How as an Old, accept that your parents didn't love you
May 11, 2024 12:29 AM   Subscribe

This is hard to type, anonymous for obvious reasons. I'm almost 60. Both of my parents are finally dead ... my mom for 7 years (Alzheimer's) and my dad a few months ago at 90. My dad walked out the first time when I was 6 months and the last time when I was 12 ... he had some charm but truly never gave one single fuck about anyone except himself and didn't ever support.

My mom loved me, I suppose, as best she could, (maybe?) but no one would describe her as healthy. She called me fat (in front of people) on my wedding day. That's one of a hundred examples. Unsurprisingly, I was grey rock/low contact with them both.

The things that are now hitting me harder than expected are things like my out-early lesbian friend talking about her dad filming and encouraging her at a junior high track meet, and other things like that. And her dad's a right-winger! My parents were NEVER there for me (not that it's deserved just for being straight), but Jesus how I tried to please them. Never enough.

I know the MF answer is "therapy" and I don't disagree with that, I just feel ridiculous as an old childless beesh still crying about my shitty parents, when so many parents were SO much shittier. Any books or, anything, I guess, will be much appreciated.

I'm just so very sad. Sorry that this is so whiny/pathetic.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I think it’s fine to ask these questions here, jeez. I’ve gotten so much more out of reaching out anonymously or speaking with friends and relatives in one off conversations in various points in my life than I have in therapy really, they’re like sign post conversations and then therapy is like the journey. I actually don’t get direction in therapy. But that’s just me. There is a really good book on complex ptsd and so much of it is about emotional neglect. And how damaging it is and the trauma responses and the work it takes to overcome such things. I think it’s by Peter Walker. But basically, it’s something you work on but by bit every day and maybe in bits and spurts.
posted by pairofshades at 1:08 AM on May 11 [14 favorites]

You are not ridiculous. Just because one person’s trauma exists does not devalue your own. Just because someone else has a bad parental relationship does not mean yours was not also bad, and you are allowed to have feelings about this. Please try not to apologize for being whiny or pathetic - humans are supposed to be like this sometimes! It’s okay and good to feel a depth and range of emotions, including the negative ones. And one way that humans express these emotions is by being sad around other people, and talking about their problems. You are not imposing or unwanted for expressing yourself and talking about your life. Yes, therapy is a good idea. So would be journaling, focused meditation or even prayer if that’s your thing, talking with friends, reaching out to other family, reading accounts of other people with similar family relationships and yes, expressing yourself in AskMe. You’re not horning in on someone else’s question or taking up room in a queue. It’s okay that you wrote and posted this.

I think that the recent death of your dad is shaking loose a bunch of things you have not had the chance to think about in a while. In my experience grief and mourning can last for years even if the dead person wasn’t very close or seemingly important. Death of one person reminds you of another death and so-on. I bet your mom’s passing wasn’t a particularly peaceful process either. So when you do look for someone to help you with these emotions in a professional capacity, make sure you find someone who does good work about death and grief.

In this moment I would encourage you to ground yourself with some sensory things. Feel nice textures, make sure you are in a comfortable temperature, eat a snack that has lots of flavor and is maybe crunchy or chewy, listen to familiar music or favored nature sounds, maybe light a candle and enjoy some flame or nice scent. Take a shower and use lotion afterward. If you live with animals give them a snuggle. Take care of your body like you would want one of your loved ones to be taken care of. It’s not going to magically make you feel less sad. But it will help you be able to hold the sadness a bit better, and let it go more easily. You can love yourself, even if it feels like your parents never or rarely did.
posted by Mizu at 1:08 AM on May 11 [28 favorites]

Hey anon, I came across as too grouchy above and I'm sorry for that. What I was trying to say is "you don't need to compare your suffering to others, and you should feel justified in getting whatever help you need/want, without worrying about how what you're going through compares to others." Apologies for getting my unrelated grar in your post.
posted by Alterscape at 1:26 AM on May 11 [11 favorites]

I think it's really normal for people who have really difficult parents to experience a lot of grief at their parents' death, same as anyone else might, but to experience it in the form of a sudden surge of grief for the loss of the parenting they didn't receive and now for certain are not going to get. You can even feel grief that you don't have the same grief that other people do, who miss their parents in more uncomplicated ways.

