Well, They Tried. They Get an E for Effort.
Top Ten Ways my Parents Screwed Me Up for Life
Let me state for the record, I love my parents. And, hey, in a lot of ways I understand them—they were a product of their time. For two working-class people who grew up during the depression who never even finished high school, they did all right for themselves.
But, also let me state for the record, holy cow! What were they thinking?
There were some things they did that screwed me up for life. Not that I became a serial killer or anything, but yeah—there are some things a little off about me, some irrational things, and the blame can be traced back directly to my parents.
Let me share with you all the ways my parents screwed me up, but good.
10) They Cut Off Multiple Body Parts
My parents were the worst photographers in the world. You should see my scrapbook. It’s full of pictures that make me look like an amputee. In every single picture, the top of a head is missing, or an arm, or the face or outfit was obscured by a thumb inadvertently placed on the lens.
I know they weren’t professional photographers—but, hell! Hold the camera straight and take your fingers off the lens! Is that too much to ask?
Then there are those rare photos of my whole body— almost every one of these, my eyes are closed and my face is scrunched up. Why? Because they thought that if I faced the sun I’d get better light… then they’d take 5 minutes trying to line up the shot so they wouldn’t cut something off.
I’d be standing there, staring into the sun with an impatient grin plastered on my face. And right on cue, the moment they’d snap the picture would be the moment my tearing eyes couldn’t take it anymore and they’d snap shut. I swear—they had to do that crap on purpose. No one is that bad with a camera, let alone two people in the same household.
9) They Burned Me on a Regular Basis
During summer times in my childhood, I had two looks: boiled lobster and extra crispy.
My parents were firm believers that kids were to be out playing from morning until night—unfortunately, they were not such firm believers in sunscreen. Talk about family photos—you can always tell when they were taken in the summer. Not by my outfit, but because my face, shoulders and arms (or whatever parts actually made it into the photos). I glowed in the dark. I looked like a danger sign on the highway every August.
When I was about 15 I heard of this thing called sunscreen. I approached my mom about this ingenious invention, and she waved her hand in the air. “Oh yeah. I’ve heard of that stuff. Who needs it? Just put on some baby oil.”
8) They Sent Some Mixed Messages
A lot of common parenting tactics in the 70s left much to be desired. My parent’s (actually, come to think of it, it was my whole family—aunts, uncles, grandparents, older cousins even) favorite deterrent to bad behavior was threats. Like tpoliticians, they felt fear tactics worked. They just never made the connection between these fear tactics and the fact that I was a shy, skittish, kid who was scared of my own shadow. My behavior baffled them.
Allow me to explain. If you tried to touch something dirty, my parents would say, “You better put that down, or you’re going to have to go to the doctors and get a needle. Uh-oh... you're gonna have to get needles! Hurry! Put it down!”
Yes, they laid it on thick.
When it was time to go to the doctors, I’d hide. They thought I was being silly. When I had to actually get shots, I’d freak out right there in the office, scream bloody murder and try to run away. My parents genuinely couldn't understand why I made such a fuss.
If you were being noisy and rambunctious, “Stop, stop, stop!” they’d warn in a hushed, frantic whisper. “The Man is coming! Stop!”
To this day, I don’t know who ‘The Man’ is; but when I was a kid I wasn't taking any chances. I was afraid to talk to men.
“Mackenzie, don’t you want to come out and say hello to daddy’s boss?” They’d ask, baffled, as I cowered behind the sofa. I’m sure they would have loved for me to come out, shake hands and impress the guy with a, “How do you do, Mr. So and So…”— but, he might be The Man, and I wasn't taking any chances.
7) Scared me Out of the Fast Food Industry
To this day, I have a fear of working for the fast food industry. This is because for most of my life, my parents got me to do my homework, study and go to college by warning me, “You want to be flipping burgers for the rest of your life?”
By the time I was in college, I had an unnatural phobia about working for McDonalds. When I was desperate for a job, I flat-out refused to fill out fast food restaurant applications out of some irrational worry that it was a cult I was going to get sucked into forever.
