When Did You Realize Your Parents Weren’t Perfect?
05.10.17
Parents Aren't Perfect May 2017 Man Repeller-8082

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I was probably about 20 before I thought of my parents as complex and individual beings. You know, like people who just happen to have children rather than, say, my respective fifth and six limbs. When I think back, I can see why. I spent the first two decades of my life modeling my idea of personhood around them. They taught me to walk, talk, eat, be. Copying their behavior and assuming it was right was kind of how growing up worked. They were ideals. To see them as flawed and messy humans might have undercut that process.

The consequences of such a perspective were twofold. On the one hand, not treating them as equals meant listening to their good advice and respecting their rules very consistently. Whenever I went to friends’ houses and heard them fight with or talk back to their parents, I was always appalled. I had no idea such a tone was even allowed. On the other hand, our relationship found a new kind of authenticity once I broke out of that way of thinking. Once I really saw my parents for their humanity, our relationship grew deeper. Maybe even felt more unconditional. Seeing them as multidimensional (and in some cases regretful) people helped me forgive myself for my own flaws and regrets.

Did you go through a similar arc? Or were you one of those kids that always knew your parental figures were flawed? How did that feel, if so? Do any of you still think your parents are perfect? Are they?! (They can’t be.)

Photo by Edith Young; Williams Sonoma glass candlesticks.

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  • Adrianna

    Like, age 8? You quickly learn your parents are human when a check bounces in ShopRite and you leave the grocery store empty-handed.

    • ihaveacooch

      money issues during my childhood were also my eye opener that my parents weren’t superheroes. i was so confused when we didn’t have money for certain things or i was refused something i wanted; like what? can’t you just go get some money out of that machine by the bank?!

  • Sarah Bauer

    I am 28 years old and I still have to check in with myself once in a while on this, because I look to my parents for advice on pretty much everything. When you hold someone’s opinion in such high regard, it’s easy to forget they are actually as prone to messing up and being horrible as any other human animal on the planet. My parents are so very human, but I still love to think my mom is eerily always right.

  • tmm16

    Probably around the age of 9-10 when I was able to semi comprehend my father’s mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, alcoholism) and why he acted the way he did, why certain events happened, and the repercussions of them. Throughout my teenage years, I had a lot of pent up anger about my father’s mistakes and held them against him. Now, I think I’m grateful as he unknowingly taught me it’s okay to make them in life and I probably will and have already.

  • Abby

    Two instances come to mind:
    – When I started working in restaurants and realized that my parents can be kind of rude to waitstaff (which, after years of reflection, I have determined is not on purpose, thank god)

    – When I got engaged and had to see them wrestle with the fact that I was making my own choices, and those choices weren’t what they really wanted for me.

    • tmm16

      I’ve encountered the first as well. When my mom visited me, we went out to eat and she left a 15% tip. She also has no issue flagging down wait staff. I don’t understand because she has worked in a restaurant before. But alas, human.

      • Alexia

        In what world is a 15% tip bad? I mean, I get it if your meal is like 10$, you should at least leave 2$, but if your meal of over $100, 15% is respectable.

        • At least in New York, leaving anything less than 18% is considered pretty rude. I think it makes a lot of sense, especially if you take into account the higher cost of living in the city, and the fact that tips are often the majority of servers’ income. It’s definitely different in other parts of the country—where I grew up in the midwest, 15% is a-okay.

          • tmm16

            I live in Philadelphia and was a server for 3 years. 20% is standard/acceptable and if I got anything less, I was offended and pissed. I agree and think it varies geographically.

  • Court E. Thompson

    Dad – mid-20s, when I realized that his bad temper when I was little was a result of being overworked and stressed with four small (and quite whiny) children at home.
    Mom – 29, after my dad died, watching her inability to rationally handle it and how it affected my siblings and myself.

    I wonder if it’s always bad situations that crack the veneer…

  • Zooey P

    In reading this, I realized that my parents have this problem in reverse. My parents don’t think of me as a person – they think of me as their daughter. Property that is exactly how they like it all the time. Hence, I can’t be myself around them (which negatively reflects our relationship). Sad.

  • Caro A

    Yes– early 20s. I think it was when I started paying some of my own bills and tried to navigate my emotions- and went through a really really painful breakup. Realizing how complex and difficult it is to grow up and become a mature, forward moving adult—and I was like, holy shit, my parents are not super humans…they are humans. I also remember realizing that my parents were not given a guidebook when they started having babies- they just winged it- like all parents do. WTF.

