Growing up can be tough, especially for those in dysfunctional families. Because that's all they've ever known, what is really abuse or an unsafe home environment can seem normal to kids. It's usually not until they experience the other side in a friend's healthy family that the truth about their disturbing past comes out. These people reveal how they discovered at a friend's house that their seemingly "normal" childhood was actually pretty messed up.
All content has been edited for clarity.
The Big Revelation
“When I was a kid, if I ever misbehaved even slightly, I would get a savage whooping. The only messed up part (that I thought at the time) was that the beatings never varied depending on the severity of my misconduct. I bring home an F? Vicious beating. I accidentally forget to take out the trash? Same beating. Never any variation.
It wasn’t until I was almost 15 that my mind was blown. I went over to a friend’s house and shortly after arrival, his mom came in and started yelling at him because the school called, and he got caught trying to forge her signature for something. He did something that would have left me swollen and blue, and I was getting ready to just bail because I didn’t wanna see the incoming whooping.
But after she was done yelling, she just hugged him and said she was more disappointed than angry and that they would need to work on things.
I was like…… WHAT!?!?!? Where’s the whooping!?!?!?
Turns out, not every parent decides to beat the living daylights out of a kid for every transgression, big or small. Just mine.”
They Both Realized Her Mom’s Intentions
“My best friend’s mom neglected her in elementary school. We’d hear a knock at the door and find her sitting on the porch with her bag. Her mom never told us she was coming, just dumped her there for a few days so she could go off and do who-knows-what. I never understood at the time because I was just excited that was friend was staying at my house for a week, but no, I realize her mom just didn’t want to take care of her.”
They Didn’t Eat It “Because They Loved It So Much”
“I was around 10 when the 2008 recession happened, but it never occurred to me how much my parents struggled to keep us afloat throughout that time.
I remember a family friend who worked at a big company would bring us leftover food from his work’s cafeteria, and we ate that for a year or two. It never occurred to me that my family couldn’t afford groceries until I was in the 8th grade and my friend invited me to join her and her dad for lunch at his work place (the same place our family friend worked at). While we were eating, I realized that I had had this food before and told my friend that my family used to only eat leftovers from this company.
My friend looked at me confused and asked me why we had been relying so much on cafeteria leftovers, and her dad scolded her and told her she was being rude. That’s when it clicked that my parents didn’t just decide to eat some company’s leftovers for a solid year because they loved it so much. I didn’t really feel bad about this, but I’m kind of astonished my parents held it together so well that I never realized how much trouble we were financially. I’m also very grateful to that family friend for pretty much feeding us for all that time.”
The Truth Comes Out
“I was in grade 5, and it was the first time I had had dinner at a friends’ house.
At the table was me, my friend, her sister, her mom, and her dad.
Later, I asked my friend, incredulous, ‘Your mom eats dinner with you??’ to which my friend replied, ‘Your mom DOESN’T??’
That was the first clue for me in understanding that my mom had an eating disorder. (Still does, actually.)”
Playing With Needles
“When I was younger, probably around 8 or 9, I loved to play with syringes. Now note, we had a couple syringes around the house that didn’t use needles, like for cleaning out the pockets after a wisdom teeth surgery and stuff. I would play with them in the bath, just fill them up with water, squirt them in my mouth, and shoot it at the wall.
One day my friends and I were playing around a construction site. I found a syringe there. This one did have a needle. I carefully grabbed it and took it home. I never told my parents.
I remember taking it to the bath and playing with it like always. I filled it up with water, squirted in my mouth. I was careful with the needle, but after playing for a while I poked myself. It hurt, so I decided to throw it away after that and I was done with it.
These days I’m just glad I don’t have AIDS. I was playing with a syringe that was almost certainly used to shoot up, that I found at some random construction site. And I eventually poked myself with the needle. I still shudder thinking about dumb I was as a kid.”
Uncle Of The Year
“My uncle tried to take me to a hotel alone so I could see what a water bed was like in person. I was 14, and he had just got out of prison, although I did not know at the time what he was in prison for. I said no because I thought my parents wouldn’t approve. I found out years later he was in prison for violating little girls.
