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Holden_Caulfield's avatar

How do you tell one or both of your parents that they have failed you?

Asked by Holden_Caulfield (1139 points ) February 3rd, 2010

So we all have issues that are a result of our childhood… our environment growing up. It shaped who we are and how we form relationships and relate to others as adults. We are all a product of our environment and though me must hold ourselves accountable for our actions and behaviors… there are some inherent characteristics in us that we must work on to overcome. Have you ever had to to tell your parents they failed you in some way? How did you do it? What was the outcome?!?

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60 Answers

filmfann's avatar

Don’t.
It can do no good. Not for them. Not for you.
Take the knowledge, though, and use it to make yourself a better person.
Good luck.

timtrueman's avatar

I moved on rather than go through that drama…I think that’s sufficient (and fair).

Likeradar's avatar

I’ve never had to, but I did. My parents are very open, smart people, and like to talk about the family. About a year ago they essentially asked me this very question (“how do you think we failed you?”) and wouldn’t let me get away with coming up with nothing.

So I told them. I told them that they handled the cross-country move we did when I was 14 really terribly in reference to helping me, and I told them why and the effect it has had on my life and the way I deal with things. I also told my mom that the way she handled the most difficult situation of my life when I was 22 was really poor as well, and I told her why and what I wish had happened and how it’s impacted me.

I have great, loving, well intentioned parents. On one hand it was hard to tell them those things, because I know they really put their all into parenting. On the other hand, it felt good to clear the air, express myself, hear their sides, and actually get an apology about some issues. There were some tears on both sides, but all in all it was really nice.

EdMayhew's avatar

You’re stil here, you’re still alive, they have not failed. You may feel that things might have turned out differently for you had they had more time/love/money but it’s too late to dwell on that now.

Many people have less than what you have, and most of them deal with it just fine.

@filmfann has a very strong point.

xx

chyna's avatar

When I was in 5th grade I had a very bad ear ache that went on for a long time. I went to bed crying each night for about a month. My mom never took me to the doctor and as a result, I lost some of the hearing in one ear. She thought that by pouring peroxide down my ear should cure it. What was really stupid is they had insurance to cover doctor visits. Years later, I told her that by not taking me to the doctor, I lost some hearing in my ear and wanted to know why she didn’t get me medical help. She was absolutely shocked. She had no idea. And to this day, her reaction makes me ashamed that I said anything to her. She cried. It didn’t make me feel better.

stardust's avatar

I think that’s a pain-staking road to go down. If you feel very strongly about t, maybe some counselling would help you to work through things and then let it all go. At the end of the day, we’re all here on our own path.

wundayatta's avatar

You don’t tell them.

I’ve been discovering what my parents did to me, but that was 50 years ago. It’s my problem. They can’t help. They won’t remember. They could hurt by denying. They could be hurt, and for what? So I could get some kind of revenge?

Nope. What we want is to learn how to cope with the consequences. That’s on us. They can’t help. They might validate the experience, but again, so what? Will an apology help anything? I don’t see how. We’re still left with our own problems that we have to cope with on our own.

My parents abandoned me emotionally, and I’ve been reacting to that all my life—with a terrible hunger for love. It makes me do all kinds of things to feed it’s ravening maw. I’ll cope or I won’t. I’ll feel better or I won’t. I’ll learn that I am valuable or I won’t. I’ll learn that I am loved or I won’t. Nothing to do with them. Nothing to do with anyone now, except those who have the same experience, or those who have something to teach about how to cope.

ubersiren's avatar

Unless that parent was abusive or abandoned you, I wouldn’t say anything. If they were, give them an ear full. But, if they just simply weren’t the best parents in the world, it won’t change anything except you may upset them. Maybe you can talk to someone to make yourself feel better, but unless you truly hate your parent(s) and need to confront them about something serious, it won’t do much good.

