Acknowledging fucked up parenting.

5 min readDec 11, 2022

‘That must have been really painful and confusing’, the therapists used to say, when I showed the letters and told them about the phone calls.

I just shrugged.

‘Nah, not really’, I answered consistently.

And I thought that was a good sign.

Strong, healthy, like I was very much over it.

Boy was I wrong.

My feelings about it have been buried SO deeply, that it’s a miracle they’re even coming up right now.

But they are.

Let’s skip the part where I say my parents loved me (they probably did).

Let’s forget, for now, that their childhoods were very hard and shameful and harsh and really, really cold (because they were).

Let’s also not talk about the good things they taught me and the moments of fun and even happiness we shared (they definitely exist).

No, for once, let’s focus on how fucking crazy, unreliable, and inconsistent they were, how conditional their love and attention were, and how much that hurt and confused me.

Because it did.

One part of their craziness (maybe I’ll cover more of my childhood weirdness one day), consists of their letters.

Letters that, when I showed them to a very seasoned and unflinching psychiatrist once, shocked her in a profound way (of course I just shrugged).

Letters full of madness, ambivalence, meanness, victimhood, darkness, and an endless amount of blaming and shaming.

My mom and dad were always SO disappointed.

How could I do this to them (where ‘this’ stood for many different things)?

They never did anything wrong, so why did my sister and I treat them the way we did?

They had given us EVERYTHING, and this was our way to thank them?

Mixed in with all the judgments and the vile and the vomit, were parts that somehow mimicked appreciation and tenderness and pride.

But if they praised us for something, that was always because of them, because of what they did and how they did it, and how much they suffered for us.

My parents and I broke up at least a hundred times, and then made up again.

Sometimes within weeks, sometimes after years.

Inevitably, though, their cancerous disappointment crept back in, and before we knew it, they started their famous expectation campaigns again.

Whatever I or my sister did or didn’t do, no matter how and how often we responded, no matter how hard we tried, it was never enough, mostly because they constantly changed the rules of the game (so they could feel disappointed again).

Besides the letters they wrote over the years, they also liked to call us on a regular basis and leave messages on our answering machines, or as voicemails.

In the end, it was around twice a year, mostly just before my birthday and then at some random point in time when the alcohol had somehow brought them to go for it and not hold back.

After decades of crap I simply didn’t pick up the phone anymore, and the sessions escalated in the same way, over and over again.

Call one was like listening to liquid candy.

Nothing but ‘we miss you’ and ‘how are you!’ and ‘we really don’t understand what we did wrong and your mom is so sad’ and ‘we’re so proud of you, with the books and the ad agency and the songwriting, bravo!’

Call two, which came half an hour or so later, was a little bit more distressed and teasing and provocative.

And then the madness started seeping in, always, and call three, four, and five culminated in absolute hell through a phone line.

I should be ashamed of myself.

I was nothing but a deep disappointment.

My success was a sign of how shallow I was, and ‘who the fuck did I think I was anyway!’

And there was more, much, much more, and it just kept coming from a wasted dad who was also an actor with a vivid imagination, and now couldn’t stop screaming until his voice became coarse and he got exhausted.

I could almost see him foaming at the mouth, spitting saliva, the way he always did when anger took over his body and mind and he was absorbed by rage.

In the back, I could hear my mom, intoxicated as fuck, either directing him and guiding him in what to say, or just lost in her own world.

Like they both were.

They threatened me.

They cursed me.

They called me more names than I could come up with in a week.

They insulted me, belittled me, mocked me, and told me over and over again that I was the absolute lowest of the lowest who deserved to rot in hell.

Two very erudite and socially capable people, essentially.

My mom and dad.

Mister and Mrs. Mood Swing.

The man and woman who were supposed to teach me life’s values and healthy beliefs, who were supposed to show me what trust and integrity and abundance and kindness and love actually mean, and how a solid romantic relationship works.

‘That must have been really painful and confusing.’

Yes, it was.

Very much so.

And I KNOW it was, because I can hardly remember most of it, and if I can, I just make fun of its extreme craziness.

And then I shrug.

Not a good sign, not, fucking, good.

I don’t think I’m telling this to mess with my mom and dad, or maybe I am, a little (the fact is, though, that she is deceased and he is mostly lost in Alzheimer’s, so they probably won’t care).

I’m telling it so I can finally acknowledge it for the absolute disaster that it was, and start to understand why I am so messed up in so many ways.

It just makes sense.

I learned from the best.

I learned from the saddest, the loneliest, the most jealous, the least adult, the most unreliable, the least trustworthy, the angriest, and the most insecure.

And they taught me well.

This is not supposed to be about blame (and if it is that’s one of their proudest traits, to begin with), but more about the impact it had on my life.

I really have no idea what this actually did to me and what my psychological foundation looks like, but I can see the world it creates.

And that’s really painful and confusing.

(Photo by @artfilm, for Unsplash)




Marnix Pauwels. Author. Transformative Coach. Slowly getting to the place he never left. Exploring awe. How about simplicity?