I know it was messed up that he was allowed to be around family members, specifically me or other cousins my age. It’s hard to explain to someone not in a dysfunctional family, but denial is very powerful and all of the adults, especially my grandparents, wanted to believe he was wrongfully charged.
Still, I was lucky, others were not. He gave an addict his car for her infant baby girl. He had her for six months before we could intervene and get the girl to safety. He was not sentenced in that case due to errors in the case and it getting thrown out of court.
We found last year he was using social media to lure in teen girls to meetings. We turned him into the FBI but they haven’t been able to get enough evidence for an arrest.
I’ve pursued every avenue I can to get him turned in or stopped from hurting children and he keeps slipping through the cracks of our legal system. It’s really messed up.”
Adults Don’t Have To Be “Stressed”
“My mother used to lock me in my room, blinds drawn and doors locked for days on end while not letting anyone else in the house talk to me, and usually not letting me eat. I remember one occasion where she walked in, threw a book at me and said, ‘Here, don’t let your brain rot.’ I thought this was what grounding meant up until the 7th grade.
I also thought physical abuse was standard in most houses, and didn’t understand why friends were so happy to see me come over. The few times I was allowed friends over were always followed by some of the worst yelling and beatings because I was always too loud, made a mess, etc. I genuinely thought this was because of ‘stress,’ because that’s the way my father explained it to me: ‘sometimes mommy and daddy get stressed, and everybody gets stressed.’
My mom had pills that would make her less stressed (anti-anxiety and anti-depressants, and others I still don’t know the purpose of), but she didn’t like to take them, so sometimes she was worse. I simply thought that most adults were like this, because being an adult was stressful.”
Dodged A Bullet
“I think it was around 2011, and I was playing with a football (soccer) in my backyard when I felt something quick pass by me, and I heard a cracking sound. I looked around then at the ground and right next to me I saw a hole on the ground with a shell there, and I noticed another hole in my t-shirt that was the same size as well. I lived in North Africa during the Arab spring, so finding stray bullets and hearing firing in the distance was very common. So after that happened, I just continued playing.
Last year, I was with a bunch of friends, and we were recounting childhood memories when I mentioned that. Then I got a bunch of serious stares. That’s when it dawned on me that I was centimeters away from dying to a stray bullet. It just never registered in my brain because finding stray bullets was so common back then.”
These Weren’t Just Fun Road Trips
“My father was a compulsive gambler, and I didn’t realize it until I was fully grown.
When I was 15, my father drove two hours out of his way with me in the car to visit a casino. He wouldn’t say where we were going until we got there. Then he had me wait in the car while he went inside promising to return in a little while. An hour and a half later, I got out of the car and went into the casino looking for him. Security spotted me immediately and kicked me out.
Back in the car, another hour went by before dad finally came walking out of the casino. I thought, ‘Great! We can get out of here now!’ But no, it was not to be. Instead, he asked me if I had any money on me. When I produced seven dollars, he grabbed the money and quickly went back into the casino. Ten minutes later we were driving back home. That’s when he asked me to promise not to tell mom where we’d been.
This kind of thing happened a time or two more as I grew up. Watching him gamble until all of his money was gone – never able to quit winners.
It took me more years than I’d like to admit before I realized that my father was a compulsive gambler and had been throwing away precious family resources all my life. I remember feeling tremendously saddened by the realization that, after everything was said and done, my father was a flawed human being.
It took me even more years to realize that all humans are flawed in one way or another and that’s really not what matters – what matters is what we do about it.”
Moms Shouldn’t Be So Scary
“There were a lot of things, but the most common was my mother’s screaming rages. Something as simple as a cup sitting on the kitchen table, or the printer not working would set her off into a screaming swearing blind rage. I remember when I was about 5, the waffle maker wasn’t working for some reason, and she snapped. She slammed it against the counter and it exploded into pieces. She threw dishes and glasses and grabbed a hammer and smashed it into the counters, the table, the bench, the floor. This continued for hours. My siblings and I hid under our beds downstairs fearful she’d come after us or our things. A few years later when I was about 10, I left some of my toys on the table after playing with them. She got mad about them being there and took a hammer and smashed them right in front of me, screaming.
