Her Parents Thoroughly Rejected Her. Now What?

Last night a woman emailed me the following, which I wanted to be sure to address this morning.

I have two living parents who didn’t raise me. My maternal grandparents did. My grandfather has now passed away. I have been trying for 15 years to have a relationship with my mom. She told me she doesn’t want me in her life. I had one argument with my dad, who I reconnected with in the fourth grade, and most of our relationship was phone conversations. Since our argument, he refused to talk to me, and told me never to contact him again. I think I need to pretend they are already gone and just live my life. The pain is just too hard to bear. I even flew from California to New York to apologize to my father for our argument, and he refused to see me as I stood in the rain on his doorstep. Are there any groups or organizations for adult children or just children whose parents refuse to have anything to do with them? I would like to know if there are any other people out there like me.

Yes, friend, there are tons of people whose parents refuse to have anything to do with them. I’m one of them, actually. I won’t bore you with the details (some of which I shared in “My Runaway Mom”), but I basically lived my life from my late teen years on never hearing from or speaking with either of my parents. That’s how they wanted it; that’s how they insisted it be. Whenever I did try to contact either of them, I was shut-down like your local bookstore.

I don’t know of any groups or organizations for people who were essentially abandoned by their parents. But I’ve also never searched for such a group. I wish earlier in my life I had—and I certainly encourage you to do so now. Hopefully there is such a group in your area. If there isn’t, start one yourself. As a posting under “Groups” on the Craigslist of the city nearest you, tell your story, say you want to start a group for people with similar stories, and I promise you’ll get a positive, encouraging response. People who have suffered as you have are everywhere, and they need to talk about it with others who’ve been through the same thing. Provide them—and you—with that wonderful opportunity for healing. (If you do decide to start such a group yourself, email me, and we can talk about some of the things you’ll want to consider as you move into that great undertaking.) If you’re too shy to start such a group yourself, consider starting a Facebook page for people like you. That’s another great way for people to share and relate. (If you do start such a page, let me know, and I’ll be sure to promote it here on my blog, and on my own Facebook page.)

For now, please allow me to stress unto you with Maximum Intensity this very, very important point: Your parents suck rat nads.

They’re awful, awful people. They’re awfully damaged people—which is proof positive that they had parents as crappy as the parents they turned out to be. And so in that sense they, like you, are innocent. But the fact that they also had terrible parents doesn’t in any way lesson the personal burden you now have to bear because they both grew up to be wholly dysfunctional loser assholes—who (of course) decided to breed.

And now here you are. Out in the rain.

Please read my “Unhappy? Reject Your Loser Parents.”

In the meantime, hear this: Your parents reject you because they must. You represent what they cannot have in their lives, which is absolute, conclusive proof that they are shameful, emotionally retarded losers. They’re not: nobody really is. But deep down they are poisoned by the conviction that they are despicable people—and you are the proof that they’re exactly that. You not being around means they at least have a chance of ignoring what they know is true about themselves, which is that they’re the kind of pigs who could abandon their own daughter. But if you are around; if you do show up? For them that ruins everything. Your presence means everything in their world—especially the persona of themselves they’ve committed their whole lives to keeping up—starts exploding.

Your dad didn’t leave you out in the rain because he hates you, or because you’re so unlovable. He did it to protect himself, to keep his world intact. He did it to survive. If your dad lets you into his house and life, what’s left of his bullshit world crumbles. You exist as proof of his shame; you are living, 3-D evidence that he is more animal than human. There’s just no way he can admit that evidence into his life. He can’t acknowledge that you exist. He can’t accept that you’re real. He can’t let you in.

And unless your parents undergo some serious psychotherapy, you can trust that neither of them will ever let you into their lives. And the chances of either of them ever getting the help they need is so slim, that you’ve got to live your life as if you know they never will get that help. Because they won’t. Getting help means seeking help, and seeking help means admitting you need help, and admitting that is not something that your parents are capable of doing. Because the number one quality of people like your parents is that they’re emotionally, psychotically selfish. They cling to themselves, and no one else. It’s all about them, all the time. It’s impossible for them to be even slightly interested in anyone else, ever. Even if they’re in relationships, you can be sure that to them it’s still all about only them, and that those relationships are 100% sick. Only a sick person would get in a relationship with either of your sick parents.

Your parents aren’t going to heal. And if they do heal, even a little, they’ll contact you; that’ll be the proof that they’re healing. But if you wait for that phone to ring, you’ll be waiting for it your entire life.

The fact that you’re reaching out as you are—that you wrote this letter to me—means that you’re already a million times the person either of your parents have ever been. It means you’re being real. It means you’re not going to let their terrible psychological damage be yours.

It means you win.

Keep winning. Push each of your parents further and further away from yourself, until you achieve full and real emotional detachment from them. (Which doesn’t mean hating them. It means understanding and living the reality of the difference between needing them, and loving them in the unrequited way they’ve given you no choice but to.) They never invited you to their party. Be sure not to invite them to yours.

In real life, it’s not you who is standing alone out in the rain. It’s your father. And your mother.

Let them wait out there. It’s where, after all, they’ve chosen to be.

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  • Mindy

    John, again, you rock. My heart goes out to you and the letter-writer, wherever she may be – no one deserves that level of abandonment. You've reminded me, and I'm sure many others, how incredibly fortunate we are to have parents, however imperfect, involved in our lives.

    My former spouse grew up much as you did, John – and weirdly, he share's your first name and grew up in San Francisco. He was in his own apartment at 15, because his mother had died and his father simply couldn't be bothered. He overcame so much and while he has his own struggles, has done as you both have – reached out, connected with others, and become so much more than his father ever was.

    My children were both abandoned, as infants, under circumstances that remain unknown to us. I know how hard we've worked, together, to overcome the pain of that. I can't fathom the hurt of being abandoned not as a newborn, but as fully capable human being, by people who know you. They are so sick, so screwed – and you (letter writer) deserve the healing journey upon which you are about to embark.

    Thank you, John, for the passion and compassion you show, every single day. And I wish your letter writer the very best as she moves forward.

  • Argy-bargy

    This is heartbreaking. I can't even imagine what you two have gone through in your own ways. To either of you, if either of your parents were alcoholics or drug addicts (or anything-addicts, really), you might consider either Adult Children of Alcoholics or Al-Anon. What many children of addicts experience are varying degrees of abandonment issues. You don't have to be an addict to be affected the actions of those who are, were (or were supposed to be) close to you. Needless to say, you have healing to do yourselves and for many, there are effects of such abandonment (and often repeated rejection) that need to be dealt with in order to have a healthy life yourself. God bless and take care.

  • This is why I love John.

  • Allyson

    Nice, John. You call it like it is and remove the mantle of guilt from the daughter and put it squarely where it belongs. I hope she can hear this and move toward freedom. God bless her and you for taking her letter so seriously.

  • Argy-bargy

    Gee, I just read what I wrote and it sounds so condescending. Sorry about that. You had wondered aloud about organizations, and I all I wanted to point out is that ACOA and Al-Anon have helped some of my friends and acquaintances with some heavy duty abandonment issues of their own.

  • berkshire

    John, is there more to this person's email? I ask because it seems that you might be making some assumptions about the situation, the motivations, the overall character or capacities of the people involved, etc. I'm not trying to excuse their actions, which are obviously very damaging, but you use some pretty strong language and make some strong statements that make me wonder if they are more about your own situation than the email-writer's situation. It occurred to me that perhaps you edited the email and were privy to more information that led to certain aspects of your response to it.

    I think I have this response to it because of clients I've seen with abandonment issues, and a friend I know whose mother "abandoned" her not out of selfishness, but as far as I can tell, selflessness of sort. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia, and in addition, had been raped by her "husband" (I'm not clear on whether they were married or not, but there was some sort of relationship) resulting in the unwanted pregnancy. She chose to have the baby, but as you might imagine, keeping the child and raising the child would have been difficult for her (both emotionally, and due to the difficulty of managing her illness, which she was not able to do). She gave up the child to other family out of the notion that she would only damage the child if she tried to raise her, when she could barely take care of herself. I'm actually impressed by such clarity of thinking, given the nature of schizophrenia and what it tends to do to one's judgment. Sadly, it seems she also felt deeply ashamed of having an illness that was in no way her fault.

    I'm not suggesting your letter writer here has that situation. I'm suggesting that it's not always wise to make assumptions about complex situations. To encourage this person to view their parents as selfish and horrible rat-nad suckers, might feel good in the moment. But what if the real circumstances are less black and white than we imagine? What if compassion would be the more appropriate (and healing) response?

    No, you haven't said "don't have compassion", of course. But I sense some encouragement (conscious or not) toward righteous anger–and that's not even the best word choice, I just can't come up with a better one now, that is less strong–that might not be the most helpful. Compassion softens us, whereas anger and contempt tend to harden us. Given the choice, I would choose the former. There is, indeed, an undertone of compassion for the bad parents in what you wrote–I get that–but it's the bigger overtone of anger that leaps out at me as I read it. I also understand that.

    Again, acknowledging that perhaps you have more information about the circumstances than we've seen here. Perhaps such info *does* point to deeply selfish and basically low-down dirty assholes. I know they're out there, too.

  • Ace

    Stuff like this is why I choose not to have children – I can't stomach the thought of my Crazy screwing up a kid like that (and I've got quite a lot of Crazy to go around).

    I hope she can find some kind of closure.

  • See, this is why I love you, John. Yep.

  • Jeanine

    An awsome group is Cleansing Stream Ministries! Many of the non-denominational Christian churches host the program as well as a few mainline denominations. Maybe call around to churches in your area and see who may be hosting it. It usually cycles two times a year.

    I forget how many weeks it lasts, but each week there is a video presentation followed by a small group discussion and prayer. At the end of the whole study, they host a weekend retreat.

    The study uses scripture from the Bible, prayer, and Christian fellowship to begin to open up your heart to the Lord and then Jesus takes it from there. He meets everyone right where they are and begins to heal their wounds and lift their burdens – just as he promised. Jesus is the Great Healer! Oh, what he has done for me!

    I had a very strained relationship with my own father. At one point he sent me a letter telling me that I was no longer his daughter. This is one of the many burdens I was carrying when I sought the Lord through Cleansing Stream. Not that Cleansing Stream is Magic, but it really just led me straight to the One who can make us whole again.

