#1194: “I’m moving in with my girlfriend and now my homophobic parents want to disown me.”

Hi Captain Awkward!

I came out to my parents about 3 years ago, when I was still living with them before moving abroad to start my PhD. They were horrible – and it made the next 6 months of my stay a traumatizing experience, to say the least. I think you could describe my parents as controlling, and when I came out there was a lot of ‘we HATE all the career choices you’ve made, but we had the goodness to tolerate them, and now this!’ Anyway. Moved out, moved countries, got a fuckload of therapy, and started the process of healing.

I told my mother (via a text) that I was moving in with my girlfriend and she freaked out. She is “devastated”, and my father, with whom I have not had an actual conversation since my coming out (made summer visits home real fun, if you can believe it), is “furious, and wants to disown you”. I… am not sure how to cope with this? The worst part is that I have a ticket home to visit them for nearly a month, in three weeks. Captain, I’m not sure I want to visit them (for three whole weeks!) after this terrific display of parenting. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.

Like I said, I don’t have a relationship with my father. My mother is the one I speak to on the phone and text with. I told her “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” She replied and the preview contains another allusion to my disappointing career (for the record, worked at a non-profit, doing a PhD now, only a failure insofar as “not earning hundreds of thousands as a corporate lawyer” is a failure) and… I haven’t seen the rest of it because I get avoidant when I’m anxious. Do you have any scripts for like… how to respond and how to navigate what may potentially be a long, torturous process of becoming (formally) (even more) estranged from my parents?

Bad Kid

P.S. My pronouns are she/her!

P.S. Just wanted to give a heads-up that you’re almost definitely going to recommend therapy, which I know is a big part of the answer! The most recent therapist I had didn’t really work for me, and since I’m moving in 2 weeks, I might not have a huge amount of time / resources to devote to finding a new therapist.

Dear Pretty Great Kid,

I confess, I want to embroider a sampler for all of the homophobic and transphobic parents in the world. It will say “Kindly get in the fucking sea.”

How fucking dare they.

How dare they talk about “disowning” you as if “owning” you was something they get to do in the first place.

How dare they act as if there is a mold fitted with the exact specifications for “daughter” that you were supposed to climb into so you could have the inconvenient parts of yourself, the parts called “gay” and “made a slightly different career choice than they hoped for” sheared off, how dare they act as if that is the price of being loved and being part of your family.

How dare they treat their love for you like an audition that you have to pass. How dare they act like you are in danger of failing it.

How dare they respond to your good news, the news that you are in love and happy, with disapproval and threats.

Can your parents possibly, possibly, possibly be more disappointed in you, I wonder, than I am disappointed in them at this moment? (No)

What a poisonous, empty love they offer you if these are its terms.

Let’s talk about this proposed trip. I hope I’m reaching you in time to cancel it.

I think your text to your mom about the trip was perfectly stated: “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” You were honest, clear, and specific, you shared your feelings and acknowledged hers without taking those on as your problem.

Let’s talk about your understanding of the dilemma the trip creates. You write:  “I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.”

You’re not wrong, that is exactly the dilemma that your parents are setting up for you: “Either return home as scheduled and submit to our abuse and grovel for our approval, or know that if we write you off forever we get to blame it on your latest failure to perform filial piety and tell ourselves it’s what you wanted all along.” 

You’re not wrong but also: It’s a trap. Accepting this dilemma at face value means accepting that you are at fault somehow for [checks notes] being an adult human who is happily in love with another human, pursuing graduate studies at the highest level of your chosen field, and not presenting yourself as scheduled so that your parents can download all their fears and bigotries in person instead of from a safe (distant) distance.

Listen, there’s nothing quite like flying a very long way at your own expense to visit people who think they get to be mean to you about who you are, while the knot of dread in your stomach rises until it’s a whole elaborate braided dreadloaf that fills your torso the entire trip because you know something terrible is going to happen but you don’t know exactly when or what. Will it start on the ride from the airport, when you’re trapped alone in a car and there’s plenty of time for the person to unload all their stored disappointments on you without witnesses? Or will everyone be nice for a few days and lull you into the idea that this time it’s going to be okay, maybe they are changing, maybe you can survive it, and then, SLAM, there it is, the vitriol and deep disappointment that they’ve been saving up for you all this time? Or will it wait until the last day of the visit, the way people in a long-distance romances  pick the fights they’ve been saving up all weekend to make the parting easier? Once I stood (Unless we’re in the car I’m almost always standing when it happens, the other person is seated comfortably and I’m standing there in attendance like a messenger who just ran in with important news for the King and can’t sit or leave until the Royal Decree is handed down) while a relative unloaded their saved disappointment on me only this time I spaced out completely, just looked out the window and didn’t really listen to the words (there was nothing new, I’d wager) and when asked What I Had To Say For Myself I said “Hmmmm, interesting, and you’re always wondering why I don’t visit more often” and they were sincerely and honestly shocked. And like, WOUNDED. How could I say THAT? How could I imply that how they treated me whenever I visited might have anything to do with how often I would want to visit in the future? And then I watched them, I watched them do it in real time, I watched them make me The Bad Guy in the story, the mean, ungrateful child who threatened them with estrangement when they were just trying to help me stop being such a loser. Because that’s what Love looked like to them, me standing still while they (metaphorically speaking by my 30s, at least, thanks for small favors) licked their hand and aggressively smoothed my hair down to make me more presentable for [church][representing their class and parenting aspirations to an invisible but highly critical audience][who the fuck even knows].

You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to go. If you stay home with your girlfriend and the family rift widens (the rift that is already definitely here) after that, your parents might try to sell you and the rest of your family the story that it was you who caused the rift and that you can fix it any time you want to [by climbing into the Daughter-Mold-O-Rama][by taking your medicine i.e. their verbal abuse and neglect][a series of impossible fairy-tale tasks like spinning straw into gold that are never meant to be completed, they exist only to place you into a state of permanent failure and pre-emptive apology]. Somebody who tells you that their love for you can only be found if you travel east of the sun and west of the moon isn’t planning on you making a successful quest.

If you submit to your parents’ terms, if you decide what the hell, you’ll peel off your beautiful selkie-skin and hide it under a rock or trade your voice to the Sea Witch so that you can stealthily pass for what your family defines as human for a couple of weeks — and a lot of people do submit, under threat of escalating violence, out the very real fear that being ‘disowned’ means homelessness, worrying that that “rebellion” means being ostracized from any and all family connections, or because disability, inadequate safety nets, and/or legal discrimination against queer people force a choice between abusive care-taking and no care-taking at all, or even because you still love your parents so much and you need a temporary break from being the Lost Lamb of the family and want to feel like the Prodigal One for a minute, please know: If you’re out there reading this from inside the un-safety of the Mold-O-Rama because all the other options are even less safe, I see you, friend and I need you to know that your choice to try to preserve an unfair and difficult relationship doesn’t make them right about you.

If you decide to take the trip after all, Letter Writer, please think hard about your own comfort and safety. Can you stay with Not Your Parents (siblings, friends, other relatives, a hotel)? Can you make sure you have your own local transport so you can leave situations whenever you want to? Can you cut the parent-part of the visit short and spend most of the time visiting friendlier faces? Can you recruit local “buffers” (old friends, supportive siblings, extended family, etc.) to help you be alone with your parents less than usual, possibly not at all? Do you need [noise-cancelling headphones][pharmaceutical assistance][a code word to text to a safe nearby person which means “extract me immediately”]? All I ask, as you build this logistical moat and human chain of protective kindness and the expenses and inconveniences start to total up, can you do me a favor and at least think about chucking the whole thing and running off somewhere relaxing with your wonderful girlfriend or a stack of books you’ve been meaning to read or literally a potato with googly eyes on it (the potato, unlike your parents, is guaranteed not to be mean to you).

You don’t have to go. If you go, you don’t have to accept being mistreated as a condition of belonging to your family. If they are mean to you, you get to leave. If relations deteriorate even further, you are not to blame, additionally, please know that making the other choice would not have fixed it.

As for the long run, I don’t know what your parents will do. I can’t promise you it will get better than it is right now, though I can tell you a true story about how, in my middle age, I’ve stopped standing for Why Are You So Disappointing? oral exams and I’ve mostly stopped being subjected to them. I’ve written about that long, messy process a lot here, both directly and indirectly, probably this is the best distillation of it.

As a cisgender woman whose career failures and your-body-is-the-wrong-size disappointments were stacked so deep that I never even bothered pulling out the one marked “lazy, occasional bisexuality with a hetero-romantic curse” where my family could see it,  I’m not going to pretend that my struggles have ever been on par with people navigating the kind of parental disappointment that is backed up on an institutional level by churches and governments, but I think that some of the emotional territory is at least recognizable. Here are some of the lessons I try to pass on in case they are useful to someone else navigating the possibility of family estrangement or redrawing of boundaries:

Your parents have choices about how they treat you. If they choose to lead with disappointment, criticism, bigotry, and threats, if they demand unconditional love from you but make their love conditional on your achievements and conformity to their idea of you (at the expense of the wonderful, kind, loving, thoughtful, actual, living, breathing child they are lucky enough to have had accidentally wash up in their family and were lucky enough to have the care and feeding of), that’s their mistake and their loss. You can’t “fail” at being yourself.

Estrangement is painful but it can be a great equalizer. Sometimes staying away for a good long while and severely limiting the Permanently Disappointed Parent’s access to you is the only language they understand and respond to, because it’s the one thing that reshapes the balance of power. “I can live with your disappointment if I have to, but I won’t subject myself to your mistreatment anymore.” Does “You can’t fire me, I already quit” feel childish, and selfish, and like you deeply wish you could be a bigger person than this, and all the yucky things your parents will accuse you of being if you were to say those words out loud? HELL YEAH. I mean, you’re only going against everything your family and culture have ever taught you was the Most Important Thing, Ever, what do you want, a parade? Lots of people who don’t know your life will try to tell you that you are making a mistake and that you just need to try harder. When that happens, come find me, I’ll throw you your parade, the one called “Holding onto yourself in the face of a mean family is difficult and brave work, well done.” We have glitter, and floats, and EXCELLENT costumes. ❤

It might get *better* without ever getting *fixed.* “Do you want peace or do you want justice?” is a question I often ask, when reading letters here, when navigating my own complicated situations. What is it worth it to me to excavate the past right now and receive answers for what happened there (answers that might never satisfy me because the person does not have the self-awareness or the capacity to process what really happened) vs. what is it worth to me to leave the past alone in order to have the most peaceful possible interaction in the present (Is it possible to create a history of positive interactions moving forward and push the negative ones further back?) Therapy (which I agree is useful but not something that can be implemented swiftly or is the most important thing right now, dear Letter Writer) has one of the places to sort this out, to sift through the pile of what I need vs. what I am owed vs. what can I reasonably expect vs. what can I safely live with, to grieve for the missing pieces and start to learn to show the kindness and acceptance for myself that all human beings crave and deserve.

Your family is not a monolith and your parents do not have the only say in your belonging there. Do some families absolutely enable their worst members, band together against uncomfortable truths, and punish anyone, including victims of abuse, who threaten the status quo aka their extremely fragile but necessary belief that We Are All Completely Normal And Okay And Nobody (Especially Me) Did Anything Wrong Here, Why Are You Insisting On Ruining Everything By Bringing Up Ancient History (Like A Glaring History Of Sexual Abuse) Or Inconveniently Recent Nazi Leanings?  Yes. Unfortunately yes. All the fucking time. Disappointingly, yes. I’m never gonna tell people that real and depressing risks around this don’t exist, but I’m also not going say that your only path is to give up and let the worst person in your family define all the terms of it, forever, like the final boss in a video game that you have to defeat before there’s a seat for you at the holiday table.

To counter this narrative specifically, I would advise people to not let the meanest people in your family get away with the idea that they speak for everyone and that their personal disappointment in you is a matter of settled group consensus. If a family member tells you “Plus, everyone agrees with me that gay people are icky ” I’d be pretty quick to ask, “Well, who is this Everyone and can I talk to them directly about that? If that’s how they feel they can say it to my face, otherwise I’m not going to assume that everyone is as hateful and shriveled as you, how odd, why would I insult them that way.” You don’t have to follow through with a “Do you think I have the right to exist y/n” investigation with the relatives, mind you, just stop and think before you accept that someone who is acting like they hate you is a) the boss of what you are supposed to be like or b) the sole gatekeeper to where you get to belong. (“Self-appointed truth-tellers who only say mean stuff” make up a large amount of my true enemies on this planet, please shelter here in my grudge-shack a moment while we discuss how deeply awful they are.)

“‘Forever’ is a long time, Sally.” That’s a quote from Mr. Awkward’s intensely quotable Grandpa, who I never had the pleasure of meeting, who, upon hearing of a grandchild’s possibly premature engagement said something like, “Forever is a long time, Sally and I was married* to your Grandma…forever.”  (*extremely lovingly married but definitely not always smoothly married from what I gather).

When I think about how “forever is a long time,” one thing I mean is that family situations where people are considering estrangement didn’t get that way overnight and they won’t heal overnight, either. For some people there is safety and power in the idea of permanence, the words “Fuck off and die, I am done with you forever,” and the giddy freedom that comes when you decide once and for all that you’ll stop trying to engage with someone who hurts you. If that’s what you need, and you need someone to be on your side about that, again, come find me, your parade is waiting. There are some parents who do some seriously unforgivable shit to their children in this world, and nobody ever wants to acknowledge that, but nobody else had to live through what you did, either, which means nobody else is the boss of what you should be made to put up with in the name of making everyone who is not you feel okay about what parenting should be like. Hard pass.

