Sins of Our Fathers
November 14, 2018 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble with my feelings towards my parents and am wondering how to proceed. My relationship with them is very strained.

They are older. Dad is in his 70's and mom is in her 50's. I'm lucky they are still here, I realize. I currently live with them and am going back to school then will move out. It isn't an ideal situation, but life blew up in my face. What can I say?

My childhood was bad. I didn't really understand how bad it was until I had mastered the English language, read more about abuse, and discovered more about my mother being schizophrenic.

Dad beat mom growing up and has even hit her with me in the other room (as recent as last year that I know of). He is smart enough to not lay hands on me now because he knows I will throw him in jail. He is smart enough to know mom won't.

Dad beat me growing up. I was hit for not knowing division problems, chased around the house with rubber bands, spanked for not wanting to take a picture with him after he paraded his girlfriend around my mom. Stuff like that.

Last year, I sought apologies. Dad denied ever laying a finger on me. I remember the last time he hit me and that was when I was 16. He choked me when I was 17 because I wanted to sign my speeding ticket as "not guilty" and go to the judge to work out a deal.

Mom, on the other hand, was a detached mother. She wouldn't play with me at all. She would provide the basics and feed me but nothing really more. Our relationship was always strained and as an adult it never really improved. We yell at each other to this day. Her schizophrenia has advanced to the point where she randomly texts me things about mites and bugs and how I should protect myself...

I believe I don't want to have children because I will be a detached mom. I fear being like her, and I fear that I will spank my children. I will be a horrible mother. The only way to end the cycle is to not reproduce and quickly, my window of time to have any is closing. My biological clock does not tick.

Anyway, since I last sought apologies, I started pulling back from Dad. Dad wants to be close to me and know what is going on in my life, but my parents only know that I have a boyfriend whom they've met. That is all they know. And I live there. With them.

Mom does not pursue a relationship with me and I'm fine with that. I actually prefer it because if I try to seek resolution for their mistakes, she tells me to get over it. "We didn't mess you up! You're an adult! Deal with it!" I just want to talk about this. I just want them to look at me and say they're sorry. I wish I could let this go but it is so difficult.

I tiptoe around my OFFICE and try to make as little noise as possible when closing any doors. I don't like telling people how I feel because I fear they will lash out. I have trouble defending and standing up for myself. My memory is terrible and I only remember bad things because of how they make me feel. My memory will forever be tied to my feelings. Misery.

My parents, mainly my mother, still treats me like I'm 10 years old. They both have zero boundaries and do not respect the ones I set. Most recently, my mom just showed up to my job after I told her not to in order to get something from me. I feel steamrolled all the time by them, like they are toxic and are the hugest weight in my life. I am embarrassed to have to explain my relationship with them to my boyfriend.

Holidays are coming quickly and I will be there, eat a plate of food, and then go back to my room. Christmas, I will hand out gifts, watch them open them, then head back to my room. It is mystifying to me how I can do this. I want to love them but instead I am filled with rage and hate. I don't have a lot of time left with them and I worry so, so much that I will REGRET THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE when they die.

I've done therapy. It didn't help. I've tried talking to them. It didn't help. How do I bounce back from this estrangement? Can this even be salvaged? Has anyone been in a weird position where you hate your parents but you love them too? I feel like I have to take action now or I will never get the chance to make peace.
posted by AlexandriaParis to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In order to fix this - to take action, to make peace - everyone involved has to be willing and able. It doesn't sound like your parents are willing or able.

When you have parents like this, it can be very hard to accept they will never be the parents you want them to be. My father was a sad alcoholic, and although he wasn't abusive, he wasn't exactly there for me, either, and then he got cancer and died. I didn't mourn my father's death, not really - it was a blessing in many ways, because he had been sick and suffering for so long - but I mourned the loss of possibility. It always seemed to me like there might be some chance he could get better and be the dad I wanted him to be. In hindsight it's obvious this was never going to happen. But still, we cling to the hope. It's hard to accept that the people who made us have deep issues of their own that they can't overcome. It helped me (and still helps) to see my father as a broken, unhappy person, rather than primarily a person who did a bad job of being my dad. It's true that he did a bad job of it, but it's also true that he created many more problems for himself than for me. His suffering was primarily his own; my sister and mother and I were collateral damage.

You are clearly a sensitive, loving person. I know what you mean, about fearing future regret. But you have already done the work. You've tried. You don't have to feel like you're giving up - quite the contrary. Letting go of unrealistic expectations about what they're capable of can be freeing. In the end you can only make yourself happy, your own life better. Right now you're beating your head against a wall trying to fix a situation that is not fixable - and over time that is going to make you feel worse and worse, because you'll feel like you're trying so hard (or that you should be trying even harder) and nothing is getting better. When it comes to a dysfunctional relationship, it can't get better if only one person wants things to change. It's just not possible.

