family envy
May 14, 2022 5:26 PM   Subscribe

My parents aren’t bad but they aren’t great either. Other people have amazing, real relationships with their parents - how do I stop being envious of them?

Hi. I’m having a very hard day. (Hard year, to be honest). Tomorrow is my college graduation, and what I would really like to be and have always imagined as a joyous celebratory time of togetherness isn’t really that at all. A lot of that is anxiety and depression - one of the biggest triggers for me is seeing other people in my class and their families.

For the purposes of this ask, I’m focusing more on people where I actually know things about their family dynamics, so the cognitive distortion of “the grass is greener on the other side” isn’t as much at play here. Specifically, I’ve been seeing how one of my close friends, my ex, and my ex friends interact with their families and I’m filled with intense jealousy. They actually have good relationships with their parents. Healthy relationships! With boundaries! And mutual respect! And individuation! And all the good things that I’ve always wanted to have with my parents.

My relationship with my parents has gotten better in recent years as they’ve adjusted to having adult children and treated me and my siblings less like their babies. Still, I don’t trust them. This is partially due to some of their behavior when I was a child: they were often emotionally inconsistent, they didn’t really create space for my feelings. They compared me to my twin sister a lot. My dad made comments about my my sister’s weight and our bodies. We’re immigrants so the background of my childhood was intense scarcity that was honestly terrifying. For years, it felt forbidden to hope for the future. The message was to put my head down, work as hard as possible, get into a good college, then get a job that I could convince to sponsor me for a visa. Every single decision I made felt like it was supposed to contribute to one of these very important goals - hobbies necessarily had to pad my college resume, for example. Basically, I didn’t really get a childhood where I could properly have fun.

This is not great behavior, but forgivable. My parents have done things that show me that they can be emotionally immature too. For example, from today, I told my mom that I wasn’t feeling because I started my period, and my mom made an uncomfortable sound because she still stigmatizes menstruation, which I just find silly and frustrating. Can’t we just talk about this shit like adults? She keeps telling me that she wants to be my friend, but I don’t trust her with things that are sensitive because I feel like she doesn’t have the capacity to respond with nuance. Two years ago, my dad got really upset with me for wearing short shorts, and I argued back. The argument devolved into a shouting match that led to him saying that he was going to kill me. I asked him if he would apologize and if he meant it, and he said that he would not apologize and he would say it again, because he’s the “supreme ruler of the household”. So that should give you some insight into his patriarchal mindset. (I think he actually did not mean to say that he would kill me; I think he doesn’t have a good relationship with his feelings and was overwhelmed. It still doesn’t excuse what was an absolutely awful and deeply scarring thing to say to his own daughter).

Through a lot of therapy over the past year, I have come to a point where I’ve begun to forgive my parents for their emotional immaturity. A lot of this cultural; South Asian cultures are traditionally intensely patriarchal. (They don’t need to be this way, but the patriarchy has been embedded in this culture in a way that makes me truly sick). A lot of it is also generational. My father in particular had a childhood where he was shunned by his family, never validated, and never seen as a true person. I give my parents a lot of credit for how hard they’ve tried to be good parents. They celebrate my accomplishments. When my boyfriend broke up with me, they immediately drove to campus to comfort me. For all of their failings, and there are definitely many, they are not bad parents. They’re just two people who have been stressed by their life circumstances and don’t have the tools to give me what I want from them.

So they’re not bad parents, but they’re not particularly good parents, not in the way that my friend and ex and ex-friends’ parents are good. Their parents share their values. They actually get along with their parents as people, which is something I still find difficult to do with my parents. I have suppressed my personality so much around my parents that I still don’t know how to be myself around them, to try to actually get along with them as people, and though I want to be myself around them, I’m still wary of their judgement and reactions. Truly, simply, I don’t trust them.

