Content edited for clarity. Family can be a tough subject for some people. Especially when talking about parents. Everyone's childhood is vastly different. Sometimes parents don't quite meet the general expectations for what a parent should be.
Some people don’t deserve to be parents. Content has been edited for clarity.
“I’m confident there were many opportunities to arrive at the conclusion that good parenting was not a valid part of either of my parents’ skill set prior to these, but I’ll share these two circumstances as they came to mind ahead of all others.
I was born just 11 months after my older sister, also sometimes referred to as Irish Twins. My mother was very resentful towards me for having interrupted a lot of the firsts she had planned to celebrate alone with her firstborn. When my sister took her first steps I interfered as now there was a third party involved in a celebration she had foreseen would be a party for two. My earliest clear memory of realizing that my mother was not particularly well suited to parenting took place when my older sister was approximately three years old and my mother was struggling to toilet train her. She had the small potty on the floor beside the adult toilet in the bathroom and she was becoming extremely frustrated that my sister didn’t seem to be grasping what was expected of her. My sister was laughing and playing, my mother lifted the lid on the big toilet to show her, my sister tried to play with the water, my mother was becoming short-tempered. I was leaning against the bathroom wall and could see my mother’s patience waning so I pulled off my own diaper, climbed onto the adult toilet, and demonstrated what was expected of my sister. My mother became irate.
‘This is not for you, this is for your sister! You remain in diapers until you are old enough!’ She yelled.
She put my diaper on, left my sister off, and left us in the bathroom after once again reiterating what she expected of my sister. I leaned back against my wall. My sister laughed, went into the corner, and pooped on the floor. I quickly closed the door so my mother wouldn’t see and I set about explaining where the poop should go.
‘Put it in the potty! Put it in the potty then mommy will be so happy!’ I said.
My sister seemed to like this game, she put it in the miniature potty, I ran to get mommy. When I came back into the bathroom I found my sister sitting on her knees beside the potty shaping the poop into a round perfect ball in her little hands. I remember feeling sad. I spent months removing my own diaper to use the toilet and continued to try to potty train my older sister. My mother continued to be resentful that I learned something out of order, once again ruining her plans. Years later when my menses started before my sister’s had she refused to acknowledge my questions, I had to dig through a closet for old hospital pads she’d used after childbirth and figure things out for myself. When my sister had her first period there was a celebration, exactly one year later she acknowledged mine and took me shopping for supplies.
While I’m sure there are older memories exhibiting my father’s lack of parenting skills, this is the first I’m reminded of. I was 10, my father lived out of state and my mother sent me alone by plane to visit him for a week. It was his habit to only eat once a day, usually a late lunch while at work. He left me home alone in the empty apartment while he went to work. When I say there was no food, there was literally no food at all in this home. Not even condiments. Nothing. There were a couple of packets of crackers and I had some peanuts from the plane, that lasted the first day. I remember scrounging around for any coins I could find and walking to a corner coffee shop where the waitress pitied me. When I no longer had money she tried to sneak me food or give me her lunch but she got caught and her manager chased me away. When my father had his day off he fed me when he had his one meal of the day, I don’t know if he ever wondered what I ate the rest of the week. I had been a bit chubby as a child, that week I’d clearly lost my baby-fat. My mother had always threatened me that my father had no patience and would hit me for speaking up. so I was silent and too scared to say anything to him. Just waited for the week to end.
I know people that have had rough childhoods and people that have had horrific childhoods. You can dwell and wallow in misery indefinitely. Or you can let it go and move on. I like to say that everyone has at least 2 opportunities to experience a perfect childhood, your own, and failing that through the eyes of your child or through the eyes of another child you know. There’s always an opportunity to make new memories, always an opportunity for a happy childhood!”
They Just Didn’t Understand
“It was kind of weird. My wife and I were talking about being kitty parents. While we are trying for children, we’re pretty sure one of us is infertile. We don’t know for sure, but in the meantime, we still call ourselves kitty parents.
Anyways, we got talking about what our strongest memories growing up were. Apparently one of my strongest memories is of my parents going through my bedroom with a trash bag.
See, I have ADD. As a child that meant that if it didn’t interest me, I couldn’t stay focused on it, and that went triple if something that did interest me was within arms reach.
So when I was told to clean my room, as children are, I had this real problem where I would pick up a handful of items and put them away. Then I would get distracted by all of the various toys on the floor of my room which I absolutely had to play with right now because they’re awesome! Several hours later, my parents would discover me playing with toys (usually legos or some kind of action set if memory serves) and my room looked worse than it did before they sent me to clean it.