SeventhSense's avatar

I agree with @filmfann. If you don’t have parents @Likeradar then little good will come from it. And it may in fact cloud the issue for you. Use the information to adapt and find some closure and new coping mechanisms in regards to your relating to them. No response will ever be significant enough to make a difference in that which was lost in your childhood. It’s not possible. What you need to do now is find a means to be a good parent to yourself with the knowledge you have and forgiveness for their fallibility.

kheredia's avatar

I don’t think you should hold your parents accountable for your mistakes. Even if you feel that they failed you in any way.. you become a grown up and you move on. You will get no where by pointing the finger at someone else. No parent is perfect and therefore no child is perfect either. All that is left is the will power to become a better person even with your imperfections. By telling them they failed as parents you will only be hurting them.. if that is what you want then go ahead.

trailsillustrated's avatar

don’t. please don’t. it won’t help anything, and you’ll understand and feel differently when your older. this is true

life_after_2012's avatar

i wouldn’t even give them any reason to think they failed me. if they are having more children i might bring up some things they could do diffrent, but if they dont plan on having anymore kids then i will just forgive and let live.

Trillian's avatar

Well I did it with my dad but I was provoked into it. When I was in Guam he kept writing me these letters about how crappy he thought my life was. I finally wrote back and pointed out that I had indeed made poor life decisions and they were my responsibility however, they were made on poor foundations and desires for nothing more than to get away from a very bad home life. I also said that my life had improved through my own diligence and subsequent decisions, and that I was a stronger person as a result and that those issues need never be aired again. I never came out and stated that he was the cause but I can say what I mean without saying it, if that makes any sense. Since then, I talk with him, but it’s more like he’s just someone that I know, not my “loving father”.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I don’t know what to tell you. I had a lot of words here, but what it boils down to is, be very careful. You want to maintain a relationship with your parents, as best you can. It’s not been possible in my case, and it’s pained me for years.

laureth's avatar

Take my entire comment with a grain of salt. I waited before answering, and my answer may very well not be what you need.

I don’t tell Mom that she failed by my words, at least not any more. I show her by my actions. When I was growing up, it was an abusive situation. I wanted out badly. For weeks before I graduated high school, I moved few possessions every week when I went to visit my grandparents, hidden with the laundry I took over. The day after I graduated high school, I left for good. We didn’t speak for three years. I didn’t have to really say anything – I think the message got across.

After we started speaking again, things lightened up for a number of years because she realized I was not her baby anymore. We needed a clean break to make that possible. It was fine for a long time until she started crap again. Not physically abusive, but game playing. It came to a head one day at a family gathering when she didn’t like something I did so she hit me in the back of the head. When I told her she was not to hit me ever again (I was in my 30s at the time), and that I was now big enough to stand up for myself this time, she pulled out her knife. Things have been tense at best in the few years since this has happened.

Like people up there said, if you want to remain on good terms with a non-abusive parent, do not do what I have done. If you need to end contact with one who is abusive, though, it may be best to show this by actions, not necessarily words. Just pull away.

SeventhSense's avatar

@aprilsimnel
I’ve shared many things I regret also. Awareness is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow.

MissAusten's avatar

There have been times when I’ve been very tempted to tell my parents (my mother in particular) what I think of her parenting “skills.” When she starts to go on and on about what a great mom she was or that my brother and I had perfect childhoods, I really have to bite my tongue. There’s no point in bringing up past wrongs, and I don’t think it would make me feel better. It’s not going to change anything and she would be the last person to admit to being less than perfect, let alone apologize. So, I just keep my mouth shut and remind myself that I’ve learned a lot about what not to do with my own children.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@SeventhSense – My guardian’s much like @laureth,‘s unfortunately, and my birth parents were never in my life, so I feel at least @Holden_Caulfield has an opportunity to make her relationship with her parents better.

Just approach it like an adult, @Holden_Caulfield. Whatever they did they can’t take back, they did the best they could, and if it can be hashed out in an adult manner and the relationship can be better, then I hope that’s what occurs in your situation.