    And don't loose hope for your parents and that relationship. Just as John said, they are very lost; but Jesus has a way of finding people! Go to Him. Several years after I went through Cleansing Stream, the Lord whispered to me that I should go and see my dad. I did. The Lord had been working in both my heart and his – and our relationship is definitely on the mend. I am so grateful to God for carrying that burden for me and loving me when I felt unlovable.

    Here is a link to their webpage. Maybe listen to some of the testimonies and see what you think.


  • berkshire

    I don't think it sounds condescending at all.

    And the advice is good advice–ACOA folks do experience abandonment issues a great deal. You don't have to leave the house to abandon someone, so many of the feelings might be similar. In the absence of a group specifically for people whose parents left them, ACOA or alanon might be a very good alternative.

  • Mel

    I was just about to say what you said after I read this blog, and then I came across your post. I agree that it is unfair to judge those parents. No matter how much you think you do, you can't know the whole story. I feel absolutely horrible for the letter-writer, and I do think that she should try to move on. However, I don't think that she should move on out of pure disgust for her parents, as you seem to have suggested John. I think that she should still try to stay in contact, but not have the expectation of being accepted. Maybe the occasional card, letting them know that you want to be in their lives, that your sorry about the argument, and that you still love them. Expect that nothing will come of it, but then maybe one day they'll surprise you and write back.

  • This was literally the entire letter.

  • Mel

    Jeanine, you're awesome! Whenever I read your posts I get so encouraged. That is horrible what you had to go through, but hearing about how you handled it, and just left it in God's hands really is encouraging. I'm happy that you are starting to renew your relationship with your father. All the best!

  • Jeanine

    Thanks Mel! I deserved some of what my dad dished out – a didn't deserve some of it. But our God is a Great God – and is still in the business of healing our brokenness today. Both mine and my dads……

  • 15 years… flying cross-country… to apologize

    More than enough letter for me. A child should never have to work this hard (or umm… at all) for a parent's love.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I, like Sylvia, thought it might have been a wee bit presumptive when you say that this lady's parents' parents were crappy. She was, after all, raised by her maternal grandparents. Sometimes fairly normal people have children who, for whatever reason, are not like them at all. You understand that the opposite is true as you indicate her parents created a child "a million times" the person that either of them is. Well, just as our Father in Heaven has created many prodigal sons, not all damaged goods are defective from the manufacturer.

    I like that "In real life…"—-Jesus would say (in the NIV), "I tell you the truth…".

  • And everything else too– since it's all in there. Cuz that's what God does for us, isn't it?

  • Mindy

    Exactly, Ric. Never. John wrote the right thing. Regardless of the reasons – and I grant that there are a million reasons why these people are so damaged that they will not even consider re-establishing a relationship with this young woman – every human being deserves better than this. Obviously, we don't all get better than this, but that doesn't change the fact that she needs to be able to move forward without once smidgen or guilt, without for one more second of her life wondering what she did wrong, or what is wrong with her.

    She deserves healing and all the love she can possibly find. I wish her that and more, and will keep her in my thoughts.

  • Argy-bargy

    I agree, Mindy and Ric.

    I think the most important thing this young woman needs is to look after her own needs right now and first. She won't get it from her parents, and if it helps to see them as John suggests above, and this helps the healing, then so much the better. There is time for forgiveness in due course. She is loveable the way she is, and the more she connects with the right people, the more love she will get.

  • me two

  • christy

    Mel, in order for the letter writer to heal she has to let go of wanting her parents to respond. And as Anne Lamott writes, who knows a thing or two about shitty deals, "Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past."

    Having said that, dealing with parental abandonement issues are tragically painful. A good therapist or counselor seems to be in order for the writer and there are groups available. One is through Hope Edelman's website. She is the author of "Motherless Daughters" an excellent book with insights about all sorts of motherloss and the ways it manifests in our lives.

    Peace and blessings on all who have walked this painful and lonely path. There is healing that can be found.

  • DR

    There's always more to every story. People are damaged and so we treat one another like crap. We lie, we cheat on a significant other, we lose our temper with our partner, we abuse our kids either emotionally or physically. While there is always more to the story, it means absolutely nothing to the people who are impacted by our behavior. They have to forgive despite the story.

    I write this I suppose, because our need for more information around children who are damaged by their parents or adults who hurt one another as a result of something or the other seems overly-engineered and overly-emphasized.

    We hurt one another. We devastate one another. We take responsibility for it, even if we couldn't have helped it, were provoked by it or didn't intend to cause harm. We acknowledge it before ourselves, before God and before the person who is damaged. We seek to repair what we've done. And those who don't? Who aren't willing to at least try to do any of that? They aren't worth the energy and frankly, they deserve some wrath. The end. Perhaps it really is just that simple.

  • Mel

    I'm saying that she should let go of expecting a response. But I don't think that regarding them in the way that John is saying she should would be helpful at all. I don't think she should completely shut them out, if she does,she's no better than them.

  • DR

    I think that she should still try to stay in contact, but not have the expectation of being accepted.>>>

    Wait. She should try to stay in contact with people who want absolutely nothing to do with her and hurt her each time she reaches out to them and is subsequently rejected?

    How is that healthy? that's like staying in touch with your abuser or someone who's cheated on you who has absolutely no remorse, doesn't think anything that's been done is wrong and yet you still hope they become someone who does. That would be an awfully torturous experience to stay in such hope limbo.

  • A'isha

    John, I don't think I've ever cried reading your posts. Laughed? Sure, but never cried until today. How people can totally reject their child, their flesh and blood, breaks my heart. It hit home way too much for me. I want to tell this woman to not waste anymore time trying to reconcile with these people. Just because they're her biological parents doesn't mean a damn thing. They screwed up…not her. She didn't deserve that, and it doesn't mean that she in anyway was to blame and needed to apologize. How dare they!

    What I hope for her is to find someone who would step in and be real parents to her no matter what her age. That's what I have…parents who "adopted" me when I was almost 40 years old. Knowing the real love that parents should have for their child has healed so many old wounds. I honestly don't know what I'd do without these wonderful people who stepped in and became my parents and grandparents to my children. They even gave me a new name, A'isha, which means "she who lives." I know it's possible to find unconditional parental love when your first parents sucked "rat nads!" This is what I hope for everyone.

  • DR

    I don’t think she should completely shut them out, if she does,she’s no better than them.>>>

    So a young woman is profoundly rejected and shunned by her parents. Because she steps away from them and refuses to let them hurt her any longer by keeping the abusive lines of communication open and the false hope alive and well she is "no better than them?"


  • christy

    I think whether it is healthy or not for her to completely shut them out of her life and the extent to which she does that is completely up to her and her therapist to figure out together…….and none of our business to comment on.

  • christy

    I have been in that never good enough unloveable feeling place and yes the Divine Presence is quite emphatic about making clear to us just how unconditionally loving that presence is………however….I would just like to go on record as saying any pain that our parents inflicted upon us as children and even as adults is never, ever, ever, never – deserved.

  • Tim

    I dunno…sometimes people hit a wall. They think they are up to a challenge…and raising children is about as big a challenge as anyone could undertake. Failing at being a decent parent is probably one of the bigger failures anyone can be guilty of. The thing I became aware of regarding failure…is that it requires a quitter. The wife I would've laid my life down for, rejected me. I tried everything I could think of to keep the relationship alive, but she had evidently found someone else. She quit.

    The women who made the overtures but didn't succeed in reviving the parent/daughter relationship, should see that she is the whole one. Her parents quit. She didn't. For me, the advice I would give is maybe avoid being around other people who may be commiserating over their parental rejection. I think that might even prolong the hurt. I think Jesus gave us the best model of what to do with ultimate rejection. Forgive them…for they know not what they do. If she's a Christian, she could pray that her parents will come to their own healing and restoration with God. I still intercede in prayer every day for my ex-wife. I lost her in my life, but there is still an eternity to come.

  • Carmen

    My heart goes out to the letter writer.

    I also have absolutely insane parents, and at 53 years of age, have come to terms (sort of) with them.

    Many times, our parents did have crazy parents of their own, but not always.

    My paternal Grandfather and maternal Grandmother were (I believe) placed by God in my life as a child, in order that I might have some idea of what it meant to be loved. Without them, I would have been utterly alone and lost.

    The biggest and most painful obstacle to overcome for me has been the idea that if I were something (anything) 'other' than what I am and was, my parents would have been able to love me.

    This is absolutely, unequivocably untrue. It took me many years to work this out, though, and to begin to respect myself and seek out relationships that may or may not take the place of what I missed growing up, but fill a very real need for love in me now.

    I rival Woody Allen for length of time in therapy 😉 but I would never have begun healing without it.

    I would recommend Al-Anon or ACOA meetings to begin with, since most of the "Christian Counseling" places I tried were without a doubt very biased in terms of 'Honor thy father and mother' and all that rot. Those platitudes and scriptures may be true, but I found them profoundly unhelpful in my circumstances. Sometimes it is very hard for people who grew up in normal, loving families to understand our stories.

    Twelve Step programs, on the other hand, encourage acknowledgement of the real pain and my reactions to it. I also enjoy the fact that 12 step groups are safe, and one is encouraged to move forward according to one's own sense of healing.

    I also have had some great results from DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy.Again, this is an individual choice.

    Ultimately,the path of recovery is up to the individual and her/his needs.

    What I want to say to the woman who wrote John is this: What happened was not your fault, and since you didn't cause it, you can't cure it (your parents' insanity), or control it. The main important thing to remember is that your life, and the process of making it as good a life as possible for yourself, is your 'job'.It's your choice of how to proceed, and you are under no obligation to believe the lies your parents told you, nor to continue living in such pain.

    Please don't feel you must wait for your parents to come around to begin having a happy life!

    You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

    Carmen aka Sue Smith

  • Marie

    So great! I will be sharing this. Talented and gifted writer that you are, this wisdom – I believe – came "through" you as well as from you. Thank you for being such a Divine instrument of healing in this regard.

    Thank you for the empowerment this grants so many and thank you for recognizing that others in the same boat as this woman you replied to are living vessels of such incredible levels of compassion that this paragraph of yours (to follow) is the key to a particularly stubborn lock when it comes to self-blame, self-doubt and wondering, wondering, wondering:

    "Your dad didn’t leave you out in the rain because he hates you, or because you’re so unlovable. He did it to protect himself, to keep his world intact. He did it to survive. If your dad lets you into his house and life, what’s left of his bullshit world crumbles. You exist as proof of his shame; you are living, 3-D evidence that he is more animal than human. There’s just no way he can admit that evidence into his life. He can’t acknowledge that you exist. He can’t accept that you’re real. He can’t let you in."


