I was often reminded of how lucky I was to have a family with two parents. My mother’s parents had divorced, and this haunted her for the rest of her life. Many of my friends were from single-parent or blended families and envied how "normal" my family seemed to be.
"You are so lucky. I would have given anything for my parents to stay together."
"I hate having to see my dad on weekends. You are lucky yours gets to live with you all the time."
"I wish my parents loved each other like your mum and dad love each other. You are so lucky."
If I was so lucky, why was I so desperately unhappy?
People only saw what we allowed them to see. And in my mother’s case, she only saw what she wanted to see. Her little family had two parents, and she swore she would never divorce my father. She convinced herself this was enough not to repeat the same mistakes her own parents made.
But history did repeat itself and it was devastating.
My parents had a very toxic relationship. Both of them came from abusive childhoods and often used this to excuse their toxic behaviours. The way they saw it, they’d had a hard life, so they didn’t care if they made other people’s lives hard too. That included their children.
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We seemed like a very loving family on the surface. My parents were very outgoing and sociable people, and people thought this was the same as happy and fulfilled.
My dad was a born entertainer, constantly cracking jokes and brightening people’s day. My friends thought he was hilarious. Many of my friends didn’t have dads or their dads didn’t spend much time with them, and they looked to my dad as an example of what a dad should be like.
My mother was very emotionally expressive and charming. She would shower people with attention, compliments, and drop everything if someone needed her help. She was kind to my friends and encouraged them to call her mum.
Despite their lovely qualities, this treatment didn’t extend to their own children. My father hardly bothered with me, finding me too quiet and sensitive. He favoured my younger sister, who was more of a tomboy. He had wanted a son but got me instead. I don’t think he ever got over the disappointment. I sometimes questioned whether he was my real dad because of how little attention he paid me compared to my sister. But we looked so alike that it was impossible, so I had to admit to myself my actual dad didn’t like me.