A lot of families have deep, dark secrets no one on the outside of the family should ever know about. But what about people in the family? Sometimes, people within the family don’t even know these secrets because they were either little at the time or couldn’t handle the reality. People discuss their dark family secrets they finally got to know about once they grew older. Content has been edited for clarity.
She Always Knew
“My grandparents ran a boy’s home in the 60s and 70s, for kids with unsafe living situations, abusive families, juvenile criminal records, etc. They provided the kids with a good life. My mum was an only child and grew up living around them. When I was small and asked her about it she would say that for the larger part she loved growing up around them because it was like having friends all the time.
In the pictures that exist of her from that time she looks like a little boy herself- she refused to wear girl’s clothes and had a boy’s haircut. But in all of these photos of her, throughout her childhood and adolescence, there is a strange sad energy in her face that I couldn’t put my finger on even though she is smiling, I could just feel it when I saw those pictures. I didn’t understand how she would describe these times as so fun and happy, but when my grandma would say she had ‘heard from one of the boys’ around Christmas, Easter, or birthdays, my mum would go quiet and look close to tears, and maybe stay this way for a day or so.
My mum was an extremely overprotective mother when I was a teen. At 14, I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs, pluck my eyebrows, or wear anything that wasn’t a learner bra. nothing terrible but it felt like I was being kept as a child. At 15 I rebelled a bit and my mum clamped down even harder. She emphasized over and over that boys were not to be trusted, they only want one thing, girls that give off certain messages to them will ‘come a cropper. The horrible twist is that I was physically hurt by men on two separate occasions in my teens and when I told her, she basically said to me ‘I told you so’.
I went through therapy a bit later and managed to process that these things weren’t my fault and that my mother’s logic had made things worse. I confronted her with that. Those events were not my fault. It was nobody’s fault but the perpetrator. I did not do anything that invited horrible treatment. She really could not accept this, it had to be my fault in some way. When I went to the police to make a historical report, she was extremely awkward and unsupportive. My dad stepped in to help me during this time.
Two years later during an argument, my mum told me that she was hurt from the age of six by two separate boys in their early adolescence who were living at the home. She didn’t realize anything about this was wrong until her father saw something happening to her, blamed her, implied she caused it to happen, told her mother, and said it must not happen again. My mum was 8. Nothing happened to the boys, who had likely been abused themselves. The home carried on working for years and no one said anything more about it. When my mum told me this I just held her and told her it wasn’t her fault, that her parents should have protected her when they knew that was happening, that she should have been better cared for.
When she told me I felt no shock. It felt like I had always known. The sad feeling I could see in those pictures of my mum when she was little, and how she had so desperately tried to protect me from growing up, suddenly all made sense.”
A Turn Of Events
“My grandmother was in a very abusive relationship since she was 17. Since her then-boyfriend was drinking heavily and forced himself on my grandmother several times. She got pregnant and since that was not done in the 50s, they had to get married as soon as possible. After their first child, they ended up having four more kids, one didn’t survive childbirth, but the other three lived.
During this time, my grandmother’s husband was still drinking heavily and very, very abusive. She had to flee away from him, from her family to survive because she would end up extremely hurt if she didn’t. Also, she met my grandfather during this time, and they fell in love. She left her kids with her mother, who had custody of the kids anyways (that’s how they rolled back then), my grandfather sold the only thing he had which was a small moped so he could help her escape her husband.
Many, many years later, when my grandma divorced her husband, married my grandpa, had three more kids with him, grandkids, etc, and moved back to the hometown, they also reconnected with her first four daughters and everything was going well, except for one thing.
It was a tiny town, everybody knew everybody over there and rumors spread fast. And there was a rumor about my grandmother from back in the days of her first husband. The rumor was that she had some sort of fling with another man in town (not my grandpa) and one of her first four daughters was his. The daughters didn’t know about this until they heard. They asked my grandma about it and she was flabbergasted. She told them it wasn’t true at all, that it didn’t happen and that this should be the end of it.