  • DR

    You are absolutely right. There's no formula here. Thanks for that check.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Don't you think you might be going a bit overboard there?

    Sure, no more time-outs, ‘cause, you know, it hurts to feel shunned and isolated. I'm not saying punishment should be literally corporal, but what does the Bible say about he who spares the rod?

    There is a difference between pain and abuse. If pain weren't sometimes deserved, why would our Father in Heaven make it so doing stupid things often leads to getting hurt? Pain teaches us lessons.

  • Carmen aka Sue,

    I guess I was more fortunate with my therapist (aka, Christian Counselor). Back when I was where this woman seems to be, I remember sharing an email from my father with my therapist. In the email he wrote, "Don't ever do anything for me that would make you uncomfortable." It is the one time he put his needs/wants second to mine.

    My therapist responded with, "I wonder, would you be willing to honor his request?"

    I must of looked like a deer in headlights. I said, "I don't know what you mean."

    My therapist smiled and said, "I know."


    Then, of course, there was John's “Unhappy? Reject Your Loser Parents" post. The cloud lifts slowly at times.

    If this woman is a Christian struggling with "honor your parents," I might pass along that same question posed to me.

  • Yeah, Mel, I gotta go with DR and John on this one. No one can move on and linger at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. When people reject us, we have to let them go.

  • A'isha

    @carmen wrote:

    "since most of the “Christian Counseling” places I tried were without a doubt very biased in terms of ‘Honor thy father and mother’ and all that rot."

    Just want to go on record in saying that not all places are like that. My mom (adopted; see earlier comment) runs a counseling center in my town and, although it is a "Christian" center, they in no way preach/teach that you need to cling to parents that suck. Sometimes honoring your parents is best done by honoring yourself and doing whatever you need to in order to live a healthy life.

  • A'isha

    Matthew, I'd like to give a different perspective on the verse that says "spare the rod, spoil the child." What I've heard, and honestly, I haven't verified this but I like it anyway, is that the "rod" refers to the rod that shepherds use to guide the sheep, not beat the animal. If you give it that meaning then using a rod would be giving sound guidance to your children to help them go the way they should go.

    Just a thought anyway. 🙂

  • Thank God for this woman's grandparents. They are her real parents, I think. I hope she can direct her appropriate feelings towards them. She has already lost her real father and has a right to mourn him as such. No need to fool around with the other guy. I hope she can relate well to the woman who raised her. Show her the affection and care due a mother, if possible. If they raised her well, as seems to be the case, she will know how to raise children of her own if she wishes. As for her biological "parents", "let the dead bury the dead". She should feel no guilt over them. It is not her duty to nurture them. IMHO.

  • Diana A.

    Whether pain is deserved or not, it's rarely helpful. Moreover, it's been my experience that most people who inflict pain on others enjoy doing so (this may say more about me than anything else.)

  • Matthew Tweedell

    They wouldn't listen, if not for the threat that the rod conveyed. For how do we know what is good if we do not know what is bad? There are consequences in everything, but we cannot see them well where we lack wisdom. But it takes no more wisdom than a fly's to avoid that which swats at you.

  • Matthew,

    No I do not think I am going a bit overboard there. As someone else said above, people who have never had the suckiest parents ever just don't get it. And don't misunderstand this isn't the hey, yeah my folks were mean, oh poor me whahhhh – kind of thing. This is: parents who, yes usually had poor examples of parenting skills themselves from their own parents and who are fundamentally unhealthy and unhelpful in their parenting because they lack the wisdom, insight, knowledge and usually any sliver of understanding of what unconditional love is and that the pain, the physical and mental pain, that they inflict on their children is a reflection of their own unhealthy psychology and is not how God would have anyone parent, especially people who call themselves God's followers.

    When you have a child of your own and you are fortunate enough to experience the overwhelming sense of unconditional love that one should feel for their offspring and realize that it is in this same manner that God loves us – this will be a conversion experience unlike any other.

    I agree with A'isha. Not because I like what she said, but because it reflects a more accurate interpretation of the passage she quotes. Yes, parents who fail to guide their children do them a disservice. We tend to often get the literal and the metaphorical parts of the Bible mixed up especially without historical context and Judaic scholarship.

    I grew up under the "loving guidance" of corporal punishment from my parents and will tell you that any church that not only permits but also encourages parents to hit their children as a way of instructing or punishing them as evidence of one's faithful adherence to the ways of Jesus is seriously misguided.

    Shephards don't hit their sheep. They patiently lead them. And when the sheep gets lost, Shepherds don't yell at them and tell them how stupid and disobedient they are. Good Shepherds know their sheep and understand them, they are patient and loving guides for them. They nurture feed and take care of them.

    Most people in the parenting business have no understanding of normal childhood growth and development. Which sets up unrealistic expectations of children, which leads to frustration for both parties.

    It is far easier to hit one's child than it is to take the time to teach them or to learn better parenting skills. It is an expression of anger and lack of patience and has no place in the nurture of children. Most of the reasons why corporal punishment lives on today is because those who use it were spanked themselves especially those who grew up with the view of God as the stern judge. In those families where they worship an unconditionally loving God – there much less often any spanking. How we view God is how we parent our children.

    No apologies to my evangelical friends who choose – choose – it is a choice – to spank their children.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Diana, if pain were not often helpful, why would God give us so many pain recepters throughout our bodies, and our souls? Are you suggesting that our suffering is basically just the result of a sadistic God who, rather than be a comfort to mankind, prefers to enjoy the sound of man's tormented screams and the site of his writhing in agony?

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I thought when you said pain it was in a context that refered to the feeling, not the efficient cause. I specifically and clearly stated that I was not refering to that cause in just a literal, physical sense.

  • Matthew Tweedell


  • Mindy

    Outstanding post, Christy. Whether or not Matthew meant physical pain or another kind, it is only helpful if the pain comes from within.

    When a kid burns his fingers because he touches a hot stove, he learns not to touch a hot stove. When a kid fingers are burned because he misbehaved and Daddy decides to put his cigarette out on said fingers to punish him, he does not learn not to do the wrong again, he only learns to fear his father.

    I'm not saying that Matthew was advocating any such thing – my point is only that if the consequence (pain) is not a natural extension of the mistake, it teaches nothing at all.

    If my child lies to me, I don't spank her. She has to right the wrong, as in tell the truth to anyone affected by it. She has to "pay me back" the time I had to use up dealing with her mistake, and she would that by doing a chore that is usually mine. The embarrassment she might feel, the remorse she feels – that is the consequential pain of her mistake.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I don't think it's well thought-out to argue that "people who have never had the suckiest parents ever" just can't see objectively this great truth that pain "is never, ever, ever, never – deserved."

    Ok, not just time-outs, but police/security forces and the justice system have got to go as well I suppose.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    And what if she refuses; what if she doesn't want to; what if she doesn't care?

    Also, that the consequence must be a natural extension of the mistake is factually wrong. All it must be for negative conditioning is consistently present and negative.

  • Diana A.

    Natural consequence pain can be helpful–deliberately and willfully inflicted pain usually isn't.

  • christy

    No you referenced pain as a tool to edify…..with which I respectfully disagree.

    I do not believe that God is the cause of the painful experiences in our lives. In my best impersonation of John Shorre – that would make God a total dick. But rather I believe that life is difficult as M.Scott Peck so famously pointed out, and God is not life. (In this application of the word.) On the contrary, the Almighty guides and directs our paths comforting us through the difficult times in our lives and through these difficulties yes we grow and develop wisdom to better handle the next difficulty. But it is not within my worldview that God is the source of our human suffering.

    Our minister puts it this way: the right question is not why does God let bad things happen to us. The right question is why when humanity has been given all that we need and the gift of each other have we not figured out how to share, love, and not cause each other pain?

  • christy

    Exasperated sigh.

    Will you please enlighten us as to whether you have children of your own? And whether or not you believe in retributive justice or mercy when it comes to God and parenting not the legal system.

    And no I don't believe physical or mental pain is ever erver never erver deserved by a child from her parents and that this can stand alone from other relationships involving punishment. Truth is not absolute, my friend; sometimes it's relative. I knoww that's difficult for some people.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    By the way, have you any experience with shepherding? I don't, but from what I understand, being a good shepherd involves more pushing, pulling, cutting off testicles, and sending in dogs to scare them into submission through barking and gnashing of teeth, than guidance and understanding.

  • DR

    Wow, that is one powerful sentence. Yes, that's my belief too.

    I just went through an ending of a relationship that was dear to me. And I realized that false hope is really just postponed grief that one isn't ready to face just yet. The *wanting* we feel is often so powerful. The need for someone to love us on our terms is so powerful. Not to mention completely normal, we're wired to want to be loved well and then love well in return. And for whatever reason, some people just don't love us back. It can have everything, something or nothing to do with us, and none of that matters. What matters is that we care about ourselves enough to not wait for them to change their mind or take scraps of hopeful love that will never materialize. There is no dignity in that. Clean breaks seem to be the kindest response to rejection, for us and for them.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Do I have children of my own? Well, Truth is not absolute, my friend.

    I guess it depends relative to what we mean exactly.

    But didn't you already indicate a presumed answer—and it is now you ask somehow exasperated?

    I will not waste my time and prejudice myself, picking, choosing, making up whatever “beliefs” about parenting or God in the absence of absolute Truth.

  • DR

    I'm really glad that was such a great experience for you. 🙂

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Sure, we're given all we need, until there's a tsunami! Oh, but those are of the devil. Well, where did his powers come from? Is the pain—not just the physical pain of drowning in—but that of losing one's family to such a catastrophe, not real?

  • Matthew Tweedell

    So God is not deliberate? (I didn't think you were a Deist judging from your position on salvation.) Does God not will that pain occur yet gives us the means to sense it?

  • Diana A.

    God permits pain to occur–"will" may not be exactly the right term.

    The impression I have of God is that he's taking us somewhere. We don't know where and we don't know why, but my estimation of God's character is such that wherever and for whatever reason, it has to be good. That said, the Israelites had to go through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land and had to fight for the Promised Land in order to win it. They had to leave the comforts of home (such as they were) and face the discomforts and unknowns of the wilderness and so forth. This was painful for them. But God did not will their pain. Rather, the pain was a natural consequence of following the path God laid out for them. And, in fact, God actually minimized the pain by sending the Israelites the long way around to the Promised Land so that they wouldn't have to face the dreaded Philistines (Exodus 13:17-18).

