3 Adulting Skills That Might Be Hard If You Have an Abusive Parent
It’s been two years since my mother’s abuse became clear to me. I’d always known it from a distance, of course, but it took me until my 30s to fully realize and cut the umbilical cord that she kept like a leash around my neck. Is it any wonder that I failed to realize for so long? There are so many kinds of childhood abuse, after all, and even the ACEs questionnaire doesn’t quite reflect the full extent of the actions that can affect a child’s development into a fully developed adult.
People would have described my mother as “overprotective,” and to a degree, that was the case. But her overprotection never came where it truly mattered. She failed to protect me from a man known to have abused two children, including my half-brother; she failed to protect me from years of bullying that left indelible scars upon my self-image; instead, she “protected” me from the basic skills every child must learn to become an adult capable of those same basic skills.
Perhaps she thought she was giving me an easy childhood. She spoiled me with anything I could have wanted in a financial sense, but none of that mattered when I couldn’t do basic housework. Below, I’ve listed the three ways my childhood abuse set me up to struggle as a functioning adult.
1. Financial Health
I’m sure many of you can relate, but checking how much you have left in your bank account is scary. Personally, it’s a source of such anxiety that I fully avoid it unless absolutely necessary. It has, on more than one past occasion, led to a shortage of rent and no food in the refrigerator. (Shout-out to my dear friend Scotty, who once loaned me a month’s rent and filled my freezer with food, no questions asked.)
Growing up, I was routinely told that I couldn’t be trusted with money. My mother would give me money to spend on a trip to the city, then ridicule my purchases when I got home so much that, now, I struggle to buy anything for myself without the need for constant reassurance from my partner that it’s “OK” for me to do so. The very thought of buying something I need or want — even clothes and other necessities — fills me with that same sick, scared feeling I had as a teenager on the train journey home, anticipating another round of retribution. Eventually, I just learned to lie to my mother about the things I purchased. It was easier that way.
I believe children should be taught the value of money — of course they should — but they should never fear a parent’s ridicule to the point of being frozen by their bank account in adulthood.
Plenty of people don’t know how to cook or don’t feel confident in the kitchen for one reason or another. It’s pretty “normal,” right?
Growing up, I watched my friends cooking more and more elaborate meals while I felt scared and left behind. By elaborate, I don’t even mean three-course meals at an award-winning restaurant. I’m talking about simple bowls of pasta, food at a barbecue — even toast. When I was 17, somebody asked me to make some toast for them and I panicked; I didn’t really know how to butter a slice of toast, and I didn’t want them to find out.
My mother never allowed me to enter the kitchen. I was never given the opportunity to learn and stretch my culinary wings. I wanted to, but as time went on, I just became increasingly afraid. Sure, she took care of me to the point where every meal was provided, but when I eventually moved out, I survived on frozen chicken and potato wedges every single night.
Not every child has the ability or interest in cooking, but every child should know basic skills like making boiled pasta, or soup, or a slice of toast.
3. Household Chores
It should be relatively “easy” to know how to operate a washing machine, use an iron, tidy the house, or wash the dishes. And sure, many adults grow up without the desire to do some of these things. For me, the thought of any household chores — particularly where cleaning is concerned — has been enough to cause panic attacks, and even drove an early wedge in my relationship with my now-fiancé because it looked so much like I was just trying to get out of chores that were, by all rights, my responsibility.
Growing up, I wasn’t expected to do anything around the house. I was never made to wash the dishes, clean a bathroom, or vacuum. I had friends for whom this came second nature, and I looked at my upbringing and wondered why I was so different. At first, I thought it was a good thing. After all, I didn’t have to do boring housework, right?
It’s a parent’s responsibility to teach their child how to take care of their home and do their fair share of housework, but I wasn’t afforded that luxury. Maybe she thought she was being a “good mother,” but she continued to clean my home for me long after I moved out, and long before I realized the depths of her neglect and abuse.
Maybe you’ve read this and wondered why I’m making a big deal. After all, I had a pretty cushy childhood, right? But when you’re a 30-something working professional in a committed relationship and you’re still incapable of properly “adulting” due to anxiety or feeling incapable, it’s important to trace the threads back to their source. I wish I could do these everyday chores without having visceral reactions. I wish that I didn’t feel ashamed every time I don’t know how to do something that comes utterly naturally to my peers. I wish I didn’t have these holes in my knowledge that should’ve long been filled by the simple grace of parental guidance, but it’s something I didn’t have.
You might be asking, too, where my father was in all of this. As hard as it is for me to admit… he followed everything my mother said and did. She controlled the house through tempestuous rage. I’m still struggling with that fact, particularly since he passed away over a decade ago and, when he was alive, I thought he could do no wrong. My mother may have been the instigator of my neglect, but he was likewise culpable.
If you can relate to this, then please know you’re not alone. Our rivers run together even though they may come from different streams. If you have gaps in your adulting skills like I do, you don’t deserve to be shamed for them. In the absence of parents who can teach us how to survive in this messed up world, we need to become our own parents, take our inner children by the hand, and lead them to the kitchen sink. Show them how it’s done, and if you don’t know how then discover it together. The internet is an incredible resource, but so is a supportive friend or partner once they understand why you struggle to do the things others take for granted.
Take it one step at a time, friends. We’re adult survivors of childhood abuse, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to thrive.
Getty Images photo via RyanJLane