For me, when things were strained but not unforgivably so, I got considerable safety from knowing that permanent estrangement was an option but also in knowing that I didn’t want to go there if it was humanly possible to avoid it, and that as long as I could stand it I would try to choose another way, and the best gift I could give myself and everyone in the story was “more time.” To be clear, this was my path, I ask it and expect it or advise it for nobody else, I never think anyone is obligated to keep trying or exhaust all alternatives before they give up on something that is not working. While I traveled this path, the idea of “forever being a long time” has helped me resist ultimatums, especially the whole “what if the person DIES and you never MADE PEACE” narrative the fixers of the world are so invested in you adopting (“Idk, what if someone who is mean to me does die and they never ever made the choice to knock it the fuck off, apologize, and make amends while they were alive, yeah that would be pretty sad! Here lies an asshole who never missed a chance to double down, RIP!”) but also smaller ultimatums. It’s helped some of the “Is this the hill I want to die on?” peaks shrink into manageable little bumps and provided helpful reminders that I can make decisions to keep myself safe and intact on a case-by-case, visit-by-visit, call-by-call basis, I don’t have to stay endlessly open or close all the doors right now on the basis of “forever.” It might be like this forever, it might not be, if I give people another chance to act right that’s a gift I’m giving them, if I withhold that gift temporarily to regroup, the way we got here doesn’t automatically become All My Fault.

In closing:

There is no universe where you are the disappointing one and your homophobic (& otherwise abusive) parents call the shots of what it is possible or desirable for you to be. You are good. If you doubt that, I’m here, we’re here, this community is here, we’ve got your back, we’ve got the glitter bombs and the rainbows and the fierce unstoppable dancing and the quiet (consensual, possibly telepathic) hugs and affirmations, we’ve got your parade right here, you could not possibly un-deserve the love we have for you in a million years.






218 thoughts on “#1194: “I’m moving in with my girlfriend and now my homophobic parents want to disown me.”

  1. Hi, LW, I want to extend a lot of compassion and support, this is all so so hard and none of it is your fault. I also want to point out: you say you are “petulant” for not reading your mother’s whole reply. But you know that just the preview of that reply contains something hurtful! My instincts–and yours too?–say that her message does NOT get better from there. Why is it petulant to not read a communication that is almost certainly mean and emotionally abusive? Answer, it is not, it’s protecting yourself. You were honest and your mother responded with what sure seems like a ton of bullshit bile. You don’t owe it to her to engage.

    1. Wow, I’m really sorry, it looks like I misread there–could have sworn it did say petulant, but it says avoidant. Either way, you still don’t have to read it. You can avoid that text as long as you like.

      1. Such a great username!

        I would just like to add to CA and SfT’s advice that protecting yourself is important, and that your parents *should* also value you protecting yourself and keeping yourself healthy above and beyond some idea of faaaaaaaaaaaamily. If that’s not the case, it’s their values that are screwy, not yours.

        And even if you do go, there are definitely limits you get to impose. I really liked CA’s advice to think of where else you might be able to stay and your own transportation, so you can disengage physically whenever you need to. IME, even just having that option to leave when I need to has allowed me to not put up with stuff I shouldn’t, and to not try and keep the peace over my emotional well-being.

        Good luck OP!

        1. Yes, OP, please impose limits! I wanted to step in and say, while I do not think you should go to see your parents, you should absolutely not stay with them. It occurs to me that since the OP lives in a different country, it would be painfully easy for the parents to “attempt to fix” the problem of a disappointing daughter by hiding her passport. So if you do go, do not stay with them, and if possible, arrange your own transportation. And let people know when you will be seeing them so if you do not reply after a specific amount of time has passed, they can call the police. All the typical advice for going on a first date with someone who may or may not be dangerous applies, only more so, because they have already proven themselves to be dangerous.

      2. Exactly, if you are about to put something in your mouth and you realize it smells like dog shit, you are not obliged to go ahead and eat it just to be sure or to not be “avoidant”….go ahead and put that shit-burger down!

        1. Exactly! Avoidance is only unhealthy when it’s leading you to avoid things that you either need to engage with or would really regret not engaging with. This isn’t a bill that needs paying; there’s no reason you *need* to engage with it. And it doesn’t sound like anything I’d want to stick around for, at least. I don’t see any problem with avoiding it.

      3. Such a great username!

        I would just like to add to CA and SfT’s advice that protecting yourself is important, and that your parents *should* also value you protecting yourself and keeping yourself healthy above and beyond some idea of faaaaaaaaaaaamily. If that’s not the case, it’s their values that are screwy, not yours.

        And even if you do go, there are definitely limits you get to impose. I really liked CA’s advice to think of where else you might be able to stay and your own transportation, so you can disengage physically whenever you need to. IME, even just having that option to leave when I need to has allowed me to not put up with stuff I shouldn’t, and to not try and keep the peace over my emotional well-being.

        Good luck OP!

      4. “Avoidant” is a good way to be sometimes! (Avoiding harm is a good idea!) Just like “petulent” (contemptible behavior merits contempt)!

        1. It can become a problem when it’s an anxiety response though, because it will feed in on itself. I also get avoidant when I’m anxious (thanks for putting this into words, LW, I never realized it could be described so succinctly before) and then the thing hangs over my head and makes me more anxious, which makes me avoid it harder, which makes me more anxious, etc. Sometimes knowing it’s there, lurking, being scary AT me, is worse than whatever the actual thing turns out to be. See also why when I was skipping a bunch of classes the point in the semester when I couldn’t possibly pass anymore came as a huge relief because it was the only way I could let it go, when there was nothing to avoid anymore.

          LW, can your girlfriend or someone else on Team You (with your permission) go into your phone and mark the text read and/or delete the conversation so the next time you or your mother text each other it would start a new one? If you’re like me that might be helpful.

      5. It seems to me that “avoidant”, in this context, means “not letting other people abuse me at a distance.”

        I’ve had the same feeling, LW.

        You may be avoidant in other places in your life, I don’t know, but in this case you’re protecting yourself.

        You know there’s a whole hive of angry bees waiting for you in that text. Why would you poke it?

  2. DLW, I think you nailed your script with the text you sent back. I have to reiterate what the good Captain said. “You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to go.”

    Something you said struck me: “not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them.”

    Respect is a two-way street. They have shown you nothing but disrespect, and you keeping yourself emotionally safe and healthy is not disrespecting them, it’s respecting your own needs and boundaries.

    1. “you keeping yourself emotionally safe and healthy is not disrespecting them, it’s respecting your own needs and boundaries.”

      And your girlfriends, too! Your family will do everything they can to portray your reasonable adult decisions as infantile, teenage tantrums, no matter how old you are. They’re wrong.

      When I was in the process of estrangement, when my biofamily got tired of rage and vitriol, they tried another tactic to make me feel guilty: Pity. (This didn’t work either.) They were Very Sorry (for the rift existing but sort of implying that it only exists because of me, because it certainly wasnt them) and didn’t understand why I was “so angry,” why I was “getting back at them” and that sort of thing. The thing is, at the time, I wasn’t angry at all. It was a very neutral decision for me. I said to myself that I’d contact them when it felt not just safe but actually positive for me to do so, and that never happened, so I didn’t. It was so confusing to me that they had such little concept of who I was or what I was doing, and how little reason they thought I had to protect myself. (The things I had to be angry about, but which I had not regained the capacity for anger around yet, included things like CSA, medical neglect, etc., so the amount they played dumb about it was just baffling.)

      All this to say: This choice doesn’t have to be about them. It certainly isn’t vindictive, disrespectful, or really anything to do with them; it’s the natural response to the treatment you’ve been getting, it’s noble and protective of yourself and your girlfriend, and it doesn’t mean you have to feel any particular way about it, no matter how they choose to portray you.

      1. I feel like the amount that families play dumb around these kind of things are often proportional to the harm they caused.
        To let things like CSA fester, a lot of dysfunction and denial needs to be present. When these emotionally dysfunctional people are then confronted with their own guilt, they double down/deny/repress instead of facing it head-on.

        On the other hand, in an emotionally healthy (enough) family you might get an apology for “minor” things, like getting impatient in a conversation. It’s two completely different worlds and it can cause whiplash to move from the first to the second.

    2. Also it seems pretty likely that even if you go and perform Good Daughter for them, they are still going to accuse you of that. Even if you did everything they wanted, they’d probably just move the goalposts and say you’re not meeting that.

      People like this can’t be satisfied. They are a black hole of desires. So the only really useful question is what do YOU want to put into the relationship, knowing that you are unlikely to get what you give back.

    3. Yes, LW’s parents have done nothing to earn her respect, and “disrespect” to them basically means not doing exactly what they want and not being exactly who they want. LW’s texted response to them was civil and to the point, and they deserve nothing more from her than that. Not her time, her energy or her presence. I hope she takes care of herself and prioritizes her own peace of mind and happiness over anything her parents want..

      1. I find abusive people use “disrespect” when they mean “disobedience” and I’ve found that mentally subbing that in every time I have conversations with them really helps. Because adults don’t owe obedience to their parents. (There’s an argument that children don’t, either, but let’s not go there.) And adults certainly don’t owe obedience to their parents at the expense of their own values and ideals, which might be different, because the child is a separate autonomous human and not an extension of their parent.

        1. “I find abusive people use “disrespect” when they mean “disobedience” ”

          There are two different forms of respect. The “respect” that bullies and abusers usually mean is actually “deference”, as shown by an inferior to a superior. On the other hand, there is also the “respect” that means “courtesy”, as shown by social equals towards each other in a society where people practise compassion and fairness.

        2. This looks like a place for this quote:

          Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

          and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

          and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.

          1. These distinctions between disrespect/disobedience, respect/deference, treat like a person/treat like an authority are so excellent. Thank you!

  3. We do have your back!
    I’m so sorry your parents’ love is conditional. That sucks. There is freedom in this, however, along with the pain. Since you can’t be the person they want you to be without living a lie, you get to be you! Congrats on being the wonderful person you are, and living the life you chose! You might lose some people along the way, but you also gain more — people who will love you unconditionally. Good luck.

  4. To some people, hating queer people is more important than loving their own children. Too bad for them. I hope that you’ll have long days and pleasant nights without them in your life, letter writer. Speaking as someone without any parents to disappoint OR loved ones to share my life with, I can assure you it’s very possible.

    1. Between that and all the career goals stuff, it sounds like the parents have this very specific idea in their head about who they wanted their daughter to be, and have become so invested in it that when LW turned out to have different plans for her life that was unacceptable to them.

      FWIW, LW, I don’t think you owe your parents any more engagement than this – you made your point perfectly clear with your text to your mother, if you then duly fail to turn up for the visit it should nicely underscore that you are no longer playing games with your safety, emotional well-being and boundaries. But if you did attempt to engage further with them, a suggestion for a line for a script: “Why are you more invested in mourning the person you wanted me to be than you are in accepting and loving the person I am? Your dream daughter doesn’t exist, and it hurts that you keep comparing me to her.”

  5. Yes, yes, yes LW. We do love you just the way you are. Good luck with your phD and I hope the transition to living with your girlfriend is smooth and joyful.

  6. Dear LW – I too was a Bad Kid who was never quite Good Enough for my parents. I too was a “failure” by pursuing my dreams, landing a competitive job at a non-profit, then pursuing a PhD in my field. I too was a “failure” by dating the “wrong” people, being “ungrateful” by not thanking them profusely enough [it was never enough] for the material items they gave me, by having hair that was too fine and a body that was too large. Most of all, I was a “failure” for being born a human being with thoughts and desires or my own instead of a clay doll that she could mold as she saw fit, and occasionally refusing to squeeze myself into the Mold-O-Rama.

    It wasn’t until my 30s that I realized maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t me being a Bad Daughter and maybe, just maybe, I didn’t deserve to be treated like this. It wasn’t until I was 39 that I worked up the nerve to talk to my sibling about what I’d experienced (because airing family laundry Just Isn’t Done), as the deciding factor in whether to Stay or Go. Thankfully she believed and supported me, so I Stayed. Kind of.

    Later in my 39th year my father died suddenly, before I could Make Peace with him. I regret that, because he was more enabler than abuser (or so I tell myself) and I think I could have resolved a lot of questions that I will never get answers to. Coming home from the funeral my mother hurled the usual abuse at me, but in front of family members for the first time, and I for the first time refused to take it. I got up, grabbed my bag, and walked out the door not knowing if I would ever come back. I did come back and she fake-apologized, and our relationship changed in a heartbeat. We were never, ever close but she never hurled abuse at me again, because she now knew I would leave.

    My mother died last year, and we never Made Peace either. But that was a conscious choice, because I knew it was impossible to Make Peace with her. In her last month she mellowed, and started asking questions about me and my life for the first time in well over 20 years, and it was nice to be able to put my guard down a bit. But I knew that she fervently believed that I was the root of all problems in the family and there was no point in arguing that, because I’d tried many times before.

    The moral of my story: like CA said, you don’t have to take the abuse. You don’t have to shrink and silence yourself, skulk around your parents’ house waiting for the abuse to start at any moment. You can go, if you want, and be ready to walk out when the abuse starts. Or you can not go, and let her tell all the family about what a “Bad Kid” you are. I’m guessing that if your parents are anything like mine, the family has been hearing that for years already and have their minds long since made up. You don’t have to Work Things Out or Make Peace Because That’s What Adults Do. Don’t waste years futilely trying to prove yourself, like I did.

    You’re Good Enough, you’re Perfect, Just As You Are!