    So yes, God does permit pain–but I don't think he goes out of his way to inflict it just to inflict it. There's always a purpose–even if that purpose is not readily apparent.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    And what do you mean, "No"? Are you denying what I specifically and clearly stated (or is it what I claimed I thought that you're denying?) because your relativistic truth gives you all the right to do so?

  • Matthew Tweedell

    "This was painful for them. But God did not will their pain. Rather, the pain was a natural consequence of following the path God laid out for them."

    Then there is a natural law higher than God.

    Of course there's a purpose. That's what discipline is about.

    What exists that God does not will to come into being?

  • Gina Powers

    Me three.

  • I loved what you had to say with one small exception. Being a crappy parent in no way means that the parents of the crappy parents were also crappy parents.(does that make sense?)

    Often the opposite is true, that the parents of the crappy parents, were loving nurturing individuals who did their best to raise their children the best that they could. But something happens to the person who becomes a crappy parent, that is not always the fault of their own parents. Often poor personal choices play a huge part into making people crappy parents.

    You are right about the guilt though. Damned if that wasn’t spot on, as it is so true that people often don’t want to claim responsibility for the mess that they made, and that other people, specifically children they produced can be reminders of the mess that they made.

  • Thanks for all the great comments here. There's a lot of good, solid stuff here. Thank you all.

    Matthew Tweedell: Dude, you write in a very unique way that, to my mind, turns your words into a sort of static in my head that's like radio station I'm almost receiving, but not quite. It's a phenomenon I'd every once in a while see back when I was hiring zillions of freelancers. It's not a criticism of you at all; you just simply have this weird aspect to your writing.

    Actually, now I'm interested in this. It's clear you love to write, and to articulate great big thoughts, ideas, and theories. Quite often, though (and, again, this isn't a criticism) it feels like you've hopped into shoes that are a size twelve, when your feet are size seven. So there's all this wiggle room in your shoes—and it feels like you often can't quite get the traction you need to directly arrive at the place you've meant to be.

    Feel free to totally ignore this, but instead of thinking so broadly, I'd like to see what you did if you focused in, and thought smaller. You consistently cast huge nets that end up pulling in vast amounts of wiggling, flashy things. I think it'd be fun to see you instead use language to capture, say, just one thing—just one thought, boiled down to its essence. You're like an orchestra doing some sort of massive improvisation; I'd like to see what you produced if you quieted all but, say, one flute. Do you know what I mean? You use language to stretch up to your ideas; I'd like to see you first nail down a simple, small idea, and then use language to come down to that thing. You know? Less conceptual abstracts; more concrete definites. Less (argumentative) theoretical hypothesizing; more accommodatingly personal, basically. Less cassoulet; more hot dogs. Less Franz Liszt, more … sitcom jingle. Anyway, just a thought. Again, feel free to ignore, of course. Love to you.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I agree. (And excellent use of Scripture, by the way.)

    I think John was too judgmental towards the grandparents in leaping to the conclusion that they're also terrible parents; that's pretty harsh, and there's really no reason to be so certain of it.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Thanks, John! Seriously, thank you for taking the time to give me such detailed advice. I'll give it a try. Or a few—I'm not too sure how exactly to do this right of the bat. Gonna have to think about that one. Peace.

  • Diana A.

    Matthew, some things are beyond my scope. I don't believe that there is a natural law higher than God. Neither do I believe that God wills pain, but pain is apparently part of the process and I don't believe God put it there just for fun.

    As for your question "What exists that God does not will to come into being?" I'm inclined to think that God has the same problem with the execution of his plans that the rest of us have–that God could see something in his minds eye, put it into place–and then be surprised by the results. I doubt, for instance, that God expected himself to be on his knees to himself in the Garden of Gethsemane frantically looking for another way to achieve his purpose other than the crucifixion–though I could be wrong.

  • DR

    Matthew, some of your more succinct responses have been so powerful, I've copied them into my own private journal. I write that only to support John's advice.

  • Matthew, fair enough. You are right. It was wrong of me to make assumptions concerning your parental status. My apologies.

    What if perhaps we discern through scripture and the example of Jesus whether or not "sparing the rod" in it's literal interpretation is Godly or not.

    For me, when I am in error, I would prefer that the person I have wronged not hit me in return in order to instruct me as to the wrongness of my actions.

    Similarly, when I was a child, I would have preferred to not be hit or slapped when I did something wrong……I'm quite sure my mother preferred this too. Yet she hit me anyway……and it was I who restrained myself from hitting her back in return because I knew that that would be wrong. So who showed more compassion and mercy? Who showed more moral restraint?

    It would seem then that when my children are in error, I should do unto them as I would have them or anyone else do unto me, and therefore we do not use corporal punishment in our house with our children. This is what is right for us.

    Invoking this interpretation of the Golden Rule and a portion of the greatest commandment as Jesus explained, it would seem should generally lead one away from the use of corporal punishment……..and yet is still relative to what is true for oneself. So is this an absolute truth or a relative one?

    When Jesus says do unto others as you would have them do unto you he employs a universality of the rule in which it can be applicable to everyone everywhere for all time and remain true and yet it is relative to the individual.

    Likewise following Christ's example, he never once struck a person. And when dealing with sinful people, he informed them of their wrong doing, showed them compassion, forgave them whether they asked for it or not, and instructed them not to do it again.

    And when severe punishment was to be inflicted upon the woman caught in adultery he asked her accusers to step forward and continue if they were themselves without sin.

    Compassion is at the heart of Jesus' (and so many other's) teachings. It means to put ourselves in the place of the other and to see the situation through their eyes…..and act accordingly. This requires an ability to step outside our ego and our own personal needs and to acknowledge and regard the other. This takes effort and practice.

    Admittedly my exchange with you today did not register maximum compassion. Again, for this, I am sorry.

    My intent in my note to Jeanine, was to give her permission to consider that whatever her father "dished out" in the pain inducing category of the damaging type is neither her fault nor her burden to carry and when we acknowledge that the adults in our lives who hurt us as children are the ones responsible for their actions and not us – that is a truth that sets us free.

  • What I know about Good Shepherds is from the gospels…….and that shepherds lead and cattle ranchers push. Sheep will not go where the shepherd has not lead them. The shepherd goes before them to show the way and protects them from harm.

    If you would like to step out of the limits of the biblical metaphor, then one can raise all manner of frightening inquiries into the questionable use of the example of sheep and shepherds seeing that then as is now, sheep were raised for food and clothing.

  • Seeking Peace

    This is a devastating situation that has likely been passed from generation to generation. The cycle doesn't have to continue, and I'd like the author of this letter to know there is hope, and there are ways to work towards healing. Even forgiveness.

  • Carmen

    Ric~ thanks for commenting.

    I really believe that you're on the right track with the therapist's advice to take that sentence literally…it has been hard for me to move beyond feeling unloved and thus, negatively yoked to my parents, and many times, I went back again and again to that empty well.

    The bottom line is that we have to learn how to redirect that same zeal for attachment(to our parents or other childhood caregivers) to ourselves and then learn the skills to apply in construction of a good, New Life for ourselves.(New Life being veddy, veddy Biblical)

    IMHO, that is where lots of people get stuck, since the self esteem that gives one the desire to love and care for oneself was supposed to have come from our parents…but it can be done.

  • Carmen


    I believe that the word 'most' in my comment about Christian Counselors stands on its own merit.

    Happy for you that you have had a different experience than I, though. 😉

  • Mindy

    This is to Matthew, in answer to his question – what if she refuses, what if she doesn't want to, what if she doesn't care?

    Well, that's happened, too. Not often, but it does. When it does, I take something that matters to her away for a specified period of time. I have rarely had to do that, which I believe is the case because I started teaching my daughters about empathy when they were still too small to really understand it. That what they do affects others, etc. Not only what is right and what is wrong, but WHY something is wrong. In age-appropriate terms, what they can understand. I have one very obstinate and sometimes defiant child, and one very compliant child. I've had to parent them differently. Past toddlerhood, and I mean this literally, I have had to impose a consequence on my 12 yr. old exactly once. She lives to make others happy, and when I ask her to do something, she does it. As she approaches her teens, I'm sure that will change to a degree, but she is who she is. My oldest is very different, but I've had to use "therapeutic parenting" with her due to the residual effects of early neglect. And still, even tho' we squabble, the worst I've had to do is take away her iPod for day. I am VERY blessed, I realize, with kids who talk to me, who confide in me, who want to do the right thing, who care about other people. When my teenager knows she's screwed up, she apologizes. Not immediately, but later, after she's thought about it. Which means more. And she saves 99% of her difficult behavior for me – because she knows I am her safe haven. She's a teenager, she's separating from me, as she should at this age. But it also terrifies her, because the scars of losing one mother will never disappear – so she pushes me away, then pulls me back in with all her might.

    I understand that the way I parent might not be effective with some kids. I can't parent my own two the same way – wouldn't work! But I've also been a caregiver over the years to even some difficult kids, and have had pretty good results with managing behavior. Inflicting pain simply for the sake of the pain works, yes – physical or emotional – if you choose negative conditioning as your method of discipline. For me, not only could I just not do it, I *personally* don't believe it works for the long run. Teaching a kid WHY s/he shouldn't do something in a way s/he can understand and own is far more effective, IMO.

    Regardless, even as I write this, and I think of the children and teenagers out there who have no safe adult to go to, it breaks my heart. That is one of those wrongs that I wish with all my heart could be righted for every child. I'm glad for the letter writer above that at least she had her grandparents, people who loved her, to raise her. That may just make all the difference.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Thank you for your thorough reply.

    Now that we’re back to the realm of common sense, by which we strive practically to accord a certain absolute objective truth as per our common understanding, I'll say, by the way, I don't have any children. As for what I believe, God and good parenting is love, merciful AND just.

    I'm really not sure what we're disagreeing about, Christy.

    Why do you ask, "What if perhaps we discern through scripture and the example of Jesus whether or not 'sparing the rod' in it’s literal interpretation is Godly or not?" Aren't we already in agreement regarding not interpreting this in a literally physical sense?