One trick for moving through it, is to think about what you really wish your parents could have done for you, and then find a way to create that experience for yourself. You deserve someone who cares about you, loves you and focuses on you! It's sad that you didn't get this from parents like so many other people do. But you don't have to miss out on it entirely. Now is the time to luxuriate in whatever other kinds of "being looked after" are available to you. You might cook yourself something special, pay for some pampering kind of experience, go to classes to learn some skill you wish your parents taught you, climb a hill to look at a lovely view, or spend time with other friends or family who care about you.

But there's going to be grief, you're going to be sad sometimes, and the only way out is through.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:37 AM on May 11 [33 favorites]

The content and severity of traumatic experience has little to do with one's ability to process and cope with those experiences--it's pretty much entirely dependent on one's education and practice in these vital life skills. A good support network helps, too. Beating yourself up for being 60 and not knowing how to deal with this is kind of like self-flagellating over not being able to calculate a rocket trajectory without learning calculus. It's not too late to learn how to feel better.
posted by MagnificentVacuum at 1:48 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]

This reminds me of this book, which unfortunately I have not read.

Good luck.
posted by maloqueiro at 3:32 AM on May 11

I am also almost 60. My father died in 2011, my mother in 2019. They we're horrible and neglectful each in their own ways.
I totally get the sadness and crying. You are not whiney, rather i suspect that your father's death frees you to experience deep long buried emotion.

How therapy helped me and still helps me is to know that there is someone 100 percent on my side. Someone who validates my feelings and experiences. Friends sometimes are overwhelmed or try to give advice. My therapist listens and is there to let me cry and helps me to move on from the deep sadness about my childhood. I prefer person centered talk therapy as i don't need or want instruction but need empathy and validation and someone who believes in my ability to overcome the pain and move on at my own pace.
posted by 15L06 at 4:29 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]

Which is causing you more grief - the shittiness of the parenting you were subjected to, or the ending of any hope that either of them might one day try to redeem their shittiness or in any way atone for it?

Both are perfectly reasonable things to grieve, but having some clarity on which is which at any given moment might be of some use to you.

None of what they put you through is fair. Any of it is worth finding somewhere you feel safe to howl and howling until all the howling is done. I'm sorry for your losses. Sending Internet Stranger hugs in case you've got nobody close by you can tap for a proper one.
posted by flabdablet at 5:00 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]

It’s truly okay to feel things. Therapy doesn’t in most cases reduce your feelings - sometimes the opposite - it just helps you to ground and move through it.

There’s also a myth that as we age we feel things less. I think that may be true for some petty things but my observation is that often we feel things more. It’s partly grief and partly…I’m not sure how to put this…like a vista. I can see more and more the pattern of my life and that includes those areas of neglect and abuse. Why wouldn’t I feel it strongly in that context?

That really doesn’t mean you have to feel bad all the time though. For me, moving through those feelings is helped the most by movement- walks, yoga, martial arts. Also looking at art, in a gallery so it’s visceral, or immersing in a really good book or a concert. For you it might be other things, but seek them out. You deserve all the comfort.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:04 AM on May 11 [14 favorites]

My position is similar but different, my age likewise, my understanding of how parents are supposed to behave to their children didn't click into place until I saw how my in-laws love and support my wife, and I'm here to say that it is never too late to start therapy to work through complicated thoughts and feelings around all of this, some of which you know and some of which you need help to be shown. A book can only point you in the right direction, it can't be there to support you on the journey, which is what you will need.

Sympathy and love.
posted by Hogshead at 5:43 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]

Something to explore: can you be mom and dad to the little you inside of you? That little person is still in there. How does thinking about that little person (not how they were treated or the facts of their life, but them as they are, think, and feel) make you feel? How does it make you feel to think about you parenting that little person?
posted by CMcG at 6:02 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]

Just to add, reading this with your caveats, I hear a young little person whisper shouting “I have something to say!” And the adult you saying back “no, be quiet, your feelings don’t matter!” Perhaps that reflects how you were treated as a child. In my experience, healing comes through changing the “adult voice” that critiques the child and not from changing the “child voice.”
posted by CMcG at 6:04 AM on May 11 [23 favorites]

The MORE I think about it, the more I think my mom probably did love me. It was a bit strange cradling her as she was sick from cancer and spoon feeding her when it was a job, when it came to me, she gave to my grandmother. She told the story with glee about how she put me in a laundry basket and dropped me at my grandmother's everyday. Didn't take me on vacation because 3 kids were too many in a room. She bragged about never cooking. Talked about how the worst decision she made was having children. I literally thought, when she talked about how terrible I was, to her friends in front of me, that parents down played their kids to be classy.