Of course, when I graduated college and was having a hard time finding a job, my parents yelled at me for thinking I was ‘too good’ for ‘honest work’. After all, my mother was a waitress and worked in restaurants all her life.
Guess what I ended up doing that first year out of college with a BA hanging on my wall— no, I didn’t flip burgers. I worked the fry machine. I still have my standards.
Ahhhh! Run for Your Life!
6) My Mom Was My Maid
My mother was one of those June Cleaver type housewives. Everything was always neat as a pin. When you walked in her home, there was nary a cup in the sink or a piece of lint on the carpet. The furniture was neatly preserved in stay-fresh plastic, and mom even ironed and folded everyone’s underwear.
No one was allowed to clean in my mom’s house, because no one could possibly live up to her impossible standards. My only directive was to ask her when I wanted something, and to tell her when I was done so she could put it away.
Sadly by the teen years, I became such a huge slob that even my mother couldn’t keep up with me. I could go months without seeing a patch of carpet in my room. I never washed a dish. I didn’t know how to operate a mop. And when I moved out, I lived on fast food because I would not make a meal for myself.
Oh, I learned—don’t worry. I did learn. But man— talk about spoiled! For years after leaving my mother’s house, I must have been the houseguest and roommate from hell! I pity people who took me in. I’ve written apology notes.
5) They Were Afraid to Say ‘No’
While we're on the subject of spoiling, my parents hated to tell me ‘no’. Not that they told me ‘yes’. They weren't the Rockefeller, after all. Their go-to answer for everything was, ‘We’ll see’ or ‘Maybe later.’
Maybe I’m partly to blame. You see, in my young naivety, I actually believed them. So I lived in a perpetual state of hope. Naturally, this was like being strapped permanently to an emotional roller coaster. My expectations rose and crashed more often than Apple stocks.
4) Smoking—I Didn’t Stand a Chance
In my parent’s day, I suppose smoking was just the thing to do. Everyone smoked. On TV, even Lucy and Ricky smoked. They actually thought smoking was good for you then—they thought it was relaxing. My whole family smoked. All the neighbors smoked. I think I even saw the dog light up once or twice.
Since my house was one of the major gathering places for everyone (my mother, the perfect hostess, of course), the house had more fog than a John Carpenter film. I remember sitting in the living room, looking over at the crowd of adults gathered at the dining room table. There they sat, playing cards beneath a thick cloud of gray that hovered just below the dropped ceiling.
There were nights I needed a foghorn to find my way into the kitchen. I inhaled so much second-hand smoke at home that I would have nicotine fits when I was at school.
I used to get my friends in trouble all the time in junior high. My clothes smelled like smoke so bad when I’d go into their rooms that their parents would come home and ground them for sneaking cigarettes.
So yes, I took up smoking fairly early. But don’t worry—I quit (after 25 or 30 years; but still).
That Motorcycle Isn't Even On
3) They Made Me Fat. And Diabetic.
Okay, so this is not really funny. But it is kind of absurd now in thinking back on it, and you know what they say: if you don't laugh about it, it'll just make you cry.
Before you go accusing me of blaming my parents for my adult behavior—I have lost weight since childhood, and I actually do take care of myself because of diabetes. I eat loads of veggies now. So it’s not a problem anymore.
But, yeah— that’s another area where I didn't stand a chance. We practically lived on simple carbohydrates and big hunks of cheap meat. My mother worked at a diner/doughnut shop, and brought home the leftover doughnuts, which was our standard breakfast. I'd wash it down with a couple of glasses of chocolate milk.
I couldn't identify a vegetable or fruit if my life depended on it, but I could tell what kind of cookies or candies you were opening in the kitchen just by the sound of the rattling wrapper.
We drank soda—well, like water. I never really thought of water as a drink when I was little. When people offered me a glass of water, I thought it was for freshening up between showers.
To top it off, my parents had me believing that I could personally solve the world hunger problem just by eating for all those kids who were starving in third world countries. I selflessly cleaned each and every plate for years, even had seconds, for the sake of those poor, unfortunate kids.
