What It’s Like to Have a Difficult Relationship With a Parent

ntent Warning: Today's post addresses domestic violence, emotional abuse, and drug abuse.

To be honest, I am not quite sure how to start this story, but here it goes…

My mother and I have a complex relationship, to say the least. She is a great person and like many parents has made mistakes. As a parent myself I can empathize, no one is perfect. However, my mom made some seriously poor choices and exposed us to some potentially dangerous situations.

Following their divorce, my mom met an unstable man and brought him into our lives. I thought I made peace with my parents’ divorce and forgave my mom for everything … and then my little girl was born. Once I became a mom, I did not understand how my own mother could have made those choices that were so obviously harmful to us. I was angry, angrier than I’ve ever been at her. 

Our life had no routine, no schedule, and no consistency. Our surroundings were unsettling and chaotic. My mom’s inability to control her impulses, illogical behavior and undiagnosed personality disorder contribute to our unusual relationship. There were many moments growing up where I had to parent her, offer her solutions, and lend her money. She constantly leaves projects unfinished.

None of these habits are particularly harmful, but all these together, paired with minimal self-awareness, can be a damaging combination. To be quite honest – I don’t have much respect for my mom. I hope my children feel differently about me when they are my age. 

I have spent many years in therapy, and on medication, treating depression and anxiety. It does run in my family; several of us are on some type of medication. I remember a secure early childhood, my parents stayed married until I was twelve and my little brother was nine. 

Our dad remarried when I was fourteen, and when I was fifteen, my mom met someone as well. Let’s call him “John.” John and my mom began to date. Eventually, he moved into our home and they got engaged (thankfully their engagement ended quickly). John and my mom were in a relationship for about three years.

I was there when she met him, and he seemed like a great person at first. He was funny, charming, and generous. Over time his real nature began to show which later turned into both emotional and physical abuse against my mom. Their relationship ended in police reports, court dates, and restraining orders.

I could go on and on about the utterly insane behavior that went on in front of my eyes as I saw my mom being exploited by this man, who took advantage of her trusting nature and her belief that all people have good in them. John displayed many of the typical behaviors abusers often use to control their victims: he attempted to alienate my mom from her family, he convinced her to loan him money (and go into business with him), he accused me of stealing from them. Before John physically assaulted her, he even lied about having cancer. She believed him when I knew it was a lie. John ended up spending one weekend in jail for the charge of CDV (criminal domestic violence). 

The aftermath of these events was difficult for my family. Seeing someone you love treated poorly while being unable to stop it, is an awful feeling. My brother and I both sought comfort in alcohol and drugs. Our mom was naïve, and it was incredibly easy to hide that activity from her for a few years until we just got dumb. At seventeen I had no curfew and started dating boys that were older than me. My brother experimented with harsher drugs than I did and got into a car accident while under the influence. Luckily he and his friend were alright.

At that point, I was in college and had met my now-husband, who brought much-needed stability into my life. I am so thankful to him for helping me grow as a young adult. My brother is doing much better now as well. He scared us for a bit but we are thankful he never had any incredibly serious problems. 

My mom has never been the same and has not dated anyone seriously since. Her erratic behaviors intensify as time goes on. Although she isn’t the same, I learned some invaluable lessons from these events. I can spot an unstable person from a mile away. I have good judgment and am good at reading people.

My daughter will have more structure and stability in her life. Even if her dad and I split up, stability is important to us. I know my mom loves and cares for me and is genuinely sorry. She learned from her mistakes. I just wish it hadn’t changed her so much. 

Do you have a difficult relationship with a parent? What has your experience been like?


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