Being a kid isn't always all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it can be downright traumatic and stem from dysfunctional families. And sometimes it doesn't come to the surface as being "all that bad" until many years down the line. These people share the moment they realized that their past wasn't as normal as they thought it was and how it affected them.
All content has been edited for clarity.
Weekends Without Dad
“When it was my weekend with my dad, I would be dropped off at people’s houses and I thought it was fun because it was all so different and I got to meet new people. When I got older, I realized it was neglect and he was palming me off while he went elsewhere.”
A 3-Year-Old Became The “Sacrificial Lamb”
“My big brother used to give me ‘treats:’ m&ms, brownies, cheese and bread. He used to shove m&m’s through the slats of my crib to me. I specifically remember the dark bedroom with a blanket on the window and him feeding me through the slats. The ‘treats’ continued our entire childhood. When he got older, he learned to make brownies, hamburgers, and cheesy bread in the microwave. When I got old enough to drive, I stole Burger King vouchers from a teacher’s desk at school and provided him the ‘treats’ sometimes. Only years later did I realize he was sneaking me food because we were not being fed. I am healthy and functional today because a 3 year old stole food for me.
I’m actually stunningly OK now. I got identified in elementary school and had the state and school system intervention. My brother, unfortunately, is not doing so great. I think I was able to attach to him, and so had an OK emotional development, but he had no one to attach to and had some major issues that he self medicated with crack for many years. I feel like he was a bit of a sacrificial lamb for me, and there’s not much I can do about that except love him and feel guilty. The best thing now is that he has a child of his own and finds a lot of purpose in taking excellent care of her. I think that was ingrained in his soul and where he’s most comfortable, but before he had her, he was pretty rootless and messed up.”
The “Rapture Drills”
“My cousin’s extremely religious mother would practice ‘rapture drills’ with her. This consisted of her mom bursting into her room at like 3 am, banging pots and pans together, and screaming, ‘IT’S THE RAPTURE!! THE RAPTURE IS HAPPENING!! WILL YOU BE SAVED!?’ She would then make my cousin confess her sins to her and then tell her that she would be going to burn for her sins. It terrified her. But she thought that this was a normal thing that all families/mothers do until adulthood when she casually mentioned it in conversation and the whole room went silent. Her now-husband had to explain to her that no, that is not normal.”
It “Was Just Her Being Lazy”
“I have PKU, which is basically a genetic condition that is treated with an incredibly restrictive diet. I knew a list of things I absolutely could not have, and I had printed books that told me how much I could have of certain foods and I mostly had to take a packed lunch everywhere with me, even when just going around to friends’ houses.
The problems came when my parents divorced, my mom basically kicking my dad out and taking custody of me and my siblings…and she immediately stopped caring. She made sure I stuck to my diet, but made no actual effort to make sure I was eating enough to function.
At it’s worst point, I was eating a small bowl of cereal in the morning (25g), a few slices of cucumber (tomatoes made me sick, and seeped into the lettuce of my school ‘salad’) an apple (I’d be given an orange as well but the stringiness of it made me sick), a carton of apple juice, then in the evening – a small plate of whatever was left over from what my family had eaten the day before but in small amounts as I could only have tiny quantities of most of it, with the parts I couldn’t have removed. And that was it. That was what I ate everyday most days for over a year. During the holidays it was worse because my mom had to make me my lunch herself and she just wouldn’t bother.
I couldn’t make it myself as I was 9, I couldn’t eat most conveniently available snack foods, I couldn’t eat bread, I couldn’t have chips, we rarely had fresh, readily available food. So a lot of the time I’d reach into the rubbish bin and eat whatever my brother had thrown away. And my mom smoked, so a lot of times it tasted of ash, but I was so hungry I didn’t care.
I always assumed this level of hunger and desperation was just how everyone with the condition lived because my diet was so restrictive, and my mom was pretty manipulative and had me convinced that a lot of things were my fault including her failing relationships, her inability to hold a job, her failed marriage, my dad’s sickness. Like I thought, this has to be because of my diet, this has to be how everyone with this condition lives, in a constant state of hunger.
Cut to a year or so later, I was living with my dad’s parents. Typical grandparents, they would go out of their way to make sure I was fed. They cooked larger portions of unrestricted food and allow me to serve myself at the dinner table, search for recipes made for people with my condition, or altered recipes they already used. They made sure I knew where the food I could eat was, and what it was, so that I could get my own snacks without having to wait on someone else to sort me out. I zipped from badly underweight, to borderline overweight.
