HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap. It was originally published on December 2, 2013.
When I was 8, I was expected to be an adult.
I had adult responsibilities (taking care of kids) and was expected to act as mature as an adult – learn all the things, do all the things, cook all the food, wash all the babies. I had to fight for some semblance of my own childhood. My mom wanted me to grow up and grow up fast. I remember her asking me, before I was 10, to stop playing “dogs” with my brother (we’d run around on our hands and knees barking and stuff) because, essentially, it was embarrassing. I don’t remember the exact words she said, but that was the gist.
I just looked at her, and willfully ignored her until I was 11, and by then, I was too busy doing her job that I didn’t really have time to play with my siblings, because if I did, I was quickly ushered to change someones diaper.
Funny, because my mom said that I should be happy I have so many siblings/sisters to play with and that I don’t need friends my own age. But I never had time to play with them even if I wanted to – and honestly, they were so much younger than me, and she had them with such frequency, that I wasn’t even on the playmate list – I was the caretaker, the other kids, they all had each other, but I was quickly forced out, alone, and expected to be happy about it and have no needs.
I wasn’t allowed to have needs. I wasn’t allowed to be a child after I started puberty.
As I aged, I was expected to be more adult – not in like the normal, kids mature way, but in the I-was-8-and-was-expected-to-be-20-and-go-from-there kind of way. By the time I was 13 I’d lost any semblance of childhood that I’d had. I’ve never experienced the care-free years of being a kid or a teenager, because the entire time I was a kid(‘s age), I wasn’t.
I don’t understand teenagers, I don’t understand 18 year olds who don’t look and feel like they’re 40. I don’t understand 16 year olds who still play and aren’t crushed under the weight of grown up responsibility. I don’t understand 22 year olds who act like 22 year olds are supposed to act, and don’t have random existential crises because they feel like their life is over and they’ve accomplished nothing.
I’m 22, but most of the time I feel like I’m so. much. older. and learning how to act my age.
I’m actively trying to become more immature, because I can’t handle the continued weight of having to be more responsible and older than I am, of having to be the parent all the time even though there’s no one around to parent (except myself, which isn’t healthy either).
When I got married, I was 18, but I felt as though I’d lived a lifetime before that even happened. It said 18 on my documentation, but in my head I was in my 40′s, most of my life lived – well, survived, and it was time to do something else. Most people are like, no, you can’t marry at 18, and I agree and feel bad about it until I realize, when I was 18, I wasn’t actually 18. I was much older than that – because I was forced and pushed into growing up well before I even had the ability to understand what everything meant.
When I was 8, until I was 18, I was given all of the responsibility of an adult, with none of the power. I often felt like the only adult in the situation, like I was the actual parent, but I had no ability to change things for myself or for my siblings.
My mom confided in me things that really she should have confided in other adults to – things I didn’t need to know and didn’t understand and had no idea how to respond to. You shouldn’t tell your kid about how you’re mad at their father, or what you do in the bedroom and how it’s sinful (because every sperm is sacred), but you just really don’t want to be pregnant again (and pulling out is SO effective) – bearing in mind, I still thought sex consisted of invisible metal tubes connecting at the belly button of the other person.
When Alex and I started going out, I wasn’t even 17, and they heard wedding bells. They wanted me married right away, it felt like I was being pushed out, which was strange, considering.
My parents wanted everything to move so quickly. They said “but you WANT to get married, right?” and I was like “sure, yeah, but not RIGHT NOW” (because, 16, even I knew that was a bad idea). They didn’t seem to understand the concept of time. They wanted me to grow up so fast and never experience having grown up.
I never had a relationship with my mom and I think this is largely why.
I was the parent. I was the confidant. I was the one who had all of the responsibility, the consequences, and the anger shoved on to. I bore the brunt of her frustrations and I was the one who was berated for simple mistakes.
In every way, I never had a mother. I was never her daughter, I was only ever her tool.
The only time my mom was ever sweet to me was when she was trying to butter me up and manipulate me.
So when people say they’re so sorry I never had a relationship with the person who made the choice to give birth to me (and then demanded my life in return), I stare at them blankly. I don’t understand why they would say that. It actually hurts, because it’s almost as though they’re blaming me for not having or wanting a mother-daughter relationship – like I’m unjustified in my relief to have finally left her grasp.