They would yell and scold and in general tell me that I wasn’t allowed to play with toys until all of the toys were put away and the trash was thrown away.
When that didn’t work and it was getting to be late and I for some bizarre reason still hadn’t cleaned my room, they would solve it by coming through with a trash bag. They were selective about what went in the trash bags too. They specifically went for toys. I would start crying and racing my parents trying to put my favorite toys away faster than they could throw them away. It would be a furious race but I would be slowed by the fact that I had to prioritize (if my favorite lego set was thrown but not that toy soldier of which I have dozens that would be an even worse result) and actually ‘put away’ (all organization went out the window) the toys meant that they always managed to collect more than I could save.
This ritual would happen about once every two months (usually every month during summer break and less often during the school year). I never did manage to figure out how to clean my room for the record. They stopped caring. After I moved out, they had to get help to clean out all of the pop bottles I had left behind and to box up all of the stuff I had so that I could take it off of their hands.
All of this is bad enough that they didn’t figure out another solution after one or two times of this. It’s bad enough that they literally got me to tears as their ‘solution’ (wasn’t even supposed to be a punishment, just a natural result of me taking too long). What’s worse is they should have been able to figure out why this happened.
My mom identified ADD specifically in me and was instrumental in getting me diagnosed at around age seven. She had been an advocate for ADD for some time before that and was actively an advocate for me at school to make sure that I had the resources available to learn despite ADD (which was a challenge no doubt). She really knew what ADD was. So it should not have been a surprise to her that her ADD son wasn’t able to focus on cleaning his room. It’s not like I had more ability to focus anywhere else. She should have known that something was required to focus me simply because that was how my brain worked.
She either didn’t figure it out (I hope) or was too overwhelmed (I’m willing to consider) or actively didn’t want to deal with it (I hope not). In the end, though, no solutions were ever found.
Things I can think of looking back that might have helped, in no particular order, could have been; establishing a routine of cleaning my room daily before bed. While it’s small and containable I would have likely been able to clean it in a reasonable time. Or sitting in the room with me and gently reminding me to clean anytime I started to play. She could have created structured portions of the room to work on, set timers, and at the ding check on me. At least then it wouldn’t have been after four hours. In time I probably could have learned to focus as needed. Things that generally didn’t improve the situation were yelling and punishing.
Oh, and for the love of all that is holy (or frankly, all that is not) don’t after you bag up all the toys tell your child, ‘Now you can earn these back if you keep your room clean for three weeks when you already know they have never learned the skills or discipline to do so.
Just in case you need proof that this qualifies as a bad parent. During this conversation, my wife and I went through a lot of things about our childhood. And again the night after I wrote this (I’m editing the following morning) we continued that conversation.
We got talking about the kinds of memories each of us has of growing up. I had dozens of positive memories, all involving peers. I had a few negative memories involving peers (bullying is real, but it starts at home). But when it came to my parents all of my positive memories are things like them running me to urgent care after I fell and cut open my eyebrow (long story). I have some positive memories of my dad teaching me how to work with wood. I have a few positive memories of the ways I worked around them. I don’t have a single memory that I would describe as love. Maybe the woodworking stuff, but that seemed to be as much my dad living through my scout activities as anything. However, I have hundreds of negative memories, of which the one in this story is just one.
‘Actions speak louder than words’ is so very true. In adults, it tends to be pretty balanced between positive and negative. In children, it’s triply true, but negative actions speak significantly louder than anything. When my father was spanking me he would say, ‘I do this because I love you.’
I guarantee I didn’t feel love at that point. I also know that it never freaking worked! Like, if it doesn’t work the first couple of times, stop doing something you know you don’t want to do and figure something else out! I’m sorry, but what I felt at that time was anger wrapped in ‘love’ to shield the angry man from the horror of what he was doing in anger.
My memories of my parents growing up are of anger, judgment, control (not discipline), violence, and intolerance. My memories of my friends growing up are of fun, energy, tolerance, and support. My memories of my parents now are of anger, judgment, and intolerance. They don’t dare spank me anymore obviously, but I know they don’t approve of my life. I don’t really know (or care at this point) what I can do to gain their approval. I moved out 10 years ago, I married seven years ago, and I landed a job in my career field five years ago. I was promoted to a leadership position this year. I don’t really know what’s left for me to say or do to gain their approval, but I’m done trying. I talk to them on the requisite days (when they call to wish me a happy birthday) and otherwise generally just don’t speak to them. If that’s the kind of relationship you want with your children, go down this path. If however, you want a relationship where your children trust you and can be open with you, find a better freaking path, I know there has to be one out there. I’m sick of people blaming the child when the parent can’t figure out how to teach them.”