    1. My father is emotionally abusive and, simply put, cruel. I also had excellent success with the physically walking away method. He now stays on his best behaviour around me (the behaviour usually reserved for non-family males). It was astonishing how quickly it worked, and how little reinforcement it has needed (during our admittedly limited contact these days).
      However, my first step was actually deciding I did not require his approval – I was already not physically/financially dependent on him in any way by that point. *Then* the next time he tried his usual crap, I could just silently walk away.

      1. “the behavior reserved for non-family males”

        Rarely have I seen a pithier summary of a certain kind of person.

        And you know–oh boy I bet you know–that he’ll never figure out that he shouldn’t have one set of manners for people who can walk away, and another for people who can’t.

  7. Dear LW,

    I hope you don’t stay with your parents for three weeks or even three hours.

    If you do visit at all, please listen to the Captain and supply your own transportation. (Ideally, don’t visit, or if you must, consider staying elsewhere.)

    Regardless of whether you go, you’re not at fault here. They are behaving horribly.

    Also, congratulations on your new home!

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  8. “I haven’t seen the rest of it because I get avoidant when I’m anxious. Do you have any scripts for like… how to respond and how to navigate what may potentially be a long, torturous process of becoming (formally) (even more) estranged from my parents?”

    LW, I’ve been there. There are texts from my family I never read. There’s an entire letter my mother wrote to me (attached to an email with the note “these are all the ways you’ve hurt me”) that I never read and permanently deleted from my computer and email so that I couldn’t be tempted.

    You have permission not to read them. You are not obligated to read the things hurtful people send to you. In fact, it can be good for your mental health not to.

    That said, scripts.

    The one you already wrote prior to the last response was perfect.
    You can absolutely refuse to engage further – you can even go so far as to block her number – but it sounds like you’re torn about doing something that feels so final. My suggestion would be to think on what it would feel like if you never have to receive that sort of note again – are you willing to take the step to cut her off if it means you never again have to deal with the abuse? Would it be a profound relief? We often focus so much on the negative consequences of the action that we don’t consider how the positive effects would feel.

    You can send a note that ignores the new response, and just say “On reflection, I don’t want to impose on you when we are both feeling so hurt. I won’t be coming home this time.” And then enjoy your time off with your girlfriend instead.

    Side note: If you need to know whether to respond to a message, is there someone you can have look at it for you? When my mother sent some really nasty stuff via text (after which I cut her off), my partner stepped in to read and respond. Previously it was close friends. It can be good to have a buffer, particularly if you worry about retaliation that isn’t just hurtful words sent to you (I did).

    The other category of option is to not limit contact, in which case I refer you back to the Captain’s excellent advice.

    Good luck – this is hard, but we’re rooting for you!

    1. “Side note: If you need to know whether to respond to a message, is there someone you can have look at it for you? When my mother sent some really nasty stuff via text (after which I cut her off), my partner stepped in to read and respond. Previously it was close friends. It can be good to have a buffer, particularly if you worry about retaliation that isn’t just hurtful words sent to you (I did).”

      I do this also! Consistently. Not just because I need to know if it’s an emergency email like “Power is out, call your Dad for me” or if it’s “Here’s an itemized list of everything you have done wrong,” but also because I love having someone else look at the email or text and verify that Yes This Is Not Normal (TM). Because it’s so easy to get caught up in the loop of having always dealt with this, that it’s easy to forget that normal parents don’t treat their children this way. Having a trusted friend or partner say “Dude, this is awful.” can be exactly what I need to remember that nothing that is in that email is actually caused by me being a Bad Daughter.

    2. Seconding the having someone look at it for you. I don’t ask them to respond for me, or read it for me; just to tell me (with a “yes” or “no”) if there’s anything in there I need to respond to. Both my best friend and her husband know what’s up if I wordlessly hand them my phone.

      I do delete and ignore messages, and my mother hates it and she will regularly make snide comments about “knowing” I’m ignoring her (or doing the fun triangulation thing of having my Dad text/call on the theory I’ll answer him where I won’t answer her).

      You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve any of this. The little girl who grew up in those people’s household didn’t deserve any of the things that happened to her. You are not “bad”, you are not “wrong” and I’m another voice hoping you don’t go home. Another internet stranger out here loving you for all she’s worth. For all you’re worth.

      Please don’t visit.

      They don’t deserve clever, wonderful you.

    3. Excellent, but may I suggest a slight rewording? From “I won’t be coming home this time” to “I won’t be visiting you this time.” Because her parents’ house is not her home. Her new place with her beloved is her home.

      This is a pet rant of mine, and advice I want to pound into the brain of every young person negotiating extricating themself from their parents’ lives and expectations, even when the parents are not abusive or even particularly enmeshy: Their house is not your home. Your home is the place where you (and partner if any) are in charge. That house where they let you live while you were a minor (and where they still expect your attendance upon demand)–is your name on the lease? No? Then it is not yours. Is there an unspoken assumption of “our roof, our rules”? Yes? Then it is not your home, is it.

      I firmly agree with that assumption, by the way; but it means that when they visit you, they obey your reasonable rules and boundaries, and when you visit them, you’re a reasonably unobnoxious guest, a visitor, not an inhabitant. Obviously “our rules” cannot be stretched to accommodate abusive boundary violations, which it sounds like will inevitably ensue if Prettygreatkid goes to stay in her parents’ home for any length of time. “Our rules” cover things like “Don’t bring your cat; I’m allergic”, “No music I hate turned up loud enough to be heard outside your bedroom”, and “Help wash up after dinner”. They don’t cover things like “Change your appearance to my preference,” “Date whom I tell you to,” “Major in [fillinblank] instead of following your heart’s calling”, and “Attend church with us and believe as we do.” Any one of those latter things is much too steep a rent for three weeks under somebody else’s roof.

      Prettygreat, if your parents were renting out your old room, would they treat their tenant the way they are all too likely (guaranteed) to treat you? If their neighbor lady from three houses down had to bunk with them while her house got fumigated, would they talk to her the way you describe them talking to you? No? Would any tenant put up with it? No?

      You are a person. You are an adult. You are an equal. You are entitled to demand from them the same degree of courtesy they would show to a stranger passing on the sidewalk. They don’t get to shove you off your path.

    4. I have been known, when my mother is being particularly awful, to hand my phone to my best friend’s SO and ask him to please let me know if something needs answering — I won’t let him answer, because I know him and it would probably exacerbate the situation, but that also makes him a good buffering board. In part because I know we can discuss later, when I’m calmer, that none of what happens is what anyone would consider *normal* (except those of us who lived it, of course).

      LW, be kind to yourself. I, like so many others, hope you haven’t gone for this visit. I, too, decided I was the “bad child” when I was very young, so love from one “unbad” child to another.

      It sucks. You got this. And they (your parents) don’t deserve you.

  9. Dear LW, wonderful human being that you are, you’re worried about being the “good” daughter– but to them, the only way that you could be “good” would be by negating yourself in every possible way. Even in the ways that really are good. *Especially* in the ways that really are good.

    When anyone is this unreasonable, they’re giving you a gift, the gift that you don’t have to care what they think any more.

    From what you’ve written here, you seem intelligent and articulate, and you seem to have a really good sense of who you are. Go forth and be as awesome as you possibly can. You rock!

    1. For soooo many parents “good” = “completely compliant”

      And in so many families, there’s one kid that can do no wrong and won’t that’s always a disappointment. Even if Golden Child is a drug addict rapist and disappointment cured cancer while feeding the homeless.

      So being “good” is a trap. The game is rigged. You can’t win. The only choice you have is to save yourself and walk away from the board.

      They don’t care about you. They don’t even really care about the kids who are preferred to you. They care about status and how things look to the outside world.

      People like that deserve pity, for they will never really know love and contentment. Never. But that pity should be given from whatever distance is necessary to maintain one’s own sanity.

      1. When I dared to make an I-statement “I felt guilty when you said XYZ” after the nth guiltifying conversation, my mother said “Guilt and love are incompatible”. If I admitted feeling guilt (even if I didn’t protest that the guilt was undeserved) I was confessing I didn’t love enough. In my family, compliance extended to making compliant acts look like freely given choices.

  10. Wow. I’ve been in a similar situation with my parents lately, too, except the estrangement is about my needing to be honest about all the mental illness, enabling, and abuse in our families, and how it the generations. Darn straight, Captain. That last paragraph is a balm for the soul. It’s terribly hard to be an adult who realizes that the relationship with one’s parents is no longer unconditional. Love to you, LW.

    1. I see you, Madtown Maven. Praying for your deliverance from mokitas (truths many know and none speak without a high relational price).

  11. All the hugs for the Captain and this LW. I have parents like this. They see my “failure” to conform to their image of Ideal Child as a negative reflection on themselves, because everything is about them, dontchaknow.

    I hit a point with my parents in my early twenties where every interaction was like a sustained campaign of vitriol and judgment, aimed right at my face. Complete with the standing up to be berated because “you need to hear this” and “it is a sign of respect that I get to unload on you, but you will never be allowed to unload on me because…respect!” (Not how “respect” works, LOL.)

    The only thing that worked for me was moving very far away and then taking a stand and calling their bluff when they threatened to disown me. I told them that I was sorry they were so upset about my life choices but that I was still going to live my life on my terms, and they could either learn ways to be supportive or we could not be in touch. I wish I’d said it that clearly and concisely, but the conversation was rife with scream-sobbing. The cutoff lasted for six months before they reached back out. I think the extended family made them feel ashamed for having an “estranged” child.

    Once they came back around, I literally had to write them scripts of things they could say in order to perform “supportive,” because they did not know how. It was bumpy but they tried, and our relationship ended up becoming much more respectful. I’m not going to lie, we’ve had some blowups since then, but nothing like the hell they put me through when I was establishing myself as an independent adult. And now they know I’ll pull the ripcord if they step over the line.

    This is all to say, I would cancel this trip and be very specific about why, and leave the door open for them to reach out to you if they ever have a change of heart.

    And did I send hugs? Because (((hugs))) You are awesome and you deserve to be loved for exactly who you are.

  12. [Sorry if this posts twice. I don’t usually comment, so the procedure is … tricky.]

    I accepted that I am the “bad daughter” a very long time ago, and I wrote them off completely. You don’t have to do that, but please know that you can if that becomes necessary.

    Living well really IS the best revenge.

  13. I want to hug the LW close and whisper don’t go don’t go don’t go don’t go don’t go as many times as it takes for her to believe she can.

    LW, you may never be good enough for your parents. They may never love you the way you need them to. Maybe sit down and think through what you need to do to be good enough for YOU.

    What do you need to excise the posion they’ve filled you with, that the idea of being a Bad Child has taken such deep root in your flesh? Because the tragegy of having a Bad Child is THEIR “tragegy” – it reflects on them and their narrow minds and small hearts, not on you. (I could legit argue that there isn’t any such thing as a Bad Child.)

    Leaving aside how terrible your mom is being (SO FREAKIN TERRIBLE) I strongly suggest you tell them something like, “So Dad wants to disown me. That’s his choice. I don’t want to be around people who think I deserve to be disowned, so I’m going to go on a nice vacation/staycation with my girlfriend, (who actually loves me unconditionally), instead.”

    And then… Go luxuriate in the joy of being around people who are nice to you.

  14. I’m posting just so I can +1 the Captain’s comment that “we’ve got your back”.

    You are winning at life! You’re studying. You’ve been working at a non-profit and doing good work. You love someone and they love you. Win, win, win.

  15. If you do decide to visit your parents, please remember a plane ticket is not carved in stone. It might even be a bit (ok teeny tiny bit) of a useful shock for them to hear you say something along the lines of “I came home, I gave you a chance to act like decent people, and now I am making the decision to myself out of harm’s way and I’m off to the airport” For me, it was worth $200 for a ticket change to see all the flabbergasted faces realize I wasn’t their annual 2-week vacation punching bag any more. Whatever you do, good luck!

    1. Yeah, plane tickets are hard becsuse of the sunk cost fallacy: we feel like if we don’t go, we’ve somehow wasted the money. But a ticket is not an obligation–it’s just an opportunity. You purchase the opportunity to get on that plane, attend that concert, etc. Go or don’t go–the money isn’t coming back. I find it useful to think of it as a free ticket. I won a free ticket to [hometown]. The question now is whether I want to go–and you can change your mind right up until they close the airplane door, and just because you land in [hometown] doesn’t mean you have to tell anyone you’re there, etc. Repeat as needed. LW, what your parents have not yet grasped is that adult relationships, like plane tickets, are largely optional. You don’t have to do ANY of this stuff. 🙂 So, what do you actually want to do?

      1. “and just because you land in [hometown] doesn’t mean you have to tell anyone you’re there”

        That right there is extremely powerful. I once invoked that clause so I could enjoy a visit to my hometown (and to very specific and discreet friends/family) without having my mother schedule away every day of my stay with “and we have to go visit so-n-so today and the only time we can see such-n-such is tomorrow” and then guilt trip me on my way back to the airport with “such a shame you didn’t find time to visit whoever else.”

    2. The sunk or additional cost itself sends a powerful message, because people like this always seem to notice money in a relationship.

      Paying for a ticket change is not only telling them “I won’t be your punching bag,” it’s telling them, “not seeing you is worth $200 to me.” DItto not using a ticket: “It was worth $X to come see you. It is now worth $X to not see you.”

      Putting a dollar figure on your not willing to put up with their shit helps drive home the message

    3. Yes! And, if LW is unable or unwilling to change the flight for some reason, there’s also the option of traveling until the return flight (with friends, solo). If the parents save up their nastiness-fireworks finale for the day before the last day or something and LW feels like she can’t change the ticket because why even bother at that point, for instance, she can still leave, then take herself to the airport to catch her original flight.