It didn’t sit right with the daughters, so they did a DNA test. Then the results came in. There it was, proof that the gossip wasn’t gossip, but it was true. Daughter number three was a half-sister of the other three. So they went to my grandmother again. They showed her the proof, it said very clearly that one of them wasn’t their fathers. My grandma denied again, even though they had it black on white that it was true.
The daughters went no contact with my grandmother after this. They never got over the fact that she left them in the first place and this ‘betrayal’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can’t blame them for that. Still, to this day she claims it didn’t happen and that all four women are from the same man.”
“My grandfather killed his youngest brother to get out of going to Vietnam.
He, his brother, and two of their friends had their numbers called in the draft for Vietnam. They didn’t want to go, obviously, but they didn’t come from money and all worked to support their families. If police arrested them, they’d lose their jobs and their families would lose their income. So they decided on a different plan to get out of going.
They would drive to get their medical checks together, and on the way there they would drive the car into a tree. The plan was to get too injured to get sent to war, but not so injured as to be permanently crippled, and it had to look like an accident so nobody got arrested. This was in the country Australia, so they were all going to say they swerved to miss a kangaroo, and hit the tree.
My grandfather was driving, his friend was in the passenger seat, and the other two were in the back. His brother was behind the passenger seat. They hit the tree doing about 40kph, enough to be serious. A broken leg for my grandfather, a broken arm for the guy behind him, and broken ribs all around. They weren’t going to war.
The problem was that for maximum impact, and because this was rural Australia in the sixties, they weren’t wearing seatbelts. And nobody found them or their car for an hour or so. Nobody considered internal injuries in this plan. And my grandfather’s brother bled to death from a ruptured spleen in the back seat. He was dead before they got to a hospital.
My grandfather never forgave himself, and he never talked about it. My grandma was the only one he ever told, as far as we know, and she didn’t tell my mother and me until long after his death. We found a small box in their bedroom when we were cleaning out the house after she died last year. It had a clipping from the local newspaper at the time about the accident. It said that they had swerved to miss a roo, and called it a tragedy.
I don’t think my mother told any of her siblings, so technically this is still the family secret. I guess now you’re all in on it.”
“My Grandpa served during WWII. He ended up jumping out of planes as a paratrooper, what would later become the special forces. He was also the Army national boxing champion.
One day during the war, he and some mates were sitting in a diner having lunch. At a table nearby was another group of Army boys. One of whom was very loud, obnoxious, and disrespectful to everyone plus being handsy with the waitress.
Grandpa politely told the loudmouth to pull his head in. The loudmouth refused and advised my grandpa to mind his own business. My grandpa stood up and asked him to come outside so they may discuss this matter further.
The loudmouth looked grandpa up and down. He saw a five-foot-ten, 70-kg bloke. The loudmouth was six-foot-one and at least 90kg. He must have thought this would be the easiest fight of his life. They walked outside, loudmouth blustered about the beating he was about to give my grandpa.
My grandpa gave him one last chance. He told Loudmouth to say sorry to the waitress, go back inside, eat his meal and shut up. Loudmouth declined and squared up.
Grandpa threw a lightning right hook that hit loudmouth square in the jaw. There was a crack as his jaw broke. Loudmouth fell back and there was another even louder crack that rippled through the crowd; the sounds of Loudmouth’s head smacking the back of his head on the pavement. We don’t know if he died instantly or later on, but he died.
They arrested and court-maritaled my grandpa. They tried him for second-degree murder. Thankfully there were enough witnesses and it was a different time period. Two men had a fair fight and one died in a horrible accident.
Grandpa was acquired and went on to do some stuff in the war and with the Paras that is still under lock and key 80 years later.
Grandpa has been going for years now and all this came out a few years ago completely by accident. It was pretty strange knowing the man I loved as Grandpa killed a bloke with one punch. Doesn’t change what I think of him though. He was a champion bloke who I very much wish was still around today.”
