Yes please and no thank you.

In my childhood homes, rudeness was not tolerated. My step-father was a drunk and therefore, we only had the space to tolerate his rudeness. He was also the tallest and brought home a paycheck; the grace to fail belonged only to him.

We answered the phone as follows: (Drunk step-dad’s last name) residence. May I ask who is calling?

We did not misbehave at restaurants.

We did not speak back…more than once.

We held doors and remained seated and spoke when spoken to; if spoken to.

It was very important to my step-father that we look presentable in public. Our hair was always brushed and we always wore lovely clothes when on family outings. Appearances mattered; more than anything. Because in a home like ours, the facade is the only thing that keeps the charade alive. “What a lovely family you have!” and we were so lovely and so incredibly sad.

We went on vacations and we even had the makings of what could have been an idyllic childhood – playing unsupervised for hours on end and into quiet nights in safe neighborhoods. A gang of children with scabby knees playing the most exciting game of Hide-and-Seek behind lamp posts and the neighbor’s garage doors.

But, my step-father was a drunk. And, when I think back on my childhood, that colors every photograph and every story and every pumpkin carving picture and every time we found him crying with my mother. The two of them moving somewhere new to make a happy life. And most of the time, we believed the move would change us. Until one day, we stopped believing.

I don’t begrudge my mother for doing the best that she could. I’m supposed to say that. It’s not true, I do. I have never felt so trapped in my life that I couldn’t leave. So, over the years, my hard edged anger toward my mother softened to pity. Pity feels far worse than anger. It sits uneasy on the soul.

And, I’ve spent so much time lately saying, “My step-dad was a drunk.” that I started to wonder why that mattered so much.

It’s because I’ve started to feel trapped in my own life. And, I’ve started to pity myself and pity is sitting uneasy on the soul.

I am not tethered to a bottle, but, I am tethered to this depression I can’t quite crawl out of. I’m tethered to self-doubt and self-restraint and self, self, self, selfish concentration on my current lack of happiness.

I do not want the kids to say, “My mother was always miserable.” which feels the same on my lips as does, “My step-dad was a drunk.”

So, this is what shame feels like and suddenly, my step-dad doesn’t seem like that villainous of a character; the dark-eyed dragon I always imagined him to be. I always thought he didn’t fight his demons hard enough. As if we had any sway over his unsavory passenger. I wonder if he felt as helpless as I often do about mine.

And how long do we have before the children stop believing that mom is doing the best she can?

Just please…don’t let it be today.


  1. It’s scary and eye-opening and powerful when we see ourselves in the adults who impacted our childhood. It’s natural, too. Maybe, instead of the parents who failed you, you can try to see yourself in the women who love you. The mothers who are failing every day, who are sad and tired more frequently than they are happy and joyful, especially this time of year. You are more like us than you are like him, and that isn’t a bad thing. Find your joy, friend. Take it when it comes, and know that your children see you for what they need you to be, not what you feel you are.

  2. What a heartbreaking post. I’ve never battled something like depression or alcoholism before, but I have my own demons that I’m terrified of passing down to my children. I was raised in a house without love, and more than anything I am afraid that I won’t know how to give my family the unconditional love that they deserve. I fight every day against my weaknesses and my failures to protect my children. But I believe that being willing to admit you have a problem and to do anything to show your children that you are doing your best for them, means that you will not fail. You already are a good mom. You fight because you love them. Children are strong and they can survive a lot as long as they have love. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

  3. This was a very heartfelt post. I have followed your blog and laughed and cried because I could relate. I shivered when I read this post. It sounded very familiar in so many ways. We want our children to have better lives then we experienced. In the end, we do the best that we can, and providing love and support is the most important. I applaud you for saying (often) what we all think. Thank you 🙂

  4. I so identify with you. My step father, however was pretty great, but I know just how you feel. I pity my mother for the crap she is so scared of in life and her insane opinions on everything! I too feel trapped and I am grateful you have created a forum for people to share and vent. I am the mother of a 6 year old with leukemia (she is doing very well) but this illness has trapped me into living back with her father, my ex husband who left me for another woman after a miscarriage and a confession of no longer wanting any more children ( he then went on to have a child with the woman he left me for) needless to say he and her did not make it and now he is in a drama filled custody battle) but yes we agreed that it was best for me to move back in the family home and take on this monster cancer as a family. But now I have given up my job to focus on her care and I feel trapped indefinitely with this person I had to did so deep to forgive for braking me and my family. I feel him wanting us to return to being a couple but I just don’t have that kind of love for him anymore. And I’m not sure I ever will for anyone. I want to so bad but how will that ever happen. I try to hide my never ending sadness from my perfect little girl but I sence she feels it. Thanks for letting me rant! Wine anyone?