I feel consumed by envy when I see other people with their parents. I think part of why this envy haunts me is that I don’t have a great relationship to uncomfortable emotions like envy - envy just feels so shitty in my body and I don’t know how to sit with it. Another part of is though that my mind starts weaving stories about the envy - I keep thinking that the reason that my friend and my ex and ex friends are better off than me is because they didn’t have shitty childhoods. Because they had a better relationship with their parents and/or their parents are better, they’re literally miles ahead of me. I got dealt a shitty hand. Basically, I turn the envy into further confirmation of my badness and my doomedness. I’ve been trying to interrogate this story CBT-style, but I keep getting stuck on the fact that objectively, these people DO have it easier than I do because they have a better relationship with their parents / because their parents are better. So it’s hard for me to undo the rest of the story.

How do I stop wishing that my parents were fundamentally different and accepting that my relationship with them is what it is / may never become what other people have with their parents? How do I get over that disappointment? How do I deal with this envy?

Very important note: please don’t tell me that I should go no-contact with my parents. I have chosen to not do that. This is a common response from white people when they hear about some of this behavior, especially my dad’s behavior, and I find it unhelpful and culturally insensitive. I hope I have offered enough cultural context to understand his actions as well as personal context to understand where I’m at with him (ie: forgiving but certainly not forgetting).
posted by cruel summer to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Dude, so many of your questions are about comparing things. But you’re always comparing to the people more fortunate than you, when you could start comparing to those who have less.

Your pain is valid and it’s okay to have it and be sad. But go volunteer with a food bank or shelter or boys and girls club or something!
posted by warriorqueen at 5:53 PM on May 14, 2022 [26 favorites]

Don’t compare your inner experience with somebody else’s exterior experience.

Also, if your dad threatened to kill you, why is it culturally insensitive to suggest you shouldn’t subject yourself to that kind of dehumanizing, abusive treatment? You deserve to not have to put up with that abuse.

Finally, I wish you grace and peace and understanding in your life.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:01 PM on May 14, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I have a similar experience to you (culturally American but “low functioning” parents) and the advice not to compare, etc. feels odd to me. We’re not talking about wearing hand-me-downs or not getting into a top tier law school. Family is an extremely fundamental aspect of human experience, one which shapes the way you experience relationships for the rest of your life. Supportive parents and family are invaluable and the lack of them can result in a feeling of deep meaninglessness. (Nobody tells an orphan to “stop comparing.”) You can suppress and ignore the developing awareness you have now or you can listen to it and hopefully seek those supportive relationships elsewhere, whether with a therapist, friend, mentor, or even (at first) a pet.

It’s natural to grieve this very deep loss. If you feel stuck in the grief, I’d reach out to a professional. Don’t settle until you find one who is really listening & validating your loss. You won’t heal the wounds until you understand them. The goal is to eventually move past this, but that’s not something you can do through sheer force of will. The longer you wait the more pain you’re heaping up.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:15 PM on May 14, 2022 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I just looked at your Ask history and you sound like you’re suffering from complex trauma. You don’t feel safe or attached in most (all?) of your relationships. You feel like a monster, helpless, hopeless, alone. This is what emotionally abusive parenting does to people regardless of culture. I would look into Pete Walker’s books, they might help you (especially if you can’t find a therapist right now).
posted by stoneandstar at 6:19 PM on May 14, 2022 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Your ex-friends get along more easily with their parents because they share the same cultural values and taboos, because they're not immigrants. If one of your ex-friends moved to another country for 20 years and absorbed that new country's stigmas and culture, they might get into more disagreements with their parents.

The conflicts you're describing with your parents, and your feelings of trauma, are a common part of the immigrant experience. Immigrant parents often want their kids to assimilate in order to succeed, but these same parents also become alarmed when the kids absorbe the new country's values around how to dress (like the short-shorts) what to feel embarrassed or not-embarrassed about (menstruation), gender norms, etc.

Adversity is grueling, but it also brings strength. Ditto for diversity (you and your parents have diverse viewpoints because you grew up in different cultures). One day in the future, after you've come out the other side of this, you might be talking to someone like your ex-friends. Someone who had it "easy", who naturally got along with their parents with whom they shared cultural norms and blind spots. That person might express great admiration of your grit. They might ask how you developed it, because they want to develop it themselves.

Grit doesn't grow out of easy, pleasant lives with little challenge or diversity.

I wish you luck.
posted by cheesecake at 6:32 PM on May 14, 2022 [21 favorites]

Can you try to get into the habit of celebrating these relationships? I can't promise that will be easy, and it's very likely to feel fake at first... but it may serve to interrupt your current reaction, and eventually, to replace it.