But hey, I think my ADHD was annoying and she didn't have any parenting skills or desire. She was flawed (so am I). She never really wanted to be a parent, it's just what you were supposed to do. She was unhappy and did not know what the fuck she was doing. But I know she loved me because she bitched about me keeping up my credit score. Sure, I wish she said I love you and served me warm applesauce, she just didn't have those tools. But you don't wrap yourself up in knots about someone's future financial health if you don't care about them.

I tell my kid that I dote on him not only because I love him, but because it's how I want HIM to treat himself. I put nice clean sheets on his bed because it feels great and I want him to do that for himself. I buy him new books, because I want him to always remember the joy you can get him a book and read once I am long gone. I make him healthy food that is delicious because I want him to eat in a way that makes him healthy and is satisfying.

You really can be the parent to yourself that you wish you had. My best therapy is treating myself the way I wish my mom would have. Take time to cut yourself a delicious mango in the morning. Treat yourself to a magazine at the check out. Vacuum up and make your house nice because you deserve it. Paint an ugly picture and fucking frame it! You made it.

I know I could be way healthier with therapy, and I hate that I talk about it sometimes with friends but I know it's because I am still processing it. But aside from therapy, some really good self talk might help.
posted by beccaj at 6:05 AM on May 11 [12 favorites]

The book that Captain Awkward has often recommended is Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers
posted by Jeanne at 6:15 AM on May 11 [4 favorites]

I think a lot of things in life are actually something of a spiral, and it is totally normal and okay to have particular issues or hurts circle back around for you at various points in time. That's counter to a prevailing, more linear cultural understanding where we identify a problem, we Work Through It, and then we're pretty much done and can move on.

I am somewhat younger than you but old enough to be able to say with confidence that emotional neglect is not a wound that just goes away, even after therapy. (Seeing or hearing about people whose parent(s) actually do(es) actively love them always has and probably always will be just killer. Fucking ouch.) I've had long stretches of time when I've been just fine, and others when for mysterious reasons I've been overcome for a few months by how very fucking much and deeply it hurts to not have had family who could give me an embodied sense of being valued and loved. And I've had some of the same self-judgment: why, at 40, am I not over this; why, having done a lot of emotional processing and therapy in the past, am I here still/again. And I have to say, okay. That's not a voice of love. Those aren't thoughts that come from a loving place. The love you can give yourself is to acknowledge that the wound is deep, that your pain is a reflection of your having missed something really core to human nurturing, and that it's not unhealthy or weak to grieve that whenever or as much as you need to. Therapy maybe. Sure, therapy, why not. But also just crying, sometimes exactly like a little kid whose heart is broken because their parents don't love them well or enough, and giving yourself full and warm permission to do that. Sending much care your way.
posted by wormtales at 6:25 AM on May 11 [19 favorites]

Not to sound all Darth Vader-y, but the turning point for me was allowing myself to be overtly angry at my parents for what my childhood was like. Two things facilitated that. First, I started learning about the nature of domestic violence. Second, I found a therapist who created a space in which I could explore and express that anger. The type of work we (my therapist and I) do is called internal family systems therapy. It's the first time I could ever talk about my anger, much less start to process everything.
posted by Gorgik at 6:34 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]

I'm you. I'm 51, my parents are still alive, but they didn't and don't have the capacity to love me. My mom told me a painting I did and showed her was "not very good" just yesterday. (Thanks mom!) Everyone deserves their parents' love, many people receive it, sometimes in uncomplicated ways, and it hurts and is damaging to not receive it. Being kind to and parenting yourself as you deserved is one good answer. Acknowledging that their failure to love you is a real thing, a devastating loss for them and you, and was not going to change no matter how much you tried to please them helps. Understanding that you deserved their love and that it was 100% not your fault but theirs that you didn't get it. And building loving relationships now also helps, asking trustworthy others for the love you always needed and still deserve/need. It helped me to remind myself that "nobody gets the perfect life," that although this was a major missing piece in my life, everyone has heartbreak, and this was just mine. Therapy is also a good choice. You deserved their love. Anyone would be heartbroken and sad not to get it. Your sadness and loneliness makes perfect sense.
posted by shadygrove at 6:36 AM on May 11 [8 favorites]

