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Caring for Parents Who Didn’t Care for You

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Caring for Parents Who Didn’t Care for You

By Carol Bradley Bursack,

Last week, a journalist (we’ll call her Nancy) wanted to interview me about some caregiving issues. We chatted a bit about the article she was writing and she got some quotes. During the talk, we bonded.

As Nancy talked, she described the turmoil she is facing as her parents age. I was able to assure her that she is not alone in her feelings. She grew up with an abusive mother. The abuse was physical as well as emotional. Her father was gone much of the time, doing what most men of that generation did. He was making a living for his family and that was his role as he saw it. He wasn’t around much and didn’t “interfere” with the raising of the children.

Now her parents are getting frail. Nancy had been through a lot of therapy so she could learn to cope with her childhood issues. She’s come to terms with the fact that her father did what he thought he was supposed to do. She rightly felt, as a child, that he should recognize and stop the abuse her mother was doling out. Through therapy, she has learned to forgive her father for his lack of involvement and the fact that he didn’t stop the abuse.

She’s learned that he likely didn’t know about a lot of it. She’s also learned that he probably was in denial about what he did suspect, because he really didn’t know what to do. He was wrong, but she’s managed to forgive him for what he didn’t know, and for what he didn’t do about what he did know. Part of this is that her father recognizes where he failed. As he ages and he’s the one who is showing the need for care at this point she feels she is capable of caring for him, in some “hands-on” capacity.

Nancy’s even formed a bond with him, and though a bit envious about the fact that he’s become a terrific grandfather to her children (the dad she didn’t have), she is also happy that the bond is there for all of their sakes.

The issue remains that her mother will not admit to having been abusive. Nancy is willing to work on the issue with her mother and a counselor, but her mother totally denies any abuse. Whether this denial is conscious or “selective memory” doesn’t matter to Nancy. She was abused as a child and she wants her mother to admit it and work on it. She wants to see the cycle broken.

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Caring for Parents Who Didn’t Care for You originally appeared

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2:58PM PDT on May 7, 2013

Forgivness is hard, but can be done, to forget is extremely difficult. To care for parents, friends, etc that has mistreated and abused one all their life one way or another takes a lot of strength and power, and for those who have gone through such horrible experience, I take my hat off to you. It's by the grace of God I was able to forgive someone too, no, actually several people but I will never forget. It's a scare you wear forever.

11:30AM PDT on May 7, 2013

Don't get me started, but I forgave my parents when I younger. I also looked after both of them or saw to their care until they passed away. Love you mom and dad, always

8:27PM PDT on May 3, 2013

I'm impressed by all these comments from people who have been abused by those who should take care of them. I understand this pain, and from the bottom of heart I wish everyone find peace.

7:30PM PDT on May 3, 2013

Thank you.

11:30AM PDT on Jun 16, 2012

Certainly forgiveness.
But that does not mean one has to return to that person and let them continue the bad behaviors upon them.
When there was poor parenting, Forgiveness helps the child survive.

Where it can go terribly wrong,
is when the dysfunctional parents keep thinking [and sometimes twisted family members, too], that the abused or neglected child should then be fine returning to the nest where bad behaviors continue unabated, or worse.

4:44AM PDT on Jun 16, 2012

Best to forgive, but the road to forgiveness is a difficult one at times. Counseling helps.

9:06AM PDT on Jun 13, 2012

I took care of an emotionally cold mother, a physically and emotionally abusive dad who told me he never wanted me the whole time I grew up, a grandfather who molested me since I was in diapers and a grandmother who was cruel to me and blamed me for what he did and though she knew, refused to turn him in because it would force her to feel ashamed in their small town and to have to go to work. Why? Because that is who and what I am. I am better than what they were. I have mercy and compassion. That is just me.

7:55PM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

Wow. These comments really hit home.

7:35PM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

I forgave and forgave, and forgave some more--even forgave her as she left out the door for the last time. Was called foul names by siblings, accused of foul things by Mom and then those got re-played by siblings and the games continued. Have been threatened in subtle ways that keep us guessing whether and what will hit us next.
Mom just kept doing what she does so well, re-installing and drilling in her best, most dysfunctional Mal-ware, so to speak.
You know--some Mal-ware can damage the hardware--that has been proven true in humans, and in computers [hence the analogy].
Now that Mom is OUT of our home, time will tell how much healing can happen, or whether we just keep shutting out that part of my family by way of protecting ourselves from further hurt. Distance and quiet can help forgiveness. But under our circumstances, she is no longer welcome to return and do more damage
--neither are my siblings who keep re-playing Mom's games to keep twisting the knife.
Yes, I did forgive her for how our growing up was.
I learned how to do that as a small child, since I totally recognized how sick Mom has been all her life. She could only do things how she could, based on her growing up and her mental ills. I never faulted her for that at all.
It was the behaviors that kept returning to do more damage, and me repeatedly getting suckered back into those games, that was the problem...each time I tried to put space between the problem and myself, I got drawn back in

6:32PM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

My mother was neglectful and verbally abusive for my entire childhood. She kicked me out of the house on my 18th birthday because she didn't want me. She didn't care for me, apparently didn't like me and really didn't want to be a mom at all. Fortunately my Dad was awesome.

Over the decades, I've been through several sessions of counseling, forgave as best as I could and learned to have a decent relationship with my mother as an adult. I know my grandparents weren't perfect. BUT, there are things I just can't forget. Now that my mother is elderly and totally dependent upon me, I find that deep in my heart it is difficult to muster the compassion and sacrifice it takes to take care her. Beyond meeting her basic needs, I just can't go further. I pay for her care rather than do most of it myself --- and you know what? I DON'T FEEL GUILTY. I am doing what is right for me and right for my family. Too bad, but Mom gets what's left of me after family and career - and that isn't much. My husband and daughter are the ones that count, and I'd rather spend my daughter's childhood years loving and caring for her than being exhausted and emotionally spent by my complete inability to satisfy my mother's wants.

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