My parents love me, but don't particularly like me
July 2, 2016 5:36 PM   Subscribe

My parents definitely love me, and would reliably do anything for me, no question about it-- but I've always gotten the sense that they don't generally "like" me as a person. I've always kind of felt like the "problem child," even though I'm not trying to get in their way and by most metrics am an all-around "good" kid. Why do I feel this way? Is this even a problem? How can I go about ironing this out?

Other details: I remember being regularly criticized by my parents as a young child (six years old or so) that I was a very selfish and inconsiderate person, that I was overly sensitive and emotional. Those were the two main common refrains all throughout my childhood, and I still think they feel this way today, although they don't explicitly verbalize these sentiments anymore.

I am the eldest child, and female, if that makes a difference. Compared to my siblings, I got seriously ill/was hospitalized more often, and also had more academic/extracurricular accomplishments that got a lot of attention from teachers, on top of being a firstborn to begin with, so I suppose I did monopolize a lot of the family's attention. ... But I mostly felt like it was neutral to negative attention. My siblings, on the other hand, didn't get as much attention and are dealing with their own sequelae from that, but I felt that my parents fundamentally accepted their existence a lot more, if that makes sense.

Have you ever felt this way about your relationship with your parents? Did it ever evolve? If so, under what circumstances? Any suggestions on books and articles to read would also be appreciated.
posted by fernweh to Human Relations (34 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
My relationship to my parents (especially my mom) was like this until I was in my mid-20s. I'm also first born, female, similar issues to yours. I feel like the reason our relationship got better was when I was finally able to communicate with my mom on her level, and take a real interest in her life, rather than her having to parent me all the time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:48 PM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a similar history with my parents as the oldest daughter. It helped me to see their behavior as bad parenting. When I really understood that none of it was my fault, and I was being scapegoated, I was able to let go of many if not all of the fucks I gave about their opinion. They were dysfunctional and that's why they did it. I know I am the best authority on earth about myself. And they are seeing me through their own lens that clouds everything with a knee-jerk vision of me as the family fuckup. But I don't care, because they don't know me like I know me.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 5:53 PM on July 2, 2016 [68 favorites]

My dad doesn't like me much. It took me a very long time to come to terms with it. What's worse, and what threw me for a loop for a while, is that he actively likes my sisters (my half sisters, his children who he didn't raise and didn't have contact with til they were adults). But the thing is, it's mutual. I don't like him much, either. I love him, he's my dad. But I don't cultivate much of a relationship with him anymore because I learned that my mental health is so much better if I don't engage. It's hard right now because he has cancer and I'm the only child my parents share so the logistics kind of fall to me by default. I love my mom (and I like her!) and I don't want her to deal with this alone so I step up and get shit done.

It's complicated. It took some therapy and a healthy relationship of my own to really come to terms with it. Mostly I'm glad I'm alive and I like the rest of my family and if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here. We'll just never have a great relationship. Once I accepted that, I mean really truly accepted that, I felt a lot better.
posted by cooker girl at 6:09 PM on July 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

It's more likely for the oldest child to be an unplanned child?
posted by puddledork at 6:09 PM on July 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I felt like this. I moved across the country and let them drift away. I text a status update once a week to prove that I'm alive. They've been replaced by my husband's family. Therapy helped with the guilt of letting them go.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:10 PM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I's possible that parents are sometimes really jealous of a firstborn child, who the parents are so excited about at first that they utterly devote themselves to him/her, who gets every thing and opportunity the parents can provide -- often opportunities the parents didn't have -- and who may in fact succeed more because of this. If the child is not somehow an utter saint from birth, with compassion learned in utero, then the child may not ultimately seem to be more _deserving_ than the parents remember themselves being. One episode of inconsolable tears may cause these devoted parents to throw up their hands and abandon hope of treating the child as a rational being; they realize that children are children, not full human beings yet, and that there is no justice in the world; the child is no more deserving than any other child.