SeventhSense's avatar

@aprilsimnel
The problem is that even in cases where there is an apparent open dialogue it’s not as clear cut as one imagines. Wanting to know how someone could have been a different parent is one thing but actually hearing about ones faults and accepting them is a whole other matter and takes a deep willingness on both parties to change the relationship. And the problem is that the child is always at a distinct disadvantage and the parent has to acknowledge a profound desire to listen and be receptive. The fallout and capacity to deeply wound or be wounded further is always a possibility on both sides.

Jennarae919's avatar

I know how you feel. I think it is common to someone to wonder if problems they are have now are related to mistakes their parents made. To be honest, that could very well be the case. We are all wounded in some way.

Telling your parents they failed you probably won’t make you feel better. I don’t know your specific situation, but in most cases making someone feel bad in turn makes you feel bad too. I would say write a letter to your parents about how you feel.. you may want to send it or you may want to keep it in a box in your closet. Getting those feelings out is what is going to make you feel better. Work on healing yourself and one day you will be able to forgive your parents.

trailsillustrated's avatar

depends on what happened. it might have been out of their control. I lost my children when they were 8. Yes, I made some bad mistakes, I had really bad judgement. They were not phyiscally abused- now we are close and my daughter is coming back to me- I was abandoned myself as a child and now I have an old, old, father who is very sorry. It all comes out in the end- wait, wait. It isn’t the answer, doing the best you can and being healthy as you can is the best you can do. ( people reflect, they know what they did)

lostinyoureyes's avatar

I often tell my mom that my social anxiety was caused by her sheltering me from certain situations… but she always says “Don’t you dare blame me for your unhappiness!” And she’s right, I shouldn’t. In so many other ways she is the best mom ever. No parent is perfect, they just try their hardest and give you unconditional love. Social anxiety has given me a perspective that makes me who I am. We’re all different because of our upbringings and that’s what makes us special.

Though when it comes to abuse and such things… I don’t have the knowledge nor experience to comment.

cookieman's avatar

After my father died, fifteen months ago, I tried to discuss my mother’s deceptive, manipulative and abusive behavior with her.

I learned very quickly what everyone above has been saying – it gets you nowhere.

So after being given an ultimatum, I shifted gears adopted @laureth‘s route – I pulled away.

You can’t change them and it’s unfair to expect your words will have any poitive impact on their behavior. But you don’t have to keep putting your head in the lion’s mouth either.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Part of becoming truly mature is forgiving your parents for being less than perfect. I know because I’ve asked all five of mine to forgive me for being less than perfect, for being preoccupied with making a living and thus not spending more time with them, for being abrupt with them when it was uncalled for, for punishing them more severely than the offense may have warranted… the list is long. Please forgive your parents, if not for their sakes, at least for your own sake. Unforgiveness brings forth resentment, resentment gives birth to bitterness, and bitterness can kill you… literally! You’ll never regret forgiving.

augustlan's avatar

I have to say that it really depends on the specific “failure”. If it’s one of the many that befall most people at one time or another (over protective, workaholic, stupidity, etc), then I think it’s best to let that lie… accept it and move on. On the other hand, if it’s a massive failure (abuse, serious neglect), I think it has to be dealt with in some way. In my case, the issue was of the massive type. I tried to address it with my mother on a number of occasions, and got nowhere fast. In the end, I had to break off my relationship with her altogether. As @cprevite said, sometimes you just have to remove yourself from the situation.

Seek's avatar

Well, with me, it built up for a long time. I kept silent for… well… many years. When I was 21, I finally just came out with it.

I had no intention of trying to carry on a relationship with my mother. She disgusts me as a human being. The sight of her face revolts me. She embodies everything I aim not to become in my life.

