How do you view your parents?

There is something very childlike about me. My husband says it’s endearing. 

My eating disorder started when I was eleven years old, and unfortunately, eating disorders can stunt your growth both physically and emotionally. For me, I don’t know about the physical part. I’m very short, but so is the rest of my family, and I went through a normal puberty. However, emotionally I’ve definitely felt some growing pains. 

I always feel like someone has to be in charge of me, usually my husband or dad. I’m impulsive and decision-making can be difficult. I always feel I have to look up to everyone – I’m never on equal footing with other adults. 

My most recent round of treatment for my eating disorder really stirred the pot, and I feel like I was violently thrown into adulthood. I now see myself as an adult which has affected my interactions with everyone else.

This is most noticeable with my parents. I always saw my parents as above me – people who tell me what to do and someone I should work hard at pleasing. In a way, they could do no wrong. I didn’t question them. 

But now I see my parents as human. I see their emotions and flaws. They’re no longer above me. In a way, we are the same. This has led to some tension in my family and it really sucks. 

Has anyone else gone through this? How do you view your parents? When did you stop seeing your parents as parents and start seeing them as other adults? Do you consider them equals? At what age did you feel like an adult?

My 40th birthday is in two weeks. I’m sad that I spent so many years feeling like a child.


  1. K says

    I’m alternating between feeling proud of you now, and envious of you before. From a young age, I had to parent both my parents, Baby Boomers who expected life to always be perfect and to always have more, more, more given to them without any effort on their part. I’m the one who had to deal with the dreary details of adulting on their behalf.

    Did your recovery group mention to you that when you change, the relationships around you change in response to the change in you? It sounds like your husband adores you and so does your daughter, but maybe your extended family really liked the way you looked up to them and are missing that now that you’re stronger and know more about how to help yourself?

    As Beau of the Fifth Column always ends his talks, “It’s just a thought”.

  2. flex says

    In my late teens I deliberately changed how I addressed my parents from “Mother” and “Dad” to “Mum” and “Pops”. I don’t know if they picked up on the change of address, but in my mind it was from the more formal address of a child to the less formal, but still respectful address of an adult to their parents.

    However, sometimes the bigger problem is the flip side, getting parents to treat their children like adults rather than children. In my early twenties I realized my parents were still viewing me as a child, so I started telling them dirty jokes. Jokes which included sexual material which was not talked about in front of children. The first few times I did so I got looks of surprise and shock. But my parents learned fairly quickly that there was nothing about the subjects which are taboo to children in our Western society which I hadn’t learned about, if not directly experienced. That started the process of getting them to treat me as an adult. This was after I had been dating, served in the Air Force, was living in an apartment, and in collage. If your parents would be aghast at the idea that you would tell a dirty joke that shows that they still think they view you as a child, to be sheltered by such things, rather than an adult. Don’t think that your parents haven’t heard any, they are as human as you are.

    My parents and I still have the relationship of parent and offspring, but they started treating me as adult once I forced them to recognize I was one. Now that my parents are in their eighties I think seeing me as an adult has helped them accept their aging and accept that they can rely on me.

    Recently, my father damaged his riding lawn mower by running into a rock, and at the next dinner visit my wife and my mother were both amused because I was asking direct questions about how it happened and my father was being evasive about it. My father wanted me to make the repair, and it was the second time this year that he broke the mower deck. Eventually my wife said it sounded like I was the father asking his teenage son how he damaged the car, and the son not wanting to admit he had acted irresponsibly. We all had a laugh, and I dropped the subject. Then a few days later I repaired his mower.

    Not only does a child need to grow up, the child needs to be accepted as an adult by their parents.

    There is a lot of discussion in anthropology about “coming-of-age” rituals. Most of the focus has been on the child changing their perceptions and responsibilities into those of an adult. There seems to be fewer studies on how the adults in a specific society come to view their children as adults after the rituals. In the American suburban culture, the coming-of-age ritual for transition from child to adulthood is (typically) graduation from high school. Most children from the American suburban culture start thinking of themselves as adults after that point. But as there is no specific acknowledgement that this is the point of transition, I think that many children and adults don’t make that transition very well. And it does take both sides to make it happen.

  3. Allison says

    My parents are both dead, but when they were alive when I was an adult, I had to treat them as pretty much peripheral to my life, and the rare occasions when I had to deal with them were painfully depressing.