If the child is a successful person, if the parents succeed in making the child more successful than they themselves are, if the parents even feel that this success is a result of their own sacrifices, then the unfairness of the universe becomes even more palpable.

This is the thinking that's come to me so far in trying to figure this out for myself.
posted by amtho at 6:20 PM on July 2, 2016 [28 favorites]

I don't think the birth order really has that much to do with it --- I'm #4 of five, and I'd say I was Dad's least favorite and second from the bottom with Mom. (Dad's favorite was #5, Mom's was #1.)

I've thought a lot about this over the years; my parents both tried to be fair and not show favoritism. But all parents are human, and humans do have favorites, personalities they just mesh with better. It's as simple as that: different people, different (sometimes clashing) personalities.

Which isn't to say my folks were perfect: oh heck no. But I give them credit for simply trying to do their best, even though yeah, I got dumped on sometimes, and my sisters got away with crap like I never would have.
posted by easily confused at 6:32 PM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah this is bad parenting. It's a parents job to gently correct and build ego. Criticism to the point you don't think your parents like you is verbal abuse of a child. Your parents may not have known a better way to parent at the time, but they fucked up big time.

Reading anyour parenting book (all the toddler books I've seen) talk about controlling your anger and gently correcting.) This could show you their failings are common and the right way. A lot of people internalize this negative message, but it seems like you didn't and that's great. Mindfulness and self compassion meditation/readings can help if you think you have at all. I hope someone comes by with a more specific recommendation.
posted by Kalmya at 6:35 PM on July 2, 2016 [15 favorites]

I am not you, but I definitely felt this way about my parents when I was younger. Four things changed this. I got older and more mature. I had children of my own. My parents died fairly young. I spent a lot of time in therapy.

Let me emphasize that I have no idea if this is what is going on in your situation and you don't mention your age, but I think that it's very easy when you are in your twenties to see everything your parents are doing wrong and not fully understand that they are imperfect struggling human beings just like you are. Once I had children of my own, i saw how hard it is to raise children and how utterly impossible it is to treat all of your children equally at all times. I think I was a very sensitive child who was easily hurt by what seemed liked favoritism on the part of my parents.

My parents have now been dead for many years. I have been an "orphan" since I was 36. I miss my parents more than I can say. They made mistakes, but now I have my own parental mistakes to reflect on. They meshed better with some of my other siblings in some ways - but now I understand that is just human nature. This is not true of all parents, but I can see now that mine truly did their best. It is no longer even hard to forgive them. I hardly ever think about their mistakes. I just wish i could see them again.

Whatever you are going through now, it will change in some way because you will change.
posted by FencingGal at 6:39 PM on July 2, 2016 [26 favorites]

I remember being regularly criticized by my parents as a young child (six years old or so) that I was a very selfish and inconsiderate person, that I was overly sensitive and emotional.

I could have written a lot of this post - this bit in particular. I'm not the eldest, but rather the only child, and I think part of it is a "first time parent" thing (kids are supposed to be selfish, it's what they do) combined with... to be honest, I mean, I love my parents and they did their best, but I don't know if parenting is really something to which they're suited. I frequently think their lives would have been net-happier if I hadn't been born.

It's evolved, I suppose - we talk largely as contemporaries at this point. Things kind of shifted when I got to around 17 or so, and we lived almost more like roommates than parents-and-child, and now we talk about things that interest us both, but don't actually interact all that much. I think it "helps" (sort of) that I live very, very far away, which limits the negative, dysfunctional or dependent (them or me) communication situations a lot. Our talk now consists more of "hey look at this cool thing I saw" or "how about this news item."