You can even express this appreciation to your friends, perhaps even their parents (without comparing them to yours, at least aloud).

I'm omitting my snowflakes, as they're a very different situation and there's no reason you'd be interested, but this helped me with some serious envy, and added a lot of joy into my life to boot.
posted by humbug at 6:48 PM on May 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hey, so I'm the American child of South Asian immigrants too. A fair bit older than you. A few thoughts:

1. It's really really hard for your parents to see you as an adult. They changed your diapers, wiped your snots, kissed your boo-boos... And you need them to go from that to viewing you as a social equal? Not gonna happen. The hierarchical nature of a lot of South Asian culture doesn't help, but I've heard this from white friends too. (From both the parent and the child perspective.)

1a. Sometimes I feel like these big life events bring out the worst of this. Parents see their kids moving away from them and want to reassert control, by acting out. Graduation is a classic time for this. Wait until your cohort starts to get married. Yeesh.

2. You learn to pick your battles. My mother, now well past menopause, still calls periods "your thingy." Yeah it's silly, but she's not going to change her vocabulary. I am just never going to have a girl-talk sesh with my mom, that's fine. I have other women who fill that role for me.

3. Your friends with the "great relationship" with their parents are going through stuff too. I guarantee it. You're seeing those relationships from the outside, and if there's one thing I've learned in the post-college real world, it's how relationships (romantic, platonic, parental) and personalities can be VERY different inside and out.

4. I'm glad you are in therapy, hopefully with a therapist who is familiar with intergenerational trauma in the immigrant context. Sounds like you've been thinking of those issues already. I'm of a pre-therapy era (except in the context of neurotic Woody Allen types) so I muddled through with books. Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake came out when I was about your age, and it was relevatory. Highly recommended if you haven't read it. (Movie is OK, book is much better).

Congratulations on making it through college, in the midst of a global pandemic, no less! It gets better, I promise.
posted by basalganglia at 7:14 PM on May 14, 2022 [25 favorites]

I remind myself that luck is on a continuum.

My life would have been easier if my family of origin had more money, but we had more money than many people in the world. I wish my parents had shared my values and had a more intimate relationship with me, but they were much more caring and much less abusive than many parents. My parents lived to see me grow up, not everyone’s do. I wish I had better mental health and physical fitness but my brain and body do work pretty well, many people experience a harder time in that area than me.

Some people who live seemingly charmed lives have awful stuff happening in private (for instance (content warning CSA), a wealthy friend with a perfect house and perfect looking family who I alway envied recently told me a family member had m*lested her for a decade - you couldn’t ever have guessed from the outside). Some people have good luck at 25 but will get horrible luck later. Some will always be luckier than you in every way. Some will always be unluckier than you in every way. Some people are already dead when you’re just getting started.

I think as your world gets bigger - bigger than your family of origin, bigger than your friend group, bigger than your campus, bigger than your city - this will become more obvious. Travel and volunteering can help give you more context and expand your sample size for comparison.

There is just no sense comparing because at the end of the day your luck is probably kind of “in the middle” compared to all of humanity, and will stay there.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:19 PM on May 14, 2022 [13 favorites]

This is way, way more than strangers on the internet can help you with. You need to see a professional.

But since you're a fresh graduate, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you might not have the resources to see a therapist or professional. So I'm going to tell you a story. I have a very good friend whose wife regularly spends time with her mother, and they get along famously. As in, they're actual friends, and TBH it's freaking weird. I've never had as good a relationship with either of my parents.

But here's the thing: I don't envy her. It has never occurred to me to envy her. I'm (probably) much older than you, and I've had time to process who my parents are as people, and how that has influenced my relationship with them. I've come to terms with their shortcomings, and how those shortcomings made my life harder, but I've also come to terms with what they did right, and how that's helped me out. I am seconding, thirding, and fourthing the above comments that say stop comparing yourself to other people and their relationships with their parents. Who cares? You are not them! You will never be them!