To this outsider reading your story, I think what will help you the most is getting out of that living situation, and building a life for yourself where they can't overstep your boundaries. Where you can draw clear lines about what you share with them and how much time you spend with them. Changing the way you think about what's possible in the relationship doesn't mean you have to cut them out completely - but in order to be happy, I do think you have to figure out how to stop hoping they'll someday give you what they don't seem to be able to give.
posted by something something at 8:42 AM on November 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

Firstly, all my sympathies, these are difficult questions and a difficult background to claw your way out of.

I think that the relationship with your parents right now is a red herring. Your parents are not important right now — YOU are. You need significant treatment so that you no longer need to tiptoe in your life — literally and figuratively.

For now, do not tell your parents details about your life, maintain significant distance. Put the big question of the state of your relationship on the backburner though. It is ok to both love and hate them. Accept that confusion for now, as hard as it is.

Because the priority right now is – You! You deserve to feel strong in the world! Happy! You deserve to take up space, demand things, shout with anger and joy!

I know you mentioned you tried therapy. You NEED therapy. I'm concerned you might have significant untreated PTSD from years of abuse and witnessing abuse. You need to find a person who will lead you on a journey of self-discovery. It will be a process, a long process but possibly the most important of your life. Interview several people, find who makes you feel heard, taken-care-of, SAFE.

Sending you love! The question of who our parents are is a difficult one, and I can relate. I do my best to focus on the real question – who I am and how I can help myself feel the best I can feel. Best of luck.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 8:44 AM on November 14, 2018 [17 favorites]

I experienced something different from what you did, but not so different that your question doesn't make me nauseated and a bit weepy and want to help you in a much more concrete way than I could here.

I'm in my mid-40's and have been, at last, dealing with this in therapy for the last year. If therapy did not help you previously, perhaps it was not the right kind of therapy for you, or the right therapist. Please try again, and please try to make some physical and emotional space for yourself, away from them. I don't have children, and I understand exactly why you don't want them. I will never know if that might have been different had I healed when I was younger. Healing is hard, and I hate it sometimes, but I am doing things in my life that I never could before. Asking people real questions. Letting them ask me real questions. And I will never fix my family relationships the way I could have 20 years ago, and I'm managing my feelings about that pretty OK.

Heal so you can build a self and a life that you want. Please, get whatever kind of help you can for now, and eventually you'll figure out what kind of help you need.
posted by wellred at 8:59 AM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

My father abused me and my schizophrenic mother, so I understand a bit where you're coming from. What made life easier for me over the years was living very far from both of them. I also learned how, somehow, to develop familial-style relationships with unrelated people, a family of choice; these relationships helped a lot.

I did end up having children and I did not abuse them. They're all in their 40s now and they still like me, really, they do. I like them too. I wasn't a perfect parent but I did a helluva better job than my parents. You're not stuck in a vicious circle, you can escape becoming like them.

You can't change your parents, you can't change the way they relate to you, but you can change the way you relate to them. In your case your best best is to get the fuck out of there, go as far away as you can. Look for a job in another part of the country. Go back to school. Do whatever it takes to get out of there.
posted by mareli at 9:22 AM on November 14, 2018 [12 favorites]

First, I'm sending you a hug and a truckload of good vibes. Growing up with toxic parents is awful. Growing into adulthood will never be complete for you if you don't reclaim yourself and separate from them--either figuratively or literally, whatever works best for you.

Order yourself a copy of Toxic Parents. Take a close look at other suggested books when you're looking at that title.

I'm going to suggest that your past therapy was unsuccessful not because your situation can't be surmounted, but because of the therapy itself. Maybe you had a bad fit with a therapist. Maybe their methods didn't work for your case. Maybe they suck at being a therapist. Maybe you're not ready to fully open up to self-examination. Whatever the case, I urge you to find a therapist and a mode of therapy that works for you. You need someone objective to listen to you.

I know it's hard to take this in: The apology you seek will never be forthcoming. The sooner you can acknowledge that and plan accordingly, the more free you will be to live your life as you choose. Not under the shadow of the abuse you've suffered.

Lastly, is there anywhere else you can live instead of with your parents? The work ahead of you--separating from them--is arduous and fraught with setbacks. If you're living with them, it's just that much harder.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:34 AM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

I currently live with them and am going back to school then will move out.

Move out. It won't fix anything, but it will make all of this easier to manage. The least comfortable of ordinary roommate situations will be better than living in the same house as your parents. It isn't right that they don't respect your boundaries while you're living with them, but you aren't going to be able to change it, and you know that they don't want to change it. You need to be elsewhere, as soon as possible.

I don't have a lot of time left with them and I worry so, so much that I will REGRET THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE when they die.