I'm mostly content with it, and I think they are, too.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 6:58 PM on July 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

My mother has never liked me (I'm female). I was a tomboy, which she hated, and then I grew up to be a very striking looking teenager. My mother is and always has been very beautiful and she was openly jealous. I also was academically successful and her family didn't let her go to college because she was female and she is jealous of that too. Things like my siblings got braces and I didn't, I wasn't allowed date and they were, she wouldn't buy me clothes, I had to get a job to pay the co-payments or I couldn't go to the doctor etc. When I type it out it seems worse than it really was but basically she was a fucking bitch about having another female in the house and we don't talk anymore and I will never feel bad about it. She should have only had sons.

I had lots of other great female role models growing up, mostly coaches (I love sports, Mom thinks they're unfeminine) and I'm still in touch with almost all of them and I like women perfectly fine. I think spending too much time around someone you don't like trying to make it work just messes everything up. Accept you're never gonna feel that feeling and move on.
posted by fshgrl at 7:26 PM on July 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

My mother never liked me as a child, I had none of her interests and also had an aversion to hugging & kissing etc while she was a big hugging person so she took my rejection of physical contact as a rejection of her. She loved me, she always tried to do the best she could by me but she didn't like me and my brother was the shining star. So I when I got older I went on my way living my life & making the dutiful phone calls home etc.

Then my father got ill & they both moved in with me as I had the space (my brother was married with 2 young kids) & when my father passed it just because easier for my mother to stay, I was single at the time & it seemed silly having two households with all the expenses when we could live cheaper together, etc. We lived together for 5 years in that time we became the best of friends and still are, even though I now live on the other side of the world from her.

Sometimes you have to go away so you can come back & get to know your parents again as equals. Both of you adults. A lot of the feelings of them pushing you away a little & you feeling separate from them are normal, you have to go out & find your own life & your own way. You have to reform your relationship with them as adults, part of that means excepting the fact they are human with their own faults. My father was a raging alcoholic with a mean temper, my mother never left him & for years I never understood why, but she was alone in a country with her family half a world away & no income of her own. It's only now I find myself married on the other side of the world with no family of my own even in the same hemisphere do I understand just how isolating that can be. If you'd asked me in my twenties I'd have called her weak & sworn it was because she loved my father more than me. I'm 47 and only recently have I really started to really understand decisions she made when I was a child.
posted by wwax at 7:46 PM on July 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have been dealing with this a lot lately- the fact that my dad and sister have never liked me much. I'm the 2nd daughter/child though, and was raised by a single dad after my mom passed away when I was 7. I'm almost 30 now. My sister and I were both very good kids, but were treated very differently. I was always told I was mean, selfish, and had an attitude, although no one outside of my family (who knows me) would say that. What Beethoven's Sith said is what I've been trying to make my mantra- they don't know me, so I shouldn't base my self value on what they think of me. It makes me sad, but it's not something I've been able to change. I have been trying more lately though, basically by directly telling my sister when my feelings are hurt by a negative or passive aggressive comment. I hope it's helping, but only time will tell.

I also began reading about emotional neglect, which has really opened my eyes about the impact that poor parenting has had on my adult life. I'll be interested in reading other comments too, as I'm really just starting to feel enough distance from my childhood to be able to objectively reflect on it.
posted by Katie8709 at 8:01 PM on July 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm one of four kids. This is just my perception but I felt like my mom was crazy about my oldest sister while my father doted on my other sister and they both adored my brother because he's The Boy. And then there's me. I was kind of a tougher kid to love. I felt like I had to be different from my sisters so I was kind of weird. The other kids easily got good grades but school was more of a struggle for me (and by that, I mean I was more of a B student with occasional As and Cs). I had a hard time in high school generally.

Sometimes I feel sad that I'm not anyone's favorite. I felt like my mother basically had a parade every time my sister came home from college for a weekend. I went to college nearby and felt like no one cared when I came home. My parents were proud of my sisters and brother for getting good grades. They didn't seem to care that I had three jobs and was editor of a school magazine.