You need to evaluate the behavior of your parents on your own terms - I can't tell you if your dad threatening to kill you and refusing to back down from that is unforgivable or not. I think that's deeply messed up, but at the end of the day you have to be the one to decide on what decision to make based on the context of the situation and your own values. And, again, I would recommend talking these things through with a professional. This stuff is hard.
posted by Ndwright at 7:24 PM on May 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I could have written your whole post, even the part about your dad threatening to kill you. I'm not South Asian but from another patriarchal culture. However I don't feel envy when I see those people like your ex-friends. I just accept that this is their culture and I'm now living in it.

You and I are adapting to their culture as best we can but we still have a foot in our old culture when dealing with our families. This is a huge challenge we try to overcome that most people can't understand. And don't forget how hard it is for our parents to live here when they grew up in their old culture. How they must deal with abandoning old rituals, customs and ideas in adulthood. It's not easy for them either.

As for me, when I see people like your friends having wonderful family relationships I just accept it. I rely on that serenity prayer which you'll see on kitchy knick knacks. It's not just a cute saying but a really important one that has meaning in cases like this. God (or universe or nature etc.) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. There's more to the prayer but this is the line I need.

I don't get angry when it's dark at night or cold in the winter. That's just the way it is. Well the same with people from this culture. This is their culture and my family isn't. I tell myself this is the way it is and to accept it.
posted by Coffeetyme at 7:25 PM on May 14, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: You're comparing ALL that you know about your family to the little you know about other people's families. I 100% guarantee you that just about nobody (not your friends, not your ex, not your ex-friends) have the family lives and history you think they have).

How do I know? Because lots of people I knew used to envy my family, even though I thought I was being straight-up open about how awful so much of it was. We lived in an upper middle class house and my father had a universally impressive job, but he was emotionally and financially abusive (and also, it turns out, a cheater, and up to his eyeballs in debt, partially because of the cheating), and everyone thought that my mother and I were hysterically funny about everything we said about him. Because it had to be a joke; who would say such things out loud if they were serious? Well, we did. And so everyone thought we were just really funny, sarcastic, upper-middle class A-OK people. There's not a day of my life from late elementary school until I left for college that I didn't cry; few days that I didn't vomit. And even though I was completely honest about all of it, nobody could see it because it just seemed like fun banter. People see in others what they want to see. You're seeing perfection in your friends/ex and their families because you're seeing an idealized version. It's a mirage. I guarantee.

[How much did they not believe it? The LITERALLY only person I grew up with whom I believe did have that perfect Leave-It-To-Beaver life invited me to his wedding. The only other person I knew at the table was another friend from childhood, and the only one who ever seemed to actually get what my family life was like. When we sort of introduced one another to the strangers at the table, their eyes all got big; these random strangers at the table knew all my crazy family (father) stories from the groom because he had nothing funny to tell about his childhood, so he would do some version of, "Well, let me tell you about my friend, the wrong kind of cheese. Her mom and she would tell the funniest stories!" FWIW, the groom's perfect family? His dad died way too young. Don't envy, because not only don't you know what people have, you don't know what they will have.]

My mother is a wonderful person and ten times, maybe 100 times, the parent my father ever was, but it didn't save me from having serious self-esteem issues, or feeling ill-supported in so many ways. I once had to say to my mother, "Your opinion means so much to me that I CANNOT LISTEN TO IT" because I knew her bad childhood and adult experiences would inform her opinions and ruin any chance I had to make bold, healthy decisions.

My mother and I have a wonderful relationship in many ways, but we also fight snipe about stupid stuff on a daily basis, and it's all tied (at least tenuously) to interactions and hurt feelings from 35+ years ago.

Your parents are screwed up. Your father threatening your life is especially screwed up; your mother not being comfortable with opening discussion menstruation isn't remotely on the same plane as that. But your question isn't about dealing with your family, it's about dealing with your envy of everyone else's families. The only answer is therapy, so that you can practice ordered thinking and not disordered thinking, which includes believing that people whose lives you see (even close up at sleepovers and visits for a week) are ideal when they're putting on their company manners in front of you. You can work on yourself and your beliefs about yourself; you can work on your relationship with your family, and about protecting your boundaries and learning how to live a healthier way. But other people's lives are a mirage, even people with whom we are close. We contain multitudes.