My parents didn't like to see food go to waste in the garbage— they’d rather dispose of it in me.
See This Gorilla?
2) They Distorted Reality on Me
Okay, this part is just plain weird. See, my dad had kind of a twisted sense of humor. He thought scaring the crap out of little kids was really funny.
When I was young, he hated when we’d mess with the arm rest in the back seat and fight over it. I was particularly famous for playing with the arm rest. So he told me not to touch it because there was a gorilla in the trunk and it could get out through the AC vent behind the seat rest.
Yes—a gorilla. In the trunk.
Naturally I didn’t believe him. So he couldn’t leave it at that—he rigged up a speaker back there somewhere, somehow, and when I would pull down the arm rest there would be some pre-recorded ‘oogaa oogaa oogaa’ noise in a deep voice (I think it was him).
Holy crap, the first time I pulled that thing down, I put it up so fast!
He also used to tell me that if I didn’t hurry up with my bath, the sharks would make up the pipes and come out of the drain. That’s when I switched to showers.
My dad had a great poker face—he was very convincing. He got me believing in all kinds of crazy things. To this day, I have to sleep with the door closed for fear of the closet monster escaping.
My Innate Awesomeness Was Without Bounds
1) They Told Me How Awesome I Was—All The Time!
Despite all the craziness, my parents loved kids and doted on me. I was their baby, after all. Every day they told me how awesome I was. If I sang a song, I was more talented than Barbara Streisand. If I told a joke, Johnny Carson couldn’t hold a candle to me. I’m quite certain that if they’d have owned any Picassos, they’d have thrown that canvas out of the frame and replaced it with my macaroni collage in a heartbeat.
I was the most beautiful. I was the smartest. I was the sweetest. At least, my parents had me believe it. As you can guess-- I was a nightmare. I cringe to think of the diva I thought I was. Other kids would get so pissed at me. Of course, my parents reassured me that these ruffians were merely jealous.
Somewhere during my adolescent years it became glaringly obvious just how average I really was—and by my 20’s I’d developed a full-blown inferiority complex. If I couldn’t be as ‘fabuloso’ as my parents thought I was, then why even bother living?
Well, okay—I was not suicidal. I did level off and realize I didn’t have to be the best, and it didn’t make me the worst. Let’s just say it took time for me to rethink and readjust to my unrealistic assessment of my own awesomeness.
My childhood really wasn't that bad, really, so maybe I don't have a right to complain. But I still stand firm—my parents, lovable and well-meaning as they are, screwed me up pretty good.
I must admit, I learned from a lot from them. When it comes to my own kids, I often ask myself, “What would my parents do?” And then I do the opposite.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Liz Neighbors on July 08, 2017:
My dad actually left me with his parents and acted like a brother instead of a father. It was really weird. And my grandma was the same as the authors mom, so yeah...
Tba on June 04, 2017:
After my father passed .... my mother and brother always pressured me to do better . They had this irrational belief that I was some kind of prodigy when in reality I had just worked hard due to the fact that I was following my father's example ( he worked corporate for 35 years as a logistics supervisor .... never missed a day of work and cashed in on his vacation days so that he can pay for our private education as well as support his deadbeat brother). Anyways somewhere along the way I've let go of my work ethic and I'm worried I'll never get it back ....
Devin Jordan on February 21, 2017:
My parents were stange, I remember going to my mom's friends house hanging out they would all be downstairs and turn the lights off. (Which wasn't two steps from the down from hallway) While we was left "upstairs" they was all fucking each other. Down the hall with the lights off. My mom used to also spank me because I wanted to go to my grandmothers to eat in the morning because she fixed real breakfast. My mom was a hoe and to be honest my dad didn't care. When I got older he was a total dick. And actually blamed me one time for them being too loud.
Lucrecia Woods on March 26, 2015:
The smoking... oh my god the smoking!! I truly relate to this part of your story. My parents were 80´s parents, they smoked everywhere, anytime, all day long, non stop. They would smoke in the car, windows up because "It´s chilly outside, you don´t want to catch a cold"... My father is the older brother of ten... all smokers, no need to describe what our family reunions looked and smelled like.