However, my path is just different from that of my siblings. I could try to live my life for my parents but they're not going to live forever and I don't want to wait to live my life for me. I would like it if my parents felt as strongly about me as they feel about my siblings and were as proud of my achievements. It's a bummer that they don't and that they're not. Oh well. I love my parents. I wish they liked me more. But I can't make anyone like me, including my parents.
posted by kat518 at 8:21 PM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

My mother is the same way. She has explicitly said, several times over the years, "I love you, but I don't like the person who you are" or "the person who you are becoming". It's fucked up that she is open about it, but I've come to think it's not terrible that she feels like that. Parents are people with their own personalities. There's always going to be a chance that one or more of their kids have such different personalities that they would never be friends with them if they met them by chance. Being born into a family doesn't change that. It's one reason why I'm not going to have kids myself. Maybe I wouldn't like them. I wouldn't want to live 18 years in the same house with someone I didn't like. I have to give my mother credit for the fact that she was able to overcome her dislike enough to parent me adequately anyway.

As an adult I deal with it by just not seeing her or talking to her very much, and apart from some need she has for her friends to think her daughter is dutiful and "normal", I think she's relieved.

I also try to remember that I don't like her that much either. Our personalities and values are just so different. I've always been a bit too much of a people pleaser and I try really hard nowadays in all spheres of my life to remember that not everyone has to like me, and in fact, that if I don't like someone, it's maybe better and easier if they don't like me either. I mean, taken to an extreme, if you knew Hitler in person*, it would not be a good thing if he liked you. In fact, that would probably mean you were a bad person too. So having Hitler dislike you would be a good thing. People who don't share my values probably shouldn't like me, otherwise it suggests I'm either not being honest with them about who I am, or that I'm actually more similar to them than I would wish.

*My mother is not Hitler.
posted by lollusc at 8:45 PM on July 2, 2016 [14 favorites]

Oldest of three here, and an overachieving daughter. I seriously could have written this post and my heart goes out to you. In my experience, unfortunately, I really had to work hard with a therapist to get past this and learn to love myself. In my case my relationship with my parents continues to be stormy and they absolutely play favorites. It's very sad and a source of continuous heartache. In any other parent's eyes, I know plenty would be happy to have me as their daughter. I've been financially independent since 18, put myself through college, have an amazing career, a wonderful husband and am accomplished in my hobbies and satisfied in my friendships and relationships.

This in not good enough to my parents and it took a lot of self work to be able to say now, in my mid-thirties: to hell with that.

I found that letting go of any expectations for my parents has helped as well as reminding myself that it's not possible to choose one's own parents, but it is possible to choose who you surround yourself with and who you consider family. Family does not have to be conventional or how they would describe it, but how you describe it.
posted by floweredfish at 8:49 PM on July 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

I could have written this Ask a few years ago. I am also the eldest daughter, and I'm pretty sure that my parents just plain dislike me. I want to nth Beethoven's Sith above - this is just straight up bad parenting. I have been in therapy trying to learn to deal with family issues, and one thing that often comes up in my sessions is I angrily tell my therapist that I just WISH these people would change and love me the right way and just like me as I am. And she always gently reminds me that I can't force these people to change. They are who they are, I didn't get to choose my parents. They parented the way they knew best, even though it was extremely fucked up. She keeps telling me that instead I can focus on surrounding myself with family of my choice - i.e. friends and people who truly care about me, just as floweredfish above recommends.

The way I have dealt with this is moving far away, and distancing myself from them so I don't continue to get hurt. I basically have a "relationship" with them via text, with my therapist's support. I very rarely call them and they never call me. My relationship with them has always been rocky as an adult, and it never changes or evolves despite me having tried to have serious discussions about this kind of stuff with them in the past.