Hey, Anon, I'm sending the equivalent of a hug. I have a difficult relationship with aging parents, and these are a few of the things I think about and struggle with and do:

* Coming to peace with the fact that I will never have an explanation from them about why they could not be the parents I needed.
* Not flinching or feeling jealous when I see friends having connected and loving relationships with their parents.
* Realizing that the relationship with my parents shaped my self-stories in foundational ways, and that what is made can be unmade. I can tell myself kinder stories about them, about me, about us.
* Searching out reading and listening that helps me think about these things a little at a time. Recently, that's been Karyl McBride's Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing The Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and the words of Lindsay Gibson (transcript, We Can Do Hard Things, eps. 263 and 264). The wound, and the work, is in you, and you can find tools to help heal it.
* Burn journaling. A cheap and cheerful composition book that I will throw away or burn (and NOT a nice journal!) has helped me put the feelings somewhere.
* Advice booking. When I come across something helpful, I write it down in a nice journal, so I can refer back to it.
* Separating my self-worth from their parenting. This is really hard. But I know that my little self was not horrible and awful, and that they just couldn't. They couldn't like I can't suddenly have polka-dotted skin. It just didn't work that way. And I was deserving of love and connection, and it was not my fault that I didn't get it. It was not possible. My self-worth is mine to conceive of and build.
* Finding other mirroring. I have been loved, for myself, by people who are not my parents, and that has been evidence that I am not beyond redemption. My friends are good people. They love me and they are not horrible, so maybe I am not awful either?
* Talking to myself more kindly. I did something dumb, and spoke about it out loud in a way that shocked me. What came out of my mouth about myself was so mean. I resolved not to do that again, and to talk to my inner self like it's my friend.
* Recognizing when it's depression having its say.
* Allowing myself to have small nice things that feel good, like baths or soft clothing. Tiny pampering to build my sense of "It's okay to be nice to yourself, you are worth this effort."

I'm sorry you're so sad. I am here to tell you that you are not ridiculous. You are human. You are suffering. You are worth the work of getting relief from it. I promise.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:45 AM on May 11 [14 favorites]

Some people shouldn't have kids, because they for various reasons do not have and cannot onboard the skills required to parent with love. The latter part matters, because some people can, which makes it more significant that some people simply cannot even when the stakes are that high.

I am so sorry that happened to you. You didn't cause it, you didn't deserve it, and it's not your fault. It is normal and okay and appropriate to find yourself in adulthood, especially once your parents are gone, confronting the things you had to keep pushed down for survival. This is also extremely normal in complex grief.

It cannot be your fault. This did not suddenly happen to them when you were born or conceived. This was broken in them, likely by their own parents or circumstances if not generation over generation, before you were even imagined or probably even biologically possible.

Please don't tell yourself you don't have the right to feel this way. It's not about who had it worse, it is about what all forms of abuse, neglect, socioeconomic and political instability, hunger, natural disasters, and other traumas do to the developing mind-heart-nervous system-brains. This is known, it is evidence-based. There is no barrier to entry, there is simply that it happened to you.

There's no way to control/govern/police reproduction, obviously, that isn't some kind of fascist nightmare that would instantly be abused. And even a wildly robust support infrastructure on physical-mental-emotional levels won't stop some people from doing it if they can't recognize on their own that they will be incredibly bad at it - though that imaginary robust support infrastructure could probably have provided certain forms of support for YOU that could have bridged the gap between what they were incapable of doing and what all children need and deserve.

Therapy isn't especially accessible to everyone, and frankly I think going to therapy cold without putting together at least an outline of why you're there and what you want to happen short- and long-term often results in poor experiences. So as either a stopgap or a preparatory measure, here's the list of resources I've put together for recommendations in various quarters:

- Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma
- Healing Your Wounded Inner Child: A CBT Workbook to Overcome Past Trauma, Face Abandonment and Regain Emotional Stability
- Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents
- Healing the Adult Children of Narcissists: Essays on the Invisible War Zone and Exercises for Recovery and Reflection
- It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
- Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child (Thich Nhat Hanh) (note: there are many many books and workbooks and whatever for inner child work, and some of them are therapeutically stronger, but everyone could use a little Thich Nhat Hanh.)