There are many versions of a quote about how if we all threw our troubles in the center of a ring and could choose anyone else's once we saw them, we'd all take our own troubles back. While that's not categorically true — a victim of sexual abuse might very well take on dealing with a parent with Alzheimer's — the point is that until we truly SEE other's secret lives (which we rarely ever due, and not completely in context), we make so many false assumptions regarding out own troubles compared to theirs.

Get therapy to gain the skills to learn how to live the life and be the kind of person you want to be. You can't fix your parents; you can only fix how you react to, and deal with, them. And you have to learn how to put other people's *apparent* reality into that very iceberg-above-the-water context. Your envy is based on a lie you're telling yourself over and over. Stop telling it and you'll start healing.

Good luck, and congratulations on graduating. This is just the beginning of the beginning.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:58 PM on May 14, 2022 [20 favorites]

you could start comparing to those who have less.
This is the secret to happiness.
posted by mono blanco at 8:24 PM on May 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First, congratulations on graduating!! This is a huge accomplishment, especially during a global pandemic! I am proud of and excited for you! FWIW I think most of us didn't feel great on our graduation days or even if we did, it was mixed with sadness and trepidation. I know I was mostly sad... and annoyed, even if I was excited to have earned my degree.

Second, I want to say that you've already been given a lot of awesome advice and insight from many people who have been in your shoes. I also want to say that you've received some advice that, while coming with the best of intentions, is a bit curt or invalidating of your experiences -- and your very valid emotional reaction to them. You're smart and self-aware so if it were as easy as snapping your fingers and changing your mindset, you would have already done it by now. I used to get that from people sometimes, even a mediocre therapist match once (bah!), so I want to say it takes work and time but totally can be done. I say this as someone who's come out on the other side happier and healthier than ever; our histories are different but there are some similarities for sure.

While there's nothing "cool" about what you're feeling now, the timing is good. You feel safe enough to express this feeling of loss -- your wish a more loving family than the one you grew up in -- in part because of those around you but also in part because you finally can become more independent. Some people say the problem is comparison but I don't see it that way at all. I see it as you are successful but also finally seeing how your life could have been easier or happier and you are grieving how difficult it has been. Whether you're living at home or on your own, you can start forging a life that feels right to you. Going to therapy will be awesome and life changing once you find a good match. You may need to wait a few months until you start insurance with a new job but it will be there when you're ready. I'd look for a therapist who is both trauma-informed and, ideally, who shares your background or at least is educated and sensitive to it. I ultimately found a great therapist match but it took a few tries, including a few real duds.

You can eventually get to a phase of acceptance of your past and empowerment in the future but first we have to feel that sadness and loss. Until we have been allowed to grieve and validated this way, it's hard to move past it. But with the right support, you can and will. And then with time, you will find clarity on how to best interact with your parents in a way that is most true to you. I am excited for you and wish you luck!!
posted by smorgasbord at 8:45 PM on May 14, 2022 [9 favorites]

The intergenerational/intercultural thing is hard. They were products of their time and place, and they adapted their survival strategies to the world they knew. They took a giant leap of faith, and did what they had to give you a different life. The result is that their survival strategies are now irrelevant to your life in your world.

One thing that helped me was, oddly enough, reading anthropology accounts of that ancestral time and place. It can provide context about the things they won't and don't talk about, and help explain some of their deep-seated fears and anxieties.
posted by dum spiro spero at 8:49 PM on May 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

If you're comfortable with it, you may get some value from a couple of spaces like r/asianparentstories on Reddit. I had a couple of years where perusing r/raisedbynarcissists helped me to gain context. And groups like r/internetparents and r/momforaminute have a lot of value. I was able to see that many people experienced similar childhoods to mine, but also that I had a better/worse childhood, and better/worse relationships with my parents, compared to each writer. Take these in measured doses though. It's not necessary to read them every day. Part of my adjustment and growth was leaving behind my childhood as an overwhelming part of my life, and you will be able to handle your past experiences and past methods of interacting with your parents, in the ways you need to. I promise.
posted by panhopticon at 10:12 PM on May 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

I agree with stoneandstar here, it sounds like what you're experiencing is complex trauma. I'd also like to recommend books on trauma like The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. I'd also recommend a book on boundaries (either of Anne Katherine's books like: Boundaries Where You End And I Begin) as it sounds like your parents STOMPED on yours.

