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"My parents did their best" - Really, even though it was emotionally and physically abusive?

(196 Posts)
ananimous Mon 03-Feb-20 14:49:07

"My parents did their best"
I was interested to read this recently, and it got me thinking...
I wonder if this is just a convenient let-off clause.

Is this the same as a drunk getting into a car, and then causing an accident - They cannot say "well I was drunk and did not know what I was doing, so you can't hold it against me!". The drunk is still held accountable for the damage/injury, whether they were competent to drive or not.

If it serves to ignore their toxicity in the present day, dysfunction can and usually will continue.

I think accountability is only a small part of dismantling dysfunction, but without that initial self-introspection, the toxic bubble stays intact.

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 15:08:32

Its not mutually exclusive.

You can recognise that your abuser wasnt just born that way, they may have suffered trauma/abuse that made them unable to have healthy relationships.

Whilst also rejecting their behaviour towards you as unacceptable

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 15:10:26

I dont think it helps to see people as good or bad, villan or angel.

Some truely terrible parents do try hard in their own way.

Accepting the "shades of grey" is important otherwise its hard to reconcile the moments of abuse with other moments of kindness

vampirequeen Mon 03-Feb-20 15:24:41

Children have a need to see the best in their parents. I worked with children who were treated terribly but they loved their parents (particularly their mams) with a passion. I think that's one of the reasons why, as adults, they sometimes make excuses for them or say they did their best.

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 15:28:26

Its also important to acknowledge the crumbs of "good" in order to allow extranged or removed (to be put in care) children to grieve.

Adoptions break down when adoptive parents expect the children theyve lifted out of poverty to be delighted about their "better lives" and instead get children who are homesick for their old neglectful or abusive or poor home

agnurse Mon 03-Feb-20 15:30:58

I read "Toxic Parents" some time ago, and the author raised an interesting point. She said that for a child to admit that their parents were abusive is to admit that their childhood was not safe, and their needs for safety and security were not met. Examining Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we see that these are among the most basic needs humans have, second only to the need for food, water, and shelter. That's a massive admission for someone to make.

FIL has some N tendencies and he thinks quite highly of his late father. When he talks about him we basically hear about "St. GFIL of Blessed Memory", as Hubby puts it. The sad reality is that GFIL was physically abusive to his children, emotionally abusive to his wife, and sexually abusive to his daughter. There was also at least one documented case where he committed insurance fraud. FIL's response - "Well, I didn't see that side of him". FIL was the favourite son, and basically thought his father walked on water.

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 15:41:14

You often see on EAP threads that estrangement is "approved" of only if the parent was all bad and constantly physically/sexually abusive.

This is such an unhealthy and inaccurate view of how abuse works.

Abusers dont get to abuse if they are big bad disney villans who are overtly horrible to everyone always.

Abusers dont often see themselves as abusers because they dont sit in their lair planning out loud how they will destroy everything around them.

Abusers feed you, clothe you, throw you birthday parties, take you to the park AND abuse you.

Its confusing. Its hard to reconcile, and that is part of the abuse!

Recognising that it wasnt all disney villan is healthy

boheminan Mon 03-Feb-20 16:19:57

It can take a child a life time of confusion, guilt and self loathing before the command 'Thou shall honour thy father and mother', which we get drummed into us from an early age, does not embrace everyone and it's okay to finally realise that it's all right not to love your parents, especially if they abused and neglected you as a child, whatever their reason to do so....

Greymar Mon 03-Feb-20 16:26:05

It absolutely is no excuse but times have changed. All that clip round the ear stuff, is now seen for what it is.

Hetty58 Mon 03-Feb-20 16:28:02

It's not a 'convenient let-off clause' at all. There's never a simple explanation for bad parenting. Many (if not most) abused kids love their parents. We think our lives are normal, too.

Of course, it's impossible to (conveniently) pin the blame on parents. I never would. One, terribly traumatised by the war, the other with a disabling personality disorder - victims themselves!

Smileless2012 Mon 03-Feb-20 16:35:54

"You often see on EAP threads that estrangement is "approved" of only if the parent was all bad and constantly physically/sexually abusive".

My experience of posts from EP's and from my own experience, is that they can understand estrangement happening if the AC was abused, but when they were not abusive and find themselves estranged, they question the 'justification' of their estrangement.

"some truely terrible parents do try hard in their own way" I think that's an important point notanan and may help us to understand why some AC despite the awful childhood they've experienced can say that "my parents did their best".

ananimous Mon 03-Feb-20 16:36:43

All great points! -
I just wanted to lift the estrangement rug so-to-speak and examine that one issue of a parent "owning" what they see as their mistakes.

Could that be the key to reconciliation?

M0nica Mon 03-Feb-20 16:38:23

This phrase is not just used for abusive parents. Some time loving parents may at times pursue a course of action that is not right at the time

My father had a job that meant we constantly moved in the Uk and abroad, so when I was 11 and my sister 9, we went to boarding school. My parents looked at two, one was academically much better than the other, but my sister and I preferred the less academic school, but despite knowing our views, my parents opted for the better school educationally because we were both quite bright and they thought that was the best decision. It wasn't a disaster, but our fears were realised and we really did not like the school.