  • Thea xx

    I’m 18 and still think my parents are perfect, have lived perfect lives and have a perfect relationship, maybe as a result of a sheltered childhood? Maybe I’ll have a revelation when I’m 20…

  • Sheila T.

    my dad got sick a couple times when I was little, so visiting him in the hospital was probably when I realized that my parents aren’t superhuman. also, watching people I grew up with get married and have children is really making me realize that my parents are just like everyone else (except better, because they’re my parents).

  • I think I reached the conclusion pretty early on (like 13 or 14) because I was raised in one of those families where I “talked back” to my parents a lot. Sometimes I was being a brat, but most of the time, I was simply questioning “why?” My parents raised my sister and I to be strong-willed individuals by questioning authority from a young age and realizing why certain rules were in place. My parents made an effort to never tell us “because I said so.”

    They also used to bring my sister and I to parties when were young, and we would hang around and visit before they put us in a crib upstairs until they left at 3 a.m. I saw my mom throw up in my driveway after drinking too many B-52 shots during a card night while I was in high school, and I’ve seen my dad get hit in the face with a frisbee after consuming way too much rum and coke on a camping trip. Don’t get me wrong, those were rare weekends that became more infrequent as I got older. They nagged and hovered and lectured me about grades plenty too, but they were human beings.

    • Also, in college when I realized my father’s political views were the result of being a privileged, upper middle class, white male with little exposure to people different than him. Finding my own opinions in politics was an eye-opener.

  • Manal

    I’ve always thought of this as something of a life-changing moment, though maybe only for me. I started seeing them as people, not parents, around the time they got divorced. I must have been around 11. We understandably idealise our parents, so to see them as raw, flawed and vulnerable human beings was a sobering experience, and it’s comforting to know how others have experienced it in a similar way.

  • alex

    My mother is an alcoholic, recovered since I was about 19. I first figured out something was up when I was 4 or 5; I remember thinking my mom was “different at night.”

  • starryhye

    My mom and dad have very different personalities. Mom was a previous hippie, fun loving, creative type. Dad is a conservative, super serious, disciplinarian, child of immigrants. Their personalities clashed often and it didn’t take me long to realize they weren’t perfect. They did their best when it came to raising us three kids. I hated hearing them fight and slam doors, but oddly enough I think their two distinct personalities helped balance us out.

    Now I’m on the other side of it, raising two kids, hoping I don’t royally screw them up!

  • elizabeth

    When I was in the 6th grade my teacher told the class, “One day you’re all going to wake up and get slapped in the face with the realization that your parents aren’t perfect.” In an attempt to avoid being surprised by such a big realization, I immediately began nitpicking my parents’ behaviors to identify and take note of their flaws.

  • Emily

    I realized this around age 20. Like some of the other commenters it was around the time when I was gaining independence, living in an apartment, paying bills, and was also going through some tough emotional and mental health stuff. I still think my parents are amazing but going through that transition to being an adult showed me how much all adults kind of just make it up as they go along. It actually gave me a greater appreciation for them and how well they handle and balance things, like career, marriage, and family, and still have time to do fun things like garden, swim laps, and kiss each other in the kitchen. cute!!

  • Sami

    Probably around 8 years old… grew up in a dysfunctional and complicated household. A defining moment was when my mother struggled to stay sober during particularly difficult nights… I was also definitely a “talking back” kid, and I questioned everything my parents did and hated doing things I was commanded to (still do… actually).

  • TinySoprano

    At five I got up on my high horse and instructed my dad that drinking ‘bubble drink’ (coke etc) wasn’t healthy and he should stop. And I remember thinking ‘poor silly dad, he just doesn’t know it’s bad for him yet.’

    tl;dr: I was a crazy pretentious child

  • Meg S

    When I found out my mother went through my drawers to make sure i wasn’t doing anything inappropriate all through high school. I was 19 the first time I found out she did it because she got upset over something she found. She did this until I moved out for good. I love her, but I don’t trust and I probably never will.

    When my Dad told me he didn’t think I should go someplace on vacation because he didn’t think it was appropriate. I no longer lived at home, I had an adult job, and I paid for my trip myself. My mom told him that it was my vacation, that I could go where I wanted, and just because he didn’t want to go there doesn’t mean I didn’t. I’ll never take my dad to Asia, but I had a blast.

    • Greer Clarke

      Feel that about your mum.
      What’s inappropriate about Asia? One of the best travel locations on earth

      • Meg S

        Thanks, she’s still a bit unbearable at times, but now that we don’t live together, our relationship has vastly improved. Still don’t fully trust her, but we don’t fight daily any longer.

        Appropriate might not have been the right word. He didn’t feel that South Korea was safe because of North Korea. Granted, I went in 2015 and it was a different time. I might be slightly more worried now, but no one in Seoul took North Korea seriously, so why worry? It was much safer there than the cities I grew up between.

