Auntie SparkNotes: I'll Never Have a Good Relationship with My Parents
I'm already almost 22 years old, but there's a childish part of me that I've been struggling to let go of. Recently, I was visiting a friend's house for lunch, and her mother was also visiting. The three of us had a fantastic time, and it was clear to see that my friend and her mother had such a great bond. I feel so happy for my friend for having such a great relationship in her life, but at the same time, I feel dead inside because I don't have what she has and never will.
When I was toddler, my mother would routinely write words like "dumb", "liar", and "lazy" in Sharpie on my forehead as punishment for anything. When I was 11, I got a B on a quiz, so while I was at school the next day, she took my diary and chalked excerpts from it in front of our house for everyone to see. When I was 16, she would listen in on my phone conversations, and when my friend and I started talking about fanfiction, she barged into my room, made me hang up, and screamed at me for 30 minutes because she "didn't raise a nerd who makes up stupidities all day."
As for my dad, he pretty much just let all of this happen without saying much. When I was fifteen, my mom was lecturing me about how nobody would love me because of my glasses, and when I told my dad about it, he said, "She means well. She just gets a little carried away sometimes."
The good news is that I'm in college now, building my career so I won't have to be in contact with my family in the future. But needless to say, every time I see someone talk about how much they love their parents and what great relationships they have with them, I feel sad inside. I'm already an adult; I shouldn't have these childish needs for Mommy and Daddy to be in my life and comfort me. I can't imagine how hurt my friends would feel if they knew that I envied them for their parental relationships. How do I get over this, Auntie?
I'll be honest, Sparkler: the most likely answer to that question is "therapy"—and not the kind you can get in one shot from your average internet agony aunt. Having monstrous parents (or in your case, one monstrous parent and one spineless enabler) is the kind of psychic wound that takes time, effort, and the help of a qualified professional to heal, and in the meantime, it's the kind that hurts like hell. The fact that you're still struggling with it in your early twenties says absolutely nothing about your maturity level, and everything about what a terribly hard thing it is to deal with.
Unfortunately, that means that the best advice I can give you is to seek more formal help, and to be prepared to work on this issue for a good, long time. Your parents had 18 years to thoroughly mess with your head, and you've only just barely begun to leave all of that behind; you shouldn't be surprised if it takes you at least a year of focused effort to untangle and uproot all the toxicity you internalized and start finding joy and support elsewhere.
And in the meantime, it is normal and natural that you get a pang when you see your friends having healthy, happy relationships with their own parents—and if your friends knew how you felt, I can virtually guarantee you that they would not be "hurt", except maybe in the sympathetic sense of hurting for you and wishing there were something they could do to make it better. No person who has a loving relationship with their parents could possibly fail to understand the despair you feel at having missed out on one—and more to the point, only someone raised by total asshats would see that despair as childish. This is a loss for you. You have the right to grieve it, and to confide in your friends about that grief so that they can support you through it.
It's also a loss that you can cope with by finding and forging bonds with people who can pick up the ball where your own parents dropped it—a family of choice, since the one nature gave you turned out to be such a dud. There are so many people out there who are estranged from their own kids, or who never had any, and yearn to care for someone just as you yearn to be cared for; there are also plenty of happy families who are only too glad to share the joy and bring a few honorary, unrelated members into the fold. So while it's great that you're focusing on your career in the name of getting some distance from your family, you could also begin focusing now on making some connections that sustain and fulfill you. Volunteer at a nursing home; join a church; say yes when your friends invite you to spend Thanksgiving at their homes. It won't be a one-to-one replacement for what you've missed out on with your own folks, but whatever you get out of it, it'll beat the heck out of continuing to yearn for what you don't have. Open yourself to a broader definition of "family," and see what kind of joy comes your way.
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