So, if you are anything like me, you feel this way because you are hurt, or sad, or frustrated, that things are this way. This is normal. It's okay to feel this way, your feelings are what they are. Regarding ironing it out - if you want to try, you can talk to them about it, but it may not go as you want. Be prepared for that, and do whatever you need to, to take care of yourself.
posted by FireFountain at 9:57 PM on July 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm an oldest daughter who doesn't like her mom very much and would have stopped speaking to her long ago if she was just a friend and not family. Honestly, I don't think she likes me very much either, although she'd never say so because she's very "family should stick together at all costs."

Like a lot of others above I moved very far away for a very long time and dealt with it keeping a very distant relationship. Unfortunately now due to health stuff I'm living with my parents in their house, and it's really not good. So anyway, I don't have any good advice, I just wanted to put in another vote that it sucks and it's hard, but family will unfortunately not always be your friends.
posted by MsMolly at 11:12 PM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Honey, I might be you. Memail me if you want, I think we might have some stuff to talk about.. I was a "gifted" kid but when I asked my parents if they LIKED me, i got crickets.

I know that my mom loves me - our relationship has evolved SO much after I set some boundaries. I think the most important relationship you can have is with that one person who supports you and lets you tell them 'no'.
posted by bendy at 12:38 AM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's totally a thing, and I'm sorry your parents are like that. Don't spend your energy trying to win them over; spend it figuring out what you want and will put up with. And do it now rather than later. If your parent doesn't like you much, they won't like your kids much either.
posted by headnsouth at 6:01 AM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I remember being regularly criticized by my parents as a young child (six years old or so) that I was a very selfish and inconsiderate person, that I was overly sensitive and emotional.

My parents said the same about me. My family is dysfunctional and abusive. It's not uncommon in dysfunctional families for the children to fall into one or more roles, such as the Scapegoat, the Golden Child, the Joker, etc. Not to say that your family is necessarily like this, but if this is an avenue you'd like to explore further, I've found the following books helpful for discussing dysfunctional family dynamics:

Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics
(Although it has alcoholics in the title, the dysfunctional family dynamics described are applicable more generally.)

Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families
posted by zenzicube at 6:04 AM on July 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

I've felt this way about my parents, particularly my mother, since I was a tween, but wasn't able to articulate why until lately - I'm 46 now. My mother truly expected to raise the child they imagined, not an individual. When I started deviating from her expectations, her cries of "I didn't raise you this way!" rang in my ears.

It's evolved in that I realize they are a product of their times, and I'm sorry for them. My mom didn't know better. In the past, results were much more predictable, and punk rock and premarital sex and women who didn't want to stay home until they were 22, then marry and spurt grandchildren were aberrations, not the norm. Being raised with fear and shame and hitting like she was didn't produce the kind of person she was, and she didn't know why. She's not a well-read, emotionally intelligent discerning person to begin with. When she tried to bake a cake and it came out pie, she was frustrated and confused and angry.

I don't have suggestions on books and articles. It's just been years of coming to realize that my parents' job was to raise me as best they knew how, and it's done. They don't have to like me. They don't even have to love me - they're humans, and I'm not even all that likeable and certainly don't always behave my best around them, because well, they're my parents. My mother wonders why I'm so prickly (I hate bigots and racists, and don't tolerate the things they say) and quick to anger around them (their house is hoardy, the food unhealthy, I suppress a lot while I'm there and they don't see the slow boil) and why I don't share my troubles and problems with them (they offer inane advice, perseverate on problems for years) or talk about my daughter's schooling (they don't have an understanding of the nuances between learning disabilities and stupidity, and never advocated for me as a kid.)

You're not a child any more - not the problem child and not the eldest child. You are the oldest of their adult children. You can't change them, you can learn to find a new normal with them. And, like I have and do, take some time to mourn and grieve that you didn't get what you needed or wanted. I am so sad and frustrated at times than in parenting my own daughter that I don't have certain tools in my belt, and had to learn "good" parenting from books and from my community of other mothers. My daughter gets the best I can give her, but she also knows I'm human and I make mistakes. And I parent myself these days. My folks are people I have a hard time conjuring up love for, and am obligated to, but they're not people I like or would choose as friends. And they don't have to be. I've let that go. It was festering and hurting me to keep thinking we could have a better relationship.