These rage fits got significantly worse when my dad died shortly after. Without him to help her keep calm, and the added grief and stress, she’d explode over the tiniest things. I have several memories, including a time she forced us to put all our toys and belongings in trash bags saying she was going to throw them all away because our room was dirty. The screaming was so loud in every instance I hoped the neighbors would hear and come intervene.
My brothers and I hid the wooden spoon she used to hit us with. I found it a few years ago on a high shelf covered in dust.
But I think the worst was in middle and high school. She’d wake up before us and start screaming about the dishes being in the sink. She’d scream until we all hopped out of bed to frantically clean in hopes of appeasing her. Or she’d kick the door open and scream at us to get up. We’d spend the morning cleaning before going to school. (sometimes she refused to drive, so we would walk the mile ourselves).
In high school we came home for lunch to escape being bullied in the lunchroom, hoping our mom had calmed. She usually hadn’t, and she’d continue the swearing or glaring silently. We’d go back to school to be tormented by our peers, only to come home to more screaming.
My brothers and I never fought back or yelled or defended ourselves. My older sister did and their fights often got physical. I’d beg my older sister to stop. ‘If you’re quiet and do what she orders, she’ll calm down sooner.’ With my sister, these screaming fights would last days. I didn’t realize this was abnormal until I made a friend in high school who was also being raised by his single widowed grandmother. He was terrified when he stayed the night and this happened, and he knew that if he told his grandmother, she would never let him come over again. I’d just assumed his grandma was the same. Any time he made a phone call to ask if he could stay the night, or go to the store, or needed something from his grandma, I would sit there, tense, preparing to hear her berate him. But she’d say, ‘Sure, okay. Thanks for letting me know.’ I’m still unreasonably scared of her. But she’s so nice, so nice and kind and considerate to me, it’s moved me to tears.
I don’t fault my mother entirely. She’s gone through a lot and suffers with untreated PTSD, anxiety and depression. But it’s still not a free pass for her toxic behavior.
My biological mother would come by occasionally to visit. I just assumed that everyone’s birth parents weren’t in the picture very often, so it was just ‘hello [name].’ She didn’t have a designated title like ‘mom/biomom.’ But she came by when she was pregnant with her sixth child and eagerly told me what she was going to name the baby and wanted me to feel her tummy. And I vividly remember having the thought: ‘So why are you keeping this one? When you didn’t keep me or the rest of us…?’. I didn’t realize how impactful that was until visiting with a psychologist about a year ago.
I can’t imagine ever putting my 5-year-old nieces or nephews through any of these things. But as a child, I thought this was just how families worked.”
That’s Gotta Hurt
“When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my orthodontist told my mom I needed have three teeth removed before I could get braces as they were crowding my mouth. I don’t remember most of the details, but because we did not have the money for the surgery, she had me lay across her lap and removed them with pliers. Not all of them were baby teeth.
It was not until I was married and discussing this with my wife that the realization that this was not cool came to light. Now, as a parent myself, I could never bring myself to do something like that. I would find the money to have something like that done as painlessly and safely as possible.”
All That To “Teach Me A Lesson”
“My mom would lock me outside when I was ‘bad.’
When I was around 6, my mom bought me this ring and I’m guessing it was real because she always wanted me to wear it. One day she came to me and asked me where the ring was, so I happily went to the bathroom to get it after I had taken it off to wash my hands. Only it wasn’t there. My mom, without saying a word, sat me on my bed and took off my socks. I distinctively remember they were Power Ranger socks and I asked if she was going to wash them. Then she made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and locked me outside on the porch in a New England winter without a jacket. I remember sitting at my little Play Tikes table, trying to lift my feet so they wouldn’t touch the snow.
When she let me back in, she went to the stove and from a little box pulled out the ring. She had it the whole time. She found it in the bathroom, and did all of that to ‘teach me a lesson.’
She did a lot of other really awful things to me. She had a lot of unresolved trauma on top of mental illness on top of a drinking problem.
I remember talking about weird punishments with my friends when I was a teenager, and recanting that story. They were all shocked. It wasn’t really until then that I realized how messed up she was.