“Turns out the reason my mom’s parents divorced wasn’t that they ‘fell out of love,’ but because he had an affair with another married woman. The families knew each other for years and my mom was good friends with the other woman’s kids. They ended up getting married less than a year after their respective divorces (they each had three kids). It was especially sad because my step grandmother’s (the Other Woman) children suffered pretty badly because neither she nor her ex-husband was functional adults. Their kids grew up fast and the oldest daughter became a mom and maid at the ripe old age of 12 since dad refused to step up.
My bio grandmother, bless her, didn’t tell a soul about this. When I told her I knew, she sort of smiled and nodded like it was a relief that someone else knew besides her. I can’t imagine keeping a secret like that for so long and not being able to tell your kids that it wasn’t your fault that you divorced and upended their lives.
So yeah, learned that little gem while helping with my stepgrandmother’s hospice care this past fall. She was always a chatty person but end-of-life substances amped it up. It was pretty shocking because my grandfather is a pretty laid-back, kind, person and you never suspect him of cheating. The worst part was that in my shock and confusion, I told my mother about it and it became pretty obvious she had no clue before I told her. I wish I could take that back.
She wasn’t a mom at 12, her dad just refused to learn how to cook or clean so naturally, that fell to the other females in the house, his daughters.
And yes, the step-grandmother was the ‘Other Woman.’ We had a great relationship, but that would have been different if I’d known what I know now. Kinda sucks when stuff like this comes up and changes how you see people. I still love her and my grandfather, but dang, they caused so much suffering for their kids for the sake of being together and loving.”
The Found Cousin
“That my favorite cousin wasn’t missing.
All I knew growing up (he was 13 years older than me) was that he would come and go a lot. He lived with us when I was a baby and after he moved out he would visit every six months or so out of the blue, but we never visited him or called him.
His visits were one of my favorite things in the world. I loved him like a brother.
By the time I was a teenager, I understood that he had issues with his parents. They kicked him out at 13 and my parents took him in, but that kind of childhood messes with you. In between visits to my parents, he avoided the rest of the family, moved a lot, and didn’t hold jobs for long, which is why my parents didn’t always know where he was.
But in my later teens, he stopped coming over at all. I asked repeatedly if anyone heard from him and they told me no. I asked about contacting him and they told me no one had a number or address for him. He would come around when he felt like it. But it stretched on for years. I worried he was dead, and I missed him.
In my later 20s, I finally found out that everyone knew where he was the whole time. He was in prison for murder. From what I heard, it was somewhat justified. He was defending his new wife, who I never got to meet. I also found out some super unfortunate things. The extended family sided with his messed-up parents and refused to help him or his wife when police arrested him. Also, they shamed my dad into not helping either. So I tried to send a message to him in prison but I don’t know if he ever got it. I wish he knew that I didn’t turn my back on him for decades as everyone else did. I just didn’t know.”
“My dad used to send me birthday cards every year when I was a young girl (my mother left my dad while pregnant with me for good reason). Even though I never got to meet him when I was young I was glad to still receive a card from him with a few bucks acknowledging I was alive and that he did one day want to see me.
Around 14-15, I learned that my mother had written every single one of those letters and my grandfather would mail it to us to make it seem legit. I never actually received any letter from him.
My dad was a pretty terrible guy. Without airing all my family’s dirty laundry, he was an abuser. I did eventually meet him two times: once at my aunt’s funeral at 17 where he wrote me a long letter about how he wished he was better, and once when I was 19 when he tried to establish a relationship. He gave me terrible vibes and I never answered his attempts to reach out after that, and I’m happier this way.
