To My Abusive Parents: Thank You For Teaching Me What Not To Do

by Laura Fox
Originally Published: 
Three shadows of parents and a kid

Dear Mom and Dad,

It feels weird to call you that. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never had parents. Sure, you were there in body. But you were never there for me.

I have spent many years feeling angry. You were right, I do have a problem with anger. Being forbidden to express negative emotions, being shamed for feeling hurt, being gaslit — it creates issues with anger. You taught me anger was synonymous with being a bad person. Yet you were allowed to be volatile and verbally abusive, and I would still be a bad person despite not being the one to show anger. You made me feel confused. You made me question my sanity. You made me question whether I was evil and deserved to be alive.

You made me so angry.

More than anything, I have felt angry with myself. Why wasn’t I lovable enough? Why wasn’t I pretty enough? Why wasn’t I interesting enough? Why wasn’t I enough? I came to the conclusion it was my fault. You taught me well that you are never to blame. I have been an excellent pupil, holding myself accountable for things you did to me.

But I was a child. You were the adults. It could never be my fault.

I know, I know. But I wasn’t the perfect child. But sometimes I caused you stress. But sometimes you had other things going on in your life and parenthood was too much.

BUT that wasn’t my fault. You are still in the wrong here.

I have waited many years for sincere apologies. I would seriously reconsider connecting with you if I believed you had changed. But your apologies are hollow. You say them because you know that’s what other people say, not because you feel it deep inside. You say sorry in the hope I will forget everything and we can “go back to normal.”

What you don’t understand is your normal is not normal at all. I never want to go back to that. And that’s all your apologies promise. We will go backwards instead of forwards. I will go back to hating myself. I will go back to being afraid. I will go back to feeling desperately unloved.

Your apologies hurt more than if you refused to apologize. You don’t believe parents should apologize to their children. When your apologies are followed by instructions for me not to get upset and to just accept that you are sorry, I know my dream of you changing will never come true. I know you believe parents are always right and children should respect them no matter what.

I did respect you. They say respect is earned. I believe disrespect is earned. And although I would never be cruel to you, I can’t bring myself to respect you. I can’t respect people who hurt their own children, again and again, taking advantage of their forgiveness rather than feeling lucky they are being given another chance.

The last time I saw you, Mom, you passive-aggressively said: “I hope nothing ever goes wrong with your children.” I know what you meant. I know you secretly hope my children don’t want to talk to me one day because then I will understand you and come to the conclusion it was not your fault. The last letter I received from you, Dad, you said parenting was hard and talked at length about how difficult things have been for you. I know what you meant. I know you secretly hope I will struggle too as a parent because then I will understand you and come to the conclusion it was not your fault.

These words deeply hurt me. I felt invalidated. It crushed my dream that you can ever change.

And I want to thank you for saying them.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me the importance of adults apologizing to children. Thank you for teaching me that parents do not deserve to be respected no matter what. Thank you for teaching me that parents are responsible for their own actions, regardless of how difficult their circumstances are. Thank you for teaching me that apologies have to be sincere and followed up with actions to prove to children they are safe and can trust you.

Thank you. Because if I ever hurt my children, it will never turn out in the way it’s turned out for us. I won’t be too proud to admit I am wrong and my children are right. I won’t be too proud to admit my children have been more mature than me and have a point. And I won’t be too proud to change and take accountability. More than anything, my children will be able to tell me when I have made a mistake without fear of being gaslit. When they think of safety and open conversations, they will think of their mom.

Thank you for teaching me how it’s NOT done.

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