So one day, I just told her – when she (a jobless woman running away from her marriage, mooching off her mother) ordered me (a married woman living in her own house with a respectable job) to perform some menial task, then threatened to separate me from my little sister for not performing it – that what she was doing was disgusting. That how she used her children like servants was vile. How she is under the impression the world owed her something, when she contributed less than nothing to anyone, other than heartache and abuse. That she went out of her way to make miserable the lives of the very people she was charged by the universe to protect and nurture.

It got me a few bruises, some minor blood loss, and the alienation of my blood- and step-families, but I never have to see that woman again (thank you, Hernando County judge!) All in all, I came out on top.

Forgiveness went on far too long – to the detriment of my own sanity (I’m sure of it). I’ve learned that life is far too short to carry the burden of poisonous people.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@augustlan and @Seek_Kolinahr

Forgiveness is primarily for the one doing the forgiving. It does not mean you cave in to the one you’re forgiving. It does not mean you have to forget. It does not mean you have to remain in a totally untennable position. it DOES mean that YOU have taken a positive step in your life to forgive someone you feel ( or know! ) has wronged you. It frees you to move on with your life.

augustlan's avatar

@CaptainHarley I agree. I wish my mother no ill-will at all. I just can’t maintain contact with her, for my own sanity.

@Seek_Kolinahr You got there a lot faster than I did… I couldn’t do it until my mid thirties!

Seek's avatar

@CaptainHarley

What exactly is your definition of “forgiveness”?

Because in my mind, forgiving is saying “I’m OK with what you did to me.” That will never happen. It was not OK. It will never be OK.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@augustlan

I understand. My own father use to use his fists on me ( long story ), and blatantly favored my seven-years-younger step-brother over me. I finally forgave him in my heart after I had spent a number of years as a father myself. I obviously no longer lived with him, and I never even tried to forget ( mostly so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes ), but I did forgive.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr

( Please see above )

Seek's avatar

… That does not give me an explanation.

SeventhSense's avatar

Forgiveness is about releasing any bitterness in your heart. It’s a highly subjective thing with each person. Only you can answer that.

augustlan's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I know exactly what you mean… I felt the same way about forgiving. What I’ve decided though, is that what it means to me is that I’m done dwelling on it. I’m done hating because of it. Not really the same as the traditional definition of forgiveness. I’m at peace with my past, and with my decision to not see her anymore.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr

The usual definition of forgiveness is very hard for most of us to swallow. How can you forget the unforgettable? How can you forgive the unforgivable? To enjoy the benefits of forgiveness, however, we needn’t go that far. All that’s really required is that we make the decision to move forward, to let go of the old hurts. We don’t have to condone what’s been done. What’s wrong is still wrong. We don’t have to invite the person back into our lives or even be friendly with them. What we do have to do is allow ourselves to release all the negative emotions associated with that person. As long as we hold onto the pain, we are choosing to allow that person’s past actions to continue to hurt us. We can also choose to stop letting them hurt us. That’s a definition of forgiveness that’s more doable for those of us who are less than saintly.

Adapted from http://depression.about.com/od/copingskills/a/forgiveness.htm

Seek's avatar

Can someone please define the word “forgiveness” without using the word “forgiveness”?

Here, I’ll try.

Princeton.edu says it means “the act of excusing a mistake or offense”
It defines “excuse” as “a defense of some offensive behavior”

There is no defense, and thus, no forgiveness.

From what I can gather, no one is really “forgiving” at all, in this conversation. You’re attaching the word “forgiveness” to your own desire to put past hurts to the back of your mind and not dwell on them.

We all do that.

SeventhSense's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr
But then you carry it around like a weight around your neck and it comes out in myriad different forms and adds to your collective suffering. When you truly have insight you realize that everyone always does the best they can with the information they have at any given time. We are all victims in one form or another.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Forgiveness is a letting go, a feeling of compassion toward one who has hurt you sufficient to release negative feelings involving that other. That is the best definition I can offer you.

Seek's avatar

Having read that article, I think it’s a huge crock.