  16. I can’t be the only person who read about the LW’s parents and the whole ‘disowning’ thing and thought, “well good riddance to bad rubbish”, right?

    They sound like awful people who do not deserve you as a daughter.

    1. That can be true, but it doesn’t feel like relief when you love somebody and need them to be different. It’s very simple for me to virtually dump someone else’s awful boyfriend or tell their crappy friend to get lost, it’s much harder when it’s my life and it’s somebody I love and have high hopes for.

  17. Captain, you really came through with the goods this time. I mean, you always do, but this was such a satisfying answer to read. Great work and I’m glad your procedure went well.

  18. Hello dear one! I am a mom of four daughters, including one who is LGBTQIA+. Your mother did not act how a *mother* acts – she acted how a substandard female progenitor acts. A mother would say COME HERE AND LET ME KISS YOUR FACE AND MEET MY DAUGHTER IN LAW *mwuh*. So, I will stand-in for your female progenitor and say “come here sweetheart! let me kiss your face! How soon can you get here with my daughter-in-law and I will have pie waiting! I love you!”

    Please look into Stand-In Families International. We will love you up in ways a birth family, for whatever reason, chooses not to. Broken heart? Your stand-in mommy will virtually hug you and feed you soup. Need someone to meet your new SO and perhaps walk you down the aisle? We’re down for that and will travel. Want to share report cards, get fashion advice for a new body, talk about weighty decisions? We’re there.

    Love you kiddo. Hang tough, even though you shouldn’t have to.

    1. This. You have Mamas out there you haven’t met yet, who love you & your sweetheart & want nothing but the best for you. You’re NOT a disappointment – you’ve worked hard, done good things & found someone to cherish who cherishes you. If your birth mother doesn’t have enough sense to celebrate that, don’t worry – we’re right here clapping for you.

      Home doesn’t have to hurt. Give the time you were going to spend in pain to yourself as a gift & enjoy it.

    2. OMG, I have never heard of this resource!! I will definitely check it out, as I could definitely use something like this myself! Thank you so much for telling us about this.

    3. Stand-In Mom, you have inspired me to register with the group on FB (even tho I don’t FB for anything else anymore). I am one of the lucky ones, with loving parents, stable family, supportive friends, and I want to pass on that legacy. Mothering is one of my very favorite things, and I hope I do it right. Love shared is love increased.

      1. I’m so glad! I also love to mother and to see my kids bloom and grow under my care. Whatever I can pass on, I should and must pass on. Love to you.

  19. Oh, LW I have been there. Not for quite the same reasons, but your letter resonated with me so much. When my family devolved into a swamp of disapproval and emotional abuse and constant disappointment, I left and didn’t speak to any of them for years. It was the only way I could get the distance and clarity I needed to heal. Eventually, I rebuilt relationships with my papa and my parents, but they were on MY terms and with the understanding that if things got bad again I had already proven that I could walk away and live without them. It was the hard reset we all needed, and there are toxic relatives that I still will never see or speak to again. You have so much to celebrate – your career, your girlfriend, a whole new life in a new place without them. If they can’t see that and let your love and happiness outweigh their prejudice, then you are so much better off without them. It’s hard and it hurts and it will always be a little sad, but you have such a wonderful life to live and if they choose not to be a part of it, then they are the ones who are hurting themselves. I have so much hope for you and wish you all the best as you move forward.

  20. Dear LW, I’m sorry you had the misfortune of being born to abusers.There’s a possibility your mother could really be projecting her own disgusting bigotry onto your father. Even if this is the case and he’s not a bigot, he’s still a coward for not supporting you.

  21. Dear LW, you definitely do not have to go visit your parents.

    One upside to going and staying with Not Your Parents — IF there are people you can stay with who have your back — is that if you’re going to be estranged from your parents for awhile, maybe permanently, AND you do have friends/family in the area who you love and trust enough to stay with, is that it might be awhile until you get back there.

    So you could consider staying with friends, offering to meet your parents somewhere for supper — not their home! — and devoting the bulk of your visit time to seeing people you care about and might not see again for a bit.

    Obviously this doesn’t apply if it doesn’t apply, you know.

    1. OP, if you do go to visit your parents, please make sure that your travel documents and other basic necessities are somewhere where your parents can’t access them. If you’re staying somewhere else, leave them in a safe place there; if you’re staying with them (really not recommended), rent a locker for the duration or keep them on your person at all times. I’m probably being paranoid, but homophobes have been known to do impossibly cruel things to interfere with their LGBT+ children’s lives. Keep yourself safe.

    2. Yes, that was my thought as well. If the visit was solely for the purposes of seeing the parents and/or there are no pleasant or welcoming family/friends to be seen anyhow, by all means eat the ticket. But otherwise, if you can enjoy going and doing other things (and, this cannot be reiterated enough, STAYING WITH NOT YOUR PARENTS, have your own rental car and your own space to retreat to), and maybe you can do one dinner with your mom, at a restaurant, with a trusted person as buffer (and that buffer knowing in advance, and ideally backing you up, that if she starts shit YOU WILL LEAVE without discussion).

      If signaling to her that you would prefer not to be estranged, that if she ever elects to remove her head from her ass and act like a human being, you would be cautiously receptive to opening channels with her again, is important to you, this would be one way you could do it.

      However, texts are also such a way.

      (And, frankly, the horror story you’re probably writing in your mind about how ‘But what if she eventually forgives* me, but by that point she thinks that I’m still mad at HER, so we don’t reconcile even though we could?’ I sincerely doubt that would ever come to pass. Your parents, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, sound like deeply selfish people. If they ever reach a point where their desire to have contact with you is greater than their agita over you not living according to their precise plan, they’ll take steps to make that happen.)

      *like you’ve done anything you goddamn need to be forgiven FOR, but you get the drift.

      1. Speaking of that horror story — I know we humans tend to tell ourselves stories about what has happened, what is happening, what is going to happen. The best (and hardest) advice I can give you is: Don’t.

        No subtext. If it isn’t said right out in the open, it doesn’t exist.

        No catastrophizing: Gently tell that part of you writing the LW version of Titanic in which you all go down with the ship and no one survives that you appreciate their planning ahead, but you actually need their help planning your move/other upcoming event and could they please turn their energy that way? (Yes, it feels weird but for me anyway this has really worked)

        {{you}} LW and everyone else in the comments who needs one.

  22. love to you LW. I’ve got glitter bombs and bath bombs and chocolate bombs and possibly also ice cream, should that be wanted. I have survived estrangement, for reasons, and my “forever” has so far been 2 years. And they are MY two years damn it, and they have been great! And my dad may die without us reconciling. But I’ve had two years of peace, so far, and ice cream. Worth it.

  23. “Because that’s what Love looked like to them”

    Oof. Hoo boy, that one hits pretty hard.

    I really do hope you bow out–you don’t deserve this abuse.

    If you choose to not go, the one change I would make to the script would be to remove the word safe. Replace it with something else like “comfortable.” (Or shoot, be really passive aggressive and just say “Oh, something came up.”)

    Reason being folks with unreasonable demands always LOVE to freak out if you suggest they make you feel UNSAFE. What, do you think I’m going to HIT YOU? How dare you? I’m only doing this because I love you!

    They’ll focus on that word and try to make that the fulcrum.

    Best of luck!

  24. Fellow Dr. Queer here. I just want to add to the chorus: you are good. There’s nothing wrong with you.

    Whatever you choose, whether you go or stay, can I recommend that you find some healing queer stuff to submerge yourself in? Rewatch Queer Eye, get some rainbow stuff at the thrift store, go dancing, make playlists of music by queer artists, sketch nudes at the nearest museum, join an activist group, whatever it is that makes you feel great about yourself and connected to the queer community. There are so many of ya and we’ve always existed. You are not and never will be alone. I can’t tell you how many YouCarings I’ve given to, people I’ve helped move. The community has your back.

    1. +1 It really helps, surrounding yourself by people who get it, who get it in their guts and soul, and who have your back. I don’t know how many resources are around your area, but maybe there are some feminist spaces, if not WLW ones? Or a queer-women-owned shop or restaurant? Just stepping inside an affirming place full of my people makes me feel so much better, it may help you too.

      Estrangement sucks. It’s not your fault, you’ve your duty to yourself to protect yourself from harm. But it still sucks. You need, and deserve, self-care and support while dealing with this. So try not to feel guilty for feeling like a mess right now, or for needing help, ok? It’s normal, it’s human to feel hurt when your family betrays you. Please take all the time and gentleness you need around this, LW ❤

      another "bad" queer kid (truth is, we're way too good for them, but they're too blind to realize it)

  25. The captain is so right LW. You are a good person and you are loved.

    Can I gently push back on never reading the text though? It doesn’t need to be you that reads it, but perhaps a trusted friend or your GF would? Once upon a time my little sister was in an abusive relationship, at the time I didn’t understand how these things work. What I saw was my sister and her husband who were mean to (and about) me and cut themselves off from me (now I know that was his tactic all along). One day I got a text that said “Just to let you know that me and husband are..” well I couldn’t read anymore – I *knew* she was pregnant and we would never remove this cockwomble from our family. My partner insisted on reading the rest of the text when hours later I was still devastated, maybe, he said, maybe this was the one time I was wrong? Anyway the rest of the text read “…are splitting up. I’m moving back to mum and dad’s tomorrow.” There is a chance that the rest of the text tells you something important (I acknowledge that chance is small which is why I say maybe someone else can read/filter it for you).

    1. In your case, the part of the message that you read at first was neutral. That wasn’t the case for LW. When you read the rest of the message you found that you were wrong in your interpretation. LW is not wrong in interpreting that the message contains an emotional minefield because the part that was already read *was* that.

    2. Nope. You don’t have to finish that text, open a letter, check an email or anything else. Period.

      1. True. If the LW simply deletes it unread, that’s probably the healthier thing to do.

        If, however, she can’t bear to do so, and if it’s just going to sit there mocking and brainweaseling her (which I can empathize with; I’ve listened to the entirety of voicemails that consisted primarily of someone screaming obscenities at me. Sometimes you just can’t let the bad thing remain a mystery), a third party to give it a quick skim of ‘Yeah, nothing pertinent in here’ would be the better option.

    3. Honestly? I’m pretty sure the rest of the letter is more emotionally abusive crap. As Dia pointed out, LW’s message started off with an insult, it’s unlikely to get better from there.

      That being said, LW, is the fact of having the letter there, unread, bothering you? Like maybe one of those things where you don’t want to read it, for very good reasons, but also it’s there and you keep remembering it, and what if maybe this is the one time it contains something important, and what if you’re going to regret not reading it, and what if…

      In that case Bex’s idea of having a trusted friend read it might be a good plan, just so they can tell you if there’s anything important in there. (Maybe your girlfriend isn’t a good choice, given that the message almost certainly relates to her.) And in the (unfortunately likely) chance that there’s nothing useful in there, your friend can just tell you that you don’t need to see it, without you having to know exactly what your mother said this time.

    4. Can we not go out of our way to feed everyone’s “what if?” brainweasels? It’s hard enough to accept that our abusers are abusive and not going to change and disengage from that without anyone deliberately riling up our jerkbrains.

  26. Hi Captain, I want to first thank you for your website; I’ve gotten tons of use out of your practical advice for years now that I regularly apply to my own life. But now, I feel like I have something to say that I hope may help others. This letter writer’s estrangement with family struck a cord in me because I’m estranged from blood relatives on both sides of my family. I’m totally blind and have cerebral palsy but I relocated to a more liberal state a year ago now (I lived in Texas for most of my life). I want to validate this LW’s feelings and assure her that I’ve been where she is myself. It sucks, most especially in my opinion, because we are taught by society, no, it’s ingrained in us by society to stick with faaaaaaaaaaamley no matter what…but that is so, so, so, so wrong and untrue for those of us who were abused by blood relatives. I now live in a new place where I’ve learned how to truly separate my trauma from who I am as a person..and now I’m on a journey to blending my trauma into who I am because it *is* part of my story. I’m happily out now as a gay woman myself (I use the word gay specifically because it’s my way to take the power back from others who used to call me ‘gay’ in a demeaning way). I’m studying in school to become a therapist who helps people move through trauma because I feel I’m quite a powerful person that people respect and love. So I want to be a voice for this LW that tells her that yes, this sucks…but to please lean on those of us who have your back. If LW is interested, I give you permission to pass along my email address to her. If I can help people through this tough-to-navigate-for-anyone situation, that is what I believe my purpose is. All the best to you and other CA readers!

    Sent from my iPhoneXR


    1. Kudos on your rebuilding process, best of luck in your studies, and CP solidarity.

  27. LW, if you do go, please make sure that YOU HAVE A WAY TO GET HOME. If your ticket is round-trip, keep the return ticket somewhere safe or make sure you can access whatever email etc. you need to get at it. If your ticket is one-way, get a return ticked NOW and, again, keep it safe and accessible. Keep your PASSPORT somewhere safe. Make sure that there is someone who knows how to contact the local authorities if you suddenly stop communicating.

    I don’t want to think this trip is an excuse for your parents to kidnap you so they can try to force you to live their way, but the possibility, however slim, is terrifying me on your behalf. Please, please, please, keep yourself safe, and don’t worry about being seen as “paranoid” if you take precautions (extra-especially if you’re going to a country where the law would be less likely to help LGBT people and/or women).

    1. This is a good point, even if kidnapping is an unlikely outcome. It also makes it harder for your parents to try to cajole you into staying longer, and shores up the boundary in your own mind that you ARE leaving and it IS under your control.