In later life my parents admitted that their decision was a mistake, but, as my mother said 'as parents you try and do your best for your children, but sometimes you get it wrong.' As a parent, I would say the same of myself.

Smileless2012 Mon 03-Feb-20 16:43:03

Same here MOnicasmile.

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 16:45:04

People work with the tools theyve got. I think thats what "my parents did their best" means.

It may not have been good enough. Or acceptable. But its realising that sometimes parents do what they think is normal for them even if it was far from normal or healthy.

ananimous Mon 03-Feb-20 16:49:18

From what I understand -
Everybody who abuses was themselves abused.

This is the dysfunction cycle.

It is repeated both consciously by some people and subconsciously by others.

I read about the (some) Indiginous Indians of America suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse: taken from their families by the government, sent off to school to have their culture stripped from them.
On being returned to their families they (the victims) sometimes went on to become perpertrators and so recreate that abuse within their own tribe (Who had seldom experienced sexual abuse due to tribal punishment of killing for that crime).
I don't think you can solve estrangement without owning what you passed on to your loved ones.

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 16:50:52

Abusers rarely think that what theyre doing is abuse.

There was an interesting thread on MN where a mother who had her children taken by social services and was seeking support.

She was unable to get any sort of peer support becausd whenever she found other mothers of removed children she was always the only one who acknowledged that she had been unable to parent and social services were doing what was best. All the others said that they werent abusive, neglectful or too incapacitated to care for their children and that the children had been "stolen".

They all believed they were ultimately good parents. Except this one woman, who wanted to find others to talk to who were also mentally/emotionally unable to care for their loved children, and couldnt find another single person to talk to about not being a good/capable parent

Smileless2012 Mon 03-Feb-20 16:51:35

I see what you're saying ananimous but I don't think it's necessarily that simple.

MOnica's just given us an example of a wrong decision taken by her parents with the best of intentions. All parents make mistakes but if that particular example was given by an EAC to their parent(s) as the reason for their estrangement, wouldn't the EP's see that as an over the top reaction? I know I would.

M0nica Mon 03-Feb-20 16:52:19

notanan2 I a not sure I entirely agree. I would not argue that some parents are as you describe

But there are parents that know darn well they are parenting badly, but because they are lazy or too busy with other things, they just do what comes easiest to them without regard for their children's best interests or just convince themselves that they are OK parents when they know darn well they are not.

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 16:54:20

Yet those "cant be bothered" parents arent forthcoming with admiting their failings either!

There is a good reason why the "but we took you to stately homes" thread on MN is one of the longest serving thread titles on there: it resonates with so many.

notanan2 Mon 03-Feb-20 17:00:32

And even lazy selfish parents arent all bad. Awful people can have moments of charm or wit or kindness.

I worked with a colleague in a customer facing role who had the highest number of complaints: some serious! He also had the highest amout of good reviews and thank yous. He was not a good person, but sometimes he did a good job (although it depended on whether he thought the customer was worth helping, he was very racist and sexist).
Theres grey in everyone

Fennel Mon 03-Feb-20 17:03:25

M0nica wrote
"In later life my parents admitted that their decision was a mistake, but, as my mother said 'as parents you try and do your best for your children, but sometimes you get it wrong.' As a parent, I would say the same of myself."
I agree - when they were young their father and I put our children through some suffering because of our marriage problems.. But not intentionally.
I've apologised to all of them, don't know if it helped.

boheminan Mon 03-Feb-20 17:06:01

Some parents can be so wrapped up within their own lives that their children's needs become second place, if not ignored. Some parents were still children themselves when they became parents. A 'parent' should be the grown up a child can trust, but this is not always the case. Yes, Ive seen an abusive childhood can turn a child into an abusive parent themselves

Bekind Mon 03-Feb-20 17:06:43

My mom had an abusive and trauma filled childhood. Her life turned towards the better when she was in her 20's and she lived a very comfortable life. At the same time, her relationship with me was always strange. I spent my life trying to get her approval and love but I don't think she knew how. She just passed away recently and I finally let myself "rage" about some of the ways she treated me through her life. I guess I was always too afraid to even let myself think about how angry I was and at the same time afraid to make her mad. Now I feel a little safer to vent, and sometimes think now she KNOWS what she did to me, but I'm still a little afraid my feelings are hurting her. It also concerns me how my actions as a mother has ill-affected MY children!

ananimous Mon 03-Feb-20 17:08:50

M0nica I think your parents did their best with that choice - interestingly, I had the opposite experience to you and got "my" boarding choice - Hated it! Lol!

No, I meant abusive mistakes.
I meant the kind of mistake like:

~ Calling child selfish/silly/bad in a moment of pique/slapping/ridiculing/using punishment tools/bad language/shaming/embarrassing/food punishments/no affection/no emotional connection/manipulation/boundary-breaking - that kind of *subtle abuse.

* I say (subtle) meaning less obvious, OR always kept within the family as normal behaviour.