  5. You are so strong, and such a strong voice for so many who do not have their own. I hope you will be able to find the help you need that will make you happy, because you deserve to be. You are wonderful. You are talented. You are generous and kind. You have enriched so many peoples lives. I trust completely that you will always do what is absolutely best for your family, but I want you to know that you are amazing.

  6. Going through depression (and anxiety) myself, and now finally working on the treatment process, I can relate so well to what your going through. My mother was clinically depressed throughout my childhood and I could never understand why she was so lost in herself and her problems. I always just wanted her to snap out of it. Now I stand where she stood and I can understand all of it. I worry so much about my kids growing up thinking I am a cold and withdrawn person, lost in myself. When you have depression, its very hard to focus on anything but yourself and what you are feeling. I am currently getting help and things are actually getting better. Sometimes we think that feeling the way we feel is normal and that we should just keep moving forward but its very hard to go on that way forever. Reaching out for help whether through therapy or even medication does not mean that you have failed. I wish someone had told me that when this all started for me. I read your blog regularly, you are obviously a strong person and you’ll get through it!

  7. Ann Zweckfam says:

    Oh God. I get it. I really get it. It helps to know I’m not the only one. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you.

  8. Like so many others, I get it. I too have those days that feel like lead and the weight of lifting your own soul feels like too much effort. My father was abusive and mentally ill (untreated). My mother was terrified but put on an impenetrable front that only made us feel more isolated, alone with expectations that were impossible to live up too. I spent many years feeling angry and afraid. I am working toward forgiveness, and a good relationship with my mother, as it now seems possible. I’ve pursued a “better me” for years through reading and counseling. Only recently I spoke to my doctor about medication, and the difference has been immeasurable. Like previous posters I am gaining new understanding of my Mother’s distance. Of her anguish and fears. Of how I hope I am not lost in myself and consumed with the effort of just getting through the day. I love my children more than anything, and want more than anything to do well by them. I wish you all courage, love (for yourself too), faith and strength. May we all live the lives of our wildest dreams, and give others the space to do so as well.

  9. Even when you are writing about something hard, your words are beautiful. You kids will and do see you as strong and brave because you recognize what your mom and step dad didn’t. I am praying for you and your search for happiness. xo

  10. Completely relate. After my fifth child I went off the deep end and had no choice but to seek help for my depression. I grew up w a drunk father and a depressed mother. I’m sticking my heels in hard and fighting this with all I have for my kids. I’m not going down without a fight. This society has put so much pressure on moms and it makes motherhood that much harder. Not to mention pleasing our husbands occasionally. I read your posts, blogs, you got fire in you. You’re the real deal and help a lot of moms smile at the end of yet another shitty day. Your recognizing it, your accepting it, and you’ll break the cycle. Depression is lonely and scarey but you have support and lots of ears listening, you’ll kick depressions ass and make it to the other side, it ain’t easy, but nobody said it would be!!!! Hang in there momma, one foot in front of the other…

  11. Honey, I do not at all minimize what you are feeling right now, but as a neighbor to you I know this bleak, freezing, snowy winter isn’t helping anyone’s outlook. We’re under this oppressive season and we’re all feeling a little physically and existentially trapped. I believe you do right by your kids, I believe your kids are happy. I am sorry that you are struggling like this. I hope time brings clarity and the change you need. (And as someone who grew up with alcoholism, I get that too.)

  12. Beautifully written post. And brave, to boot.

    I know this feeling exactly. One thing to remember about kids is that they want to be happy it’s their default place. Your emotions are not theirs, no matter how much you might believe that because of what you lived through as a child.