I started smoking when I was thirteen years old. My parents, both 40 a day smokers, were not much of an authority figure on the matter, so I really didn´t care for their opinion when they finally found out I was smoking.
I´m not as lucky as you though, I´m 34 years old now and have not been able to quit. I´m trying believe me, I curse the day I started, nicotine is a nasty drug and I would give anything if I could just STOP using it without scratching my face off in the process. So, if you could share some good advice on quitting, I would be forever grateful.
I loved your post, made me laugh a lot!! finding some humour in our childhood "horror stories" is a good idea, it makes life easier to survive! ;)
PS. If you share some good advice with me on how you managed to quit smoking, I´ll tell you the story on how my mother decided to explain to my little brother that Santa Claus doesn´t exist, it starts with: "dear, there´s something you should know, Santa committed suicide, he just couldn´t handle the pressure anymore..." (that´s some hardcore parenting screw-up action worth sharing belieeeeve me!!!) =D
Lisa B on December 13, 2014:
Very funny stories about your family I really enjoyed this.
I grew up in the 70's in a family of five kids and I am amazed to this day that we all made it to adulthood. We were lucky, I guess. My mom was seriously mentally ill (these were pre-Prozac times), and she self-medicated with alcohol and NyQuil. My dad coped by being absent as often as possible when my mom was around.
Needless to say I had a pretty crazy childhood and there are many memories that are bad, but we really had some great times together too. My parents both had wicked funny senses of humor, and as long as we were home before dark we could do whatever we wanted to do and go wherever we wanted to go during the day.
My mom was a great cook and my dad was good at barbecuing, and my dad loved sports and he taught all of us how to swim, and how to play tennis, baseball, and basketball. He even coached a few of my brother's baseball teams.
My mom was drop dead gorgeous, and when I was in high school my boyfriends would meet my mom and they just couldn't stop staring at her. They couldn't believe that she was MY mom. She was also a perfectionist and a cleaning freak, and she was very creative. We lived on a dirt road and cars would kick up the dust and the dust would get on our parked cars and all over our garage. Mom's solution was to take up a collection from the neighbors to hire an oil truck to come out and coat the dirt road with oil. Lots and lots of oil. Then all of us kids would run up and down that road all day long barefoot during the summer, and our pets would too. Only in the 70's could she have gotten away with that.
I didn't know until I was an adult that Jesus' middle initial wasn't "H". My dad had a temper, and he would often angrily yell "Jesus H. Christ!" at whatever was frustrating him.
My dad died 9 years ago this month at age 67, and not a day goes by that I don't think of him. I named my son after him, and I miss him every day. My mom is now 70, and about 22 years ago she quit the booze and NyQuil, and she discovered Prozac and became "somewhat normal" for the first time ever. She has been a fantastic grandmother to my kids, and my relationship with her improved greatly when she got clean.
But then a year ago mom took up drinking again and quit taking Prozac. It is difficult to be around her for any period of time now; however, I thank God that I had 21 years with her being somewhat sane. That at least I got to experience what having a real mom was like.
As crazy as my family is, I wouldn't choose to be in a different family even if I could. I love my mom, dad, and siblings, and I cherish all the memories of my childhood, both good and bad.
mary jane on October 05, 2014:
THIS WAS TOO FUNNY, DEFINITELY KEPT MY ATTENTION READ THE ENTIRE BLOG "I usually don't do that) THIS WAS A GOOD ONE
Robie Benve from Ohio on October 01, 2014:
Funny! I got a couple of reaction from reading this
1. What then heck are my kids going to say of me in 20 years??
2. We are all survivors, what a thick skin those empty but fully believable threats made!
3. We should kiss the ground where our parents stepped, in sign of gratitude. Or so say the voices in my head...
kwanafo on September 30, 2014:
I think its great to have such opportunity like this to share our thoughts about everything. I think parenting skills have greatly improved, not belittling your stand. I believe we would be doing far better than our parents have but what we have received is far better than what they got from their parents and our children would be doing better than ours. We're going through life at an exciting period with increased knowledge and technology helping us to imporove our lives in many ways. Congratulations to all parents; past, present and future.
