave as all of this is going on too.

Develop your situational awareness. Just sit outside and be aware of what your senses tell you. Sounds, smells, temp of your skin, etc. Do that for a bit and you'll start to understand animals a lot more since this is what they're working with. Sketch out everything happening around you. What changes and what stays the same? Believe it or not this will help you with humans a lot too. You'll know when things are going downhill and can try to stop them (loosing battle unfortunately) or distance yourself literally or figuratively.

Explore your senses of smell and of texture. Sniff everything you come into contact with. Touch too. You won't believe what is out there. Even some rocks have tastes, without even a smell as a tipoff. Need to be careful of poisons with taste though.

By the way, "Dad, please slow down. I'm to young to die." worked way better than I ever thought it would. I was afraid to say it until we were doing 90mph on a backroad in a snowstorm, and had no other choice. He made an excuse about warming up the car faster ("That's why we have jackets on...") but respected it and changed his driving as a result. The trick is not to sound judgemental. Just comment on the situation and possible repercussions, not how they would be triggered.

It took 25 years but I realize now he was trying to make me a better person using his cumulative life's experiences. I wouldn't have guessed that at the time though... it was so convoluted. It's no excuse by any means but would have helped me understand at the time, at least.
posted by jwells at 5:40 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Burden your sisters. Spend a week with one, a week with another so each one doesn't get completely tired of you. While you're there, you can babysit and help around the house as well as having dinner on the table every evening for them.

Basically, you can't be in the same house as someone who lashes out physically. Seriously, just foist your company on your sisters. That's what they exist for.
posted by tel3path at 6:05 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Everyone is offering excellent advice. Thank you for your assistance. I do realize how I am caught up in my parent's toxic dynamic. I managed to get away---mentally, physically, and financially, from April 2010 until April 2011 when I taught school in Korea. It was my first full-time teaching job. I graduated from university at the age of 25. I worked full-time and went to school part-time. It took me a while to get through.

My overseas teaching contract was completed at the end of April and I came home. I interviewed for an awesome teaching job in the Middle East and got the position. My best friend also found a teaching position in the same city. My upcoming teaching position will make it possible for me to become COMPLETELY debt-free, and save 50k--tax-free in two years time. This means FREEDOM is on the horizon for me.

My parents live in a beautiful place nestled in the mountains. There are animals and nature everywhere. There are numerous hiking trails within walking distance. I've let all their drama bring me down. I can't let them have this power over me any more. Enough is enough. I'm going to do a lot of hiking, animal-observing, and preparing for my NEW teaching adventure. Maybe I can take pictures of the local animals and landscape. That would be cool for my new students to see where I come from.

I should also reach out to the other teachers who were hired from my area to go to the same schools in the Middle East. It would be cool to prepare for the adventure together face-to-face.
posted by thatgirl1985 at 6:11 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will also reach out to my sisters. I've waited on them to reach out to me, but I think they erroneously assume that no news is good news. I need to take the first step towards building a stronger relationship with them both.
posted by thatgirl1985 at 6:16 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

First of all, it would be awesome if you could somehow convince both your parents (or maybe just your mom, since she'd probably be easier to convince) to get some mental help. But for immediate coping mechanisms, my best advice is: join a gym, and sign up for evening classes or some kind of activity. You can get out of the house to 'go to the gym' (for real, or for fake) at any time of the day, any day of the week, and its a legitamate reason to not be home. Same with taking a class or doing a volunteer gig, or something else thats scheduled for the evenings (when, i imagine, is the main time you need an excuse to get out.) The structure will help you feel like you aren't going crazy in the house, and they'll also give you a reason to not be in the house at all.
posted by Kololo at 6:16 AM on June 27, 2011

I've waited on them to reach out to me, but I think they erroneously assume that no news is good news.

If your sisters are familiar with your parents' situation and know that you voluntarily chose to live there for the summer, I would guess that they think either a) that your parents' situation has improved somewhat, or b) that they're as bad as ever but it doesn't bother you or stress you out to be around them.

Someone upthread mentioned being a summer au pair. Any chance one of your sisters could let you stay in exchange for childcare?
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:46 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a note of caution, although you should indeed do everything in your power to get out of your parents' household, you really do want to have some savings before heading to the Middle East.