Even so, the light bulb didn’t go off until I was 16 and my specialist pediatrician arranged for me to meet some other adults (20+) with the condition to give me hope for the future. It was a great experience but I still remember the look everyone gave me when I asked how they dealt with the crippling hunger when they were a little kid. It was like I’d sprouted a second head. They all explained, including my pediatrician, that none of them had gone hungry as children, they’d always had food, and that’s when it hit me how willfully negligent my mom was.
All those times I thought she’d been trying her hardest to be a mom, was really just her being lazy and refusing to try. Even to this day, I have an unhealthy willingness to go hungry for longer than I should (I’m talking days), often having to be reminded by people to eat because I’m just so used to going without for extended periods of time.”
They Didn’t Realize Until College??
“My mom used to give me enemas when I misbehaved. I didn’t realize until I made a joke about it during my first semester of college and everyone looked at me in stunned silence that it was not a normal punishment.
She and my step-dad were both quite abusive, but we lived on a ranch away from any town and I didn’t have a lot of outside contact. So, it wasn’t until college that I understood how abnormal my life had been. Imagine me, sitting around with other college freshmen, joking about how awesome it was to be away from our parents, and that is what pops out of my mouth. Ha! A whole new world opened up after that. I consider college to be when my real life began.”
“Closet-locking by my biological father and being locked out of the house by my mom happened a lot when I was between ages 8 and 11. I didn’t realize how messed up it was until my girlfriend was going on about how this mother got arrested for something similar. I’m the oldest of my siblings, and my girlfriend pointed out a couple weeks ago how vastly different my childhood was compared to my siblings.
My only reaction was, ‘That’s illegal?’
Sometimes I feel like the feeling of ‘unworthiness’ followed me into adulthood.”
His Father Wasn’t Who He Thought He Was
“When I was younger, I thought it completely normal to have police/CPS visit our house regularly. My parents would have my sisters and I play upstairs, and we were told to never come downstairs unless we were called.
We were always told that police were horrible people and never to talk to them, and that if we were to be approached we would have a challenge and password to follow in case of possible abduction by the police. This was all fun and games for my siblings and I, but as I grew older, I noticed more and more that it wasn’t normal for my father to spend hours and hours on his computer (this was in the 90s before internet culture was fully developed). I also realized it wasn’t normal to have a parent go through random bouts of hysteria and mania, destroying property (dishes, his computer, toys, and the such). And it was certainly not normal to have to hide from him during these bouts.
It wasn’t until I was 14 this all came to a breaking point, where my father was convicted of touching two boys at a Bible camp that I had attended frequently. Up until this point, my father was someone I looked up to, and was my hero, protecting me from the evil CPS and police. This event made me re-evaluate everything, including the man I had held in such high regard.
It turns out my father had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder from traumatic experiences in his childhood. He was sentenced to prison, and I haven’t spoken to him since, but there are times where I am worried that he may seek me out. My wife is pregnant and all I can hope for is to be twice the man that he was.”
Thanks, Mom And Dad
“My parents criticized almost everything, especially my appearance – I cut my hair too short, I looked too fat in a certain dress because I bought the wrong size apparently. Things like that. My grades were too bad, I hang out with the wrong people, I will never get a boyfriend if I don’t change my looks/attitude. They always said they have to tell me these things because otherwise I will never know how to be a normal adult. I thought they were right.
Now I realize they kept me from becoming a confident person and I always feel inferior, weak and stupid, whatever I do. They also said they just want to prepare me for the real tough world out there – but no one ever insulted me as much as my parents did with their remarks.”
“It Wasn’t MY Fault For Being A Girl
“The way my mom treated me growing up messed me up. Finally at 17, she beat me head to toe with one of my high heels and I left and never went back. For some reason, my mom hates females. She resented having a daughter. She loves my brothers so much and does everything for them. She was there for the birth of their babies, and their marriages, meanwhile she had nothing to do with me through my pregnancy/childbirth /marriage. She also told me that if I had a girl, she would never watch her. (Not that she would ever have my children with the way I was treated.) She always makes snarky comments to this day about having a daughter, wishing she never had, but she does ‘love me.’ It took me a long time to realize this wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t MY fault for being a girl. It was HER fault for her own mental issues.”