- ANTIRECOMMENDATION: The Body Keeps the Score. van der Kolk is a piece of shit.
- QUASIRECOMMENDATION: various resources on Somatic Experiencing, Peter Levine, PhD or Peter A. Levine, PhD. He has worked with van der Kolk and that is a giant mark against, but too many people I know have had such good and rewarding and maybe lifesaving results from Somatic Experiencing methodologies I can't dismiss that particular work out of hand.

- Art Therapy Workbook for Grief & Loss: Exploring the experience of Grief through Art Therapy and Writing Exercises, for Teens and Adults

- Trauma-Informed Social-Emotional Toolbox for Children & Adolescents: 116 Worksheets & Skill-Building Exercises to Support Safety, Connection & Empowerment (This recommendation may seem odd, but you have Inner Child work to do and these exercises can help you care for child and adolescent you. It is okay also for you to read picture books and story books for abused and neglected children, though it does feel a little weird at first. Your library may have them available in e-book if that's less weird.).

Pick up one of these if they appeal to you. Try the art therapy one first if the others seem too daunting just yet. Or look one of them up and see what similar options there are, if none of these seem to hit just right. You are deserving of answers that help you and techniques that allow you to process.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:45 AM on May 11 [15 favorites]

Two notes (and a cup of virtual tea or whatever comforting beverage you prefer):

I know the MF answer is "therapy" and I don't disagree with that, I just feel ridiculous as an old childless beesh still crying about my shitty parents, when so many parents were SO much shittier.

You know, I've never thought this kind of thinking was fair (and I used to think this way too). Yes, my hangnail is empirically less important on a Grand Scale than your broken knee, but - you know what, my hangnail is causing me issues, and it is valid for me to say that those are issues that are bothering me. You are COMPLETELY AND 100% TOTALLY PERMITTED to be sad and angry about your parents' treatment. No one is keeping score about exactly "how shitty" your parents were - because that part doesn't matter. All that matters is how it affected you. And - you're saying you were affected, and so that is valid.

I mean, consider: maybe the "amount of shittiness" you were given was simply more than you personally were equipped to handle. I could water my cactus plant with exactly the same amount of water as I use on my tomato, but while my water-loving tomato plant is going to love it, my cactus is going to be overwhelmed and it's going to die. And if that happens, it's not the cactus' fault, it's my own fault for overwhelming the cactus. Your parents simply gave you more shittiness than you were equipped to handle, and that is enough reason to consider exploring therapy.

As to "why is this affecting me so much now" - it's possible that while they were alive, there was always the sliver of a chance that "maybe, just maybe, they will wake up and See Sense and start being the parents I needed them to be", and now that they've both passed, that chance is now gone. And maybe what you're going through is the mourning of that one last sliver of a chance you may have subconsciously been holding on to. But you know what - that's still grief. And that's valid, and that's certainly something you absolutely have the right to explore in therapy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:58 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]

Mod note: One comment removed. Please approach AskMe questions with grace and kindness and refrain from being grouchy, thank you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (staff) at 7:03 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

You are far from alone in this. I'm close to your age and many of my peers are actively processing old grief years after the deaths of one or both neglectful/abusive parents. You absolutely have the right to express and heal from what happened to you and experience life without the limiting beliefs they instilled in you, regardless of your age or the amount of time that has elapsed. It is not silly or childish at all, and dismissing your own needs that way might be one of the things you learned to do all those years ago.

The good news is that what's learned can be unlearned. I see lots of great resources above, and add Lindsay Gibson's Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents to the list. It helped me understand that my mother's nastiness was driven by her own fearful and desperate need for a way to control me in the face of her own inadequacies, rather than anything "objectively true" about me. You might also find it useful to investigate EMDR and some of the other alternative therapies that can help you process difficult memories and "file" them in a less painful way. You can't change the past but you can learn to reference it differently.

I'm not entirely through the tunnel myself, but I can see the light at the end of it. It's been worth the effort to do this work, and I hope you will do the same for yourself.
posted by rpfields at 9:03 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Sending you a virtual hug, Anon, because I know how it feels. I'm nearly 65, and my parents were, at best, neglectful and, at worst, abusive. They died when I was 20 (Mother) and 21 (Father), and honestly it was the best fucking thing that could have happened, the sense of relief that I'd never have to deal with them ever again.

But the scars are there, because growing up knowing I wasn't loved (because my father used to tell me so, every single day) has affected every single relationship I've had in my life, often accepting anything because I thought that was all I deserved, and pushing away good people because I truly believed that nobody who was good, kind and loving wouldn't want to know me once they knew how unloveable I was.