    2. Yes! Even if you aren’t at risk of kidnapping or anything, make a plan for how you can walk out and go home (or somewhere else) at any given moment. I find it’s hugely liberating to simply know I *can* walk out whenever I want – that the moment someone says something too assholic, I can say “If it bothers you, I’ll leave” and then leave.

  28. Don’t go.
    You knew not to read the whole rant from your mother, but how will you protect yourself face to face? Stay home or go on a lively trip with your girlfriend, and let the familial chips fall. I highly, HIGHLY doubt that your family will take this as estrangement–you’re much more likely to experience an extinction burst of homophobic horribleness. It might be time for some strategic blocking/muting. Stay in touch with your best relatives but don’t let them carry messages.
    You deserve peace and love. Go to the places where you will find peace and to the people who offer you love.

  29. I’m on the other side of this. The advice above is correct; 10 years of the silent treatment balanced the power dynamic between me and my parents. It worked. They ended up needing me WAY WAY WAY more than I needed them. And I didnt feel sad about it when I finally did it. I felt an enormous sense of relief and like the weight of the world was finally off my shoulders. I finally had time to heal and pursue my own life.

    Whole heartedly endorse it. I didnt even tell them I was doing it. Just cut the cord. .

  30. You sound awesome, LW. Congrats on your studies and finding a love you are willing to share your space with! I hope it works out just as much as you want it to. I wish I could whack every homophobic parent on the head with a glittery magic wand and they instantly become the fiercely loving parents their beautiful, perfectly human children deserve. All I can do is apologize to you and assure you that none of it’s on you. The fiercely loving parents I would give you would tell you to protect yourself from this kind of bad treatment as much as you need/want to (while secretly wanting to protect you from all of it ever) Good luck, LW!

  31. OP, love, speaking to you as a wlw here: don’t go on this trip as it is currently planned. Your parents will hurt you. Maybe they won’t hurt you physically (I don’t know if that’s in their arsenal or not), maybe they won’t even mean to hurt you (I don’t know whether they understand how their behavior impacts you or not). But they will hurt you. Their love is conditional; they’re only willing to treat you with love when you follow their rules. Their rules don’t fit you, so they refuse to love you. They will tell you that your career is a failure. They will tell you that your love is wrong. They will tell you that these things–these beautiful things, these things that are part of who you are, these things that any reasonable person would love about you–make you somehow lesser and unworthy and unwanted. And that will hurt, no matter how they intend it and no matter how prepared you are to hear it.

    You don’t deserve that. You deserve to have all the parts of yourself that you love celebrated by the people who claim to love you. Your emotional safety is just as important as your physical safety, and you deserve people who will support you, not people who will do their best to tear you down.

    So please change this trip. Maybe that means cancelling it. If anyone tries to pin the collapse on your relationship on your failure to show up as planned, you can absolutely say, “Mom told me dad was disowning me. I thought that meant the invitation was no longer open.” That’s a more than reasonable interpretation!

    If you do decide to go, though, please please PLEASE make sure you have total ability to walk away from them at any moment. Stay in a hotel–it’s worth the cost in this case, so you can leave if they make cruel comments and know that you have somewhere to sleep and that your stuff is safe. Know how public transit works in their area, or rent a car if there isn’t sufficient transit–you need to be able to get up and walk away without them being able to stop you. Know your airline’s policy on rescheduling your flight, so you can go home early if you want. Make sure you have phone service and preferably data; yes, it’s expensive to use a cell phone internationally, but if it means the difference between you being able to call a cab and you having to sit through an entire dinner party of people yelling cruelty at you, that’s a big deal. And be prepared to use these tools–if they’re spewing cruelty, they get one “I will leave if you keep talking about me like that,” and then you get up and leave and don’t come back until they apologize.

    Absolutely make sure your parents have zero access to your passport and other travel documents at any time. Maybe this is paranoia speaking, but homophobic parents who think they own their kids have been known to do some seriously damaging, horrific shit to get their way. If you go see them, make sure they can’t control you, even if they try.

  32. LW- just a queer person here to say “your family doesn’t dictate your worth.”

    You are worth so much more than they may ever be capable of recognizing- but that doesn’t mean you should force yourself small enough to fit in their delusional reality.

    I hope you do something gentle and kind for yourself. I hope you nurture yourself the way you should have been nurtured by your parents.

  33. I may not be the best person to write this, as I could barely manage to do more than skim the letter and reply, but I am a queer person in a queer relationship and my now-husband spent a two months at home after he came out to his parents and visited from his college. He had hoped that it would re-solidify family bonds and they could see that we could all live and let live.

    We now refer to this as “The Summer,” scare quotes intended, and it was a…bad experience. I can say that it was only good for him in that it revealed all the abusiveness and controlling nature of his family all the sooner, but sadly with a lot more trauma. It was enraging and devastating to me to see the change of a few months of manipulation tactics as they tried to change his mind about being queer, and how scared and small he seemed when he came up to visit me–I hadn’t known how bad it had gotten. He didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until my reactions to some of the things he started to relay!

    If he had not gone home, then the same eventual outcome would have (probably) happened: we are now firmly estranged from the whole lot of them. IMO if your fate is different–if your parents actually come around as a few do seem to, then one absence or pulling back won’t make or break that.

    And, looking back, knowing that there were guns in the house and at least one parent who thought that if it would work, he would “break my [husband]’s legs to keep him from coming up to visit me”, we are grateful that it was only mental and emotional harm (which are bad enough), and that in the end they let him go and didn’t try to delay him or destroy his passport or anything.

    You don’t have to put up a face of being a “good daughter” if they aren’t being good parents. If you do go, please have your own transportation, communication method, cash, and a back-up plan, and don’t be afraid to use them.

    1. Holy fuck! I am so glad your husband was able to get away from his [words fail] “family.” Estrangement seems too mild a term for people like that.

      I hope you and your husband have a spectacularly joyous life together.

  34. Hello! Trust yourself. You wrote “I’m not sure I want to visit them (for three whole weeks!)” You know what you need! Sooo, write a letter *briefly* explaining why you are not visiting, using “I” statements, for example: “I am not comfortable or happy with our recent interactions. Therefore, I have decided [not to visit / to shorten my visit / to stay with Person / stay in a hotel and spend a lot of time doing stuff on my own / change my God-damned ticket and spend a month in New York, eating Nathan’s hot dogs and seeing every fucking show on Broadway.]” Send a card so there’s not room to write much. If you feel passive-aggressive, make it a ‘thinking of you’ card.

    A letter is not a conversation. You don’t need to explain. Your folks know what they have done; they know how you feel.

    If your mom calls, emails, whatever, repeat yourself. Don’t argue, don’t go over what they did, don’t change your proposed plans. Repeat “I’m not comfortable with [what you suggest], so I am going to [do what I proposed]” over and over and over, with word variations as extensive as “No”, “I’m not comfortable with that”, and “It’s simply something with which I am not comfortable” or even “Like I said before, nope!”.

    Trust yourself.

  35. Wow, this was amazing writing! Such passion! I’m saving this to share in all my C-PTSD and DONM and DV groups when people need to read something like this. Thank you!

  36. “How fucking dare they.

    How dare they talk about “disowning” you as if “owning” you was something they get to do in the first place.”

    This made me cry, for how true it is. It needs to be mounted and framed and sent to every queer kid ever.

    1. What? No, I am definitely not tearing up at my desk. It’s just…allergies. That’s it. Bad allergies.

  37. Here’s what I found most comforting: If it wasn’t this, it could be something else. In other words, if you were a straight corporate lawyer, they could still be giving you that confounding choice between estrangement (which they’d blame on you ) or abuse (which they’d blame on you) for, I dunno, marrying the wrong straight guy, not marrying, for taking a high paying corporate lawyer job that’s not exactly the right high paying lawyer job they wanted, for wearing the yellow dress with sleeves when they think the green suit with the cute collar looks better, for calling once a week when they want you to call twice, for getting a dog, for not naming your child after the relative they thought you should. I could go on and on with examples. The scary thing is that every one of the above is true. They only make you think that if you’d just gotten those 2 things right (the coming out and the career choice), and that’s where they’ve tricked you. Thus it’s become my mantra. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. Breathe in. Breathe out. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else.

      1. Thanks. It was the thing with the dress that brought it home for me. I knew my parents didn’t like my choice of college major. I thought they might have a point. I knew they didn’t like the guy I was dating– though they’d never met him. I’d only told them about him. I was insecure enough to think they might have a point there too. We were all attending a cousin’s wedding. I really wanted to please them, knew they sometimes didn’t like my choices in clothes, and brought something I knew they couldn’t object to. It was a lovely yellow dress to wear to a spring wedding, a pretty yellow color, dressy enough, modest enough, classic style without being either cutting edge fashionable or dowdy old fashioned. Since they complained about how I spent money, I thought the fact that I’d found it at a consignment shop would be a plus. I proudly said how little it cost as I modeled my lucky find. Turned out I’d disappointed them again– with a fucking yellow dress.

        Another thought for the LW. Can you see being disowned as freeing? Once I realized that my parents were going to be disappointed no matter what I did, it was liberating. I could do anything! Because if it wasn’t this, it would be something else.

        1. Holy FSM, your parents! A yellow dress?! I’m glad you figured them out and stopped trying.

          A similarly petty story: My father was a saint compared to many, but shortly after I moved out of their house (in the days before cell phones) he took grievous offence at my outgoing answering machine message and told me he wasn’t going to call me if he had to listen to it again.

          I told him he of course could do whatever he wanted but my outgoing phone message wasn’t enough of a priority for me to even think about it so if he wanted to talk to me his options were wait for me to call him or to call only when I was home *and* answering my phone since I’ve never felt obligated to answer a phone just because it’s ringing.

          The irony was I’d been thinking of changing it before he started complaining, but of course I had to wait at least 6 months before I could change the outgoing message, because oh hell no. What I never understood was why. You’d have thought it was Finnish death metal from his reaction, but it was a lovely tune from the 1940s.

    1. This so much.

      If it wasn’t being lesbian, it would be about being X.

      The point isn’t what you are. The point is that they don’t get to control you and use you to fill whatever role/function they’ve assigned to you.

      Sometimes that role is simply “emotional punching bag.”

      1. Did the letter say lesbian? I just re-read it but I’m tired and could have missed it, but if not, just wanted to point out that something else might be more inclusive.

    2. The problem here is not you being a queer woman with a nonprofit job and a live-in girlfriend, LW; it’s that your parents don’t know how to deal with having an actual human being for a child.

    3. THIS.
      If you ever have to ask yourself if you will ever be good enough, the answer is NO.
      When you fear that you will never be good enough because of XYZ, the reality is that you will never be good enough. Period.

      You Will Never Be Good Enough because it isn’t about you. It’s about their need to manipulate and abuse and pull the strings.

      If it weren’t this, it would be something else.

    4. “Calling once a week when they want you to call twice.” THIS!

      True conversation: “Mom, to call twice a week is too often” (in a normal tone of voice from me). “[Daughter,] you’re not hurting me, just TRYING to.” Brief AntiHeroic BlueScreenOfDumbfoundment while I kept from saying “Trying to? You have no idea how hard I have been trying NOT to hurt you by not saying important things and by doing much more of what you wanted of me than felt safe.” The rest of the conversation devolved through “What happened to my loving helpful daughter? Where does all this negativity and agony come from?” (responding to my visibly failed efforts to contain my reaction to her invasiveness) to “you’re using a sledgehammer on me”. Next morning as I greeted her so carefully, and she said something I wasn’t sure was intended to be funny (I still hurt but was determined to be Good after seeing what happened when I was Difficult): “Can’t you even take a JOKE?” Incredulous upward-sliding voice.

      But remembering “You must not be angry when I call you While I Still Have A Voice” from later is a different pain. I thought she was being dramatic and engulfy. She was being medically honest. I ought to regret all the times I swore before answering the phone or cried and fulminated for hours after hanging up from yet another “Are you Busy?” or (at 2 pm) “Did I Wake You?” A part of me is certain that the AUC of my anger damaged her cells from a distance even when it was carefully not said TO her.

  38. Hi OP

    I am so sorry that your parents are putting you through this nasty, abusive bullshit. You are *not* the bad kid. You are awesome. I am sending all the Jedi hugs and rainbows and balloons and fluffy, happy unicorns. And kittens. You get all the kittens.

    Maybe no contact could be a good and healthy thing if you feel like it is an option? Personally speaking, no contact saved my life. Literally and figuratively. I have been no contact with my family for a long time. It gave me a less stressful life in which I had the opportunity to get therapy without all the abusive whispering (and often shouting) in my ears from people who had been cruel to me in various ways since I was adopted as a baby. Instead of hearing about how much of a disappointment I was and a list of my many imperfections, I had the sweet, sweet sound of silence. It was so very lovely.

    Maybe a period of low or no contact would give you a chance to breathe, to settle in to your new life and amazing relationship (squee!) and awesome school? You would have a chance to find the right therapist for you, and get a good support system going for yourself. Then, when you are ready (in your own time, not your family’s time), you could try to contact your parents again. But only if you want to. If you were to find that no contact is what you need after *so much* verbal and emotional abuse? You do what you need to do for your own well being.

    And you really do deserve a parade! And kittens! All the kittens!

  39. Three weeks is a long time. Looooonggg. Especially if you’ll basically be with them the whole time.

  40. As someone who divorced their parents in their 40’s, I wish someone had told me these things twenty years earlier. I still feel guilt for not ever fixing things up, until I realize that’s my abused survival instincts acting up, because I am not at fault for their shitty parenting decisions. Listen to your own truth, your own heart, not the indoctrination years of abuse have beaten into you. Love doesn’t look like that.