Theresa Jonathan from Maseru, Lesotho on September 29, 2014:
Some parents are not so lucky as to wake up from the fact that they too are fixated in undesirable habits of their formative years. It is necessary to objectively assess whether childhood memories still invoke chills or subtle emotions.
Tricia Deed from Orlando, Florida on September 27, 2014:
Many of us have hangups brought on by parenting. However, as we are growing up and see other children and adults we slowly start to separate the funny, weird, misguided scoldings, jokes, and whatever else we construed from our parents. We just need to stand on our own two feet and hopefully not do the same thing to our children.
Dan W Miller from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000 on September 27, 2014:
I have a connection with you. No beatings. No excessive yelling. The reason I became an author was because I nearly died at 50 and thought I'd better do what I was supposed to do before I DID DIE. (See "I Could Have Died.") Won a (Ventura) county writing tourny as a junior in high school and even won a writing competition of my entire elementary school IN 4th GRADE! But Mom didn't want me to become some bum writer, oh no. My mother was all about her and I didn't realize it until I paused for reflection in my life at 45. She even smoked cigarettes indoors just inches from me. Then I discussed all this with my older sisters. They were quiet and looked at each other with that, "Uh oh. He finally figured it out" look. Of course, my father just didn't want to "rock the boat" and let her have her way and allowed her to do what she wanted to do. That's why they were married 50 years. Oh, congratulaions. You both lived your marriage in a mutual lie. He was a fireman and would be gone for over 24 hours at a time at least three days per week. That's when she could turn off the mother switch and make it her Queendom. Told I wasn't smart enough for college even though I never got a D on my report card and I had skipped 5th grade. Brought to her attention my crooked teeth and she had paid so little attention to me she didn't even realize it by the time I was 16 years old. Both of these reasons were why she said they couldn't afford either. Then they moved into their huge vacation home when I turned 17. I had left the house to live with my uncle. I had a job and a car payment. I thought every kid got themselves up in the morning, made their own breakfast (albeit cereal,) dressed myself and then checked out with their mother (when I woke her up as she lie in bed)... AT 5 YEARS OLD!
Fanion from Norfolk, Virginia on September 26, 2014:
My mother (single-parent family) ever actually let me learn basis life skills during my early years, and then charged me with those very tasks at the age of twelve without requiring mys siblings to follow suit. Also, expected me to follow her belief system without having taken the time to adequately brainwash me first (though that one may have been for the best).
moonlake from America on September 26, 2014:
You had great parents they cared about you put a roof over your head. You went to school clean and you knew when you walked in the door you had a nice warm place to be and food in your tummy much more than some kids have. You went off to college maybe you were a roommate from hell but most boys are. Very likely there was not sunscreen when you were growing up. The funny things in our life are the things we remember. My aunts and Mom in the 50's dressed like ghost hid in the dark jumped out from the bushes at us and scare all the kids to death and there was always a spooky man banging on the window according to them. When I get together with cousins those are the happy times we talk about. Enjoyed your hub.
Mark Tulin from Santa Barbara, California on September 26, 2014:
Enjoy your humor, especially the part where they leave body parts out of your pictures. Good perspectives on a good theme. Thanks
Suzie from Carson City on September 26, 2014:
Mac...This hub is a true GEM! I positively love it...so true and quite funny at the same time. You have to know, you were talking about MY parents! LOL....Oh the memories you stirred.
Love your sense of humor. Let's face it....if we couldn't laugh about this fact, we'd all be in lifelong, aggressive therapy and forbidden to use sharp objects.
The very best part for my sister and I...became the hours of conversation and hysterical laughter.....discussing our "parents" years after the fact!.....Payback? Our adult children, I'm sure......do the same!!..........Up+++ shared, pinned tweeted & googled..........