Why do you feel this way and is this even a problem, you ask? Because the idea that parents and children are supposed to have this amazing relationship, a support system, close family ties and unconditional love is all over TV shows and the media and books that tell us how to achieve that. And yes - other people have that, and it came easily and naturally, or else they worked it out sooner. But the reality is that some of us just don't get that kind of parent. The soon we accept it, take it for what it is and move forward, the sooner that scab in our hearts and heads stops being picked at, and it becomes a scar, and scars are pretty tough. My heart goes out to you.
posted by peagood at 6:10 AM on July 3, 2016 [31 favorites]

First, if they love you, support you, would do anything for you, that's pretty good. That's the virtue (and sometimes pain) of blood ties - they're just sort of there, for life, no matter how anyone feels about it. Doing the right thing ought to be a minimum standard, but too often isn't :/ Also, everyone in a family getting along as friends is much more rare than families doing what they're supposed to do. There's way too much variety in personality, and too much (love/ego) at stake (for kids - sibling rivalry is the commonest thing ever; also, too many parents who don't actually get along and really shouldn't have stayed married do, for cultural and other reasons). Result, lots of people have feels about family. You can't pick them, unfortunately. (You can choose your friends, though, and would put the focus on that, as a part answer to your last question.) If they're doing the right things, though, that is lucky. I would loosen the expectation that you also be friends.

Second, absolutely, birth order matters. First-time parents have no idea what they're doing, they have zero experience for the job. Often, they're young, not that mature themselves, and stressed by financial worries and the other bumps that go along with early marriage. By the time the second and third roll around, they understand that a bruised knee actually isn't the end of the world, all the expectations and worries that are focused on the firstborn are lessened, so later-borns (sometimes) benefit from a more chilled-out parenting style. While the patterns established with the first continue, and that is a dynamic that can have repercussions.

(Haven't looked at it in a while, but I remember reading research around birth order and personality. Firstborns tended to be achievers in conventional ways, people-pleasing, and a little neurotic compared to later-borns, and were less sociable. Lots of firstborn middle managers, apparently. Not the whole story, and I'm sure more's come out since then, but I feel there's at least a grain of truth in it. At any rate, as an also female firstborn, I can certainly relate to the feeling of being under a microscope, getting more praise and attention but also more grief about things my younger sibs (boys, probably matters) got to do with less of a big deal made about it. (Hi parties, & anything that typically happens in adolescence.) I can see all that playing into the "firstborn" personality, if it exists.)

I can relate to a lot of what you've written - I was considered to be "oversensitive", and too "intense"; also was in the long tail, academically (which made one sib very jealous); had some physical issues - no time in hospitals but experienced lots of aches and odd things that were a challenge (terrible growing pains, physically bruised easily, could not be put to sleep, had the worst nightmares, etc). Basically, was a fairly wired, all-around sensitive kid who needed lots of input and also lots of soothing. (Whereas my brothers were easygoing and could sleep through the night, and were easier to parent, I'm sure. There's that, temperament, of parents and kids - also timing - a given set of parents might not be equipped to deal with a particular baby at a given time. And things may be different for another kid. But the dynamic with the first carries on.)

I knew that I was loved, also that I sometimes just irritated my parents - e.g. I just could not get it together to be on time for school in the morning. My mom's said, since, that she felt I was "demanding" (I probably was, from her POV). She didn't have a ton of bandwidth at the time - she was under an objectively tremendous amount of stress, from multiple sources. I had an idea of that back then (you couldn't not), but only later did I learn the full extent of it. And all I can say about that is that I'm proud of her for making through as well as she did (and am apparently not the only one :/).