        Asia was beautiful, full of history and culture that’s lacking in America. There’s a lot of history in several thousand year old countries. I’ve got a new appreciation for both Japanese and Korean culture (the two countries I visited), and I would go back without a second thought.

    • Lil

      I feels. In a lot of minority families, such as my own, there are no such things as trust and privacy for children.

      • Meg S

        Yeah. I think it’s partially because my sister and I were raised in such a different environment from where she was raised that she wasn’t sure what to do. She grew up on a farm in rural Ohio, and we grew up in a large metropolitan area. There were a lot of influences she didn’t have. But that’s no excuse for invading my privacy that way. We’ve never talked about it, because I know i wouldn’t handle the conversation well. Since I moved out and we no longer live together, our relationship has greatly improved,but the trust still isn’t there and probably never fully will be.

        • Lil

          It’s terrible that your mother broke your trust.

          But life is too short and we all will only ever have one mother in our lives. Maybe try to weigh all the cons against the pros about your mother? Did she put a roof on your head and kept you fed? Nobody’s perfect and parents are human too. I’m sure you’ve probably deeply disrespected her in the past at least once, even if unintentionally. You clearly understand her side too. She was just worried about you being negatively influenced. Especially since teenagers really are easily swayed, no matter how mature they are for their age.

          Maybe there’s more to the story that I’ll never understand. But as a foster child growing up, I would’ve given anything to have a mom to call my own -even an imperfect, flawed one.

          • Meg S

            Our relationship is fine now. We get along now that I don’t live there, we’re too different to really have a good relationship while living under the same roof. She’s obsessively neat, I’m a little messy.

            There’s always more to the story, but her behavior had more to do with my wild older sister than it had to do with me. It took me a long time to realize that, but I trusted her with everything I had and I feel like she betrayed it in a big way. Like i said, thing are better now. We don’t live together, and we get along much better than we did before.

            I have friends who are adopted or grew up in foster homes. Sometimes I need a kick in the butt as a reminder to appreciate what I have, even if it’s not perfect. I don’t think I’d want perfect. Perfect is pretty much anything but, in my experience.

  • Lil

    When I was four I remember waking up home alone and looking for my parents. I asked a stranger -who was in my garage- where my mom was. She said, “I don’t know, but she hasn’t paid rent for two months straight.” That lady was our landlord. This was also probably my first memory of being left home alone (which would soon become a normal, daily thing).

    Two decades later and I still get anxiety attacks about not being able to pay bills, despite having worked steady jobs and having supported myself since 16.

  • Guin

    Probably when I was about 8. They say when you become a parent yourself that you start to understand your parents better. I found the opposite to be true.

  • Julia

    It took me a long time to realise that my parents’ opinions, priorities and religious beliefs were not the absolute truth. My parents were cheerful, funny and NEVER fought. I felt incredibly lucky to have them and did my utmost to please them. By my early twenties I realised there were many sides to them that I was not shown – and vice versa. The worst was telling them I wasn’t following Catholicism any more. They were heartbroken. We’re still coming to terms with the differences in our value systems, but I feel that our relationship is being stripped of any expectations and becoming truer and stronger as a result.

  • I realised it when I saw my mom cry. And when my dad lost his dad (his mom had passed away a while ago when I was a kid).

  • ReadER451

    When I was 5 watching them fight everyday. (They divorced.)

  • Kelly

    I was 9, when my dad passed away very suddenly. That was a wake up call.

  • CDC

    When my parents got divorced my senior year of high school—and I had the unfortunate role of being privy as to why (the very detailed why)—I realized they weren’t perfect and it threw me off-balance for a while. They were my pillars of good behaviour, and if they faltered where should I turn to? The restabilisation took a while, but I’m here and I think all of us are better off post-divorce.

  • Lisa

    my first response : HAHAHHAHAHAHHAHHAHHAHAHA when did i realize my parents wern’t perfect?! HAHHHAHAHAHHAH! *cracks knuckles*

    but seriously, I was pretty young, it’s not hard to realize after your parents force and mold you into the career and life they want because they are projecting their own fear of lack of stability on to you and your future. yea blah blah they just want the best for you, i know, but at some point you have to draw a line, and realize they also want the best for themselves.

  • lily

    When I grow up and realized my mom was my only parent and my shallow dad was just someone who took all the credit in raising us when its my mom who did every fucking thing! she help pay so much and provided with everything and not once she complained or even bragged about it. When I realized that my dad was just self loving ugly attention seeker who feeds on telling lies and creating fake scenarios and actually living in them. HA! that day I had so much respect and gratitude to my mama