My dad died while we were estranged. I'm sad about the circumstances that led to it, much of which involved his mental health. I grieve the fact that I lost my dad. But I don't regret the fact that I didn't let his problems ruin my life as well as his own. I am now on track to have the same thing happen with my mom, for somewhat different reasons, and in that case I've come to realize that I'm not even sad about losing her, the way I am with my dad--I'm sad about the fact that I don't have the mom I wanted to have. It is certainly not a thing to do lightly, but the weight of the regret is much, much less than I worried it would be. You can't let yourself fall into regretting things that your own actions could not actually have changed. The people who your parents are--that's the product of their choices, not yours.
posted by Sequence at 9:43 AM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

You want to love them, but they treated you appallingly. (Your father, at least. Your mother has major mental health problems that complicate things.)

I don't mean to blame you, but I wonder whether therapy wasn't helpful because you still seem to think your parents were right. Thinking you have to love them even if they abuse you, etc. - those are opinions, not truths. You don't have to love people who treat you like that. No matter what self-serving lies they may have taught you.

You deserve better parenting than what you got. I don't know if you believe that or not. That's okay. But this:

I just want them to look at me and say they're sorry.

Will almost certainly never happen. The good news is that you can escape and grow and thrive WITHOUT their apology and without their permission.
posted by cage and aquarium at 11:49 AM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

The only way to end the cycle is to not reproduce

Just as a point of support, my upbringing was not as severe as you describe yours but I decided not to have children for similar reasons. I'm a guy, so the clock will never run out, but as far as being comfortable in a world where most people my age and in my circle have kids.
posted by rhizome at 12:16 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just want them to look at me and say they're sorry.

I'm my experience, you're life will improve massively if you let go of this want, it's not going to happen.

Also you don't owe anyone love. Anyone.
posted by French Fry at 1:00 PM on November 14, 2018 [11 favorites]

1. You deserve love. You are a person who has worth and can be loved.

2. You are a being independent of your parents. What they think of you, and whether they apologize for past/present/future wrongs, is not important, and does not reflect on your worth (see No. 1). You are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of your parents.

3. You need therapy. Like the way we all need oxygen. You must find a way to heal and deal with your traumatic upbringing. It has colored and warped your way of perceiving yourself and the world around you. Not finding success in one/two/five therapists does not mean that all therapy will not work for you. Keep searching.

Hugs to you, AlexandriaParis. You can do this.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:19 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just to chime in: I honestly never expected this kind of response because I blame myself for a lot of things which probably contributes to this.

I’m surprised, most of all, by the fact that almost everyone picked up on my self-loathing. I knew they were linked. Or at least I assumed they were but this confirms it. The idea that I must love to feel worthy.

The scariest part of all this is yeah. I never feel worth it. I don’t believe in myself the way I should (and not even in a Disney fashion). That’s weird.

I appreciate all the answers. It’s late here, but they’ll all be marked as best because this is all great advice and i always think that I’m the only one. It’s very lonely to think that way.

Thank you all.
posted by AlexandriaParis at 9:38 PM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had a complicated childhood and sometimes describe things that my parents did as abusive. I agree with the people above who have said that your relationship to yourself is more important, right now, than your relationships with either of your parents.

This is something that helped me: I don't have the science in front of me but I understand that one of the things that trauma does is it arrests you at the moment of trauma. It holds your development there. Obviously you continue to grow and learn and age, but there is a sense in which you are holding inside of you the child that you were when you were hit, when you were choked, when you needed your parents to be on your side and give you emotional support and they didn't.

That child is still with you. Still in you.

All of which is leading up to a thought experiment: get into that moment, when your needs weren't met, when you were hit and scared, when you knew that your mom wasn't going to be there for you. You probably felt terrified and scared and alone. Now imagine that there is an adult in that room with that child-you, someone who does love you and support you and who says "this isn't okay. You deserve better."

Imagine that adult, telling that to the you that was hit and hurt and scared and alone.

That child is still with you. But now, today, you are an adult who can tell that child "this isn't okay. You deserved better." And you can do something about it. You can protect that child with your adult self.

It's never going to be okay. Your parents were who they were and are who they are. But you can give yourself the gift of healthy support and love. You can be that person for yourself, because you are in the room, right now, with that hurt child. Can you try that. Try saying those things out loud to yourself? Try telling yourself that you are here for you? And then be there for yourself? Honor the hurt places in yourself. Protect them from further hurt however you feel you need to.

Listen to that hurt child. If it's telling you to leave, maybe find ways to honor that. Figure out what you have to do to leave (apply for benefits? get a second job or a raise? hit up a friend who has a spare bedroom?) and break those things down into steps. Maybe you can't leave today, but you can show yourself that you, the adult you, is taking care of the child you however you can.

You deserved better. It wasn't right, what they did.
posted by gauche at 2:28 PM on November 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

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