This blog is part of my recovery, and I would like it to remain a safe place for me to share parts of myself and my life that people close to me may or may not know. As a result, while I'm not going crazy with privacy settings, I do ask that if you find this on your own and suspect you may know me, please respect my privacy by checking with us before reading any further. This obviously doesn't apply if one of us has given you the link!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

When The "Good Parent" Isn't

This has been rattling around in my brain for several weeks now. I'm not sure whether there's any value in it or not, but I'll leave it in hopes that writing it is another way of working towards acceptance of the truth.

This post may trigger, it contains references to various forms of abuse.

In the year my older brother was 3, my parents decided that they were ready for a second child; in January the following year they bought home their first (and only) daughter. Less than a year after I was born, my father forced himself upon my mother while she was too ill to get to the shop to buy contraception... I was 18 months old when my baby brother came into the world.

To hear my mother tell it, from the day they bought me home, my father doted on me. I was Daddy's little girl, his pride and joy; when he got home from work, he'd come straight in to check on me and ignore my brothers. She cites this as one of the primary reasons for their separation (before my third birthday) and divorce. What my mother doesn't know, or doesn't want to know, is that by the time they separated, my father was already molesting me.

As I grew up, I saw my father every second weekend and the abuse continued, escalating. Under his care, the three of us would be left in the car while he went into the shop; or if we were taken in, we younger two would be left in the care of our brother. He began to date, and eventually married, the woman we were to come to know as our stepmother (s). Briefly, I thought things would surely improve, but it turned out that she was just as bad as he was. (S) was living in a house that had an unfenced, in-ground pool at this time, and though only my older brother was able to swim, we would often be sent outside unsupervised; locked out or thrown into the pool. We would be regularly belittled and harassed for our appearance, personality, behaviour, abilities... anything and everything, basically. I can't speak for what abuses my brothers endured in private, but I was subjected to several kinds of violence on this weekends. I spent a lot of time honestly believing that I could very well die.

My mother, on the other hand, hit us only very occasionally, usually when we were acting like savages. She told us, as children, that we could be anything, do anything, that we wanted. She would tell us that our looks were fine; it was okay to have stuffed toys, to play with trucks, to play with dolls. She wasn't all roses - she'd favour my brothers over me; constantly lay the blame on me for things; call me names as I grew older; be overprotective to the point of controlling...

Small things.

I think it was for this reason that coming to terms with even the idea that my mother is abusive has been, in many ways, even more difficult than coming to terms with the idea that my father was.

In my head, my parents were divided into the 'good' parent and the 'bad' parent. My father, as the one who was more distant, who neglected my brothers, was clearly the bad parent; this left my mother in the 'good' parent role. And, in comparison to my father, she was certainly the better parent. I still believe that whatever damage she's done, she was doing the best job she knew how; she was trying to be a good mother. In truth, the knowledge that she did the best job she knew how to do has been one of the biggest blocks in accepting her behaviour as abusive.

Too, I am able to place more distance between myself and my father. While he is now a figure I see perhaps twice a year, my mother and I live together. I lived with my father full time for just under five years of my life (the first 3 and the two years between 12 & 14), so he remains vaguely a stranger. I lived with my mother for 16 years as a child/teenager, and another 3 or 4 as an adult -- I know her. I see her every day, and I have interactions with her that are positive, and I have interactions with her that aren't.

My mother's abuse is more subversive than my father's, in general. There is more distance. There is a "good parent" block. There are more positive interactions to draw on that hide the abuse. For whatever reason, it blends better; blurs the lines more on what is actually abuse.

It's still so easy to slip into denial. "Of course she's not abusive, I'm just twisting everything she's ever said. It's not abuse if she's right..."

Except that she's not right and it is abuse and it's not acceptable.

Take care of yourselves until next time, and may we all find our own small fences along the way.


  1. i had this too. i had cast my father as the bad parent because his abuses were more overt; easy to give a time and date and location to. whereas my mother's abuses were more attitudinal, general and vague, so i had her as the good parent.
    it's been interesting to come to realize (over the course of many years) that she may in fact have been more damaging to be as a kid that my father was.

  2. I've incidences in therapy sessions when I realize certain things about my childhood and relationships that I denied. I just have to really focus on the fact that I think those people had the best intentions...but no one is perfect...and can't always do what is needed or the right thing

    take care and stay strong