It’s kind of weird to say, but now my mom is my best friend. I love her more than anything. She’s sober now and getting the help and medication she always needed. I know it’s probably unbelievable for most people to think after all of that to be as close as we are, but I know the horrible things she did was because of addiction and mental illness.”
A Joke Made Him Remember
“I wouldn’t call this normal, but it definitely explains a lot now that I’m an adult.
I had an older sister who would take me into her room with her three other friends she’d always be with. Classic 11-13-year-old age group. They’d do the usual, dress me up, call me cute and whatever else and then it would always be ‘House time,’ where they’d pretend to be my wife or whatever and play with my parts. Sometimes it was a group effort, and little 6-year-old me was like, ‘Yeah, this is what adults do. This is normal.’ Meanwhile, none of it felt innately dirty or inappropriate to me at all at any point.
It wasn’t until 18 years later that I actually remembered when a bunch of guys and I were joking at work. The classic ‘I messed with your sister’ or ‘You look like the kind of guy that sleeps with his family’. Just dumb work banter. Someone directed one at me and it all suddenly clicked and I had one of those introspective moments and was like, ‘Woah. That happened.’ I had totally blocked it out for 18 years of my life.”
Thank Goodness For Her Friend’s Mom
“My mother had severe depression.
It was something she hid from the outside world.
I thought it was normal being your mother’s complete and total emotional support system. I don’t have a mother-daughter relationship with my mother. I have a caretaker relationship.
Thought that was normal…
But I must have sensed that something wasn’t right about that dynamic because I had this one friend whose house I was constantly at, even though as years of friendship passed, our bond turned to toleration. I continued to go to her house because when I was there, I could be a kid. It worked out really well because this friend spent most of her time being annoyed to the point of anger at her ‘stay-at-home-do-everything-for-you’ mother. Her mom just wanted to baby and care for someone more appreciative.
That’s right that’s where I came in! There’d be so many days when I’d go over their house and just hangout, cool with, talk to, sew with my friend’s mom. I loved her as if she were my real mother.”
They Heard The Good News And Didn’t Like It
“My parents are Jehovah’s witnesses, which means they are pretty much just a larger scale cult disguised as a religion. I have so many memories of my parents telling me to spread religious propaganda at school. I spent almost my whole childhood not being allowed to celebrate any holidays or hang out with friends because they were ‘worldly.’
Once I finally found an opportunity to befriend some people outside our religion through the internet, I realized that I had wasted most of my childhood following my parents’ footsteps by being a homophobic, blind follower. Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and I respect Christianity, but Jehovah’s witnesses as a whole are just a huge hive of people breeding bigots to become even larger bigots.
Thank you, Jehovah’s witnesses, for ruining my childhood and making me lose hope of having a normal adult life. I don’t think I will ever be able to live along society normally because I’ve been raised completely outside of it.”
Not A Normal Train Ride
“I was going to take the train to the Giants game about 10 years ago and while I walked up, a homeless lady sitting at a metal bench seating area with a cage in front of it stood up, screamed, had a seizure and fell forward, hitting the top of her head hard. She seized on the ground with her head sticking out from under the train, but her body was sill inside.
The pool of blood you see in the movies is a real thing, but this had foam and whatever else from seizing. It was terrifying and disgusting. My cousin called the cops for an ambulance, and at that exact time, my mom, who dropped us off, called me saying I left the tickets in the car. I told her what happened and I swear to God it had to be my mom, anyone and I mean anyone else couldn’t get me to do this. But she asked, ‘Who is helping her?’
I said the ambulance was on the way. And she said, ‘What if that was me, she is scared and hurt. You get over to her and help her,’ and hung up.
I walked up to this dark enclosed area with her, and just as I walked up, there was a lady I didn’t notice walking out who obviously tried to comfort her. She was pale, had dazed eyes, and just booked it past me. This lady’s head was open… and there was blood and foam all over her face and her eyes… wide open… just crazy looking. And the smell…. I just heard my mom though, into my soul.
I went in and told her she was hurt but it’s okay, she needed to sit down. I padded her back and just kept saying, ‘You hear those sirens, that’s the ambulance, they are going to help you and it’s going to be okay.'”