As a child, of course, you don't have that perspective. There are some feels from childhood that persist - the most painful thing to me, generally, is to feel unheard; definitely am a "quality time" person in the five love languages. That is sort of a lifelong getting over it process, I think. But having the sense of context really helped with making sense of it and taking the sting away. And all this was talked through years ago, when I was in my 20s.

Have you had those kinds of conversations with your parents? What were things like for them when you were little? What was their context?

I get along pretty well with my mom today. Though if I spend an extended amount of time with her, little irritations do pop up (for either person) and I just appreciate that it's time to go home when that happens. (There are also personality differences - e.g. she highly values a spic and span kitchen, and the way I cook drives her nuts; I get very annoyed when she follows after me with Mr Clean while I'm making a sauce. Whatever. I just go home when it's time.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:19 AM on July 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

(Also, my mom's been much less stressed since my parents divorced [when I was a teen]. Different person altogether, and it was good to get to know her that way, as an adult.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:25 AM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a first born female to a dad that wanted a boy and a mom that wanted a girl and I feel like I was always a disappointment to both because I'm somewhere in the middle. My little sister is more feminine so my mom sort of got what she wanted. Both parents love me and my father truly liked me (though I wasn't the boy he'd hoped for but he powered through it) but my mom can't really relate to me. She has enough of her own personality problems (narcissism mostly) that she basically can't. So I got a lot of "You're too sensitive" as a kid when I was being verbally abused and when I was getting harassed by kids at school and generally my feelings didn't really count and all the while she just viewed me as sort of a bad version of herself in a "What is with that kid?" way. Too sensitive also sometimes meant "Didn't put up with her bullshit" and I am okay with that.

It's a joke now between me and my sister because she's maintained a close relationship to my mother who is sort of mean to her (occasionally, not always) and my sister always says "Mom always liked you best" and I'm always like "Dude mom doesn't really like me, she just wants me to be available to her and I'm not because I have boundaries..." I think if you asked my mom, she likes me find but she finds me unrelatable. To me, externally, that presents as dislike because of her own personality problems (and, honestly, mine). So we have a more arms-length relationship and I feel better about having had a dad who really "got" me.

I think sometimes parents have kids who are just ... different from what they were expecting and can't really step up and manage their own feelings about it and then you get the situation you are in.
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 AM on July 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

Is it possible that the characteristics they always criticized about you are things they didn't like about themselves?
My dad, a socially awkward engineer type, kept criticizing my shyness and lack of social grace throughout my childhood, kept pushing me and making me feel like there was something wrong with me. My much more gregarious little half sis (thanks to her own mom!) made him happier. Looking back, he obviously has unresolved issues - now he criticizes my older kid!
posted by Omnomnom at 6:40 AM on July 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Well, First borns in general tend to get more criticism from the parents and the last born tends to get the least (the baby often gets coddled). The middle child being neither often feels they get little attention.

In my family this is precisely why the middle child ended up more healthy and productive in life than the other two siblings. My parents were extremely critical and controlling towards me and they spoiled their third/last child rotten to the point where she grew up having little concept of the fact that the world didn't revolve around her. My younger brother who was the middle child got little of their crappy parental attention and turned out healthier and better for it. I remember wishing as a child that I were more invisible to my parents and tried desperately to shrink and disappear so they wouldn't "see" me anymore. Imagine my surprise as I grew older and heard stories of middle children complaining of being invisible! To me, they were living the dream.

As for you being female... Do you come from an ethnic background that has stricter expectations on female children? I once worked with families and children and noticed that a lot of immigrant families seem to have this idea that female kids are "harder" than male kids. While the caucasian parents seemed to have the opposite idea. The fact was that the immigrant parents had this idea that little Juan was just being a regular good little boy when he ran around and played outside and got dirty...but when little Juanita would do the same, she was a problem child and therefore "harder" to deal with. They simply had strong notions that girls (even if they were only toddlers) should be flowery, sweet and wanting only to grow up to be care-takers. If the little girls were just wanting to play like the boys did and didn't want to help mommy wash the dishes instead, they were broken, problem children that needed more "effort" put into raising. It was so subconsciously instilled into these parents minds that they honestly didn't realize that Juanita was acting almost exactly the same as little Juan and was in fact perhaps being LESS rough in her play and getting her clothes a little less dirty. You didn't mention your background so not sure if this was a factor.
posted by manderin at 7:01 AM on July 3, 2016 [13 favorites]