“Forgiveness. It’s such a hard thing to do, but it can be so liberating to the soul.”

What is a soul? Do I want it liberated? Was this article written (as I could guess it was) by a person of strong religious conviction? Religion is really hung-up on this whole “forgiveness” thing.

It’s in my best interest to remember the wrong done to me, so I do not allow it to be repeated.

I do not forgive the sun for burning me, I put on a hat and sunscreen and stay the hell out of it whenever it’s reasonable.

augustlan's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I truly understand the pain you’re dealing with. I was in it for way too long myself.

For what it’s worth, I’m not religious in any way, and “forgiveness” probably is the wrong word to describe what we’re talking about… I certainly don’t excuse what my mother did (or more accurately, didn’t do). I just finally reached a point where I more or less pitied her rather than hated her. If you ever want to talk, please feel free to PM me.

SeventhSense's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr
As the most religious have always used it as part of their practice I guess you’re right. As a means to dismiss it outright that is of course your prerogative. The role of forgiveness is connected to the understanding of people’s social interdependence by almost every great teacher from Buddha to Jesus. Tich Nat Hahn was a Buddhist Monk in Vietnam who watched as his brothers were burned alive all around him but yet offers his compassion today to American Veterans at Plum Village in France. Through great suffering is born great compassion.

“Reconciliation is to understand both sides; to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.”
Tich Nat Hahn

lfino's avatar

My nephew did this to my brother at the suggestion supposedly of some type of counselor. Yes, there were problems in the family that started waaayyyy back when he was an infant. His mother physically and mentally abused him (late 1960;s), he felt abandoned by his father because he was always gone because of work, he lived with my mom and dad most of the time until his mother decided she loved him again, and on and on…so he told my brother about five years ago what a crappy job he did as a father literally out of the blue one day in front of me and my brother. If you could have seen the look on my brother’s face – he was absolutely devastated. They’ve never had a relationship since then. My nephew did the same thing with the grandparents on his mom’s side, pretty much did the same with me, and none of us have any idea where he is to this day. I think about him a lot. He used to be more like my little brother than a nephew because we were close in age and because he lived with us for so many years, but in the end “nobody had done enough for him”. I’m sure he did this because it was supposed to have made him feel better about something, but I can’t say it probably did the trick.

borderline_blonde's avatar

I wouldn’t go there. I’ve thought of saying a million things to my dad over the years, but I came to a point where I realized that my parents are people, too (yeah, that freaked me out!) and just as capable of making mistakes as I am. No parents are perfect, and everyone ends up flawed in some way because of how they were raised. So as I see it, unless they did something really, really awful (and I mean they should have been thrown in jail awful), then it’s better to just take responsibility for who you are as an adult and let it go. Bury the hatchet.

kheredia's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I can tell from everything you’ve written that you still have a lot of hate toward your mother and you don’t seem to want to let that go. In my opinion, you’re only hurting yourself by doing this. Your mother, where ever she is, is not feeling any pain or remorse because of how you feel about her. It is you and only you who is living your life with this burden over your shoulders. I don’t know the pain that that woman caused in your life but do you really think it is worth it for you to keep picking at that wound? For your own good, I think you should accept that part of your life as something that just happened and move on so that you can live in peace. Nobody is asking you to have a relationship with your mother. Simply accept that she made a mistake that caused you a lot of pain at that time but don’t let it continue to hurt you now. It saddens me to see someone live with so much hate and I hope you can overcome that soon not to give your mother peace but to give yourself peace.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@kheredia

Truly excellent answer! : ))

augustlan's avatar

Counseling really helped me reach that point.

susanc's avatar

Forgiveness can happen after the dust settles. @Seek_Kolinahr did what she had to do. She didn’t do it for fun. She did it for survival. First things first.

Janka's avatar

My first reaction was the same as many others’: don’t. Just move on.