    Another thing to remember is that change can and does happen. Brenna’s right about the weather: we’re all suffering a bit more profoundly for being trapped indoors. And there’s another trap so many of us are in: this new professional motherhood. Remember this, it’s your job to feed, clothe, and shelter your kids. Be kind to them as you’re able; be kinder to yourself. They will grow up and be their own people because, surprise, they already are. Remove the impulse to take their everything as your responsibility. Focus instead on your responsibility to yourself. You do that and the happier environment you’re striving for will follow.

    Happiness is not a given in life, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be your default setting.

    Much, much love, B.

  13. love and hugs. thank you for sharing this. it is no easy task to rip off the cover and expose yourself but yet you do it in such a beautiful way.

  14. Oh I wish I could be there for you more than just through the computer. This is all so brave of you to share. I hope you can see a glimmer of the amazing mom that you are on these dreary days. I think the huge difference between you and your past is that you are trying so hard and your kids see that part of you so much more than the struggle going on inside your head. Love you.

  15. Beautiful written. Not the same situation, but I can see the resemblance in my life. Thank you fort this perspective.

  16. This is just amazing. Self aware and painful and uncomfortable and…damn, truth and life and depression all blend together for me into raw and awful human goo.
    That’s part of the dark and the shame and the exhaustion and the guilt.

  17. Thank you for posting this.

  18. “My mother was always miserable.” My worst, darkest fear is that that statement will dominate their memories of childhood. And I wonder every. single. day. when they will get old enough to stop forgiving me. I feel every word of this so deeply, and I hate that you’re in the same place. Just know, when you’re in that dark corner, I am in a dark corner across the room, in the shadows, loving you, my friend.

  19. My mother was often miserable. Often. And I adored every sad bone in her body until the day she died. Big hugs to you:)

  20. Bethany, this paragraph:

    “It was very important to my step-father that we look presentable in public. Our hair was always brushed and we always wore lovely clothes when on family outings. Appearances mattered; more than anything. Because in a home like ours, the facade is the only thing that keeps the charade alive. “What a lovely family you have!” and we were so lovely and so incredibly sad.”

    My father was an alcoholic. I never understood why appearances were so important to him. He drove a fancy car he couldn’t afford, ate at restaurants out of his budget, bought my mother fur coats and fancy jewelry she refused to wear. You put into words something I hadn’t allowed myself to really think about.

    You know I deal with that bastard depression, too, and I have the same worries. Right now I’m in a surprisingly good spot (yay for the right meds) but there have been some very dark times. And I worry that my kids will glob onto those memories and not the craft-making, hug-filled days. But as many of your wise commenters pointed out, you are aware of this fear, unlike the adults in your life when you were a child. That, right there, is important. So take care of YOU and the rest will follow. It’s a 100% true cliche. xo

  21. Very raw. I have no experience with my parents being alcoholics. However, my mother’s were. At Christmas(now that I look back) everyone drank–well most were drunk. Anyway, the effects on the child of the alcholics is pretty complex. My mother on one hand forgives but on the other is still very, very angry. She was the oldest. She remembers the most. She has had the most problems with depression throughout her life. ADHD runs in our family. I often wonder if it is the precipice of the drinking. The inablitity to manage it. In turn I am angry that their alcoholism caused so much damage to my mother and her siblings. Not to mention all of us grandchildren. Every single one of us (4) have ADHD. Some different than others. My brother and I are quiet type. The others loud and obnoxious. But we have all made terribly impulsive decisions and nearly screwed our lives up pretty good. But ADHD is hereditary. As is addiction. That is the scary part about having children. I feel like I am already screwing up my kids. It is so hard to manage depression and having to care for children at the same time. I am inbetween changing meds and I just feel like this crap will never end. My worst fear is to end up like my mother. An emotional basket case ridden with anxiety. Ugh.

  22. I get it. I felt this post in the pit of my stomach.

    But I also saw the ray of sunshine in this post: self-awareness. It is a powerful thing. It is a thing that will keep your “best” out of anybody’s pity party. There is no facade in this post, only a spotlight. You are not recreating your past, you are striving for a healthy life. xoxo Ellen

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