Book rec: The Highly Sensitive Person helped me feel more ok about being "oversensitive", and explained a few things about how this set of qualities might have impacted my relationships with my parents and sibs. Made those conversations I mentioned easier. Also suggest reading stuff about child development in general.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:18 AM on July 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Boy oh boy, wow. Everything you say reminded me exactly of this book and it describes exactly what you are describing, which is that Your parents sound like they are emotionally immature people.

You will see yourself and your parents' and the family dynamic/relationship dynamic you have with them in this book.
posted by discopolo at 9:00 AM on July 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

Think carefully about all potential consequences before you decide to assert boundaries with them and their treatment of you. My parents cut me off when I started civilly protesting discourteous behavior--is that something you can live with?
posted by mchorn at 11:51 AM on July 3, 2016

A friend of mine once mentioned he's the black sheep in his family because he decided to pursue a master's and now a Ph. D, and is vegetarian... and the rest of his family are meat-eating farmers. They simply don't relate to him, he doesn't exactly fit in. It's always been this way. Now that he has kids and there's cousins of similar age, it seems they're all growing somewhat closer together again for the kids' sakes, and because they can relate with having kids at least.

My relationship with my mom has improved over the last 7 years or so... my pursuing interests relevant to hers was a turning point. Otherwise she's never found much ability to relate to me, and I never needed as much guidance as my siblings while growing up. Mom has an art and jewelry stall at the farmer's market, and for a few years I made and sold the jewelry for it, spending Saturday mornings on weekends with her, getting to know her art and talking. I also sew more now, mom's really into that - she's been quite happy to give me tips and advice on that. And I'm currently pregnant with my first child, and my parents' first grandchild - they are looking forward to that, it seems they're planning on being quite involved, and I am looking forward to their help.
posted by lizbunny at 5:45 PM on July 3, 2016

As a middle child, I saw this go down for my older sister (eldest of four) in a big bad way, especially from my mom.
For my mom, she definitely loves us all, but when we were small she was severely wrapped up in the damage from her own childhood. By the time I was 7 or 8 she had started getting help, which lessened the extent to which she worked stuff out on us.
But, for what it's worth, there was no way my mom could have ever done something as simple as "liking" my older sister at that time. Now as adults they have a warm & loving relationship, in large part thanks to my mom wanting to do the work required so that our relationships with her aren't totally defined by her own family of origin. That history shows itself here and there, but she tries really hard to live differently. Kudos to my mom, she made a conscious effort to change the script.
If your parents have never been able to delight in who you are (and whoever you are, i'm sure you are delightful in your way), that is about them, not about you.
posted by dotparker at 7:02 PM on July 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

It really hurts to come to terms with your parents' failures as parents. As many here have said, the problem here is definitely with them, not you. Parents who truly love you don't tell you that you are "too sensitive" when you tell them that they are hurting you.

I suggest some talking therapy to work out how you can deal with them. On some level you need to separate yourself from them, at least emotionally, until you can feel good about yourself. Although I don't know them, you might try reading "The Drama of the Gifted Child" by Alice Miller and "Stop Walking on Eggshells" by Daniel Mattila to see if you find any of yourself and your parents in there. It won't be a perfect fit and maybe they fall somewhere in the spectrum of the problems you see described in those books. They can help you find some coping mechanisms.

Know that you are lovable and likable even if your parents are unable to do so.
posted by Red58 at 6:34 PM on July 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just read this today, and it made me think of your question.
posted by 912 Greens at 3:08 PM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

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