That’s Not A Kid’s Job
“I had to comfort my dad before/while my parents were getting divorced. I always thought that I was such a big mature girl for being there for him, and telling him that it was okay if he left mom because I knew they fought. The first time I can clearly remember asking when they were going to divorce was around the age of 5. My dad and I would have lengthy discussions about ‘everything wrong with my mom’ and he would ask me for permission to leave her. I used to think it was because he loved me so much and valued my opinion.
It was only several years later, in my early teens, that I realized exactly how messed up the entire situation was. He unloaded all of his issues and anger out onto a child, and would ask me for permission so that I would feel responsible and he didn’t have to take the blame. A child should never have to do that. I genuinely believe that it can be linked to the issues that I now deal with socially and with trusting/connecting to certain people. Thanks, Dad.”
Ah, The Sink Or Swim Approach
“My mom taught me how to swim by pretty much drowning me in the ocean. Every time I’d cry, she’d go deeper in the water and just let me go, leaving me to go under until I basically ‘learned how to swim’ by saving myself from drowning. I always thought I was just being a brat because I cried, so it was justified, but it caused me to refuse to ever go into deep water and I had to re-teach myself how to swim for pleasure in my mid-20s.”
Dad Should Not Have Encouraged This
“For years, my older, disabled brother referred to me exclusively as ‘It’ or ‘The Whale,’ told me that no one liked me, that I was ugly and stupid and had no friends and should just kill myself, and on and on and on. He did this in public just as much as in private, and my dad thought it was hilarious; he actually encouraged my brother to treat me this way by laughing or yelling at me when I tried to defend myself. I’ll never forget the smug look on my brother’s face when my dad said, ‘Oh get over it, he doesn’t know any better.’ To be clear, my brother is PHYSICALLY disabled, not mentally.
At the same time, my father constantly reminded me that my older brother was special and needed to be protected. He said that since he can’t fight his own battles, I needed to stick up for him. And I did. When I left elementary school, I had over 20 detentions, many as a result of fighting people who made snide comments about my brother or my family.
When I was a freshman, my brother was a senior and we saw each other in the halls several times a day. He got into the habit of following me around screaming insults at me and trying to encourage other people to mock me as well. And for a long time, a lot of kids did. I guess there was something funny about a disabled kid verbally abusing his younger sister while the younger sister was simultaneously getting into fights with people for saying mean things about her disabled older brother. I started cutting myself but when I got mocked for that by him publicly, I switched to scratching instead; the scars were much easier to explain away as scrapes.
It wasn’t until my classmate, (we served detention together in 5th grade when he called my brother a mean word and I punched him) stood up for me that I realized how messed up the whole thing was.”
Too Many Parties
“My parents were generally pretty good parents. Always made sure I was fed, comfortable, had some cool toys and games and what not. But they also used to drink every Friday night.
I knew it as ‘party night’ and I loved it as a kid because I could stay up as late as I wanted and play games/eat whatever. By my teenage years, they both fell into pretty severe addiction. It went from Friday nights to entire weekends, to every day. There were lots of really bad nights and arguing and having to take care of them.
They always took good care of me, but it took until my later teen years to come to the realization that it’s not normal to drink all the time. And definitely not in front of your children.
They’re still addicts and I’m attempting to help them. Surprisingly, they have been married for around 30 years now and they actually are getting along a lot better than when I was younger.
It’s shocking to realize that no matter how messed up you are, you can still keep a relationship together with hard work and commitment.”
When Dad Caused A Phobia
“My dad took me down into a mine in Kalgoorlie, Australia. Most of the mine was used for tourism purposes, but was a good 200m-1km deep at its deepest.
All the dangerous sections had been cordoned off, of course, in case you accidentally took a wrong turn and then fell several hundred meters in the dark.
Anyways, my old man thought it would be a super funny, ‘just a prank, bro’ prank to lead me into one of the cordoned off areas to see extra cool bits and then run ahead and turn off the lights in that section of tunnel. Keep in mind, I’m like 6 years old and the tunnel is scraping my head and I know that there’s a drop of about 50 meters pretty close by.
I cannot see absolutely anything. The tunnel is scraping on my head. My dad laughing in the faint distance while I’m screaming and crying in terror. It seemed to last forever. Apparently was only a minute or two. Eventually, he turned the lights on and came back to grab me. I was laughing/crying at the time because he said it was just a joke.