“Your Child Won’t Be A Kid Forever”
“My parents were not bad parents, but they weren’t perfect either. I started realizing it when I entered college and lived separated from them for the first time in my life.
My mother controlled my every little life choice. From clothes I can wear, how I should behave, what I should become, what I should learn—everything. I should become a doctor to continue her dream. I should not say ‘Can you please,’ to the waiter in the restaurant because it’s their job to serve us. I should focus on studying the really important subjects like math or science because art and music are useless for my future. I should not get too serious with mere hobbies because studying is all I must do. I should not get angry or sad or emotional. I should not go out with my friends because kids do not make real friends and people cannot be trusted and there is no such thing as a friendship based on personality.
My life always revolved around my mom and I had always thought it was normal. That everyone else went through the same thing. Then I went to college and lived separated from my parents for the first time and I felt so out of place.
I never knew people can make their own choices. My female classmates choose and buy their own clothes and make-up. My male classmates invited each other to a game of football or made a band. They made friends and hung out. They joked with each other, got into arguments with their friends, made up. They were full of life and emotions. On the other hand, finally out of my mom’s scrutinizing eyes, I felt at a loss. I did not have any hobbies. I could not make any friends. I did not have any particular interests in pretty much anything. I did not know how normal people interact.
I was the weird girl in my year. Always quiet and alone and almost expressionless. And my study was not any good. I had barely any interest in learning medicine and without anyone pointing out what I should learn or not, I could not learn a single thing. I fell behind on my study and soon fell into depression. I grew a huge trust issue with everyone. I had anxiety about learning something new or meeting new people or trying out new things because I always feel like I am going to fail and disappoint people. I developed anxiety-induced procrastination.
It took me years of observing people to learn that I was also allowed to be happy and sad and angry, that I can make my own choice without needing my parents’ consent for every single thing, that I can say no to things I do not like, that I do not have to make a huge number of friends but only a few of very close friends are enough, that real friendships do exist.
My mom isn’t a bad person or a bad parent. She only wanted what’s best for me, but one thing every parent should know is to teach your child the skill to hunt rather than giving them the meat. Children will grow and they will need to learn to be self-sufficient. Remember that your child won’t be a kid forever.”
They Thought She Joined A Cult
“I realized how awful my childhood was fairly slowly, mostly through exposure to other non-dysfunctional families. I didn’t really come to terms with the fact that I had been suffering verbal and emotional abuse for almost my entire life until I was an adult. If there were any moments that really resonated with me as to how messed up my family was, I suppose I can think of three.
One time, my stepfather was making himself a sandwich in the morning when he was about to leave to go to the airport. Someone had not properly covered the block of American cheese the night before, and it had turned hard in the corner. He threw the piece of cheese at me, which hit me in the face, and then he grounded me for a week because the odd look I gave him was disrespectful.
The summer after my first year of college, I came home despite my better judgement because my mother had convinced me that I would be allowed to relax. I had been diagnosed with major depression a few months prior and was prescribed several kinds of medication and counseling. Of course, I was not allowed to relax. My parents refused to consider counseling, tried to get me to stop taking medication, and decided to cure me of my problems with a daily dose of hard physical labor. When I told them that the reason I was medicated was because I had been self-harming, they said I was lying to get attention. I left a week later and never came back.
I still spoke to my mother though, and when I was going to get married to my first husband, I called to tell her about it, revealing to them for the first time that I was pagan and had been so for years. I had what felt like the first genuine and respectful conversation I had ever had with my stepfather and hung up the phone feeling hopeful that maybe age had mellowed him, and he was now a decent and tolerant person.
A few days later he called my biological father behind my back to tell him I was in a cult and they had to save me. My dad, who is super awesome and drove me to several of my first pagan rituals, told my stepdad to stuff it. My mother, after months of drama, didn’t even end up attending my wedding.
I could go on about how, even now that I’m in my thirties, they still stalk my social media accounts to see if I say bad things about them and get my half-siblings to verbally harass me if they think I have been critical of them in any way, but I think you get the picture.”
They Didn’t Act Like Parents At All
“I feel like I should start this post by saying my parents are good people but just bad parents. I realized from a very young age I would have to fend for myself and my younger brother a lot. When I was born, my mam was 17 with learning difficulties and my dad was 28 with very few prospects in life. Only 14 months later, they had my brother. At the beginning of our lives, I remember my dad worked, but he couldn’t stay out of the pub. He was always a jolly drunkard, and so I actually kinda preferred him that way, because he’d give me extra money or be open to more conversations with me. As I was a curious child, I enjoyed quizzing him about the world, and he would give me honest replies, which I loved. As a child, as I felt I understood more than my friends.