  41. She is “devastated”, and my father, …, is “furious, and wants to disown you”.

    You know, you could capitulate utterly, give them everything they demand, cut your heart out and give it to them.

    And they could still disown you (whether that means writing you out of their will or just making a public announcement that “you are no longer my daughter.”)

    If I were you, I would not assume that going or not going will matter to them in the long run. They’ll do what they want to do, no matter what you do.

    The hard part is that I suspect that somewhere deep inside, your jerkbrain is telling you that if you just did the right thing, they’d suddenly turn into loving parents. Even though you know better.

    (I say this because I went through something like that thought process with my own parents. So when my (widowed) mother died, I felt nothing but relief. Relief that I could finally stop wondering what I could have done differently.)

  42. No advice, just Jedi hugs, if you want them. Parents are so powerful- more so than I think they often realise- but so often just as clueless or stuck in their own unhealthy and unkind patterns that it can be breathtaking.

    You are awesome. Don’t let their crappy selves stop you from being your awesome.

  43. I want to talk about this point the Captain made:

    Your family is not a monolith and your parents do not have the only say in your belonging there.

    I want to encourage you (and every single other person) to seize control of all communications with their extended families. It is more work, sure–but it has also NEVER been easier, what with Facebook, email, texts.

    Especially if you have conflict with your parents–but even if you don’t.

    Your relationship with your cousins, your aunts & uncles, your siblings, is YOUR relationship.
    Gather contact info. Drop a note, or a text, or a “like” now and then.

    Do not allow one relative to speak for another. Oh, sure, you don’t have to argue when they say “None of us approve of what you’re doing.” Just mentally remember, they DON’T speak for everyone.

    For everything from condemnation to an invitation to a barbecue–insist on direct communication with your relatives before you believe anything (which means YOU have to do the work of creating that avenue for contact, and you may have to make the contact yourself).

    And Cap is totally right, you don’t need to run around asking every relative to reassure you, or confirm their condemnation. But just don’t allow that avenue to be controlled by anyone else, ESPECIALLY not your condemning parents.

    (I think you shouldn’t go. If you don’t want a confrontation, lie. Something suddenly came up at grad school, right? You got a chance to go to a seminar with someone important, so you’re cancelling, sorry and all that.

    Do whatever works for you.

    1. Oh, this is a good point! If the rest of your family is receptive to you, then in their eyes you can keep being the person who remembers everyone’s birthday, or the person who always posts cool wildlife photos from their hikes, or whatever it is you do. (Or, if the rest of your family isn’t receptive to you, that forces them to make the conscious decision to turn their back on the person who always remembers everyone’s birthday.)

      It also helps boost the narrative that your parents turned their backs on you, as opposed to you turning your back on the family. You’re right there, continuing to be your awesome self, and they’re the ones shutting you out.

    2. Tangent: if someone in your family fires off at another member of the family as if they are speaking for the entire family, and you don’t agree, SPEAK UP. You don’t have to broadcast your disagreement if you don’t want to, but at least reach out to the person who got slammed to let them know you weren’t part of it and don’t agree.

      Why yes, I did once receive a genuinely shocking hate-screed email from a family member, speaking “on behalf of the family,” copied to all family members. Only *one* person reached out to me to say, wtf, I had nothing to do with that, I don’t agree, they are off their rocker and out of line, so I was forced to assume that everyone else sided with the hate-screed.

      I later learned they did not, but given their silence, I wasn’t going to try to swim upstream through my own blood to ask them.

      1. “at least reach out to the person who got slammed to let them know you weren’t part of it and don’t agree.”

        Yes, this, so much.

        but I would say that “forced to assume that everyone else sided with the hate-screed” is not necessarily accurate. A lot of people will just roll their eyes and say they don’t want to get into it.

        So, if any of those silent folks are people you care about, or who have seemed sane in the past, put a little asterisk there and see what happens before you make any lasting conclusions.

        1. I hear you, but as it’s entirely possible to reach out to the slammee privately and so avoid “getting into it,” that completely fails as an excuse, even if it weren’t a poor excuse to start with.
          When someone says “I am speaking for all of us” and ‘all of us’ are copied on the email, and ‘all of us’ say nothing to distance themselves, it is entirely fair and reasonable to assume they don’t disagree, or if they do, it’s not enough to let the slammee know it. The receiving end cannot tell if silence is agreement or eye rolling and is under no obligation to expose themselves by trying to take a poll.

          As it happens, when – five months later – I had pulled myself together enough to craft and email my defense another person did reply – privately – that they thought the attacker was batshit. That person and I have rehabilitated our relationship, but I’m afraid the only person in the family I really trust is the one who reached out to me that morning.

          Wow. I sound really bitter. I guess I haven’t processed it as well as I thought I had. In my defense, it’s a lot to process, being told in literally almost as many words “we despise you, we have always despised you, and we never want to see you again,” and having only one person say “not me.”

      2. This, exceedingly so. I got suckered by my mother into believing “Everybody [in the Faaammily] thinks you’re so mean / such a Terrible Daughter to me.” DECADES later (much too late to do anything about repairing any relationships) I learned from ONE cousin that what the rest of them were really thinking was “Well, presumably Khlovia has her reasons for putting up with that crazy woman….” Would have been nice if anybody had bothered to let me know that they KNEW which one of us was the crazy one.

  44. I’m going to hop on the DON’T GO train here, LW.
    You don’t have to go. You probably shouldn’t go.

    You can just, not go.

    If there’s a reason other than “obligation to visit parents” for this visit, then rearrange it do that but don’t see your parents any more than the minimum necessary politeness.
    I mean something like, you were spending three weeks in hometown for a wedding or something like that. Stay somewhere else, visit the hometown people, attend the event, say hello if you run into your parents there.

    Don’t spent three weeks with your parents.

    “No, I’m not going to do that” feels so, so good (and scary, ngl) (but really it feels awesome)

    You deserve to not subject yourself to hate. Go spend your limited free time with your girlfriend.

  45. Please, please cancel the trip and stay home with your sweetie. Focus on moving into your love nest together and surrounding yourself and filling your life with all of the love and support you deserve, with people who accept you for who you are, because you are awesome. And deserve better than the parents you have. Sorry about them. Maybe they’ll do better in the future after a timeout to reflect on what they did wrong. In a corner. Without dinner.

  46. Hi, apologies if I’m hopelessly off course here – I’m responding to the bit about your career/choices being “disappointing”. I’m wondering if responding to spoken or unspoken “disappointed” vibes with unbridled enthusiasm for the non-profit/phd might help to rewrite the narrative : – they mention something about money & you spend 5mins enthusing over the new outreach in x province, they mention friends child in law school & you talk (at length) about the plans for this years fundraising drive. Etc. you can repeat yourself too – repetition will help them learn(!)

    This has(/might have) 2 benefits – (1) it stops you hearing a slow drip of negating poison & (2) it gives them lots of info about your non-profit that they can then use to boast to their friends about you. It can be really surprising to learn just which bits of your life parents choose to use in anecdote swapping (may in fact only be learnt of through attentive friendly sibling reporting) – but giving them lots of positivity to use in the narrative to their friends/each other might help change their internal narratives.

    (For me, I find when feeling worried I have a tendency to clam up – so it’s a real decision to make to be openly enthusiastic & talk for a long time – but sometimes – though in less extreme circumstances than yours – an active decision to more open/loud/enthusiastic than comes naturallyhas served me well)
    Best wishes

    1. How will the OP convinving her parents that her career is worthy of respect going to solve the issue of their rampant homophobia? I’m sure your comments were intended in good faith but you are, indeed, ‘hopelessly off course’ with this suggestion and it makes me wonder if you read the entire letter.

    2. H, if this letter were about how to deal with otherwise reasonable parents who expressed disappointment in their child’s career choice, your comment may be helpful.

      As it stands though, LW’s parents are abusive and homophobic. The LW asked for scripts to use during the process of distancing herself from them.

      Your post doesn’t make sense to me.

      1. The comment made sense to me because the LW was also talking about the career issue, and she had not yet decided whether to cut things off with her parents or not. If she does then this doesn’t help. If she decides to make re visit anyway then she might want strategies to deal with the career part and not just the LGBTQ issues with her parents. The second is the bigger deal here, but the first is also important.

        1. I have an abusive parent who I can’t cut off (I’m disabled, she’s wealthy and owns the building I live in), and — while I think the LW shouldn’t go, and this doesn’t need to be her first priority — this can be a useful tactic if the LW decides not to end contact with her parents altogether.

          (Which, again, she’d be totally justified in doing.)

    3. I love this suggestion! It is also a very constructive version of the “make it boring for them to engage you on this topic” trick so you might find that option 3) they just… dial way back or even stop talking to you about your career choices, might happen.

    4. Hi H, I think that the overall disowning/homophobia is a bigger issue in this case, but the “be aggressively sunny and vague about details when you do share anything about career stuff” is a solid strategy for talking about career stuff with the Permanently Disapproving.

  47. “how dare they act as if that is the price of being loved and being part of your family.

    How dare they treat their love for you like an audition that you have to pass. How dare they act like you are in danger of failing it.”

    Ooof. That is helpful to hear. Hopefully it will be for others as well.

  48. I love this and second this!! It’s accurate for my experience with my family as well!! Jedi hugs

  49. LW, your parents want you to be a very specific person. They have made it clear that they are only willing to treat you with love if you give in and become that person. In other words, their love is conditional.

    Maybe this would be something your relationship could survive if you happened to actually be that person. But you aren’t. You aren’t a high-powered lawyer making a million bucks a year (congrats on your successful career in your field of choice! That’s awesome!). You’re not straight (congrats congrats many congrats on moving in with your girlfriend I’m so happy for you!!!!). You aren’t the person they imagined you would be; you’re yourself, with all your unique quirks and passions and joys.

    Maybe it could work if you were willing to subsume yourself completely to their whims, to crush yourself down until you could squish into the box they laid out for you. But you’re not. You’re living your life for yourself, not for them–as you should! Forcing yourself to pretend to be someone else just to make them happy would be a tragedy.

    Maybe you could even make it work if they were willing to bend even a little bit. Maybe you’d be willing to tolerate them grieving the person they thought you were if it meant they’d get through to loving the person you actually are. (Maybe not! This isn’t a great reaction for parents to have! But sometimes relationships survive it anyways.) But they’re not; they’re holding firm to their conditions and their boxes, and they’re actively rejecting you as you are.

    So it’s not going to work. They’re not going to treat you with love and kindness, and that is their choice, not yours. They’ve decided that not having a gay daughter who works in a non-profit is more important to them than having a daughter. You can’t stop them from making that decision.

    What you can decide is what kind of access they’re allowed to have to you. You know they’ll be cruel eventually. Knowing that, do you want to cut off contact completely? Do you want to allow contact, but only in circumstances where you can cut them off at any moment (e.g. a phone call you can hang up on, dinner at a restaurant that you can walk out from)? Or only in circumstances where you know there’s an end in sight (e.g. visiting but staying at a hotel so you have somewhere safe to sleep at night, and limiting it to only a few days)? Do you want to allow whatever contact they ask for, knowing you’ll be at their whim and will have no choice but to put up with their comments and anything else they might try to pull? (I don’t recommend that last one, for the record, but it is an option you can choose.) This is your power here: you get to decide what you’re up for dealing with from them.

  50. lord I cried so much at the end of reading this answer. fierce unstoppable dancing indeed. then I cried reading the comments, because the song someone posted upthread is the song my best friend in the whole world gave me one year to help me deal with my own godawful, awful parents. it’s things like this that remind me how crucial it is to remember that even when one can’t kind of…get to it, or at it, or into it, for various reasons, there is a whole queer community out there where you are now and will always be welcome, no matter how long it takes you to find it or how weird you are or aren’t or what you’re into or how scary it all is. they – we – are out there just kind of conceptually waiting to give you the welcome your disappointing, wretched parents should have but did not and even if you can’t connect with that just yet (or ever), sometimes it helps so much just to know it exists out there at all.

    dear dear LW, you have all my sympathy; my parents have been being horrible about my sexuality since I came out at 13, and as I am now 34 you may surmise that I am still, in some ways, letting them. I made the decision somewhere along the way that it was worth dealing with their crap in order to one day inherit their gorgeous house and total financial security. that decision has become a whole lot easier to manage and deal with since I recognised that that was exactly what I was doing; that it was strategic, and that there was no chance of things ever Being Okay or of them ever Being Good Parents or even Nice Parents or even, you know, Parents Who Don’t Scream In My Face And Then Justify It With ‘But You’re Our Child, If We Can’t Do This To Our Child, Who Can We Do It To?’.

    you sound like you’re on your way to that difficult, painful but necessary place a lot of us have to get to, where you’re like, okay, my parents are just…being horrible to me, that’s what’s happening, I don’t deserve it but it is what they are doing and there is no way for me to behave that will make this stop happening, so, how can I protect myself? for me, the answer was to pour all of the love I’d been trying to give my parents (which they demonstrably did not want) into 1) my unbelievably amazing job I love which they also do not think is Real Work, but I think it is, and building my own kickass career has been a huge help in finding ways to get approval that don’t come with emotional baggage or blackmail, and 2) the close friends I have who are all also queer kids from abusive families, so they Get It and we all love each other extra hard to make up for the failures of our parents.

    if you don’t have queer friends, that’s okay; a couple years ago I went to a queer art day where I didn’t know anyone and I just sat on a bench for most of the day looking at all the people around me being a gorgeous collection of queer creatures, together or alone, and looking at the rainbow flags and the people selling patches with they/them pronouns on and the huge, huge poster that said YOU BELONG HERE and it was like….good. it was really, really good. in general, and also for me. just to be there, and remember the stuff from paragraph 1 up ^there, like…there are a whole, weird, beautiful, complicated, diverse and awesome lot of people out there who are not your parents, who you could be yourself around, quietly or loudly, and it would be okay, because you are okay.

    if you do go home, consider consequences for their rubbish actions. parents, as chronicled many times on this site, never expect to face consequences for treating their kids badly but sometimes when you can make them happen, or even convincingly threaten those consequences, parents will at least realise you’re serious and that regardless of their feelings, they are going to have to Behave if they want you to stay.

    turning those tables on abusive parents, making them the ones who have to Behave and audition for YOUR approval, is not always the most psychologically healthy thing, but it can really really help if you need to stay in contact with them for whatever reason. (also you get to feel like Machiavelli when it works, which is fun.) I know it’s harder when you’ve had to travel to another country to see them – but if you make plans in advance, you can know where you could escape to, how to get there, how much it will cost you, etc, and at times even just silently knowing you have that escape route can make their nonsense easier to bear.

    and if you don’t go home, I hope it’s wonderfully, enormously, dizzyingly freeing for you, but it will probably also be very difficult and frightening and destabilising, and do give yourself time and permission to feel both things. breaking the mould is a big deal. escaping this stuff is a big deal. realising your parents do not and may never have your back is a big deal. choosing your own happiness over societal constructs is a big deal. (a lesbian friend of mine was asked by her mother, ‘why on earth do you think your happiness is more important than your duty?’ and I think about it all the time when I’m trying to make those decisions to save my own life at the expense of my family’s approval.) all of this is a big deal and it’s okay to be unhappy and scared and it’s also okay to be giddy and ecstatic and it’s also okay to settle in the middle in a weird state of ????feelings?? while your brain works on processing it all.

    love love. xxxxx

    1. “‘But You’re Our Child, If We Can’t Do This To Our Child, Who Can We Do It To?’.”

