The Pros And Cons Of Growing Up With Crazy Parents

Flóra Soós
Flóra Soós
An estimated 1 in 4 people are affected by mental illness sometime in their lives. As a result, a shit-ton of children grow up with parents who suffer from mental illness like I did, whether it’s a personality disorder, affective disorder, or a more severe mental illness. When this happens, sometimes it falls on the kids to take on inappropriate responsibilities and roles, which, I argue provides both advantages and disadvantages.

You Will Never Be Boring (Pro)

When you grow up with crazy people, crazy things happen. You develop a thick skin and a sense of humor because you have to. I swear, the jokester in every circle of friends is the one with an alcoholic asshole of a father who beats the dog. You’ve got stories. Lots of ‘em. Funny ones, like that time your paranoid mother wrapped the computer in tinfoil to protect it from government hackers. Exciting ones, like that time your sister keyed the words “Cheating Scumbag” all over the car your jerk ex-boyfriend respected more than you. Sad ones, like that time your father dragged you down the stairs by the hair for telling him you’d rather eat shit than go to Walmart. Your life has been interesting and will probably always be interesting. Remember this when you feel upset about your circumstances. No matter how crappy you feel or how bad it gets, you have stories, so you have something to offer this world.

You Learn How To Be An Adult On Your Own (Con)

If your parents are mentally ill and haven’t sought treatment or even acknowledged their own illness, it’s very likely that they don’t quite have the “adult stuff” 100% figured out. Maybe your mom doesn’t know how to manage her money. Maybe your dad doesn’t know how to control his temper in public. Our parents are the first models we have for knowing how to live and one of the primary ways we learn is through imitation. When you have crazy parents, you have to learn & un-learn a lot of things on the road to adulthood. For example, one of the biggest things I struggle with as an adult is money. Growing up, my mother dealt with bill collectors the way she dealt with any entity she considered powerful and malevolent: routine avoidance. A credit score was an arbitrary number that “the man” used to keep you fearful and submissive. As an adult, I don’t know how to save my money. I don’t know how to keep up with bills. It’s something I’m learning little by little by trial and error, which sucks, but hey, it’s what you gotta do to survive.

You Know How To Deal With Crazy Situations (Pro)

You’ve certainly witnessed enough of them. I know so many people who wouldn’t know how to handle it if they were in a crisis situation. When you have crazy parents, that shit’s old meme. If you grow up in a household that is erratic and/or hostile, you quickly come to view the whole world as such and you act accordingly. I’ve experienced robberies, homelessness, divorce, drug deals, custody battles, repossession, being arrested, being harassed, being assaulted. I’ve witnessed apartments burning down, people overdosing, people getting murdered, people committing suicide. Yes, over time you might come to understand the nature of the world as cruel and apathetic to you, to human beings—and this is undoubtedly a painful and terribly hard thing to accept—but honestly, it’s the truth, the way it really is, and once you make peace with this realization, you’ll surprisingly find that life is a lot easier to live. We are just chemicals, products of our environment; nothing is our fault but there is no one to blame. Things sometimes happen and you don’t know why. I feel like people who have crazy parents come to this realization a lot sooner than those who don’t.

You Are Bitter (Con)

Life handed you a shit sandwich. It’s not fair. Why me? Everything sucks. No one understands. Etc, etc. We all feel like that at some point. I felt like that for years. Aw, fuck it, I still secretly feel like that sometimes. This is truly poisonous thinking and it can prevent you from being happy. For years I felt like it wasn’t my responsibility to fight off my natural, unhealthy ways, because goddamnit, I didn’t choose to be this way, I had nothing to do with the shit-show of genetics I inherited, nor would it have been humanly possible for me to have had the maturity in my developmental stages to realize that “Hey, Mom and Dad probably aren’t acting the way healthy folks act.”

If you spend your whole life being bitter about your shitty circumstances, your shitty circumstances probably won’t improve. Sometimes when I think about my mom and dad, I get really fucking sad, because they’re still in the throes of their respective mental illnesses and maybe they always will be. That doesn’t mean I have to be. With bitterness comes an unconscious understanding that it could’ve been different, which means that it CAN be different.

You’re Intuitive As Fuck (Pro)

Living at home with one or two mentally ill parents meant that every day you were presented with a new puzzle. Fun, right? Naw, dawg. Shoving a puzzle piece into the wrong spot had negative consequences that could, at times, be traumatic for you. Over the years, you noticed that X meant Y and Y probably meant Z, and so on. You realized that domestic crises could potentially be averted if all parties involved knew how to handle the variables. It became necessary to constantly gauge situations: the physical surroundings, the people, and the “general feeling” of the atmosphere. Was your chronically depressed mother ready to burst into tears if given the wrong look? Possibly. Was her right eye twitching slightly when she looked at you? Was her frame stiff? Was the apartment in disarray? Was the air thick with the smoke of endless cigarettes? What was the best thing to do? You smiled warmly and hugged her like you hadn’t seen her in years, and no tears were shed. Was your Borderline father on the brink of a violent rage? Were his eyes wide? Was he pacing the room? You thought about the things that generally set him off–a list scrolled through your brain–you looked around and observed that it was really, really messy in the living room. He hates mess. What was the best thing to do? You took your shoes off and neatly placed them in the shoe rack, kept your greeting short and sweet, quickly gathered all the items in the living room that were yours, and exited left to your bedroom sanctuary to do homework in peace. Now, there were a shit-ton of times when all the intuition in the world couldn’t have helped you control a situation but with each new puzzle you developed problem-solving skills, empathy, and an early understanding of the world’s confusing, chaotic nature.

You’re Probably Also Crazy (Pro/Con)

Who we are is determined by our experiences and more importantly, our brains. It’s not faaaair, we can’t hellllllp it, wah wah wah, but that’s the way it is. Your self-esteem comes from your prefrontal cortex. Your memory comes from your hippocampus. Your emotional tendencies? Holla back, amygdala. Not only are you born with the burden of your parents’ shitty genetics, which determine the hardwiring of your brain, but you’re also more likely to develop behaviors, feelings, thoughts, and personality traits that are unhealthy if you’re subject to such things when growing up. Therefore, you’re probably crazy, too. However, nothing is permanent. Your biological tendencies can make you predisposed to The Crazy but guess what? Our brains can change. How, you ask? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Once you’ve determined your specific brand of crazy, the next step is to distinguish what you do and feel that is healthy and what is not. Therapy can help with that. A fresh set of eyes when trying to solve a complicated puzzle can work wonders. Mental illness has caused you a lot of pain over the years, but there’s a reason that natural selection hasn’t voted it off the humanity island and I’ll bet you a shot of whiskey that your own family’s brand of crazy has made you stronger than a lot of other fuckers out there. Us crazy kids of crazy parents already know what fucked up things life can bring, so come at us, bro. We may always be prepared for the worst, but we’re going to fight like hell for the best. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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