I’ve grown in odd patches, with massive gaps where experiences should be, but aren’t. Learning what to do with feelings, and learning what needs are (after not being allowed to have them, because adult…which is BS, actually, my mom had ALL OF THE NEEDS). I feel old, I look young, I have experience and naivety in all the wrong places.
I hate having had to fight for everything – whether it’s for childhood, or autonomy, or myself.
I am tired.
I don’t know what made me think of it – maybe it’s because it’s the holidays and I really want the gingerbread that we used to make, and that reminds me of the fact that holidays were chores and mostly unenjoyable, save christmas morning, and I get tired from the memories and the forced aging.
I feel like Benjamin Button.
I’m so sorry. Many, many tears.
My mother didn’t try to take over my life until after my dad died but after 8 years of trying to take care of her for no thanks, I finally had to cut her out of my life completely for my own sanity. Many people don’t understand that my survival was on the line.
Everything you’ve described — your mother confiding in you with inappropriate information, your parents using you as a third caregiver for your siblings — sounds like enmeshment. It was wrong of them to do that to you. I’m relieved that you’re free to live your life as you see fit now.
I know those feels.
I have suffered greatly in my life because of the way my mother treated me growing up. I have no relationship with my mother either because all I ever was to her was a therapist who was expected to have the right answers, a maid and a babysitter who worked for my food and lodging, and an emotional punching bag, for whenever she needed to yell at someone and make them feel lower than dirt. I’m sorry you had to go through this too, but I am thankful that you wrote this. It’s always good to know you’re not alone.
When I was teenager my mother became depressed and she selfmedicated her bad feelings and stress whit alcohol so became an alcoholic too. Those years were horrible. My mom was unpredictable and untrustwordy. I rememper thinking really hard what I need do cut her out of my life compleatly. Luckly my dad put his foot down and made my mom got help she needed.
Healing process has been long and it’s not over yet but for about year now I have been able have healty mother-daugher ralationship. It hasn’t been easy and I wouldn’t have done it without her saying and showing that she was sorry and has changed. Also that I live few hours away from home has helped a lot.
When I was telling about this experience to my therapist and he said that it was horrible that I got to a point were I wanted to cut my mother out. I do know what he ment but still I felt kinda hurt and accused.
So hopefully I can find wright words. I am sorry that you don’t have a mother whom you can have relationship whit. I really feel for you. While I am glad to have my mom now I do regred not geting away hurtfull situation earlier. What your mother did to you was wrong and it wasn’t your fault. Choosing to stay away from person that is negativily affecting your life is perfectly fine.
I know exactly what you mean. I’m almost 33, and I’m still learning about how to be young. It does get better…slowly.
Ugh, parentification sucks so much. *Here’s to goofiness and silliness!*
Like Susanna said, it does get better. At 36, I can finally say I’ve been a kid a little, and the weight of life has lifted, replaced with joy. Commit to experiencing life in all the many ways you can and it will get better!
Thank you… …just… thank you… It’s so hard not to despise and condemn others my age for being so much more immature than I am. So hard to make friends with young adults who act, in my eyes, like bratty children, and don’t know how to do the most basic things like cook for themselves. Things I did for my whole family of four by age eleven. So hard not to mother every single person I meet, simply because I already know how to find out the things they need for their career and life essentials. And thereby exhaust myself by over-mothering others, until I can’t even take care of my own basic needs. Needs? I am not allowed to have needs. I take great pride in not having needs. I don’t even “need” to eat, I can go weeks on half a jar of PB, rather than deny a friend a loan to get them through a rough time. I can’t even accept gifts comfortably, without guilt, because while my mother expected breakfast in bed on her birthday and Mother’s Day, she quit giving me gifts at age seven, because “we couldn’t afford it”.
So again, thank you for validating my experience as wrong, and not unique.
“I was given all of the responsibility of an adult, with none of the power.”
“I bore the brunt of her frustrations and I was the one who was berated for simple mistakes.”
“I was never her daughter; I was only ever her tool.”
Thank you for saying this. So many people used to admiringly comment to me: “I don’t know how your mother does it!”
She DIDN’T. All she had to do was make my sister and I completely terrified of displeasing her.
Some days she raged at us regardless.
C.S. Lewis must have met an early prototype of this kind of homeschooling mom:
“She’s the sort of woman who lives for others- you can tell the others by their hunted expression.”
I just wish my mom would have read C.S. Lewis’ humorous insights, instead of Michael Give-Me-Homeschooling-Or-Give-Me-Death Farris.