However, I would say it was around the age of seven or eight I realized my childhood wasn’t the same as everyone else’s. As I was maturing, I realized I couldn’t have serious conversations with my mam. I couldn’t go to her with my problems because she just wouldn’t understand or be able to help me in any way because she just couldn’t. I must emphasize I love my mam with all of my heart, but it became clear we wouldn’t have your usual mother/daughter bond that I seen my friends have with their mams. Funnily enough though, it never upset me. It wasn’t until I was around 19 when a friend asked how I felt about my mam that I gave it any real thought on how it affected my childhood and teenage years. It made certain things difficult when it came to puberty and boys because I didn’t know who to turn to. I’d never met anyone who had a mam like mine, and I am still yet to. It would be very interesting to compare experiences. It wasn’t always easy being her daughter, she had and still does have, a very short fuse. Something said out of context that she didn’t understand could lead to serious meltdowns and her walking out on us a few times. We soon learned that all of this was through no fault of her own and we became accustomed to just ignoring her outbursts. She would also sometimes tell lies, just because that was what she did and on a couple of occasions it got my mam and dad into bother with social services, after she’d say something silly to another mam in the play ground. We had around three visits from them growing up.
Because of the way my mam and dad both were, the house was often a mess. There was very little money, my dad often fell behind with bill payments and we would flee in the night to somewhere else, usually to my nana and grandads one bedroom flat which they also lived in. We stayed there for nearly two years when I was about nine. I believe I was around 14 when I got my first proper bedroom, and even then, I decorated it myself. Despite all of this, I was a happy kid. My parents loved me and my brother and that was something I could never deny.
I feel like I should also point out one thing. I was a smart kid. I did well in school and I loved to learn. When I was around seven or eight my dad stopped working. He had been a cleaner but he decided he was overworked and therefore wanted to claim benefits and spend a lot of time in the pub. This quickly became the norm and on days I wasn’t at school, I’d be given the food shop money, and I would be in charge of the weekly shop with my mam and brother. Sometimes I’d be allowed to just take the day off school if I wanted. I became responsible for a lot of things around the house, including travelling to Gateshead every fortnight to pay loan payments back. By the time I was 13, I realised if I wanted anything for myself, I had to earn it, so I developed a work ethic and went out hunting for a job. I quickly got one in a takeaway, answering the phones. By this point, I was the responsible one in the house. If my dad was struggling to make ends meet, he would come to me and we’d find a solution. If my brother needed anything, I would take him shopping, if any errands needed running or important phone calls made, I was the one to do it. I remember one thing I struggled with was trying to be taken seriously in an adult world when your doing adult things but your still a child. I remember a couple of times being mocked in the shop by grown ups because I couldn’t push the trolley properly or if I was questioning them about a charge on a receipt.
The problem with this, is I developed zero self discipline. I was fortunate to be a good kid who just wanted to do their best and so I always stayed on the straight and narrow until I was around 16. It was around this time you had to start doing school work in your own time and be able to focus. I’d never been one to do my homework or revise for exams because my parents never made me, and during my GCSE years, this worked fine for me, but A level became a whole different ball park. I was working two jobs at this point also, and quite frankly the money in my pocket, which I had never had growing up, was far more appealing to me than any university offers, even though my school were insistent I apply for an Oxbridge position. Committing to school work meant giving up actual work. Work became my escape from home, and I could not sit and focus in my house on anything for myself because of the fact my family needed me. My mam and dad went on to have two more kids, and so when I was 16, I really felt like a mother to three, whilst making sure my mam and dad stayed out of trouble.
Something clicked in my head at the age of 16. I had spent so many years being the backbone of the house, of being depended on by my parents and I realised I had zero self control because I’d been allowed to do whatever I wanted since the age of around five and I had a fierce independence that no one my age seemed to possess. It made me both incredibly sad for a childhood that wasn’t as carefree as others but also incredibly proud of everything I accomplished and learned on my own. The lack of parenting I had up to that point meant I felt I knew better than what any adult could tell me. Up to that point, I’d felt I was their equal and to reach this age and have people tell you you’re making a bad choice when you had done nothing but the right thing and trusted your gut all your life, well, it angered me.