So yeah, another old beesh who still cries sometimes (less often these days) about growing up without love, not knowing love and still finding it hard either to recognise it or accept it when it's right there in front of me.
posted by essexjan at 9:34 AM on May 11 [7 favorites]

Hello. This is my first time navigating an older age (71 in June) and I suspect these feelings just might be common as we age if we are at all introspective people. I spent my life up until the last three years of ill health cumulating in a heart surgery thinking I was Just. Fine. and that I was on top of all the shitty things that have happened (and are still happening) in my life. Just now I'm finding out-Not so much. I think we might be both in mourning not only for what was, but what might have been. In my case, mourning what I could have been and what I could have had, I not been crushed down under all the utter shit that was my life. Thinking that things might have been way, way worse doesn't invalidate any of that. Ugliest of all is the feeling that I could have made a difference if I had just actively taken control more, rather than passively reacting. Forgiveness comes from realizing I only had so many internal resources to call on as well as too much external weight to carry--lack of money, little access to therapy, social expectations, and four children.
As kids we think if we had just been better, more pleasing, different, maybe then we would have been loved. That kid's still in there.
I don't know if any of this resonates with you, but please know that some internet stranger hears that you're sad. It's OK. Know that you used the resources you had to get to where you are now, which is a good thing. Know that you were then, and are now, worthy of love. Go out today and experience something that will give you enjoyment and peace. Try to sleep well tonight afterwards. These are small things, but they help.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:37 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]

I just feel ridiculous as an old childless beesh still crying about my shitty parents

Okay, this is very important: Everyone is fighting their own hardest battle, and everyone deserves help with it.

Also, it is very common for parental issues to pop up even more as we get older. Age brings perspective and “WTF were they thinking?“ starts to be a common refrain.

when so many parents were SO much shittier.

I have seen things far far worse than shitty parenting, and the absolute first step to my helping with them is to get my own shit straight. And yes, that process has included a lot of therapy.

To summarize you deserve help, and getting it will help you in turn to be able to be there for the people around you. Do your work guilt free.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:24 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, BlueHorse mentions something I wanted to say: grief - whether that's for a death or opportunities lost or never given, like a loving childhood - is a thing you carry with you all your life, and you recontextualize it as you grow and change and develop.

Hell, we recontextualize EVERYTHING as we age; I certainly understand all kinds of good/bad/neutral things I experienced 10 20 30 40 years ago in TOTALLY different ways than I did at the time, or five years later, or 25 years and so on. I'm still having surprising epiphanies about things that happened to me in elementary school, in my 50s.

There is no "over". There's not really any such thing as "past", at best we get distance and time, which can bring healing or perspective or a kind of forgetting, but every morning we are a new accumulation of everything we've experienced up until last night, and we have new context for our lives.

There's nothing strange or shocking about having new feelings about this at 60, and I would actually argue a lot of people hit some hard walls around 60 - you see a lot of men in particular finally climbing over the hump of toxic masculinity and deal with their own abuse and trauma for the first time, but even people who've been doing their best to do the work all along find that after all the primary obligations to career-children-parents-capitalism have largely expired and they can finally unclench a little. Like has happened for you now.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:25 AM on May 11 [6 favorites]

I don't have specific advice that hasn't been given here already by others, but there's a lot of good stuff in this thread, and I hope you feel the care and compassion!

I will offer a caveat that I tried to read "Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents", and I found it extremely pathologizing of neurodivergence. The author conflates emotional immaturity with neurodivergence in ways that I found super problematic, hurtful, and inaccurate, so my recommendation (especially if you're neurodivergent at all) is to steer clear of that book and seek other resources.
posted by cnidaria at 10:46 AM on May 11

Could it be that you're finally having to accept that your father will never come to you and acknowledge what a shitty father he was, beg for your forgiveness, and make attempts to make it up to you? That all hope of that is gone? I'm older than you, my miserable excuse for a father finally died a couple of years ago without ever attempting any reconciliation. I don't have any real advice to give except to cherish and strengthen whatever good relationships you have with other people, whether they are relatives or family of choice. I hate mother's day and father's day with everyone going on and on about their wonderful parents. I have friends whose parents were as awful as mine and we bitch together about those days.
posted by mareli at 11:33 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Just because other people had shittier parents doesn't mean that yours weren't shitty and you don't have legit complaints. Sometimes people just can't love you, even if they literally should and were obligated to. And it's worse when you can't just like, go out and get new parents.