This is largely the reason I have severe claustrophobia now and can’t even go up elevators without having a panic attack. It’s not really his fault, he was just an idiot and I was his first kid.”
“My Mom Was My Hero”
“My mom was my hero, and I mean this literally. I would constantly overhear my mom talking to various people on the phone about her heroic exploits. At least once a month, she would save some random stranger’s life while facing life-threatening peril herself. She was incredible.
In fact, I admired her so much that I began taking her stories and adapting them to be my own. As a teen, I started telling my friends endless stories about all the people I saved. They didn’t believe me, of course, which was fair because I was lying. But they insisted that it ‘couldn’t’ be true, and that drove me nuts because obviously it COULD be true. It was really happening to someone, my mother, so it wasn’t impossible that it could happen.
You’ve probably already figured this out by now, but I was well into my 20’s when it clicked:
My mother is a pathological liar.”
And Everything Started To Make Sense
“My dad was pretty good overall, I have more good memories with him than bad, and he helped me out during my most severe bullying, but every so often he’d switch to this verbally abusive monster (that I’d call ‘other dad’) who would sometimes be physically abusive. He wouldn’t outright slap me, punch me or anything horrid like that, but he would grab me by my arm and squeeze hard while calling me names. It would happen once in a while when I had been bad like swearing or something, so I assumed I was being a really bad kid. But it was so irregular that I didn’t really know what to expect from him. He’d more often just ground me, make me do extra chores, not allow me to go to a party etc. something more reasonable, but every so often, ‘other dad’ popped up.
The thing is every time it happened, he would apologize for it and I’d see him taking pills in this odd looking square case. I actually thought they were vitamin pills. But although I’d verbally accept his ‘I’m so sorry’s,’ I wouldn’t believe it because it would still happen. I actually started thinking that I was a rotten little kid.
Years later, I end up in foster care at about 11 or 12 and I still am allowed to see my dad, but I’m still kind of afraid of him. One visit when I was 17, I go to see him with supervision and at one point I think I asked him about the odd little square box with pills in it and he tells me he’s bipolar. The square box was his daily medication. It made SO MUCH SENSE. He’d been diagnosed in his teens I think but the meds he was on weren’t quite strong enough to properly help so every time ‘other dad’ reared his head it was actually a manic episode.
I used to think the pill box was something everyone’s moms and dads had.”
Her Mom Went Crazy
“When my parents split up, I was almost in high school so they gave me the option to either stay with my mom or my dad. At first I stayed with my mom, but over time she started losing it. She became so overprotective that I was never allowed to leave the house except for school. I also couldn’t have friends over because they were a ‘bad influence,’ even if she had never met them, or worse, even if she knew them well and they had been my friends for years. According to her, even though I got straight A’s and had never been in trouble before, I was a ticking time bomb and all it would take was one bad idea or the slightest bit of peer pressure to have me sleeping around and shooting up.
Once I hit the rebellious teen phase, I started staying out past my 8pm curfew. So she responded by changing the locks every week and only allowing me in the house if I knocked before curfew, otherwise I’d be stuck outside all night. I used to walk up to the gazebo in the center of town and sleep there since it had an overhang so it’d stay dry if it rained or snowed, but I still had to deal with the bitter cold (I had a blanket and pillow stashed in our shed for this exact purpose).
When I was finally old enough to drive, she insisted on helping me out by paying for my car insurance. I thought it was such a nice gesture (the first since before the divorce) so I said yes, only to find out the whole reason she offered was so my car, which I bought, would be registered in her name. During one of our regular fights, I decided to leave rather than continue yelling because now I was old enough to drive and could do that. About 5 minutes after I left, I got pulled over, told to step out of the car, and got cuffed because the vehicle I was driving was reported as stolen. I tried explaining that it was my car and that my mom was just trying to cause issues, but they refused to give me the car back because it was registered to my mom. I was devastated because I paid for that car in full by myself. It was the first expensive thing I had ever bought, and I never saw it again after that. $7k down the drain.
I had my dad pick me up from the police station that night and stayed with him from there on out. After I told him everything, he was shocked and outraged and kept asking me why I never told him. I always thought it was normal for moms to discipline their kids and that I was just a particularly bad kid. To this day, she still calls me a kidnapper, saying that I ‘took her daughter away from her’ or ‘robbed her of having a relationship with her daughter,’ even though I’m like 99.99% sure it’s not really kidnapping if you’re ‘kidnapping’ yourself to get away from a bad situation.”