      When they are SO CLOSE TO GETTING IT.

    2. Your comment made me want to dance too! There’s so much power in community.

      “that decision has become a whole lot easier to manage and deal with since I recognised that that was exactly what I was doing; that it was strategic, and that there was no chance of things ever Being Okay or of them ever Being Good Parents or even Nice Parents or even, you know, Parents Who Don’t Scream In My Face And Then Justify It With ‘But You’re Our Child, If We Can’t Do This To Our Child, Who Can We Do It To?’.”

      Thank you so, so much for putting this into words. I think my next step is getting somewhere like that.

  51. I am queer and I need to tell you something I didn’t realize until I had a kid myself: people who reject the kids they have loved and raised are MONSTERS.

  52. “the knot of dread in your stomach rises until it’s a whole elaborate braided dreadloaf that fills your torso”

    I love this. I’ve been rewatching old seasons of GBBO and am now imagining the judges’ reactions to being presented with an elaborate braided dreadloaf. “We said celebratory loaf… what exactly are you celebrating here? Family holidays? Oh dear.” Also Sue’s reaction – she’s a lesbian, and probably has some great recipes for fuck-off sauce to go with that dreadloaf.

  53. I want this entire thing, embroidered in a tapestry, with golden thread for the most quotable parts, on my living room wall.
    LW, all the Jedi hugs, if you want them, from a daughter who is parentless since 2013 an has yet to regret it (spoiler alert: I won’t)

  54. For the LW, I absolutely second DON’T GO, followed by “if you must, then don’t stay with your parents” and the excellent advice in other comments on how to protect yourself.

    For the Captain, may I say your response in all its glorious compassion and righteous outrage had me in floods of tears reading. Which since I’m in a food court at lunch, wasn’t ideal, but at least I wasn’t reading at work! Parts of what you said spoke directly to me, and I can’t thank you enough for it. Thank you so much for the love you bring to the world, and for fighting so hard to create and protect safe places.
    May you have much joy and love always.

  55. Dear LW, please don’t subject yourself to more abuse from your parents by visiting them at this time.

    You are worthy of love and respect and care, always.

    Your parents have shown they are incapable of being loving and accepting and encouraging of you. They don’t deserve more opportunities to make you feel bad and unloved. And I suspect you already know deep down that nothing you ever do will satisfy them or change their opinion of you – visiting them only gives you more pain.

    Please spend your precious time with your lovely girlfriend and surround yourself with people who love and appreciate you.

    Sending many hugs if you’d like them.

  56. FWIW I’m a mum. I’m at a tricky stage in my life where it feels as though “working” and “being a mum” are the only facets my personality has 🙂 And this is literally making me feel sick.

    OP’s mum: get in the bin. OP’s dad: get in the bin.

    OP if you ever feel the need for some “mum hugs” I’ll just leave a pile here for you to pick up if and when you want them ——–>

  57. Adding my voice to the chorus of “don’t go!”.

    Also, as someone who is also avoidant like that: it’s totally ok to ask someone you trust who is further away from the issue to read your messages. My wife and I have both done this for each other and my stepdad does it for my mum when her family are being difficult. Let them read the messages and delete/archive them for you so you don’t have to see them, then if there’s any really crucial information they can pass it on. You get safety from their words without that nagging feeling that you might miss something you actually needed to know.

  58. I cried when I read this post and the answer… There is so much compassion and so much love in what you say, Captain. Thank you so so so much for everything you do.

    Dear Letter Writer, you are good, you don’t need to change anything about yourself. It’s extremely tough to go against years of pressure and abuse, but you just need to chose what works for you and not what works for people who are not capable of respecting you and your choices.

    Sending lots of virtual hugs if you want them.

  59. Cancel your trip. If you can get any money or flight credits back, put it towards spending some good time with your chosen family. Or maybe buy something extra nice for the nest you are building with your girlfriend.

    If you don’t want to have this fight right now, feel free to come down with a Sudden Contagious Illness, Surprise Thesis Deadline or Miscellaneous Personal Emergency and tell them that you’re sorry, but you just can’t come. It’s ok to give an explanation that takes the issue of the table to these people, who do not have your best interests at heart.

    Take extra care of yourself, and surround yourself with good and loving people, because you deserve them. Luxuriate in the knowledge that your girlfriend loves you, to the point that she wants to fall asleep and wake up next to you, every single day.

    Oh, and Captain… as someone who put the “lazy, occasional bisexuality with a hetero-romantic curse” card quietly back in my pocket after my mum went out of her way to tell me she’d love me less and see me as psychologically damaged if I was queer, I just want to say thank you. Thank you.

  60. Honestly, your health is in danger if you go. Emotional abusers have a way of escalating to physical when things don’t go their way or otherwise massively ramping up the abuse. Or kidnapping as others said. Whatever your stance is on maintaining contact, it is unsafe for you to go.

  61. Three weeks is such a long time. I am thinking of three week trips I have been on in my life and how far more mildly stressful environmentals felt. Three weeks is more than long enough to get pretty immersed in the world you’re in and to feel like your other life and the world you came from is kind of far away. Even normal culture shock where everyone is nice but they just don’t know or care about the things that you care about because those things are just far away to them can make a person pretty lonely.

    If you feel strongly that going in what you want to do, I would really recommend spend a LOT of time with other people, and bring things to read that will let you immerse yourself back in a better world and better attitudes and people who will affirm your healthier way of seeing the world and yourself. You need very frequent and long breaks to get your head out of this place and breathe clean air. Because I’m afraid three weeks is long enough to do a lot of harm.

    Is there any conceivable way to make the trip much much much shorter? There are things that you can keep mentally detached from for a long weekend that can start to feel like the whole world in three weeks…

    Or make up a reason you can’t go.

    1. In 2000 between careers, I spent 2 weeks in my parents’ region, visiting each of them in turn. Longer visit than had been typical (we were strained but not estranged). I told my friends when I was likely to be able to get online from stepmom’s workplace at the trip midpoint or later. When I logged in a church friend had emailed: “I have a question for you. Do you remember who you really are?” That was exactly what I needed after the _immersion in their world_ To_ONT describes so well.

  62. LW, one thing that helped me deal with Messages of Unknown Awfulness was to have a dear person screen them and summarize anything that might be positive or useful info. Probably not your gf, under the circumstances, but maybe a good friend?

    Most of the time the summary was, “yeah, don’t bother – trash it.” But occasionally there was some tidbit like, “Here is historic geneology information,” or “Nice Aunt is going to be in my town next month.”

    Not worth wading through the garbage myself, but I was glad to have the help.

  63. LW — I feel like someone should write an ode to the legions of us — we, the not-quite orphans, whose parents say they ‘did the best they could’, but it wasn’t really enough. Their affection comes hemmed with codicils and clauses, a contract instead of just love and we have to reinvent the idea of love ourselves, from scratch as adults.

    I’m sorry, LW. It’s a lot of work to finally extract yourself and say ‘I mourn the childhood, the love that I should have gotten’ and make the boundaries and rules and walls that will keep you safe going forward. A lot of people in similar situations seem to do really well with no-contact. I’m not there. What’s worked for me has been strict rules — I call once a week, I never visit for more than a day, I am never alone in the room with my mother (I won’t even talk to her on the phone if she knows I’m home alone), and I always have permission from myself to not read texts, calls or emails unless I’ve got a support network to deal with it. That moment of gut-clench when you look at a text and don’t know if it’s a bomb or a link to a pair of ugly shoes…. At least you know this one is a bomb?

    I have been there. I have changed Christmas plans at the last second to “two days, not a week and we’re staying in a hotel, not at your house”, and I survived. Conditional love shaped my childhood in many ways — my survival was dependent upon making them love me, so displeasing them felt like it endangered me. But as an adult, I survived. I had a ton of therapy, awesome friends, a supportive husband, that helped. I hope your GF will help you in your new awesome living together situation).

    I don’t know if that’s helpful at all. I’m sorry about this and the Captain is totally right in all her awesomeness.

  64. Most of the other comments and the Captain herself have implied this, but I want to say it outright:

    You’re not a Bad Kid. They’re Bad Parents.

    It was a mind-blowing, lean back against the couch and stare into space for a solid minute, revelation when my therapist said “your dad doesn’t know how to be a parent” after I was venting about his last visit. And she’s right! He doesn’t! He has no idea how to have a close, meaningful relationship with his children, how to treat us like we’re some kind of priority in his life.

    And LW, it was so freeing to realize that. I’d spent years tying myself in knots, the same knots I see in your letter, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. What did I need to do to make him care? There had to be some secret combination of words or actions that would unlock the Good Parent that had to be in there somewhere.

    But there’s not. And it sucks, it really does, realizing that your parents will never be good enough for you. They’ll never be the parents you and I both deserve to have, ones who are loving and supportive and enthusiastic about our lives. But my god, the relief and freedom of realizing it wasn’t my fault! There’s nothing I can do to make this right, and it’s not my fault that I can’t fix it! I’m almost 32, my dad has had AMPLE opportunity to figure things out and try to be better, and he hasn’t. Your parents have had those same opportunities to look at themselves and how they treat you and realize they can and should do better. And they haven’t, and that’s their choice, and it’s nothing to do with you.

    I know they’ve spent your entire life convincing you that you’re not good enough for them, but try this reframing on for size. They aren’t good enough for you.

    And if it isn’t too late, I agree with everyone else. Don’t go. I stopped going back to my dad’s for Christmas, then Thanksgiving, then for much of anything at all. And it’s so much easier. So much happier to spend time with friends and family who like me and care about me and know what I do with my life, instead of a dad who only asks about how my life is going as he’s driving me to the airport at the end of a trip. Make up some excuse if you’re not ready to have that fight, but you don’t have to go. You don’t have to subject yourself to their abuse to prove something. They’re the ones failing you, not the other way around.

  65. [Captain, this was the most beautiful, eloquent advice ever. My heart wanted to burst into glitter parade confetti by the time I got through the last paragraph. It seems to me that you are putting things in plainer language these days and are less willing to give assholes any slack, and I AM LOVING IT. I’ve read this site for a long time now, and it’s the best advice column I’ve ever read. I tend to read advice columns for pleasure/interest/education, but I am hugely invested in your discussions of boundaries — I haven’t found anywhere else that deals with boundaries in quite the way that you do, and it’s Everything.]

    LW, I am so glad you received this advice. It is good advice. I’m in the Disappointing Child boat also, and an expat also, and have had to deal with The Visit issue also. It took me until my late forties to start recognizing the truths in what the Captain has said here, and I am better off for having reached them (although the Captain words them so much more eloquently than I do in my own head). This advice is golden; take what you need from it, and look for me behind you when you need that parade. I will be tooting a whistle and shaking my tail feathers. I will give you a thumbs-up, and we will all attend an awesome after-party together. Be well, LW!

    1. Aw, I really appreciate it. I worked hard on yesterday’s post and I care about this a lot. And I’m learning as I go. Thank you.

      1. Excuse me! Hello! JenniferP, over here!

        Sometimes when a person does something or is consistently awesome, it seems silly to point that out. A person would feel silly telling DeGrass Tyson he was clever. People assume he knows he is clever just as well as he knows his name.

        So because your advice is so consistently good, empathetic, and well presented, it is easy to assume you are aware of your level of awesome. It is quite high. Believe it.

      2. JenniferP, your “learning as you go” is like… like you’re climbing up to the edge of the crevasse, pickaxe in each hand, and hauling the rest of us behind you on a line. And I’m finding some holds here and there, scrabbling along and occasionally sinking my axe into the slippery slope. It’s an excruciating climb, but you’re up there hollering encouragement. And the Awkward Army is cheering each other on and giving boosts. What a space you have created here! Many thanks!