If you can get a therapist, I'd highly recommend one who is VERY similar to you in terms of ethnicity and/or immigrant experience.

What you need most right now is to pour love onto yourself in order to gain more self-compassion.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:32 AM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that grieving is necessary here... it took me well into adulthood to realize that my parents were just people, but not the people whom I needed to be my parents when I was younger.

It helped when I was able to leave home and pay my own way for everything - but that was also very, very difficult for me to do and I got caught up in a bad relationship fairly quickly, thinking that it would make life easier to have someone help me pay some bills. Not a good reason to be with someone, I know. Mind you, at the time, I felt it was better than living at home with my parents. They didn't physically abuse me, but I can say that there was downright disrespect and neglect in regards to my emotional wellbeing, a definite lack of trust (I had been lied to, and the lie perpetuated throughout my teenage years), with definite gaslighting in regard to this lie - I was the scapegoat because I refused to go along with the lie, and thus considered the one that deliberately caused trouble. Plus, I was the eldest, and female - so I was the one who had to test every boundary, but often gave up trying and became quite depressed because the backlash was so harsh.

I then met someone with whom I just "clicked", and was able to really get some physical and emotional distance from my parents for many years, until he suddenly died. After that, I had to admit that my family, although not particularly healthy for me in many ways - were still my family, and I needed to learn to bridge the gap I'd created. Luckily, by then, I'd finally finished a nursing program and had enough financial stability to keep my home separate from them... but again, life was hard as I was now dealing with the loss of my husband and biggest cheerleader, as well as my champion.

Eventually, I was struggling so much emotionally that I had to go back to stay with my parents for a while - but I had set goals (completing another program/just until I found a more permanent home), and I was able to set boundaries with them as I was coming from a completely different frame of mind and emotional headspace than the child I once was. It was a process of getting to know them, and them getting to know me better - from the standpoint of meeting new adults. Without the separation, I don't think they would ever have changed their perspective of me being their dependent child. There was still some struggle with this, including some disrespect from my father - yup, the patriarchy for sure - it was his home, his castle - and he was king! I just decided that he didn't know me, and I had already grieved the loss of the parents I never had, so this man was just supposedly a 'nice' man and his wife who were helping me out in a difficult situation in my life. I couldn't expect more, and I had to choose to be grateful for that.

Now, I'm on my own again, with a new partner who is kind and compassionate, if not my champion or cheerleader this time. We are more on the same level, working together to get through life as unscathed as possible. Not as exciting, but stable. No more fairytales for me, but I already had that and found out that sometimes getting what we want can be excruciatingly painful - especially when life keeps getting in the way of what you hope to do with your time.

Anyway, fwiw, I'm not saying that you should leave home (although it may help!), but many of the things stated here are worth considering. Look at those who aren't as lucky as you to have a stable household, instead of those who seem to have it better. Grieve the loss of the fantasy parents you never had and recognize that they are just people doing the best they can to get by - how would you introduce yourself to new neighbours who were your parents age/demographic so that you can get along with them and have a peaceful life? What boundaries would you set - that you would never explicitly state to them - but because you had predetermined them, your actions would delineate that line with every action, word, and contact? This is important, as knowing where you need to make space for yourself is your self-care. This will revitalize you to know that even these internal boundaries will keep you feeling safe and secure.

Lastly, I have on occasion written a gratitude journal, and found it extremely helpful. It seems so small, and often might be a bit aggravating to write in it daily, but when I did it for at least 30 days in a row - writing 3 things (no matter how big or how small) that I was grateful for... by the end of that time, I sincerely feel that it had shifted my perspective and I was much more content with life.

If it's important to you, I am not south Asian. Canadian born and bred, with UK ancestry (although my father's side emigrated from China in the early 1900's, so I feel some kinship to feeling out of place in this western culture - as if there was slightly a different culture and belief paradigm he was raised in - a mix of whatever both my grandparents experienced as children/youth in Shanghai, and what my great-grandparents left back in the UK before moving there). I don't know how well my personal sharing will help you in your situation, but I hope it was of some comfort.

