My relationship with my parents is incredibly complex. Both of them struggle with emotional difficulties to the extent that it’s difficult for me to comprehend how they navigate the real world. My father lacks emotional expression entirely, often disregarding or ignoring others’ emotions. I suspect he may be on the autism spectrum, especially considering one of my children is also diagnosed with autism, although he has never been officially diagnosed. Growing up, he was emotionally distant and became even more withdrawn when I started acting out at the age of 11. He essentially stopped communicating with me until I was around 30.
He was both financially and emotionally abusive towards my mother and physically abusive towards me and my brother . While I understand that physical discipline was common in my country during my childhood, his sudden outbursts of anger, destroying my belongings without warning, were terrifying. Even today, when I visit my parents’ house and hear him walking past my old room, I still freeze and sometimes feel the urge to hide in a corner behind partially open doors. I have developed trichotillomania, a condition where I compulsively pull out my hair for extended periods, often spending hours doing so.
During my teenage years, I used to lock myself in the bathroom to engage in this behavior, and my father would forcefully break the lock and drag me out, sometimes while I was naked. Although it was not s*xual in nature, I now recognize how inappropriate and abusive it was. It was solely a result of his anger.
My relationship with my mother is much more complicated and less straightforward. She constantly portrays herself as a victim, always suffering but never taking any action to improve her situation. She is the complete opposite of my father – explosive, emotional, and highly temperamental. My mother was consistently unhappy in her marriage, and from a young age, I became her sole confidant and emotional support. I remember being five years old, listening in the middle of the night in case she was crying and needed me to comfort her. My mother is also emotionally immature. Her way of dealing with her emotions is by dumping them all on me, only to forget that anything was wrong a minute later. From a very young age, she shared inappropriate details with me, such as information about their s*x life, STDs, and allegations of infidelity (which I will discuss later). She never accepted me for who I was as a sensitive, shy, and artistic child. Instead, she tried to mold me into her ideal version of herself, often disregarding my boundaries.
Throughout their marriage, my parents constantly talked about divorcing, although they never directly communicated with each other. It was always my responsibility to relay their messages. I lived with them until I was 28 because I felt utterly incapable of living independently. They always told me I wouldn’t succeed in the real world, but simultaneously made me feel like a burden. I have experienced depression since the age of 15, struggle to form friendships or romantic relationships, and have been unable to complete any university programs. Dealing with their issues left me with little energy for anything else.
However, in the six years since I finally moved out (or rather, was helped by my current husband to leave), I have earned my master’s and postgraduate degrees, established myself in my dream career, married, had two wonderful children, and purchased a house. Nevertheless, I still face challenges in many aspects of my life and will likely never become a fully functional individual. Trusting and understanding my own emotions, dealing with abandonment issues, establishing and maintaining boundaries (especially with my mother), and overall exhaustion from interpersonal interactions are ongoing struggles for me. I have been in therapy for four years, which has been tremendously helpful, although I feel like I have barely scratched the surface.
Currently, I maintain a decent level of contact with my father. I have come to accept that he struggles with emotional expression, and he does help me whenever I ask for it without any questions or overstepping my boundaries. However, my relationship with my mother is much more challenging. Growing up, I believed my father was the embodiment of evil, but I have come to realize that my mother has had a far more detrimental impact on my well-being. Most of my current issues stem from her treating me as a surrogate parent.
She instilled in me an overwhelming sense of guilt even for considering getting angry with her, making it extremely difficult for me to establish and enforce boundaries. While my father has mellowed with age, my mother’s behavior has worsened over time. She continues to cross boundaries and involves me in her marital drama. Every interaction with her leaves me exhausted, sad, guilty, or angry, which inevitably leads to one of the other emotions.
Now, onto the current problem at hand. I am currently a stay-at-home mom because my oldest child is facing challenges in preschool due to their autism. Between caring for my spirited one-year-old and my three-year-old who has special needs and is going through a defiant phase, I am constantly overwhelmed and burnt out.
Fortunately, my parents live close by and provide a significant amount of help. They take one of my children to the park almost every weekday for an hour or two, allowing me to focus on essential household tasks. Additionally, we visit my parents every other weekend, and occasionally, although rarely, they take care of my three-year-old for a few hours.
Throughout their marriage, my mother has always been convinced that my father was cheating on her, but I have never found any of her “evidence” to be convincing. Her suspicions were often based on trivial things, such as my father returning from a swimming pool with wet trunks, which she believed meant he had washed them after engaging in an affair. Personally, I would find it more suspicious if his trunks were dry, but I digress. Some of her claims were outright delusional.
I cannot definitively say whether there was ever any infidelity, and I have reached a point where I no longer want to be involved in their marital issues. However, I increasingly suspect that my mother may be suffering from a condition similar to Othello Syndrome, where she obsessively believes her spouse is being unfaithful. Given that her own father was unfaithful to her mother on numerous occasions, it’s not surprising that she may be reliving her own trauma.
A year ago, my father went for a sanatorium stay, and my mother became convinced that he had met someone there. Since then, the situation has escalated to threatening levels, with my mother even smashing my father’s phone with a meat hammer. After enduring a great deal of drama, I reached a point where I could no longer tolerate my mother involving me in her issues.
I began employing the “grey rock” method, emotionally distancing myself whenever she attempted to engage me. I also explicitly informed her that I did not want any of this negativity around my children. Eventually, she gave up and stopped bringing up the subject. However, I am aware that the underlying tension still exists. This tension reached its peak last weekend.
While we were at my parents’ house, my father suggested taking my oldest child for a walk, which triggered a complete meltdown from my mother. In front of our entire family, she began screaming uncontrollably about my father seeking ways to communicate with his supposed “mistress,” hiding to engage in sexual encounters, and other highly inappropriate remarks not suitable for children or even for discussion in this context. It was an extremely unhinged situation.
My father promptly left with my three-year-old, and my husband took our baby, but I chose to stay behind. I don’t think I’ve ever been as furious in my life as I was in that moment. I yelled at my mother and issued her an ultimatum: unless she agrees to undergo therapy and I witness significant positive changes in her behavior, I want nothing to do with her, and she will not be allowed to see my children. It’s important to note that she had previously told me that my kids were the only things keeping her happy and that she lived solely for them.
I am committed to my decision, even though my mother may not have taken it seriously in the heat of the moment. The problem now lies with my father. He has been abusive in the past, and he bears just as much responsibility for the state of their relationship as my mother does. While he tries to fix things, his attempts often backfire, leading to disastrous outcomes.
If I maintain contact with him while limiting contact with my mother, it may worsen the situation for him and deal a devastating blow to my mother. In her eyes, I would be punishing her for her innocence and siding with her abuser. However, cutting off contact with my father seems unfair as he played no direct role in the recent incident. Moreover, to my children, he is just a nice albeit somewhat eccentric grandfather. Additionally, I greatly rely on his help, considering the current challenges I face.
So, what should I do? What is fair, and most importantly, what is best for my children? I am hesitant to trust my own judgment, and my husband, while supportive, believes this situation surpasses his capabilities to offer guidance.