Unfortunately, a rebel took over. I decided I craved my childhood and I used to go out every night, whether it be to work, or out with my friends. I stopped going to school and my A levels took a dive, which in comparison to my full As GCSE results, was a shock to everyone. I didn’t feel like I needed to explain myself to anyone. I was doing what made me happy after so many years of being there for other people. Because of all this, however, it resulted in arguments with my parents as I would stay away for days at a time. I ended up getting kicked out and it was then I realized how bad my parents truly were as parents. I had done everything for them that I possibly could and in a time when I really needed a parent, someone to put me back on the straight and narrow, I was tossed outside. I was 18 with nothing to my name and so I did what I did best, I put on a smiling face and I went out into the adult world to prove every single person who said I needed university wrong. I got an apprenticeship in a bank and was earning twice as much as I ever had before. Enough to build a life for myself.
In retrospect, it was for the best. My relationship with my parents had become really strained as I matured and I felt like I outgrew the family. They had my brother who was an adult now also and they didn’t necessarily need me as much as they once did. As I was also working, it was causing problems with my dad’s benefit claims which was impacting my siblings. After a few months and the storm had settled, we were able to rebuild our relationship and I can confidently say I like my parents as people. They make me laugh, they do genuinely care about me and they always say how proud I make them. Unfortunately, they were just bad parents for several reasons, a few of which were outside of their control. My childhood does make me sad but we were a solid unit, the four of us, for a while and it has made me the woman I am today. I know that when the time comes, I can say with confidence I will be a great mother because I was my own for so long.”
“Don’t Get Me Wrong, I love My Mom”
“I didn’t fully realize until I was an adult. My mom has an undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder, which means that throughout my and my siblings’ whole lives the habit of deflection and gaslighting was extremely common. When she was emotional she would make sure that everyone knew and felt sorry for her, including a clueless six-year-old me. Whenever one of her children was upset she would say, ‘why are you upset for? You have nothing to be upset about. Your life is so easy because of me and I should be the one who’s upset since I work so hard.’
For many years I felt this guilt and extreme personal responsibility for her because I thought it was my job to make sure that the family was okay and that she was happy. Hint: she’s never been happy. Finally, as I become an adult and brought my current SO into my life, he straightaway told me that she was emotionally and psychologically abusing me and that what I felt wasn’t something people with healthy parent-child relationships should feel. I began to notice that everything I called her out on something she would quickly switch the topic to every bad thing that’s happened to her to distract from the issue at hand. Even when I was hospitalized for a few days due to a suicide attempt, she would come to visit and ask me why I did it and to say sorry to her since ending my life meant that I was disrespecting her. I’ve tried my whole life to be the daughter that she wants but it has never been enough and now I realize that it’s not for lack of trying on my part. Even during this quarantine, I have tried to reconcile with her through e-therapy. The psychotherapist we spoke to saw right through her and – very nicely – gave some truths from an educated and intelligent outsider perspective. It was no surprise to me that she ended up opting-out from the counselling sessions afterwards.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom. However, I don’t think that we will ever have the relationship that I see others having and I’m slowly coming to accept that now. It’s very saddening for me but she’s hurt me so much throughout my life that there’s an equal level of resentment from my end towards her. I don’t think we will ever be able to have that closeness but at least I’ve tried. The most I can do at this point is take care of myself and be there for my siblings who are going through the same experience.”
Cookies And Milk
“When I just about to turn five years old and it was close to Christmas. My parents and I lived in a small upstairs apartment in San Diego. My dad was in the Navy and he had just told my mother the Navy was going to be his career. They had a fight so bad the older couple from downstairs came up and asked them to keep it down. I was hiding behind the couch. The lady took me by the hand and led me down the stairs while my parents cooled down. She gave me cookies and milk.
I hadn’t said a word. Finally, I asked her to use her phone. She said sure. I called my grandmother collect (back then landlines had telephone operators) and told her to send my grandfather for me. My grandparents lived in Los Angeles. I told my grandmother little children shouldn’t have to be afraid of their mommy and daddy. They would say to me, ‘I could just kill you,’ now I was afraid we all were going to die, so come and get me.
I spent a fearful night. My parents cooled off and my dad went to work that next morning as usual. Early in the morning, not long after he left, my grandfather (dad’s dad) showed up. He was very cold to my mother. He told her to pack my bag. She balked. He told her she and my dad could do this the easy way or the hard way but never again was I ever going to have to be frightened to live with them. He was taking me to his house and the two of them could come up for the weekend and talk over the situation. My grandfather was a very powerful man. My mother quickly packed my bag and kissed me goodbye. She very infrequently kissed me. As I was going down the stairs, the neighbor lady opened her door a crack and waved at me. I waved back.
When I was sixteen, with help of my grandfather, I became legally emancipated from my parents.”