    I had a number of serious (non-medical) issues growing up which have left deep scars to this day, and while they put on a good show, they were in practice at best useless and generally unreliable. I always described my relationship with my mother as being like Lucy van Pelt with Charlie Brown and the football (from the comic strip Peanuts): she put on a good and convincing show of being motherly, but when I really needed something, she was unavailable and sometimes actively hurtful. (I think she was more interested in seeming like a good mother or feeling like one than actually being one.) By the time I was a teen, I had learned to hide my thoughts and feelings and doings from them as much as I thought I could get away with, and to manage my life without involving them any more than I absolutely had to. I started calling them “Mr. and Mrs. [my last name]”, the way my brother’s friends did, rather than Mom or Dad, because it felt like they showed no more responsibility for me than for them. They never reacted, and I never changed what I called them.

    After I left home and started learning how to interact with normal people, I kept hoping (against my better judgement) that something would happen so they would miraculously turn into Real Parents, but they never did. Over time, it got more and more depressing to try to relate to them in the limited way that they were capable of; I’d come back from my annual visit and need a month to recover. I at least had some conversation topics in common with my father, mainly trains, and when he died, I would sometimes think, “I should tell Dad…,” but when my mother died, I realized that any relationship we’d had had died years earlier. I couldn’t mourn the mother I’d had, only the one I wished I’d had.

    Unfortunately, dealing with the rest of my family of origin isn’t a lot better. I think of them as animatronic robots.

  4. rockwhisperer says

    I’m an only child, adopted at birth, by parents who were definitely at the older range of normal. I was very much loved, but my mother suffered from extreme, untreated anxiety and a host of serious medical problems that had her in perpetual pain. (They would have been diagnosed and treated much more easily today, but she was born in 1920, and lived easily the first 2/3 of her life before many modern diagnostic techniques were invented or came into wide use.) I ended up being the person to manage her anxiety for her. I learned early on to keep my real self very private and let her project onto me, and so on the rare times that I stood up for myself and didn’t back down, she didn’t take it well. These were the big issues that would establish my adult life, like going away to university, studying a major–engineering–that she didn’t approve of, taking up with and eventually marrying a man of sterling character who happened to ride a motorcycle…and the biggest one of all, choosing to be childfree. I had a lot of anger and resentment. But she wasn’t a neglectful or narcissistic mother, she was simply continually wrestling with her own demons.

    Until she died, I worked my rear off trying to comfort her, reduce her anxiety, talk her out of catastrophizing, and so on. Since her death in 2001, I’ve been trying to process our relationship, and I have a much better understanding of why her head was where it was (a childhood of abuse was a great contributor) and so on. The anger and resentment has died down to a perpetual low level that I can’t seem to reduce further, though therapy helped enormously in getting me to my current state. I’m a work in progress.

    By comparison, my father was a very good parent. He always treated me with respect, didn’t expect me to solve his problems, encouraged me to tackle whatever I thought was important in life, and supported all my choices as long as they were compatible with our shared values. Together we transitioned our relationship from parent-child to collegial and supportive adults without too many hiccups. He wasn’t perfect, of course, no one is, but his parenting mistakes weren’t at all egregious. He also stood up for me when my mother would have vetoed my life choices.

    I still fiercely miss my father, who died in 2006. I don’t miss my mother, but I grieve the scripts she lived by that made it difficult to live her life fully, and I grieve the relationship we couldn’t have. I’d love to borrow a TARDIS and go back in time to give my grandparents some parenting lessons, but I suspect the people I’d truly need to educate are much further back in the family tree. Besides, no Time Lords/Ladies seem to hang out in my corner of the planet. 🙂

  5. brightmoon says

    Both of my late parents were toxic infantilising narcissists . My father was violent as well. I remember going through freeze , plop and fawn cycles repeatedly until I got angry in my teens and started fleeing. None it was good for me. I don’t miss them . Occasionally have nightmares and flashbacks about them . I’ve got CPTSD and Dolt45 especially reminded me of my mother because of the unfair and cruel verbal abuse, the sadistic , misogynistic or racist ,flying monkey encouragement, and the way he denied reality . So his presidency was even worse for me than it was

  6. Katydid says

    @brightmoon; it astounds me how many people took one look at Trump and immediately knew what they were looking at because they had experience with people exactly like him. (Sarah Palin caused the same reaction.)

    I’m appalled at how many other people were perfectly okay with Trump. He is the opposite of what they claim to value.

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