    In any case though the most intense pains I know are *not* physical ones, and psychological traumas far outlast typical physical traumas. Whatever the means, the real essence of most of hurt that parents can inflict is psychological, so I do not think that avoiding physical punishment and ignoring, humiliating, or whatever else doesn’t bring pain that is any less real and have the potential to be abusive also. But again, I’m not arguing for the use of corporal punishment.

    (Sorry, I haven’t figured a way to implement John’s advice just yet.)

  • Mindy

    I would imagine that John's point was that *something* happened in the lives of these biological parents that damaged their ability to care for the one thing in life they were truly responsible for – their child. Some people are born with damaged wiring, yes. Some people come into this world unable to function within societal norms, even at their most base, and no amount of wonderful parenting or therapy or even medication will bring them to a point of capability. But that is the exception. Most people who can't function in the world have been hurt, neglected, abused – somehow damaged, often by those who were supposed to care for them. Or, at the least, they had problems that were never addressed, never attended to in a way that would allow them to grow up into fully functional adults.

    MOST good parents raise good kids. SOME good parents raise kids who turn out to be lousy adults, despite their best efforts. SOME lousy parents raise kids who turn out beautifully, in spite of their parenting. But MOST lousy parents raise kids who wind up unable to cope or function effectively as adults without lots of intervention – from law enforcement, the penal system, rehabilitation, Family Services, etc. etc. So John's take on the grandparents, statistically speaking, is probably not that far off.

    Just had dinner with friends tonight, one of whom has worked in a juvenile detention center for 23 years. Most of the teens who come through there come from crappy backgrounds and are exactly as dysfunctional as the families in which they grew up. Most of them leave her facility and wind up, ultimately, in jail or prison. Rarely does she see a severely messed-up kid whose parents are right on top of things. And rarely does she see, unfortunately, the kids who come through there leave and succeed. But she does – she said that every time she feels like she is so burned out she can't take another day of it, a rose will bloom among the thorns and one of "her" kids will stop by with diploma, or a college acceptance letter. In spite of it all.

    No guarantees of good or bad, success or failure – but I would never say that John was off the mark with his comments about the grandparents.

  • Jeanine

    I don't know if this woman believes in God or not; but this Cleansing Stream is really a bit more than a Divine Prescence sort of thing. Jesus is resurrected and lives to make intercession for us – meaning he acts in our behalf.

    The Bible talks about not letting a root of bitterness take root in your heart. If this abandondonment happened at a very early age; no doubt there is much, much bitterness. I think the reason the Lord warns us about this root is because it is like a weed in our life that can choke out the beauty and flowering buds that want to grow there. We can pull the top off of this weed by trying to forget; pushing it down; outbursts of anger; drinking; you name it. But often times it just shows back up because we haven't gotten the root.

    When I went through Cleansing Stream I was taught how to approach the Lord with my bitterness through reading his word, fasting, and prayer. The Christians there did not know me from Adam, but they loved me enough to walk with me through it all, strengthen me, and guide me to Jesus. Once I understood how to cast my burdens on Him and begin to hear him speaking to my heart, the real healing began.

    If she has a desire to be reconciled to her parents; I think that is a desire that God may have put there Himself. His heart is for reconciliation of every kind. The thought of her on that doorstep in the rain is horrible, but I think the timing just may not have been right.

    My guess is that the Lord wants to work with her, heal her and remove that bitter root; so it will no longer choke her heart. No doubt to her this probably seems impossible or at least extremely painful. I'm sure it will come at no small price; but the reward and freedom may be worth that price. it was for me; although I had nothing like her situation.

    Without that root of bitterness, I think she may be able to see her parents with different eyes; eyes of compassion for their miserable circumstances. And I think if God enables her to see them that way; free and clear of the tremendous pain that they caused her; they may look at her differently when she approaches them. They may see her as a strength that they can grasp onto rather than a reminder of their own failures.

    One thing I have learned about Jesus, is that you must believe Him. Maybe all this broken hearted girl can do right now is to just stretch out enough to touch the hem of His garment; but that is all that is required. Reach toward Him with whatever strength you can muster and let Him take care of you from there. Don't doubt that He will do what He has promised. He can move these moountains. And in the process you will learn to walk intimately with the True Lover of your soul.

  • Seeking Peace

    To the author of this letter,

    My heart goes out to you. While I’ve not gone through your specific hell, I have been dealing with multiple issues that stem from “absent” parents. After different approaches, I believe I’ve finally found what works for me. Although everyone here seems to have the best intentions with their advice, none of us know what the best road is for you, where you are today, to begin your healing journey.

    The absolute very first thing I recommend with all my heart is that you consider visiting a Co-Dependents Anonymous Group (http://www.coda.org). Someone suggested it to me and I thought they were nuts. It’s a 12-step program, but not like a conventional 12-step program. You don’t necessarily have a sponsor or you don’t tackle the steps in the same manner as other programs where there is an addiction to a substance.

    Codependent – the word freaked me out and didn’t seem to fit me. I attended a meeting with great hesitancy, but lo and behold, it has been amazing.

    People come to CoDA for seemingly different reasons, but the commonality is a familial-based dysfunction that began during childhood (usually.) Shame, feelings of unworthiness, desperation for the love we never received from our parents – there are so many emotions I could list.

    They are an international organization and depending where you live, there may be 15 different groups in your area or one that might require driving out of your way. If you visit the website, you can easily see how many are in your area, or where the closes one is. The site has a lot of information, but a visit or two provides the best perspective.

    Therapy is definitely something to consider. Finding the right therapist for you is crucial.

    I felt hopeless, alone, crazy and certainly didn’t think there’d be anyone who could relate to my innermost struggles. I was wrong. There is hope. Your thoughts and experiences probably will not allow you to even fathom hope. Take heart, hope exists, and it exists for you.

  • Matthew Tweedell


    By the way, that thing with the orchestra doing some massive improvisation—yeah—that's my mind pretty much. (And when it hits upon something good, I notate it in the musical score that is my memory so that I can piece together some good tunes to play in the genres most familiar to me when needed.)

    Yet I know no other way to think about the world, because that's just what the world is too!


    Thanks. I'm flattered.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Also, by the way, I don't actually particularly like to write. I just like understanding, and there's no way to build understanding without communicating.

    And I've got this magic sack brimming with ideas—how ever many are removed, there are no fewer than there were to start with. I pour out my sack, filter the contents, and send them through the language grinder. I then serve the meat of choice anywhere from raw to well-done.

  • Mel

    I think that people need to take responsibility for themselves. If you are a screwed up person, it is nobody's fault but your own. You can't go around blaming your parents, because the truth is, every mistake that you made to get where you are was YOUR choice. Sure, your parents might not have helped you stay on the right path, but it was all still up to you. You could have chosen to take the high road, or you can decide to be just like them. I'm not saying that parents don't affect your life, good or bad, they do. But the person you become is up to you, and you can't blame your parents if you turn out to be a messed up person.

  • DR


  • Mel

    Do you disagree?

  • DR

    I'll answer you but first – do you have parents who rejected you?

  • DR

    K. No answer, perhaps you're busy.

    Mel, while I am a big time fan of personal responsibility being the key to freedom, this sentence is really concerning:

    "Sure, your parents might not have helped you stay on the right path, but it was all still up to you."

    This my friend, is some bullshit. I just have to call that out. Sorry if that's offensive or hurts your feelings, but sometimes a word is just the best descriptor of something. The author of this letter – her parents, rather – are a bit more in the red than just refusing to help her "stay on the right path". If they are as terrible as they appear to be through her words, they essentially kicked her off of any path where she could learn how to crawl, then walk, then run in the most essential of ways.

    You offering such flippant advice in the form of what appears to be some tough love is like telling a rape victim that "Hey, it wasn't your fault but next time don't wear such a short skirt, ok? It's over now, you'll be fine. But learn something."

    What you're doing is blaming this young woman for being where she is. Marinating in the past isn't the answer either, but killing it – literally letting God kill it and resurrecting the self that is not any part of that rejection. That's some serious work, Mel. And it warrants some serious conversation and substantial advice. To me this comment is concerning. Sure, it contains some truth. But sometimes the truth poorly offered does more damage.

  • Mindy

    I will guess, then, that you grew up in household without screwed-up parents.

    I agree that at some point in life, people have to take full responsibility for their own actions, of course.

    But your dismissive comment of the devastation that can be wrought upon children by adults who completely fail them is both sad and hurtful to those who have suffered that kind of trauma.

    So much goes into the soup – the kind and level of abuse or neglect, the myriad ways cruelty can be manifested, the temprament of the child, the age at which the abuse or neglect begins and ends, the extenuating circumstances – are there other adults to which the child can look for safety and comfort, or did the other adults look the other way? Are there siblings who can stick together, or were they played against each other? And so on and so forth. These mix together differently for every single victim.

    Some spirits are made stronger through adversity, and some spirits are sufficiently crushed so as to preclude any chance, ever, at a fully healed emotional life.

    I do realize that there are those who play victim for no more reason than to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives. But Mel, those people are in the minority. Most people who have been victimized as children – and being abandoned or neglected is most certainly being victimized – suffer psychological damage sufficent to cause great pain and require help to overcome.

    When they have absolutely no clue how to advocate for themselves, how do they get the help they need to make their lives right? The young woman who wrote to John has been victimized in a way that most of us here may not be able to fathom, because the ONE person who every one of us is supposed to be able to trust, her mother, broke that sacred bond and left. She was only a child, she shared no responsibility. The fact that she's tried so hard to reconnect, that she's stayed open to that for so long is probably due to her at least having had grandparents who stepped in and loved her. That may have saved her. But it doesn't fix the damage done to her child-self, and the residual effects of that damage.

    I know you weren't directing your comment at her, but that "get over yourself already" tone is probably not helpful to someone who suffered childhood trauma and is reaching out for help.

  • Susan

    Double yikes!

  • Matthew Tweedell

    "The fact that she’s tried so hard to reconnect, that she’s stayed open to that for so long is probably due to her at least having had grandparents who stepped in and loved her. That may have saved her."

    Why do you suppose they truly much loved her? You insisted above that it's correct to conclude here that raising a child who's a terrible parent is proof-positive that they themselves gave terrible parenting.