Barack James from Green City in the Sun on September 26, 2014:
After all, you'r not a failure like your profile name suggests: At least you learnt something and you'll not be a bad parent to your kids.
Shasta Matova from USA on September 26, 2014:
This is really funny and oh so true!
Theresa Jonathan from Maseru, Lesotho on September 26, 2014:
Good Hub! Thanks for listing those things that really shows that some parents have limited skill to shape behavior and end up resorting to threatening instead of empowering their children with information why they should not do something. If a house is too clean to live in, it is not a home and therefore not enjoyable. Children need to learn basic skills including types of food to avoid. In other words if you are a parent you cannot afford to be ignorant about holistic health and the impact of emotional hurts. it is good to hear you taking care of your medical condition. Do forgive your parents, I am sure they loved you very much!
Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on September 26, 2014:
This really had me rolling, and thanks! I brought my kids up in the 70's so maybe its is not that bad. Really funny, thanks
Delilah from los angeles, ca on September 25, 2014:
funny and awesome in the way you wrote this hub I really enjoyed reading it haha it made me laugh and that can be hard to do!
Mackenzie Wright (author) from nowhere and everywhere on September 24, 2014:
I have no doubt of that, mactavers. Just as I joke with my parents about their mistakes, my kids (now grown) joke with me about my mistakes. And my parents joke with me about my mistakes. And my children joke with my parents about their mistakes. We're a pretty happy family-- we accept each other for who we are, forgive each other for mistakes, and laugh and joke together a lot. There's no grudges here, just humor.
mactavers on September 24, 2014:
Wow! I know that many times my children who are now adults (one is a parent) often have a very different version of various events than I remember. I know that they have not always been right and neither have I. If you hold to doing EVERYTHING different than your parents did, I'm still betting that your children will be quick to point out what a lousy job of parenting you did. It's just the way of the world!
Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on September 22, 2014:
WE just basically did not exist as far as my parents were concerned. We were put out on the streets and left to our own devices. It got me into a lot of trouble and I am lucky to still be here!
Beth Perry from Tennesee on September 21, 2014:
I came to read this article thinking you had to be some whiny emo-type, but omg, you relate these experience so humorously! And I can sense the true affection you hold for your folks.
I can relate totally to having a clean fanatic mom and those, "We'll see" replies. I would have been happier with a definite "NO!".
Very nicely done Hub, and thanks so much for entertaining me! Voting up.
RoSelou on September 21, 2014:
I enjoyed reading this. There are times that they have done it but I think it is still okay, just a part of my life lessons.
Emily Tack from USA on September 21, 2014:
Love this! I had to vote "Other" in your poll, though, because none of those applied to me. My parents were strict, but my mother did have her issues. I married early, because of them.
Really, really enjoyed reading this, a LOT!
James Livingood from Seattle, WA on September 21, 2014:
Reminds me of a parental trick I heard from an ex. Their dad placed a speaker in a hand puppet. He tucked the two girls in, waited, then started talking as he if he were the doll.
He did not win father of the year that year.
David B Katague from Northern California and the Philippines on September 21, 2014:
Funny but true in some cases. Enjoy reading this hub. Cheers!
Sweetpea Flur from Philippines on September 21, 2014:
I enjoyed reading your hub. Somehow I can relate to you about how parents can be so cruel but in a funny way though. Sometimes they're weird but most of the time they're cool especially when they spoil you with all the goodies you can think of. haha
Penny Godfirnon from Southern Iowa on September 19, 2014:
My Father did his best to make us racist, but I rose up against it. We were raised to think only Family means anything, school, friends, your own interests and independence was overlooked. I grew up thinking all I needed was a husband and children, the rest would fall into place. Boy was that bad information and lead to a painful life changing that.
Karen Ray from Oklahoma on September 16, 2014:
That's funny. I can relate to many of the things you mentioned, not the least was always squinting into the sun for photos. My parents had no trouble saying no but there was a lot of that "We'll see" or "Go ask your dad" - which was surely a no. Brought back memories.