My mom raised two kids by herself. Unfortunately, my family has its issues. My family suffers from over-drinking and my mother has deep mental health issues. Growing up with her wasn’t always easy and still isn’t now. Some days she is lucid and a wonderful mother. Other days she’s violent and unstable. But I know deep down inside her where she is well and unafflicted by her illness she is an incredible mother and kind. I just have to accept that she is unwell and try to remember good times. My family and I are estranged these days but it makes me want to work harder to be a stable and loving mother if I do become one someday. At the end of everything, I do still love my mom and am thankful she shielded me from him.”
“When I was young, my uncle (maternal side) died (suddenly) of illness. I was around six years old. My grandfather and another uncle had died within the previous two years, so I was, sadly enough for that age, familiar with death and with funerals.
It was a closed casket, and when I asked my mom why they didn’t open it as they did for the other funerals, she just said that’s what his family wanted and to not mention it anymore.
Years later, when I was ~12 years old, I was staying at my (paternal) grandmother’s place and she was going off on some rant, as she was apt to do, and the topic of ‘down under’ came up.
My grandma, never one to hold punches, flatly said ‘Like your Uncle Charlie! He’s down under, rest his poor soul.’
Of course, I asked her what she meant by that only to have her look at me like I had asked the stupidest question imaginable.
Once the shock of my profound ignorance wore off, she simply said ‘Well, suicide’s a one-way ticket to down under and if offing yourself in the head isn’t suicide then I don’t know what is!’
I will forever remember that conversation. She was an incredibly warm, caring woman, but she was very matter-of-fact and honest, and she would say some cold things sometimes due to her insane beliefs. She hugged me and baked me cookies afterward, and apologized for having to be the one to tell me about how he died.”
“My grandfather and his first girlfriend were meant for each other. They loved each other greatly and started dating when they were like 16 or something. Then one day when they were in their 20s or something my grandfather heard a rumor (note this was back in the 1950s) that his girlfriend had entertained some unknown men at her apartment. They fought and split up, and immediately, I mean immediately, my grandma swooped in and married him. They had three children, but my grandpa never stopped loving his ex-girlfriend who also had gotten married and had children.
My grandparents divorced instantly when my mom, their youngest child, moved out, and my grandpa and his ex-girlfriend got back together. They lived together until her death a few years ago.
My maternal grandma had issues with substances, and even though I loved her very, very much and she was not necessarily a good person. She died when I was ten, so about 18 years ago. My mom recently told me that my grandma had, while out of it, confessed that she started the rumor. She had torn my grandpa and his girlfriend apart because she wanted him all to herself.
My mom told me that as she was out of it, we can never confirm this. But if it was true, I exist only due to my grandma being a jealous woman and tearing apart a couple meant for each other.
What an internal conflict I had when I first heard this.”
“My grandfather was an amazing guy. He was a sniper-paratrooper in WWII. He always refused to talk about the army. I learned later that he was dishonorably discharged after injury. It turned out the Seargeant in his squad was an absolute nightmare. He had to go behind enemy lines to set a post up, and the plane was flying too low for a safe jump. He protested it to the Sargent who proceeded to shove him out of the plane after calling him a coward. Both my grandfather and his spotter partner were seriously injured in the landing. His partner (who never knew him) was paralyzed and lost a leg. My grandfather broke both of his, his arm, hand, and some ribs.
They both were rescued shortly after and taken to a military hospital. That’s not why they discharged him, though. The Sergeant showed up to visit them in the infirmary, and my grandfather punched him square in the face with his only good hand, twice. After that, and on top of his injuries, the army sent him home for the rest of the war.
We found out later after he passed, and we had to go through his stuff. There were a bunch of newspapers and article clippings about the folks involved he had kept. The Sergeant was also discharged after a similar incident cost the lives of two other members of his squad a year later that weren’t so lucky.
The man drank himself to death years later. We found all these written but unsent letters to his Seargeant. Then we found photos of my grandfather’s squad and the two that died with him. It was heartbreaking. I never knew any of this. He was such a fun, kind, and goofy guy you’d never think anything like this would happen to him. Now I knew why my parents always said never to bring up the army around him. Miss you grandpa, I’d have punched the guy too.”