  • Don Whitt

    John, I'm right there with you on this one. I'm a COACOA – a child of an adult child of an alcoholic. I've gotten a front row seat to the results of what the woman who wrote you has experienced – the agony and pain caused by parents who don't care about their children – people who shouldn't have HAD children, but did anyway and then proceeded to screw them up horribly and subsequently left those kids to mop up for themselves later in life. She needs to let it all out and then move on.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    DR, why are we suddenly running with the supposition that anyone here might think this woman is messed up in any way? We were talking about blaming the parents of both of her parents. If you would follow again the conversation carefully, I hope you'll see that it was irrelevant already to bring up the personal question of rejection by one's parents. I understand if you want to debate the true substance of this issue, but I think you may be adding in what isn't there. Are you reading something into it due to your own presumption that the author of the letter is not among those taking responsibility as they should? Or is it because Mel’s comment was obstructed in your sight by emotional negativities?

    Either way, I just think this isn't particularly helpful towards building better understanding among us all.

  • DR

    Matthew, I'm not up for arguing about the obvious brokenness of the author's heart which is quite clear in the words. The subsequent experiences that typically occur with a rejection of this kind are fairly common. I strongly suspect she's reading this and I'm not really going to dignify whatever compulsion you have to argue this. Look elsewhere.

  • DR

    Her words: "The pain is just too hard to bear. "

    In other words? Consider applying a bit of tact. This isn't about "our" understanding. This is about a young woman who just cried out to some guy on the Internet. You don't really do that unless you're in a lot of pain. OK? Think about it.

  • John Murphy

    John you (don't) rock. "If someone doesn't love you, then screw them" is not a biblical principle. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things," now that is. She should patiently and lovingly hope. Reconciliation is possible. My wife experienced it with her dad a year or two before his death. They both needed it.

  • Um. If you're going to present yourself to someone you don't know (not to mention to their reading audience) as a person with a special understanding and appreciation of the nature of Biblical love, you might not want to start off by personally insulting them.

  • Diana A.

    "'If someone doesn’t love you, then screw them' is not a biblical principle." True, but refraining from casting one's pearls before swine is a biblical principle. It sounds to me as if this woman is doing her best to reconcile with her parents and they just aren't meeting her at all. The more she continues to fight this battle, the more strength she is losing without gaining anything in return. At a minimum, she needs to beat a strategic retreat and concentrate on getting healed herself. Then, if she's feeling up to it, if she can do it without expecting her parents to respond favorably, she can go back to trying to repair the relationship.

  • Mindy

    Well, first, it is possible that her maternal grandparents learned their lessons and were better parents to their granddaughter than they were to their daughter.

    Second, I don't believe I said anything about "proof-positive" – I don't know enough about her private situation to know that; I simply stated that it is against the odds to assume that a person would fail so dramatically at being a parent if they, themselves were parented well.

    Third, I didn't say they gave her everything she needed, either – obviously she is still in great pain. But they stepped in when she needed someone to raise her, which kept her out of foster care, etc. So they "saved" her that way – in keeping her connected to her familial roots and giving her the option of seeking out the birthparents.

    You're right in that I shouldn't assume they loved her, I suppose. It just seems to me that since they raised a woman so willing to make all the overtures she's made, so willing to forgive – she surely felt love from someone along the way.

  • Well said, Mindy…….and may I add triple yikes to Mel's pull yourself up by your bootstraps approach. Let me introduce you to my little friend over here called compassion.

    First – a little understanding of human psychology goes a long way. May I suggest books by Dr. Gordon Livingston, MD. "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart" is particularly good as is "How to Love."

    Second – where is the personal responsibility you might invoke on the inept parents to right their wrongness while rearing their children? As I said before the trouble with living a life unaware is that one is oblivious that one suffers from it. There is a time and a place for personal responsibility, but our bullheaded red-blooded American spirit of rugged individualism often gets in the way (read pride) of asking for legitimate help when legitimate help is needed. This is what drives the stigma of mental health treatment and seeking counseling even deeper or asking for help of any kind. Fear and ego cause us to make stupid and unhealthy choices – sometimes even without our knowing it.

    As Gordon Livingston says, "the statute of limitations has likely run out on blaming our parents for all that ails us." But the inaccurate maps that were imprinted on us in childhood regarding how to navigate love, relationships, marriage, work, God, happiness and life in general by parents who were inherently ill or had been operating on outdated and faulty maps themselves do us the children of inept parents no favors as we attempt to navigate life with broken equipment.

    Most of us stumble along in unhappiness not fully sure what is wrong – searching and it isn't until a helpful and compassionate someone points out that our maps are inaccurate that we can confront the reality of what is, (that our parents did not love us as they should have) call it by name (emotional abuse), deal with it, and as you say – take responsibility for only those things in our lives over which we have control (our own reactions to what happens to us), and let go of those things in life over which we do not have control (what other people do or think and how they treat us), and move on toward healing, recovery, and finding real joy.

  • DR

    Shaking the dust off one sandals when not being received? A Biblical principle. Nor does that mean we can't love our parents who hurt us, we can simply do it at a safe, peaceful distance.

  • Tim

    Exactly, Aisha.Honoring someone doesn't mean continuing to be a punching bag or a doormat. Mostly honoring a horrible mother or father is to live a life that is honorable. Because I'm a believer, I live a life that honors God. I think in doing that, I honor myself, my kids, my parents, my brother and sister, and even my ex. Besides…He is the only one who will never leave or forsake me.

  • Mel

    My comment was not about the letter writer. It doesn't sound like she's screwed up or anything like that, other than emotional scars,which were her parents' fault. My comment was about what Mindy said. She said that her friend works at a juvenile detention center, and that most of those kids are where they are because they came from messed up families. She said that that proves that statistically John was not wrong when he said all that crap about her parents. I was just saying that THAT wasn't true. That the people who ended up in a juvenile detention center are there because of choices that THEY made. In no way was that directed at the letter writer, just to clear up the misunderstanding.

    And sorry about that, after I asked if you disagreed I went to bed. No, I do not have parents who rejected me. I'm not saying that if I was in that situation, I wouldn't feel like sometimes I hated my parents, but I am saying that those feelings would be wrong.

  • Mel

    I already posted above, but just in case you haven't read it. My comment was in no way directed at this letter writer. I'm not saying that this girl shouldn't get help. Of course being rejected by your parents is going to have life-long effects, and she will probably need help to heal from it. Read my post above if you would like to know what my comment was about.

    Mindy, I wasn't trying to be dismissive about the emotional effect that having parents who rejected you would have. It just wasn't a crucial part of my point. I made a quick comment about how of course if affects the child, just so that there wasn't a misunderstanding about my feelings about that. But going into detail wasn't necessary for the point I was trying to make. Also I didn't intend for my comment to have a "get over yourself" undertone. As I've said multiple times, my comment had nothing to do with the letter writer, and therefore none of it was directed at her, or her situation. I was commenting on what you had said before that about kids who end up in juvenile detention centers.

  • Tim

    Agree. As for fighting a battle…a battle requires engagement. If the desired conquest will not engage, seems like a one-sided deal. I made several overtures to my wife as she went about divorcing me. I realize…totally different relationship, but very similar issues of rejection or abandonment. After a few emails and a phone call, it was plain to see there was probably no amount of my pursuing her that would turn her path. She knows where I live. She has my email and phone number. I assume this woman's parents have likewise.

    I look at the story of the prodigal. The Father likened his wayward son as being dead. As harsh as that may sound, I don't believe that detail of the story was included by mistake. Maybe the best we can do in situations like this is to forgive and forget. After all, if anything is going to change someones heart, it will be from within, nor from without.

  • Tim

    Yes DR. Great reply. That is so biblically rational. I wish more believers believed that.

  • Mel

    Mindy, I suppose my comment was also directed at your comment about parents of the crappy parents being bad parents. I think that is way off base to make that assumption. The crappy parents are responsible for the way they acted. Regardless of how their parents were to them, THEY chose to abandon their child.

  • Tim

    One word, Murphy. Diplomacy.

    But I would cut you some slack because you're obviously Irish. : )


  • Mindy

    Mel, you've commented about both this and the kids who are in juvenile detention as if people grow up without being affected by the world around them. Not the world in general, THEIR world. You've indicated that you had parents who did not leave you – are you a parent yourself, Mel? I'm just curious.

    I do realize that you weren't directing your comments at the woman who wrote the letter, and I've already responded at length to the whole "crappy parents" theme to Matthew, so I'll leave that be.

    And honestly, right now, I have a proposal I have to write, and kids I want to be with.

    Suffice it to say that most of the kids in the juvenile center HAVE been raised by people completely incapable of parenting. Meaning that from day one, they did not get what they needed in terms of nurture, guidance, modeling, communication – none of it. Without understanding the enormous disadvantage at which that puts them, they cannot be helped to move forward. These kids are still kids. They're brains are not done growing, that won't happen until their early 20s.

    They've made bad choices, yes, and they have to LEARN how to take responsibility for their choices. More importantly, though, they have to learn how to make better choices – and in their short lives, no one has bothered to teach them how.

    Their experiences are so vastly different from what I imagine yours were that I can see how you could not understand this – but because you don't, probably best you not dispense your advice in their direction.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I don't understand what your problem is, DR. There is a difference between being in pain and not taking responsibility for oneself or being screwed up!

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I wouldn't dare assume other than that they DID love her; your presumption that they were terrible parents is quite mean-spirited! That was my point.

    You said "I would never say that John was off the mark with his comments about the grandparents." But now you wish to distance yourself from John's assertion that this was "proof-positive" and so forth. So which is it, Mindy?

  • All I can say is…. to Christy & Mindy….Wow, I am impressed with your wisdom, compassion and willingness to share and call lovingly to reasonable thinking. Thank you for sharing your insights to child rearing. I applaud your choices! I believe that is how our Father God deals with us. Not with a "rod" whipping us into shape, but with a loving guidance that allows consequences to open our eyes. I am so tired of "law" and the hardness of how some people interpret the Bible's teachings. And to the young woman who wrote the e-mail …. I grieve for you and hope and pray for healing. It saddens me to see the rejection that so many people have to deal with.

  • DR

    Matthew, I ask this in all seriousness. Do you have Asperger Syndrome or perhaps a similar kind of diagnosis? I suspect you do but wanted to confirm. It would explain a lot of things.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    No. Why do you ask? What lot of things would it explain? From what I understand of Asperger Syndrome and related autistic disorders, that doesn't seem much like me at all.

  • DR


    We probably disagree more than we agree but I just wanted to tell you what an awesome writer you are. I don't want to be condescending so I won't be (or I'll try), but I have a sense that most of us here are middle-aged and I think it is so cool that you're here, digging in and challenging what you read. Seriously. What a cool thing. Your stock just went way up in my book.