All the best to you in your relationships, and your future!
posted by itsflyable at 1:17 AM on May 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

How do I stop wishing that my parents were fundamentally different and accepting that my relationship with them is what it is / may never become what other people have with their parents? How do I get over that disappointment? How do I deal with this envy?

Very important note: please don’t tell me that I should go no-contact with my parents.

As a side-note, I never even considered going no-contact with my parent *until* I learned to accept "that my relationship with them is what it is" and set that as my baseline.
posted by bendy at 4:41 AM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I’m sorry that my advice may have seemed abrupt. I was abused by my family, and they also ignored extremely obvious evidence that I was being abused by my grandfather. Yes therapy is a great thing and your pain is valid.

The constantly comparing (see your other questions) though is a trick of your mind. You could be noticing the homeless guy on the corner but you aren’t. This is a valid and understandable response to the trauma you’ve suffered. It’s an attempt to do a lot of things — it’s a part of grieving but maybe a little more up in your head than in your body. But it’s also very isolating and in that way it kind of keeps you in “your place,” which is where your family also tried to keep you.

Certainly long-term therapy will help. But there are ways to ease this one piece that is kind of quick and easy and that is to participate in activities like volunteering that a) connect you to others, b) forcefully place you in an environment where you can make your brain stop picking the people who have it better as your baseline and c) give you a break from the necessary work of processing your childhood. It’s not said meanly and I apologize that it was short.

When I was fully having flashbacks and understanding the depth of damage (kinda, it’s a lifelong thing) done to me, I was working in a non-profit settlement house, which helped. One Christmas my parents were being really awful. I had to leave the dysfunctional huddle to go deliver meals on wheels, and sing carols, for people who had been identified as at risk, not just our regulars, as outreach. I saw people living in one room of falling down houses with no electricity and people living with a coat on the floor of a garage. A lot of people who were desperately poor and alone. Addicts. A lot of people cried to see us. Then I went back to my terrible family dinner and for the first time, I felt calm and in control of myself.

It wasn’t feeling lucky. It was understanding that I could choose to stand in my own space and be an adult and reach out to the world past my family, or I could continue to let my mother’s hysteria at my failures (not finishing my degree) and a thousand other cuts define me. It wasn’t a Disney moment, meaning, I still mourn for myself, I still get mad, and I still get taken down. But when my jerk brain wants to keep me in despair in the place of Everyone But Me, I know how to shift that - get out there and lend a hand.

Hang in there.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:42 AM on May 15, 2022 [11 favorites]

As for me (childhood emotional neglect, family history of drug abuse, multigenerational poverty, POC) I married into a "better" family!

Admittedly, that didn't help my relationship with my bio family much. But it's given me a more realistic perspective on the "other side" (married to them for 10 years, I can say the "better" family has flaws too).
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 9:04 AM on May 15, 2022

You sound like you need something to look forward to: As a recent college graduate, will you be looking for a job? If not, or if you need more experience, what about an internship? You also sound, like a lot of Americans, like you need more friends: Do you play a sport? Chess? Study a foreign language? It doesn't really matter what your hobby is as long as you like it, but practicing a hobby might get you out of the house more, and increase the odds that you'll make new friends. You might also appreciate having an "adult" on your side (here or elsewhere): Do you have any aunts and uncles you really like? Any approachable neighbors? Maybe you could find a mixed generation hobby?

Think of ways to get what you need, and try to follow your own preferences as you make your choices. If something doesn't work out, have a back-up plan, so you don't take any of it too seriously. There are more positive ways you can change your experience of the world, and more engagement can genuinely help.
posted by Violet Blue at 12:45 PM on May 15, 2022

Best answer: I think you have to accept your parents as they are. This is who they’ve each fundamentally been since they were born and this is who they each will fundamentally be until they die. For better or worse. So enjoy the parts of their personalities that you like, create boundaries/rules (internal to yourself) to shield yourself from the parts of their behavior that’s damaging, and dismiss the rest.

