An Open Letter To the Kids Who Raised Themselves
And the parents who haven't realized it yet.
I’d been lying to my therapist for a while, and it was a stupid thing to do. Why on earth would you think it makes sense to lie to someone you’re paying to listen to you. She was a great therapist, and I wanted so desperately to open up about everything. But, it’s hard. And I’d never had the practice.
“You get to control your relationships,” she’d said, “You can decide where you stand with people, and them with you.”
Growing up without your dad has a ton of individually unique, but equally troubling effects on your psyche. Coupled with having an emotionally immature and unavailable mother, you start life off with a lot of responsibilities. If there’s no one else is around to raise you, you have to do it yourself.
Interestingly enough, you don’t realize until it’s way too late. And by late, I mean long past your formative years. When you’re at an age, as defined by my therapist when you have to “reparent” yourself. You’d think, given you’ve been parenting yourself your entire life, this part would be easy. Of course, I can “reparent”, what else do I know more than if not how to raise myself?
The issue is, the reason you’re in therapy is that you did a bad job. Much like your actual parents. And, who can blame you? You’re not a parent. You shouldn’t have to reparent yourself. You never should have had to parent yourself in the first place.
You were forced into a job you couldn’t have been any less qualified for. And frankly, how many amazing examples of parents did you have around you? Outside of your own parents, how many of your friends lived in a happy nuclear family? How many dysfunctional parenting dynamics did you jump through, before you perfected yours?
When it comes to reparenting yourself, you learn a few things. You learn to accept you’ll never have the parents you desire. You can’t change people. The past is unchangeable, and the future is formable.
It’s weird coming to this realization because there’s no one you can tell. Most of your friends don’t want to see themselves in that part of you. Most of them still believe they owe their parents something for the mediocre jobs they’d done raising them. Many of them think they're fine. They’re trauma-dumping on you once a week, have an endless cycle of toxic relationships and are exceedingly codependent… but believe they’re fine.
Usually, when things at home are just the right amount of dysfunctional you learn early on, it’s disrespectful to hold your parents accountable. You’re not allowed to give them honest feedback on their parenting, and all the negative impacts it’s had on your life. There’s no correct way to say, “You’ve been a bad parent.” So, you don’t.
You grow more and more resentful as each day passes. One of your parents starts to hate you for it, and the other doesn’t like you enough to care. You can’t talk to your parents or your peers. So, you end up in therapy. Because who else is going to help you unpack all this?
You can’t name what’s wrong, you just know something's wrong. You know you hate this cycle. The cycle of your parent’s parents neglecting them, and now them neglecting you. You know that you hate where you’re from, and recognize it’s where you’re headed. And you realize you’re starting to hate yourself.
There’s no romantic way to unpack childhood trauma. All your anger isn’t going to be rational, but it’s there. Your inner child is hurt. As it has every right to be. You’re still resentful of the obvious distance between yourself and your family that you feel so powerless against. Most of all you’re exhausted.
Your therapist will sympathize with you. She reminds you that it wasn’t your fault. She walks you through personality disorders, narcissism, abuse, gaslighting, codependency and everyone one of your childhood trauma symptoms. She reassures you and helps explain why you are the way you are, and that you’re not doomed to be this way forever.
For the small price of several hours of your wages for only an hour of hers, she breaks it all down for you. She becomes the insanely costly parent you always needed.
You have to redefine the relationship with your parents in your head for the sake of your well-being. To be free from caring if they’re angry or not about what you say or do. She teaches you that you’re in control.
No one ever believes you when you say you’ve raised yourself. Until they bring up innocuous favours from their childhood they remember being done for them, which are experiences you’ve never had.
They usually, maybe accidentally, gaslight your experiences as a way to protect there’s. We all want to believe the people tasked with making our lives as good as can be, did right by us. Supposedly there’s no closer bond. Which, to those of us who don’t have that bond, is frightening. Eventually, self-fulfilling. With no actual concept of healthy relationships, you proceed to never have healthy relationships. At least, until you get help.
My open letter is for the present-day adults, who were the kids who raised themselves and continue to raise themselves today. Congratulations. Congratulations for making it this far, and doing the work of two when you’re only one. For being for yourself, what no one else around you could be. Our stories are the Allegory of the Cave. We’ve not yet seen the light that casts the shadow. We just know that by virtue of a shadow there’s a light.
I hope you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that I do. It’s bright. So, incredibly bright.