  • Mindy

    Mel, I had a very ordinary childhood, by any outside account. I was also very damaged by my childhood. I've made my share of bad choices, and I've taken responsibility for them.

    When I was your age, I'd likely have written very much like you've written. You are obviously a very intelligent and passionate young woman, and I hope you never lose your passion. At the same time, life and experience still have much to teach you, and I implore you never to close your mind to what you don't understand. You are only a couple years older than my oldest daughter, and while you and she differ greatly in your views of the world, your senses of personal responsibility are both strong. I'm proud of her, and I admire it in you.

    What you will learn, I imagine, as you mature and wander life's path, is that the world is rarely so simply black and white. People are not born with an intact sense of personal responsibility. That has to not just be taught, but modeled and infused into who you are, through childhood. And some children grow up in situations you simply cannot imagine.

    I used to volunteer as a guardian ad litem, which means that I advocated for children in foster care during the court proceedings that would determine whether or not they would be re-united with their families. Part of that process involved interviewing the people in their lives, about their lives. Teachers, caregivers, family. My eyes were opened to situations I thought only happened in bad movies. And I would get so angry at these women, these mothers, who had all these babies and didn't take care of one of them. I wanted to shake them and ask them what the hell they were thinking?!?! At the time, I was coming to grips with not being able to give birth myself, so I hated them, sometimes, for not seeing the blessings they'd been given


    And then I'd get to know them a little, and I'd start to get glimpses of how absolutely broken they were. How life had literally kicked them in the gut every single time they made it to their knees in an effort to get up again.

    Because no one had taught them personal responsibility, and no one had ever, EVER told them that they were beautiful human beings. Ever. Except the losers who got them pregnant then left. They had no skills, they had no family support system, but they did have that basic human need for love and affection. They found it, briefly, with men, and then with babies, until the babies needed so much more than they could provide. So they'd drink or drug to dull the sense of complete and absolute hopelessness, and then the system came along and took their babies away. And they had no idea where to even start trying to find their way back.

    No one had ever given them one tiny ounce of hope, not one, that their lives could ever be better.

    Most of us can't fathom living like that, Mel. I couldn't. I had my own demons to fight, but I at least knew what a normal life looked like, what possibilities were out there, what I *could* do when I got my life on track. They didn't have that.

    So, here's me: Ordinary childhood that damaged me anyway, years of recovering from that, including a spiral into my own hell, including jail and rehab, and a steep climb out again. Created a new life for myself in my late 20s, including complete reconciliation with my parents, whom I love and respect deeply, finally graduated college at 30, diagnosed with cancer. Recovered by couldn't have kids, marriage, two international adoptions, lots of volunteer work both here and abroad, working with foster kids and orphans. Divorce, back to school for graduate degree, back to full-time work after staying home with kids for 10 years, topped off by an economic lay-off which has me now building my own businesses and trying to stay afloat while being the best mom I can be to the two most incredible daughters ever born.

    Not at all where I thought I'd be at 50 – if you'd asked me at 18 where I'd be, I'd have assumed I'd be grandma by now, long-married and maybe traveling. Um, no. But would I trade my life?? Not one second of it.

    Sorry; not trying to make this about me – Just trying to tell you that experience changes perspective. Life gives us all kinds of things we never expect – both horrendous and joyful.

    I admire your strength of spirit and your willingness to engage in these discussions. I can get cranky sometimes, but I learn something every day of my life, and try to give back some of the wisdom I've gained over the years, from different sides of our many cultural divides.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Wow! You really can tell a good story, Mindy!

    I understand and agree with your thoughts here entirely. I was only disputing your defense of John Shore's remarks in response to my suggestion that it might be a bit harshly & presumptively put. I'm glad we've cleared that up now.

    Thanks, Mindy, and God bless!

  • Mindy

    DR, I wish I'd read this comment of yours about two years ago. Altho' at that point in my life, I still needed to postpone that grief, hang on to that false hope. Very powerful words, so much so that I almost flinched reading them, they hit so close to home. I know this wasn't directed at me, but thank you for eloquently saying something that I, for one, needed to hear.

  • Mindy

    Thanks, Bunny – that is very sweet. (I call my youngest "bunny," good name). You sound like a kind and gentle soul.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Perhaps you have not noticed the careful calculus of belligerence for that higher duty to which I am bound, that if anything makes me unusually sensitive to the certain empathies; my careful manipulation of what people say, showing I darn well now exactly what is meant; the broad scope of my knowledge and of the modes in which I embody it in written word; my ability to be intentionally ridiculous, and at times hilarious, for effect.

    I decided to try to see what you’re seeing by taking the Autism Spectrum Quotient. According to wired.com, “In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher.” I scored 15. So the average person—perhaps even you—would seem more likely then to be autistic than I. Perhaps that’s part of the problem here.

    Was I right or wasn’t I, that you read into Mel’s comment what she says she didn’t intend? Then you continued in spite of road-signs I posted to make overt implications about what we think of the writer beyond just obviously being broken-hearted; yet you implore me to be more tactful.

    Why is it that when people can’t understand something due to some failing of their own they presume it’s a sign of some disorder in others? There is a difference between a choice and a disorder, even when both might seem to us crazy. As I was trying to explain to Tim on “Terry Jones’ Statement” earlier today, not everyone who blows himself up is a psychopath or on drugs. Of course I’m crazy. I do not, however, have any syndrome, mental impairments, or, besides baggage of the past, emotional impairment.

    Now, as I said, I don’t know what *your* problem is. Perhaps a diagnosis of certain mood disorders would explain why, though I try alternatively to appeal to your abilities for holistic vision and for tracking details, you sometimes see nothing other than some undesirable tangents on which to wander off.

  • Mel

    I would like you to know that that is the most helpful comment of yours I have read. It was very inspiring to be honest. You obviously have come out of a lot of crap, but I admire you for coming out of it a better person. You sound like a great mom, and your daughters are blessed to have found you. I know that I can never understand a situation like the one I have been talking about. I have been blessed in so many ways, that I am sometimes ignorant to the world outside. That said, I really can't back down on thinking that people are responsible for themselves no matter what. However I also try to respect the fact that I really can't understand it unless I've been there…which I haven't.

  • Mel

    Wow…thanks. I know that I have strong opinions about things, but I really do try to not come off as judgmental. Most of the time I like the challenge of backing up what I believe, but I also like hearing other people back up what they believe. I realize that I am young, and I respect the fact that most people here have had more life experiences than me, but I also think that my opinions are valid. I debated putting my age on here because I didn't want people to change what they would say to me just because I'm young. I decided to do it anyways because I was being asked so many questions that I thought could all be answered if people just knew how young I was. I like having conversations with people who challenge me…sometimes I think people take it too far, and feelings get hurt, but most of the time I like it. Your comment really meant a lot to me actually. Knowing that we have had very different opinions, and you can still say that about me shows that people really can have a conversation/debate about something without suddenly hating the other person because of what they believe. Thanks again.

  • Mel

    I’m not saying that kids aren’t affected by THEIR world. I’m pretty sure that I specifically said they were, that they would have emotional scars their whole lives. But that doesn’t change the fact that they had a choice. You said yourself that they need to learn to take responsibility for their actions, so I’m not really sure what we are arguing about now.

    Did you have a troubled childhood? I only ask because you say that I shouldn’t give advice to them because I don’t understand, so what makes you think that you do? Regardless of the circumstances in which I grew up, I can still say with 100% confidence that it’s up to you how you turn out. When you end up in juvenile hall it’s easy to blame your parents, but as I said, the truth is you got yourself there. Your parents may not have taught you right from wrong, they may not have given you the love that every child deserves, but you still know right from wrong….that isn’t really something you need to be taught by your parents. Those kids can blame some of their emotional insecurity on their parents, sure, but the choices they made, the person they are, was entirely up to them.

    To answer your question, no, I am not a parent. I’m 18 years old. But, I don’t believe that makes my opinion any less valid.

  • Mindy

    Alright, Matthew. First, I re-read what John wrote, and realize the “proof-positive” came from him. So I now understand your question.

    I had forgotten that John phrased it so definitely, since I’d sort of moved on (in my own head) to a more broad vision of effective vs. ineffective parenting. Sometimes, failing a child has nothing to do with being criminally abusive or neglectful, but the end result can be a mixed-up, dysfunctional person, all the same.

    In answer to your question, No. I do not believe it is “proof-positive” that the mother’s parents were bad. I never assumed they were lousy parents, and I apologize if I made it sound that way. I do, however, think it is more than likely that they were ineffective parents, in some big way, for the mother to have wound up where she did.

    My opinion is not borne of mean-spiritedness, but of a belief that many of us are at risk of failing as parents because of one crucial issue – and that is that rather than learn from our children who they are, we decide who they should be, and parent them accordingly. Often, everything works out just fine. But sometimes, it really, truly fails.

    I do believe that somewhere along the line, the mother – and every person who winds up dysfunctional in some very basic way – did not get what she needed. Somewhere, there was a disconnect between her psychological needs and her experiences.

    Many times, people who appear to be “good” parents, aren’t. They aren’t terrible, they aren’t malicious, but they aren’t effective, either. They parent by a prescribed set of rules, perhaps from their own parents or perhaps laid out in one of the gazillion “parenting manuals” out there on the market. They are going to do it THAT WAY, because the book says they should, regardless of who their kid turns out to be.

    People do this all the time – your child looks like one parent more than the other, for instance, and people make these unconscious, understandable expectations that little Sally, who looks so much like her daddy, will be JUST LIKE HIM. Except little Sally’s personality is this fascinating mash-up of characteristics from her mom and paternal grandfather and, well, her own little God-given self. She’s not like Dad, looks or not. She’s not motivated in the same way he is motivated. She may be book-smart like he is, say, but she’s a dreamer, a story-teller – has no real interest in being an accountant like him. But Mom and Dad plug along, raising Sally with certain expectations based on their incorrect assumptions, and it winds up totally screwing little Sally up, because she lives to please her parents. Deep inside, she is miserable, though, because she has no interest in what they want for her. And she hates herself for feeling miserable, because look what a great life she has.

    Except nowhere along the line did anyone ask her what SHE loved to do and take her seriously when she answered. She was never encouraged to figure out what she likes to do, or wants to do, but rather is told, over and over, that she’s so good at math she should definitely go into numbers like her Dad. She has no understanding of who she really is, because she was never given a chance to find out.