But I think how you tell them depends on why you would tell them. Are they asking? Do you want revenge? Etc.

Seek's avatar

“Moving on” and “forgiveness” are not mutually exclusive. I have moved on. I have not forgiven, nor do I intend to. The woman is far away from me, is never allowed to contact me again. My job is done. She can become a millionaire and live a happy life, or rot in whatever hell exists for her. I couldn’t care less.

Pandora's avatar

Some people will see their childhood different from what it actually was to make excuses of why they are such a failure. My brother all through his life blamed everything on how much my mother favored my middle brother. But truth be told he was always quite a bit angry about everything and anything and he never saw the rest of us had a happy childhood because we weren’t looking for the world to land on our lap. My parents where not rich and he wasn’t happy not being able to keep up the the Jones’s.
Some children make their own misery well into adulthood. My brother is 52, an alcholic and still blames my mom and my brother for all his misfortune. She wasn’t the best mom in the world but she wasn’t the worst. She did the best she could with the knowledge she had. She had a tough up bringing so she found it difficult to share her emotions. Parents are like everyone else. They are not perfect and have plenty of flaws.
Unless you parents where drug abusers, or physically abused you or your siblings or where extremely neglectful then you should let it go. If they were any of the things mentioned and you are in some 12 step program and need this to finally let things go than by all means confront them and move on. They only have control over your life as an adult if you allow it to be so. And if you let bitterness devour you, they win and you lose. You have control over the rest of your life and nobody else.
I hope this helps.

SeventhSense's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr
or rot in whatever hell exists for her. I couldn’t care less
This sentiment implies that there is a large investment you still have in this and it’s far from neutral in your life. No longer are you a victim of her, you are a victim of your own attachment.

Silhouette's avatar

No, I’m not a big fan of the blame game. What would be the point? Mom, dad, you failed me. Now what?

Likeradar's avatar

@Silhouette If you have the kind of parents that would be open to talking about it,the point is that it can be helpful. I thought my parents completely fell down in one area of my life. In talking to them about it, I got their side, and heard about some behind-the-scenes things I didn’t know about. I still think they failed me, but I learned they tried their hardest. And that helped me get over some resentment.

Silhouette's avatar

@Likeradar I’m glad it all worked out for you.

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

My parents got divorced when I was 4. My dad got my sister and I. Around the age of 8 or 9, I was doing all my own laundry, cooking (I had the recipie for cornbread memorized), schoolwork. I got myself to school and home, got up in the morning, made my own curfew. But it was mostly about his girlfriend. Horrible woman. When I was 13, I told my dad, I didn’t want to live with him anymore and that I was going to live with my mom. Who is glorious, BTW. He defended his girlfriend and went up to my room to help me pack. Worst day of my life. BUT, if I hadn’t I would have grown up miserable and full of hate, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I like who I am and I am proud of what I’ve done. Also, I’ve learned from that experience that you need to be honest with people. Find a positive way to get your point across without making a mess.

stardust's avatar

@kheredia excellent answer :)

hippigirl's avatar

I wrote my mother a long, not nice letter. She never responded, because I didn’t put a return address on it. The last 20 years since I escaped, I mean moved out, have been wonderful, and hopefully the next 20 will be the same. She knows she was selfish & cruel. She knows she didn’t protect me from her abusive, psychotic husband. She knows she blatantly treated her other 2 kids (that she had with the psycho) better. I hope that man she chose over me was worth it. I finally got to have the last word, and I do feel better. Get those feelings out of you.

stardust's avatar

@py_sue Wow, good for you. I’m glad it worked out well for you.

augustlan's avatar

@hippigirl Welcome to Fluther. Your story sounds a lot like mine.

jazmina88's avatar

we learn alot through our experience, and much of it is so painful. the key for me, is to digest it, ruminate on it and become a better person from it. protecting myself and trying not to hurt others.
That’s how I grow psychologically and spiritually, i hope.
write a letter, then burn it.

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