Your feelings are absolutely legitimate.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:17 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Hey, I don't have an answer for you, sorry. But you're not alone. I'm 51. My father died about 15 years ago and my mother died last year. My father was physically and emotionally abusive. He was also likely undiagnosed autistic (I am diagnosed, and we share a lot of peculiarities). My mother was a Narcissist and exacerbated situations in order to make herself feel more important/needed.

I was low-contact with my father as soon as I turned 18. I went no contact with my mother just before my father died.

Now it's just me. I have a hard time sometimes when encountering my wife's family, because they're normal. I hate Mother's Day. I really fucking hate that Mother's Day is always right around my birthday (the 12th) - it's like, even in death, I can't get away from her. Fuck.

I mentor students. I have a couple that seem to really look up to me, one who apparently sees me as a father figure. Just typing that out, kinda fucks me up. I don't know shit about what a good father is like. I just try to do what young me really needed someone to do for me.

Anyway, the point is, we're out here stumbling through things the best that we can. You're not whiny or childish. It's hard to not have a good relationship with your parents. It makes you feel like an outlier, but its not your fault.
One thing that I have accepted (via therapy and many heartfelt discussions with my incredible wife) is that my parents didn't not love me. They were damaged people, who in all honesty should have never been parents (much less teen parents). They loved me in the ways that they were capable of and knew how to. That doesn't make it okay, they missed the mark by a fucking longshot. But it wasn't out of enmity, but rather inability.
posted by anansi at 12:47 PM on May 11 [6 favorites]

Many people I know found a great deal of wisdom in Necessary Losses.

You might want to check it out. It's been around for a while so is likely in used stores and libraries.

BTW, as people above note, you are not alone in this. It's fine for you to post anonymous questions for *whatever* reason you like, but please be gentle with yourself. You've done nothing you need to be ashamed of or hide.
posted by jasper411 at 8:24 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

the past didn't go anywhere; it's ok to take time/therapy/whatever it takes to make today (and tomorrow!) easier than yesterday were
posted by adekllny at 1:54 PM on May 12

Here to second all the great advice above, especially from Monkey Toes. Also to recommend some subreddits:
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:34 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Imagine this: you broke your arm as a child, didn’t get medical care, and your arm healed poorly. As you’ve aged you’ve gotten used to the pain and limitations caused by this injury and neglect, but it still nags at you and you wish you could feel better. You finally go to an orthopedic doctor in your 60s. Would that be silly and wasteful because you should’ve just gotten over it?

I’m a therapist, and one of the best things about my job is it doesn’t matter if you’re 6 or 60, I can help people feel better and find healing. I’ve had clients in their 60s, 70s, and 80s coming in to finally talk about wounds they’ve been carrying since they were young. It’s not silly, it’s incredibly courageous.
posted by theotherdurassister at 9:54 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]

Books and other materials by David Richo have helped me process my relationships with my own terrible parents.

How to be an Adult in Relationships is my top recommendation. I also read and enjoyed How to be an Adult in Love and the audiobook version of The Five Things We Cannot Change:
1) Everything changes and ends,
2) Things do not always go according to plan,
3) Life is not always fair,
4) Pain is part of life,
5) People are not loving and loyal all the time.

This is a three-part talk on transference that is pretty amazing.
posted by acridrabbit at 2:12 PM on May 13

pairofshades suggested Pete Walker. I don't know his work, but went poking around on his site and found some things that might be of interest: Emotional Neglect and Complex PTSD (.pdf); GRIEVING and COMPLEX PTSD (.pdf); and Shrinking the Inner Critic in Complex PTSD (.pdf). Not diagnosing! But offering these resources in case they might help.

From the first linked article: "Our recovery efforts are impeded until we understand how much of our suffering constellates around early emotional abandonment –around the great emptiness that springs from the dearth of parental loving interest and engagement..."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:28 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Pete Walker is the author of Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, which is one of the preliminary works on C-PTSD that doesn't involve Bessel van der Kolk, who is problematic. It does have a heavy emphasis on Adverse Childhood Events, which makes it a less-useful resource for adults with C-PTSD from adult relationship/work/institutional/etc trauma, but it's been a keystone for a number of people I've known with shitty childhoods.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:03 AM on May 15

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