    She wasn’t abused, she wasn’t neglected, but she was not emotionally nurtured, either. The expectations were laid out and she was expected to live up to them. She was never given the chance to try and fail, or develop expectations for herself.

    So little Sally, upon leaving home for college, sort of went off the deep end in her search for herself and for acceptance of that self. She fell into a crowd of people who LOVED her sense of humor, and this attention and affection was so intoxicating, so new, so wonderful, that she’d have done just about anything to maintain these new relationships. The downward spiral began, because they were all partiers, with alcohol, then drugs, then – because she was raised “right” and knew the difference between right and wrong – an intense self-loathing over what she is doing that leads to more self-destructive behavior, including suicide attempts.

    Sally, of course, is responsible for her own behavior. But she is psychologically damaged, and can’t take that responsibility and move forward without help. Maybe she gets that help and finds her way and gets her life back.

    Maybe, though, she winds up damaging herself so badly, with drug abuse, say, that she is no longer completely mentally sound. She winds up pregnant, married the father, divorces him – and it all happens before she gets the help she needs, to find herself inside all that mess. And she is in no way able to care for her child, so she delivers said child to her parents and disappears.

    Her parents are still the same people, but they are older, wiser, and commit to taking care of this little girl rather than relinquish her to strangers. They believe their own little girl will come back, and they want this child to be whole when she does. So they raise her – not differently, really, than they raised their own daughter, altho’ perhaps a bit more gently, and definitely with more wisdom.

    And this little girl? Wow, what a spit-fire. She got her father’s stubbornness, and a charm that must’ve come straight from the heavens. So when her grandparents tell her she’s really good at math like her mom so she should do something with numbers, she has no problem speaking right up, saying she hates math, she wants to design dresses for famous people. When her grandfather tells her that that sounds fun but it isn’t practical, she doesn’t bury it away like her mother would have, never to mention such an impractical thing again – instead, she pipes right up and tells him that she doesn’t care, she’s going for it. Because her personality lets her do that – something her mother’s never did. And her grandparents, who stamped out (unintentionally) her mother’s creative dreams, are first merely amused by their grand-daughter’s stubborn insistence, but eventually begin to see her potential, and see her sparkle as she draws. So they support her, and except for the fact that her mother isn’t coming back, her life goes along pretty well.

    And her mother’s life never quite gets back on track.

    Her parents weren’t lousy. But from them, she never got what SHE needed – which was the kind of unconditional love that gives a child the strength – because they know if they fail, they will still be emotionally safe – to try it all and figure out exactly who they are. And be loved for it. They did the best they could, the best they knew how, and for most people, it might’ve been enough. But they didn’t put their expectations and assumptions aside long enough to get to know who their daughter was, and make sure she knew they loved her no matter what. She knew they’d love her if she became an accountant, but she knew she couldn’t be an accountant, and was sure that if she told them so, they’d not love her.

    Rational? Maybe not. But it happens all the time.

    Now, that is fiction. But it is based on a lot of reality with which I am very familiar. I am not saying that is what happened in the letter-writer’s life – how would I know?

    My point is that what works for one child might not for another. And that people gain wisdom through experience that could certainly help them parent differently, maybe better, given a second time around.

    I’ve tried pretty hard in my comments on this not to deal in absolutes – because when you are dealing with humans, particularly young, still-growing humans, there really are very few applicable absolutes.

    Don’t know if this helped explain my thoughts on this or not – just wanted to try to put it into concrete terms.

  • Susan

    My story is similar to John's and the woman of whom he writes. My parents were divorced, but each abandoned me, in stages, as I journeyed through childhood, and by the time I hit my late teens, it was all over: no family, no one to turn to. Nor was I rebellious or in any way a "bad girl" with whom they could not cope. I was, however, very shy, dependent, and deeply depressed — all of which were the result of ongoing childhood abuse, as I learned much later — and this was draining for my alcoholic mother and embarrassing, even shameful, for my deeply narcissistic father. Like the woman John writes of, I tried for years, truly humbled myself before them for a crumb of anything like love, but it was just easier, more convenient, to drop me and get on with their lives.

    It's probably hard for most people to imagine what it's like to go through life without family. Not only is there nowhere to go at first for food and shelter (although the Salvation Army and Traveler's Aid proved helpful), but there is no "home" to go for the holidays, no one to call for advice (or just to say, "I love you"), no one with whom to celebrate birthdays, until you find friends and/or a mate. But there is no one, ever, to occupy that part — the mom, dad, home part — of your psyche, your human identity. You listen to your friends complain about Mom calling too often, or Dad pushing them to go college and offering to pay for all or part of it, or giving them hand-me-down furniture, or parents being too protective, too full of advice, etc., and you wonder if they realize what they have. When you do make it through college on your own, you appreciate your husband's presence, yet you find yourself wondering how proud your parents would or should feel at this moment, if they cared about you. And as for the husband — there was, of course, no one to walk me down the aisle, no one beaming with love and pride, none of that. There's no one, really, to thank, except God, for holding you together and keeping you alive through it all. But, even with God's quiet love and support, it is amazingly lonely, and it leaves you feeling fundamentally different from those who have family.

    I've worked through most of this. I've even learned to view it as some kind of celestial handicapping system, God's special challenge to me: take this soul through this particular journey, and keep it intact; don't ever lose it. So it takes on a certain bravery, a living out of faith, of love, that transcends the earthly and becomes part of life's very purpose.

    But what John says about letting go of these "parents" who wouldn't BE parents — just kick them out of your mental doors, shake very dust of them off your sandals, and spit on their very memory, if need be — is SO valuable, so helpful to do. Because what unloved children will almost invariably do is put the parents on an internalized parent-pedestal and blame *themselves* for not being able to elicit love from those who should love them if anyone could. Either the parents were right not to love us, and we were as worthless as that implies, or they were wrong, horribly wrong, to do this to their own children, and we did, indeed, deserve to be brought up with nurturing love. One or the other. Maybe some sort of forgiveness can come later, but until it does, the unloved child has every right to turn away, completely away, from the abuse, and learn to affirm, in every respect, him/herself.

  • Mindy

    Beautiful, powerful stuff. Your strength of spirit is palpable; your willingness to share, extraordinary.

  • Susan

    Thanks, Mindy. Those of us who've lived this, in whatever form, can only hope that by sharing we may help others get through it too.

  • DR

    To Matthew:

    "I don’t understand what your problem is, DR. There is a difference between being in pain and not taking responsibility for oneself or being screwed up!"

    Here's my problem, you can take it or leave it. This was a heart felt letter from a woman crying out for support and you turned it into an internet debate about absolute truth, the nature of pain, etc. You have a tendency of being a bit clinical when it comes to sensitive material, at least that's my experience of you. In this case, it seems very inappropriate to challenge other's notes of support so aggressively. Not every post is an appropriate platform to argue. (That's why I suspected (and still do) that you have some form of Asperger, those with that type of disorder tend to turn much of what they experience into debate where things move from simply connecting to the spirit of another person to "this is black and white and you're a moron if you don't move the conversation to where you see it that way").

    While debate is often fantastic, I get very uncomfortable reading it on the posts where someone's pain has been illustrated and they need some support.

    So there you go, it's my perspective. You can have the last word on it now, you need it more than I do. And more importantly, you know what you're doing and why. I'm just offering one person's experience of you.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    I do not criticize any point of support for the writer of the letter to John! (Neither have I attempted to imply anything, as relates to her, nor to address her by any remark, while neither am I ignoring the gravity of this.)

    How on earth would I know why things are as they are and I'm doing as, in whatever sense, I'm to be doing?

    Especially as you're in essence arguing that basically what I know are raw data in their first-order patterns (and conceive of abstractions and interpersonal relationships on that level as well). Well, though I shield myself by not caring much for emotion, if you'd care to look at it you may find a depth of insight in what I say that you don't now care to know.

    Nobody just offers one person's experience of something—there's always more to it than that.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    (First, I'd like to note that I didn't mean to imply my sack is unique—I’d reckon we've all got magic sacks somewhere, but I digress.)

    I think perhaps I avoid setting ideas concretely because I'm far more likely to err that way than when stretching language up to them, leaving some wiggle room to be grown into later where I may not have all the details fully present to my mind at the moment. (And in fact an ideal discussion could consist of working out the details together, building ideas ever higher, reaching up to where God is. But He is a jealous God and sees to it that the tower of Babel is not completed by ensuring a breakdown in communication once the focus turns more onto us than Him.)

  • And I would add to this biblical example with the rich young ruler, who rejects Jesus and walks away. And Jesus lets him go. The parable of the prodigal son is a repeat of this. It is not "screwing" anyone to respect their wishes, however painful that may be. I rather think this is an example of love.

  • John,

    Your clear statement that the letter-writer's parents will not change and she needs to assume they, therefore, will never give her what she needs is the only basis for an emotionally healthy life.

    As an experienced Christian psychotherapist, that's the hardest message to get across. It is a tremendous loss that must be grieved so we can move on to letting God be our Papa.


    Karen Rabbitt, MSW

  • Matthew Tweedell

    It is not good to start something you don't care to resolve, DR.

    "This was a heart felt letter from a woman crying out for support and you turned it into an internet debate about absolute truth, the nature of pain, etc."

    I made nothing of the sort out of her cry for help! I let those more qualified than I (namely, the one she actually asked) address it, and I moved only to challenge the things in which was defied the Lord whom I serve—that which is contrary to reason, the truth, and love for all persons.

    But thank you for spoiling the spirit of the conversation here.

    "’[T]his is black and white and you’re a moron if you don’t move the conversation to where you see it that way.'"

    So I guess Mel has it too, huh?

    This is not something where we should just agree to disagree.

  • mari

    Thanks Susan. I had to cry as I read your post…..its so much like my story. Only my parents didn’t divorce – they were very religous and the church stood by them in their stupidity. Looking the other way and pretending as if all was well.
    “Either the parents were right not to love us, and we were as worthless as that implies, or they were wrong, horribly wrong, to do this to their own children, and we did, indeed, deserve to be brought up with nurturing love. One or the other.”
    So very true and in my experience most christians act as if surely we (my siblings and I)did something wrong or rebellious to have this as our past…..and treat us as if we do not deserve love.
    I wish I had one person tell me what John told this girl when I was 20.
    Thank you Susan; thank you John