This is a bit dark, but for your own sanity — try to remember to laugh at the absurdity of things like your father threatening murder over a pair of shorts, even as you do what you have to not to get exposed to, for example, his patriarchal, toxic masculinity bullshit any more than is strictly necessary. Take that hurtful or scary or infuriating stuff seriously in terms of protecting yourself, but never forget to see the ridiculousness in it. You’re never going to survive if you take fundamentally ridiculous things completely seriously. Because the ridiculous stuff is never going to stop coming. These are your parents for life, they are who they are and they always will be. Don’t turn your relationship with them into an endless battle to change them or to make them see reason. They never will, so no good will come of ot.

Besides, you need distance from them to see the absurdities in their behavior — and, in turn, seeing those absurdities will help increase that distance, will help give you room to create your own identity and life separate from theirs, and allow you to take them less seriously, more lightly.

But sincerely, now is not the time to focus on your natal family. Don’t let them drag you back into childhood or use you as a crutch as they struggle to find their way to a post-child-rearing life and identity. This is a major transition point in your life when you have a lot of pressures on you and a ton to figure out. And that can’t be swallowed up in their transition into empty nesters. Which will probably be very dramatic and hard on each of them because it’s tangled up with existential worries about mortality and purpose.

I was able to get to a place of acceptance with my parents after going through therapy, and it was totally worth it. But I really don’t think you can afford to focus much on them right now. You’ve got to focus on you and starting your life. Their focus is always going to be on themselves, and if you’re focused on them too, then who is looking out for you?

Going through therapy and figuring out your relationship with them and all that is for like ten years down the line when you’re forming your own family and it’s a different context. Right now, they’re beside the point. The point is who are you as an adult and what is your life going to look like? Don’t let them make you forget that. Just my opinion based on my experience.
posted by rue72 at 9:54 PM on May 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To reduce envy, increase self esteem. Set goals and achieve them: to exercise, to be kind, to learn to cook, to be reliable, etc it can be anything, but stack some wins.

Article linking envy to lack of self esteem, specifically in instances of childhood maltreatment.
posted by jello at 2:46 PM on May 16, 2022

Best answer: How do I stop wishing that my parents were fundamentally different and accepting that my relationship with them is what it is / may never become what other people have with their parents? How do I get over that disappointment? How do I deal with this envy?

Counterintuitively - maybe just work on safely letting yourself be angry, self-pitying, and envious? So much of your history is about repressing your feelings so that you can be a more "perfect" version of yourself, with the implication that you can't stop working on yourself, that you aren't good enough as you are, even though you're processing something genuinely difficult and envy is one of many natural responses to your situation.

Personally, I think it's important for your self-esteem and confidence to let yourself be "bad", to be able to trust yourself to handle those hard emotions, and still be able to forgive yourself for feeling them.
posted by rhythm and booze at 8:14 PM on May 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: this hit hard for me, the only child of south asian immigrants myself. i feel incredibly distant from my parents, a result of a childhood of what i realize now is emotional abuse from my father and inaction at best from my mother. it didn't occur to me until i was older than you that other people GENUINELY seemed to enjoy their families. i am positive my father has threatened to kill me over the length of my shorts or the width of my sleeves. he used to turn up NPR stories about honor killings and say that "that's what people in our culture do if you kiss before marriage." as an adult, with hard-won financial independence, i feel empathy toward them. it must have been so hard to leave everyone they knew behind and keep their out-of-place POV and then raise a daughter who herself belonged to a foreign culture no matter how much they didn't want her to. but here we all are. i do not enjoy 90% of the time i spend with them.

one of the things that attracted me to my husband was his large and happy family life, and spending time with them was on of his strategems to get me to marry him. so, yeah. marriage is how i got my happy family experience. i married into it. they're not perfect and had i grown up with them, i'd feel some of the complexity toward them that i feel toward my parents now. but i had the benefit of meeting them as adults. i'm the weird atheist brown girl in this white conservative family, but i feel welcomed and loved. so i guess all of this is to say: your family of origin is not the end of your story. now i have 3 kids and as far as i can tell, the happy family life in my own house that i always saw on tv (so far, they're all very young still).
posted by anthropomorphic at 9:30 PM on May 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

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