Playing Parent, Vol. II

Posted: January 27, 2011 in active neglect, childhood, hoarding
Tags: ,

This is not the first of these posts, and will not be the last. As long as my parents are still alive, I’m always going to be playing parent in some form. I have Wednesdays off from work, so I made today my periodic “drive out to the parents’ house and pick up their garbage and take it to the landfill” day.  It went fine, but it’s always a reminder of just how screwed up my family is. At 26, it’s pretty devastating to have to feel like the parent in this relationship. What’s even more devastating is coming to the realization that most of what I was told as a child just simply wasn’t true.

Now, to be fair, I feel obligated to spell out some of the facts, the foremost being that my parents are, at the most basic level, truly nice people. My father, when it comes right down to it, is probably the most honest person I’ve ever met. I can in good conscious say that I don’t think he’s ever intentionally told a lie. My mom is very sweet and I can’t imagine her ever hurting anyone intentionally. Despite how it might look to someone who doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation, I love them because they are my parents, and to some extent I am able to wrap my head around the idea that they did the best they could.

That being said, how do you make sense of the world when what you’re being told doesn’t line up with reality? As a child, you learn to adapt, and it’s easy to start believing that the problem is you, rather than the situation. As a little kid, I wasn’t able to process the reasons why there were differences between what my parents told me was true and what I saw around me.

Some examples:

The statement: “Our family is the most important thing in my life.”

The reality: This was “good enough” for our family – the truck my mom had to drive had holes in the cab so big, we had to put garbage bags over our laps when it rained to keep from getting soaked. There was no heater, and I had to sit up on the seat with a squeegee to keep the windshield clear enough for my mom to see out of while she was driving. No radio, no working gas gauge, no heater, and only one working door. I was always told that “there wasn’t any money” to buy my mom a decent car, and I endured most of the humiliation of being driven around in the truck by ducking under the dash so no one could see me when we pulled into parking lots. My dad responded to my complaints by insisting that anyone who judged me by the vehicle I rode in wasn’t worth being friends with. He failed to grasp how cruel other kids are, how unsafe the truck was, and how irresponsible it was that he was more than willing to spend thousands of dollars on a new (by “new” I mean shitty, old, rusty, someone else was going to sell it for scrap metal) tractor.

The truck my mom drove for most of my life.


The statement: “I’ve always taken care of you.”

The reality: It isn’t possible to nurture anything in a kitchen that looks like this. Aside from mice and termites. And even the mice got sick sometimes.

The kitchen where all our meals were prepared...


The statement: “We’ve always supported you.”

The reality: “Support” in this case meant “toleration” based on the stipulation that I stayed out of the way and didn’t cause what my parents might consider “trouble.” What I’m learning now is that I wasn’t really the “problem child” I’ve always been accused of being – more than anything, I was “normal” in the sense that I just wanted to feel like I was important to my parents and that what was going on in my life mattered. While the message I was told always included verbal statements of “you matter,” the reality included a solid dose of the real underlying message, which was “my tractors matter. If you have a problem, please deal with it so I don’t have to be involved. I already have too much going on in my life to deal with your issues as well.”

Sorting through the devastation that someone else created...


The reality is that my parents are still relying on me to be the responsible one in our relationship, much the same way they have since I was old enough to dress myself. They hoarded things and allowed the house to collapse around us, and now they’re leaving me to clean up the mess, and the devastation.


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