Employment laws over there are often not as strong as they are in the US or Korea, and I have a few friends who got cut loose from their teaching jobs without warning, and never got paid. Their dismissal was apparently ideologically-based, and they were effectively blacklisted from teaching in the same country ever again; soon after, one of them was threatened with deportation.

I don't mean to scare you, or deter you from moving out of your parents' house. Your health and safety right now should be your #1 priority -- don't jeopardize this. However, it might be to your benefit to find a cheap place to live, and to work your ass off in the meantime to put away as much savings at possible before departing. Meeting up with other people in your area with similar job offers sounds like a fantastic idea too.

Both of my friends eventually landed on their feet in adjacent countries, with less-sketchy teaching jobs, and love it now. However, the intervening weeks were Not Pleasant, because they had no money, and no actual way to get out of the country, even in light of the deportation threats. Having some money and a plane ticket stuffed away would have made their situation a whole lot less scary.
posted by schmod at 6:48 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to repeat myself: put away the idea that you're "burdening" your sisters. The way you're framing things now, your parents are abusive and it's improper for you to use your sisters as resources to escape that.

Well yes it is appropriate. They're your family, exploit away. In return, they can exploit you for help around the house. From each according to ability, to each according to need.
posted by tel3path at 6:52 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not burdening your sisters if you offer something of value! Think: cooking meals, cleaning, teaching or tutoring the kids, babysitting, big organizational projects...

Let your sisters know that you need some help, but you can help them out in return, and you'd be very grateful. Unless they're really cold - which it doesn't sound like - they know the deal, and are probably already worried about you and your ability to cope with the parentals.
posted by juniperesque at 7:20 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you go for temporal distance, if you can't achieve physical distance? That is, could you start making a habit of getting up a great deal earlier than your parents, or staying up a great deal later, so as to have the house to yourself for at least a few hours per day? There are lots of quiet individual activities (meditation? writing? prayer? learning a new language online?) that you could adopt to fill this time, and having a regular break might help you to get through the stressful interactions more easily.

Also, do your parents live in a place where it's safe to walk or jog? Long walks can be very centering, and would have the added benefit of keeping you out of the combat zone.
posted by Bardolph at 7:23 AM on June 27, 2011

Is there an accessible library? If so, go. Pretend you're going to work and your work is preparing for your teaching. You could even volunteer there.
posted by mareli at 7:31 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

-Do not worry about getting your parents help.

-Do get an au pair gig or some other job and get the hell out of there.

-Do make sure you have emergency funds if the teaching job goes sideways. Don't get stuck or need your parents to bail you out.

If your sisters can be part of this process, great. If not, follow thru anyway.

You will likely spend a good chunk of your 20's working through your feelings about your family, no need to cram that work into a 2 month visit. Don't go in circles in your head for the next few months, ok? It is what it is. It's not in your power to fix.

Accept that people make their own choices in life - good or bad. Be responsible for own choices, only. Don't put yourself at the mercy of people or institutions with a history of irresponsible choices. Ever.

The only way I know to heal people like your parents is to heal myself. All I can do is make my world a place where I don't abuse others, and I remove myself from situations where someone is seeking to abuse me.

Remove yourself from situations where your dad (or mom?) might end up abusing you from now on, and you are guaranteed to be doing the highest good for yourself and your parents.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:36 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've dealt with my parents for 25+ years. I can deal with them until I go to the United Arab Emirates in August.

To schmod: My job is through the UAE government. I will teaching in a public school along with 1000+ other teachers brought over from America, Canada, etc. I have lots of online contacts with people currently teaching there and I haven't heard of any shenanigans that were so commonplace at my hagwon in Korea. No instances of folks not being paid or being fired for no reason or blacklisted.

As far as money, I've got $3500 saved with no debt and no bills to pay. People bringing their families are recommended to go over with $3000. I only have to worry about feeding me. I am not in favor of moving out of my parents' place because that would be more trouble than it is worth because I have NO IDEA when my flight will be booked for Abu Dhabi. The travel agent may book the flight with only 24 hours notice.