I hold the latter primarily responsible for my mother’s nobility complex.
Wow. Thank you, thank you! I’m tearing up right now. You just told my story. Every word of it. My mother never saw me as a child in need of friends and play time and time to be a teenager. I was a tool. I once confided in her how lonely I was because I had no friends. She said, “Why do you need friends? You have me?” I recently went back and read my 13-year-old journal and realized that if I as an adult knew this 13-year-old girl, I would call CPS. I was up at 4am every morning so I could get one hour to myself before everyone else started waking up. From 5 on I was cooking breakfast, getting kids dressed, grading homeschool work, cleaning, cooking lunch, doing laundry, more cleaning, cooking supper, reading to the kids, etc. I basically got NO highschool education, and what little I did get, I had to teach myself – before 5am every morning. Now, as an adult with an amazing husband who is constantly reminding me to take care of myself and pamper myself and be the kid I didn’t get to be, I’m reliving my teenage years. It’s so backwards, but wow does it feel good!
I hear you. I can relate in some ways, but my mom stayed mom. Space is a wonderful thing.
This is almost the same as my story. I had seven younger siblings and I was the one mothering them from about the age of 10 until 22, when I finally got to go serve at a “Christian ministry.” Now, at 32, no one understands why I don’t want kids, but just want to date, enjoy my career, and travel. Well, go figure. I was forced to parent from a young age; now I want to enjoy my freedom.
This site is amazing.
Barring the sexual confidences described, I just heard my life story from someone of the opposite sex that I’ve never even met…
I am so, so sorry.
My childhood was the same — adult responsibilities, emotional enmeshment, teenage engagement and marriage, the whole thing.
I had children of my own by my early twenties, though, so I went directly from being pseudo-mom to being a real mom with no break in between. I’m tired too. I’ve been a middle-aged isolated SAHM since I was eight, and it’s draining me more and more every day. I was burnt out on motherhood many years before I actually became a mother, and that is fiercely unfair to my children (and to me). I hate it.
This makes me so sad.
I feel the pressure of marriage-I’m a month away from 17 and both my sisters got married at 18. I have no desire to marry in a year. The jokes come up though, from my sisters’ husbands or my parents that I have a year left of freedom.
I feel the pain of when a parent confides in you as a child as well.
I feel it so much.
My mother confided in my sisters and I about how she was angry at our father, or the troubles with money, or how her crazy sister was bothering her. We were kids. She shouldn’t have done that.
I think it might be part of the reason why my older sisters and my father fought throughout all their teenage years. They’d fight every day.
I went through a period where I was very afraid of my father and resented him.
When I was younger, I felt so bad asking my parents for extra things like new shoes, or money to go on a church trip. To this day, any time an opportunity comes up I feel so guilty for asking my parents.
My father wasn’t much better in that regard.
He would come to me after he and my sisters fought and rant to me about how terrible they were or how disrespectful they were. Keeping in mind that I was homeschooled and my sisters were really the only friends I had.
And if their fights took place in front of me, he’d drag me into it and get angry at me for crying.
On the other side, you had my sisters confiding in me after they fought too.
Their fights were awful. My second oldest sister and he still do not have a good relationship to this day. The difference between she and my other sister was that she has spunk. If she felt a punishment was unfair, you damn best believe that she was going to fight it to the bitter end.
I remember a couple of really bad instances. One was when Sister’s friends invited both her and I out to watch a movie with them. I was really excited and so was she, until our father said that we could not go because, well, he spent all of Sister’s teenage years being angry with her.
She argued this. Respectfully and intelligently. It escalated into a full on screaming match with both of them saying nasty things to each other.
I was bawling off to the side, knowing that I’d have to be the confidant for both people that I loved so much.
Another was when Sister and my father were out driving. Well, Sister stormed inside earlier than we expected her, and she was crying.
My mother and I were baffled, but it was eerie. We knew not to ask at this point, but I was actually scared to find out what had happened.
I learned later from my pissed off mother that my father had fought with Sister in the car. Not unusal, but he said something that was terrible.
“If I wasn’t a Christian, I would beat the crap out of you.”
He was always so disappointed in her-which I never got because she was great.
She was in all honors/AP classes, held a job, was part of the honor choir, and held a relationship with the man who would eventually become her husband.
So I definitely understand the pain felt when a parent confides in a child.
(Wow, I’m so sorry. Not trying to draw attention away, but I just really needed to get that off my chest.)