When I get to Abu Dhabi, my government employer will provide single housing, luxury hotel accommodations during two-week orientation, and a $5500 settlement allowance once I am placed in my apartment. I'm responsible for my food, transportation, utilities, etc. Employer pays all health insurance premiums. No USA taxes. No UAE taxes.

I love the gym idea. We have a very nice fitness center about 10 minutes away. I go there to swim a couple of times per week. I also enjoy hiking, taking the dog to the park to play, and long walks in the woods. There is an awesome state park about 15 minutes away, too.

I've got to turn this around. Stop focusing on THEM and start focusing on ME and what I need to be HAPPY and HEALTHY.

I'm seeing my sisters this weekend and next week. I'll try to get them each alone and let them know my troubles. I know they will be able to give me some advice and reassurance. I also want to some time with my nieces and nephews. They're the cutest!
posted by thatgirl1985 at 7:52 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going definitely ask my sisters if I can help them out in any way. I KNOW my sis with 5 kids needs some help. I'll see what I can do to help them and in turn, help myself.

So my plan to cope is: 1. Help out my sisters and hang with my nieces and nephews. 2. Go to library and prepare for new job and culture. 3. Go to the gym and exercise. 4. Go for long walks and hikes with/without the dog. 5. Keep in touch with friends and family. 6. Try to bring in some money, if possible.
posted by thatgirl1985 at 8:02 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh. UAE will probably be fine. It sounds like you've thought this through :-)

Just make sure that you have enough money to live for a few weeks, and enough cash to book a flight back to the US on short notice at all times. This is general advice for anybody living abroad in employer-provided housing.

Don't put yourself in a situation where you'll have to rely on your parents.

My friends' situation was bad because they never anticipated that their settlement bonus wouldn't arrive (this was in Yemen, with a similar program).
posted by schmod at 9:17 AM on June 27, 2011

How I deal with my toxic living situation until the end of August?

I am not in favor of moving out of my parents' place because... I have NO IDEA when my flight will be booked for Abu Dhabi.

These statement are a bit contradictory, but it sounds to me like you know you have 4-8 weeks of time left between now and when you leave (July and August). Could you get a short sublet in a larger city? Sometimes sublets are discounted below normal market rent and if you're in a city, it might be easier to access employment and leisure opportunities. If you got a temp job, you could leave without any notice. If you have an 8-week sublet and you have to leave after 7 weeks, you're not out too much money.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:18 AM on June 27, 2011

Could you keep an eye out for housesitting opportunities on craigslist? They might get you out of the house for a week or two at a time.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:17 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Find a tent and go camping for several days in a row. Car camping will get you out of the house and into your own space while still having showers and toilets and not having to carry your stuff around on your back. If you don't have your own car, have your mom drive you there and drop you for 3 days. You may find the escape addicting.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

In case the thing stopping you from moving out until you move overseas is a binding rental contract, keep in mind renting a room in someone's home is often a week-to-week thing with no contract. And if your last week turns out to be, say, three days, you pay for the three days and zip off to UAE! Just wanted to give you an alternative. Don't know where you live, but here you can rent a room in good neighborhood for around $85/wk, utilities and cable included. Craigslist is a good source of rooms for rent.

Anyway, whatever you end up doing, hope your overseas adventure is awesome. :)
posted by Falwless at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2011

Thank you, everyone : ) I really appreciate the advice.
posted by thatgirl1985 at 12:46 PM on June 27, 2011

Whenever I have to go stay with my folks, it takes a few days of hell before I remember how I used to handle it in childhood. Specifically, spend as much time in your bedroom with the door closed as possible. Go for long walks on your own as well. If your folks are like mine and being on one's own is considered weird or rude, you'll have to come up with excuses. When I was a kid this was generally homework, but as an adult, having to get some work done, writing letters, or a headache can usually buy a few free hours. Good luck!
posted by lollusc at 5:47 PM on June 27, 2011

Go for extended visits with your sisters - babysit, paint their bathroom, whatever will make them happy to have you. Your Mom has options - there is a Family Violence shelter somewhere; encourage her to reach out for help. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 6:25 PM on June 27, 2011

« Older Please recommend a reasonable-priced turntable to...   |   Huge Chicharito and Dos Santos fan! -- I want to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.