  66. Oh gosh, LW, you get ALL the virtual hugs. All of them.

    CA’s response is spot-on, and many commenters have already added good stuff that will hopefully help you make the best decision for you, and help you keep yourself safe. I will add one thing, and that is to also consider what life will be like down the road with your girlfriend. The two of you are moving in together, so it’s safe to say you’re beginning to build a life together. That’s wonderful! But I’m assuming that your parents have not met your girlfriend, and that in fact exposing her to them would be horrible. If they are willing to be cruel to you, their own daughter, how will they treat the person you love? Does making nice now mean a lifetime of always visiting your family by yourself? Pretending that your partner isn’t part of your life? That would be exhausting and heartbreaking, for both of you.

    Wishing you all the best. And more hugs.

  67. Every time I run across parents like this, I want to snark at them, even though I know it won’t make it better. But sometimes? Calling them out makes them realize what they’re doing is wrong.

    them: I’m disappointed in your career/relationships
    me: I’m disappointed to learn that my parents love and respect was conditional on me not being who I was born to be. I thought good parents were supportive and encouraging. Your disappointment does what? Keep you from bragging to your friends? Means my life is more middle-class than upper middle class — but doesn’t affect your life at all. My disappointment lets me know through no uncertain terms that I’m not welcome as I am, and if I don’t change, disrespect, disappointment, and bitterness is all that my family will ever give me.

    Probably just stirs it up. But, GAH.

    1. One of the most freeing things in my life was visiting my parents, and they started to pick on me/squabble. And I looked right at them and said, “you know, I don’t live here anymore. I can just leave.”

      And because my parents wanted me there more than they wanted to pick on me/squabble, they were on their best behavior for the rest of the (admittedly 2 day) trip.

  68. LW I want to reccomend Issendai’s study of Estranged Parent Forums as a potentially helpful resource. Specifically their notes on all or nothing relationships. I want to highlight the section about how to gauge whether or not reconciliation might be possible:

    “If an estranged adult child is reading this, reconciliation is not impossible. I’m looking at a population self-selected for intense, enduring estrangements and poor empathy. If you’re considering trying a reconciliation, my advice is:

    – Ask yourself whether your parent has shown signs of actual change. Hoping and wishing that they’ll change aren’t signs.

    – Expect them to want to move much faster than you want to. Be prepared to manage their expectations.Be prepared for them to black out your
    attempts to manage their expectations.

    – Expect them to change much more slowly than you want them to. If they don’t understand what the problem is, you’ll have to train them out of each
    behavior individually, and this will take time. Expect them to use any change in circumstances as a reason to backslide. Expect them to backslide
    if you’re not consistent and persistent with consequences.

    – Ask yourself whether the amount of training and maintenance you’ll need to do is manageable for you. Revisit the question periodically.

    – Don’t push past the current limits of your training, even for special occasions. (“We said she couldn’t see the baby yet, but it’s Christmas…”)

    – Don’t introduce your kids/partner into the situation until your parent is well and truly behaving, and has done so for a while.

    – Accept that it may take multiple estrangements and reconciliations before you and your parent truly reconcile. Just as your parent may not have
    believed there was a problem in the relationship until you cut them off, they may not believe you’re serious about what you’re asking of them until
    you’ve shown them that you’ll cut them off again.

    – If it’s safe to be emotionally open with them, talk with them about their needs and expectations. (This is a tightrope walk
    between being open to them, giving them the impression that they have more say than they do, and letting them undermine you.)

    – If it’s not safe to be emotionally open with them, don’t reconcile.

    – If you read the second-to-last bullet point and decided they weren’t safe, then you read the last bullet point and decided that no, really, they’re safe,
    then your parents aren’t safe. Don’t reconcile with them until you don’t feel pressure to lie to yourself about them.”

    That site helped me so much when it came to both managing my own expectations surrounding my parents, and letting me know in no uncertain terms that this really wasn’t my fault. That this is an extensive and well documented pattern of abusive behavior not even unique to my own home life. That abusive people are almost allergic to self reflection and there really is no magic phrase I can say to make them realize they’re being terrible.

    I’m rooting for you and your girlfriend, and I hope if you decide to cut them off it’s a decision that brings you peace in the end.

  69. Dearest Best Kid,

    You are already handling this so well! I hope you decide not to go on the trip. But if you do decide that’s what’s right for you, here’s something that has helped me in similar situations: try to re-frame the place where your parents live as just that – where your parents live. It isn’t “home.”

    Home is where you are! And where the love and peace is. Home is where you say it is. For me, being able to separate the concept of “home” from the reality of “that city/house – that’s where the evil is” has been enormously helpful.

    If you do go see them, be safe. And then go home! Back home, to your lovely life filled with joy and peace and your awesome girlfriend.

  70. LW, your parents can stop acting like this any time they want. Really. I promise. You aren’t the one burning this bridge. Every time they cut you down or tell you how disappointed they are in you for… existing… they’re setting the bridge on fire. If this time you decline to put it out and instead walk away, leaving them holding the gas can and matches and wearing a faux-bewildered look on their faces, they are still the ones that burned the bridge.

  71. Wow. I’m so sad to hear about the parents and their reaction to your news. I would consider NOT going on the trip, and the reason I would give them would be something like ‘I realise you’re upset, I feel like you don’t really want to spend 3 weeks with me right now. I’ll respectfully give you both space. Call me when you’re happy to talk’.

    By the way, like CA says, parents do grow out of the ‘career disappointment’ stage. I hold a deep belief that people can and do change. ‘Give them time and people will surprise and amaze you’ – I’m paraphrasing Andy Pausch, whose wise words have so often helped me ride out those storms.

    Good luck!…

  72. LW,you don’t need to visit, and if you do go on that visit, stay with friendly cousins, or whatever you have like that.

    Question: Is ‘disowning’ still a thing that matters to anyone other than the obscenely wealthy? I had good relationships with my parents, but if one or the other had decided to ‘disown’ me, well, with Dad, it would have made literally no difference; whatever he had when he died is presumably with his still-living companion. With Mom, my share of the estate was very nice, and I was surprised by how much it is, but if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t know about it.

    My husband, just yesterday, recounted that his father recently talked with him and, separately, with his brother, about what they’d inherit. His father expressed that he was glad my husband wasn’t disappointed, and my husband replied “Dad, it’s your money.”

    1. I think these days when people say ‘disown’ they’re usually not talking about money. I think it’s more likely they mean they will sever the relationship and no longer talk about you as their child, invite you over, etc.

      I mean who knows. It is kind of an archaic word, I agree. I wonder if they even have a clear idea themselves of what they mean.

    2. I think it can mean either or both of an emotional “you are not my child/you are dead to me” or making sure the person won’t inherit, whether that’s lots of money or the family home, or something like a pair of Grandma’s earrings or a homemade pincushion that has a lot of sentimental value.

      Most people care about at least one of those things–valuable things they might inherit, or being recognized as part of the family and welcomed at family dinners or the like. I think the letter writer is mostly concerned about being cut off emotionally from her family, along with whether whether she can afford (emotionally or in money) to keep that connection.

      1. valuable things they might inherit, or being recognized as part of the family
        For a great many people, these things are very intertwined.
        I don’t expect my parents to have anything of value left to give any of us when they die.
        But if they named all my other siblings and not me, or if they specifically said, “They inherit, and Toots gets nothing,” it would hurt so much, because being “in the will” is a symbol of “being recognized as part of the family.”

        I do think most people use the phrase to mean “won’t acknowledge you as family, won’t invite you to Thanksgiving.” But I also think most people just use it to mean “I will always be vocal in my disapproval of you,” more than they actually mean anything.

  73. I want us to stop telling our unsupportive families the details of our lives. There’s always a really good chance they won’t understand them, won’t accept or acknowledge them, and won’t ask further about them (if not outright disapprove). Our detractors show us who they are, there is never any doubt, and asking them for approval is looking for blood from stones. Let us make sure they know we’re alive, safe, and happy, and save the good details for people who genuinely care about us.

    1. *nod* As a queer person I reject the implicit “everybody needs to be out and that’s the most important thing” that happens sometimes.

      (Yet sometimes, not being out to my conservative homophobic mother still feels like a part of me is dying.)

    2. It is a good plan. It can be frustrating/difficult in the age of social media, which is NOT a reason not to do it! Just an annoying detail in the mix.

      — signed, “I quit FB for a lot of reasons, and this was one of them”

  74. I wish there were some sort of super decoder ring we could give people that would trade the unfair negative words others use against them to reflect what is truly happening. For instance, LW, every time your mother said you were “disappointing” the decoder ring would automatically replace it with “following your own arrow like a boss.” We could replace “ungrateful” with “refusing to acknowledge any level of contribution beyond that which is appropriate.” I am so sad that you accept your mother’s descriptors of you as if they were real, valid things. You’re not a “bad” daughter for not wanting to visit your parents, you’re an astute human being who recognizes danger when you perceive it. You’re not a “disappointment.” Your parents expectations are horrendous and unrealistic. I hope you can find ways to reject their descriptors when it comes to you and find better, more loving and accurate words to replace them with. Your parents do not run the world. I remember when I thought mine did, I remember when I thought I actually NEEDED their approval to do anything – and one of the best days of my life, by far, was the day I realized that I could rely on myself and my own judgment and no longer be afraid of whether my parents might not like my life or my decisions. There are a tremendous number of decent human beings in this world who would love nothing more than to have child JUST LIKE YOU. You keep on being awesome, LW.

    1. I wish I had your decoder ring to retranslate “you have Very Little Compassion” with “I tried to care about medical reality when my mother was in denial, though she didn’t want to hear it and I didn’t try hard enough to say it NicelyTM.”

  75. To LW: I wish you all the best, you’re so beautiful. Mr Rogers, he was attracted to different genders, I like to think his validation about people being okay “just the way you are” was sometimes being specifically directed to people like you and me.

    A thank you to the Captain:
    (TW for following: homophobia in a religious context)

    After reading this, I was able to clarify in my mind what I want from my mom that’s realistic ie, instead of focusing on if I should come out to her, an agonizing decision even though she’s conservative and homophobic, I realize I need not to talk about religion anymore. Even though we are are both Christians it feels very invalidating hearing *anything* religious from someone who thinks queer people can’t be Christian, and it’s messing with my faith. I wrote an email draft about the boundary that I think I will send soon. It’s been monumental even just writing it, very validating. I think I might never have figured out what I need that’s realistic if it weren’t for this.

    Thanks Captain, and commenters. ❤️

    1. {you}

      Just for external reinforcement if you need it: 😉

      Your mother is not the gatekeeper for your faith. You have the right to set this boundary.

  76. As I was reading, I thought, “She needs to go to that Worry Wyvern post” and then there it was. I have that post bookmarked, and I refer back to it regularly.

    Oh, OP. This is so wrenching. You get to decide if you want to go or not. I was estranged from my parents for what turned out to be about three years, but I didn’t know it would be that when it happened. I won’t lie, it hurt. It was grief. I finally mourned the death of my idea that somehow, some way, I would be Perfect Daughter. The thing is, you sound like a really strong person. In spite of your parents’ abuse, you are doing non-profit work, earning a doctorate (a DOCTORATE. I mean!), living with the person you love and makes you happy. That’s not what failure looks like. The biggest Jedi hug in the world for you.

    (And this could not have come at a better time for me, I’d like to add. Father-in-law died two weeks ago. Cleaning out the house resulted in Drama, culminating with SIL screaming at me about how I faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamily wrong. In a stupid fucking Wendy’s in Ohio.

    Guess I’m bookmarking this one, too.

    1. Jedi hugs if you want them, Cora. I’m sorry for your loss and for your being stuck with family’s Drama.

  77. Reporting for the LW IS AWESOME PARADE! I got cookies, I got kittens, a big old sweet dog, I am ready to be an affirming auntie or supportive big sister.
    Let the festivities begin!

  78. Reporting to honor the LW on the all-inclusive all-abilities floor of fierce unstoppable dancing with huge metallic scarves to wave.

    As a straight person, I hesitate to comment for I can imagine tangent dimensions of this experience only (and Captain, if this comment needs to be filtered, I’ll understand). Yet, Captain and commentariat, this thread has left me molten with validation. May I tell you why?

    My mother swore “I love my daughter as my life” and represented this as unconditional. Yet the tacit conditions of being loved came to include supporting her delusions uncritically during 2 different episodes of untreated or undertreated paranoid schizophrenia. As an undergrad, after a lot of therapy and support from campus chaplain and friends, I managed to say “We do not both know this is real any more”, to weather the resulting storm of disappointment, condemnation and manipulation (“You are killing me right now! There is no reason to even eat another meal”) in silence without changing my position, and to go to cousins in another state rather than her house when school was out. She was in the hospital for a whole school year, getting out in time for my graduation.

    There followed 25 years of mutual reasonable health with me at increasing geographic distances. I’ll always be grateful for my therapists in grad school and for the major professor who *reparented me*.

    As Mom became a senior citizen, however, and particularly from a surgery in 2009 until her death of lung cancer in 2019, she became less adherent to meds and less tolerant of the infrequent contact that I found necessary for my own mental health. The degree of yearning, searching, and clinging by telephone that she needed to make herself safe exposed me to LD90 of engulfment and increasingly delusional content. After another surgery in 2016, when husband and I tried to confront her about allowing more help for domestic sanitation and her physical health needs, we DidItWrongTM, with raised voices that she said were morally the same as hitting her, and she threatened over my birthday cake in a razor-edged whisper, “[Daughter,], [Hubs] will never prove that I am out of my head and will never prove that my housekeeping is faulty. And if he tries, he can go [bleep] himself and I will sue his pants off!”

    I heeded the threat, peeled off my selkie-skin, and put my own head in the Mold-O-Rama. I let go the geriatric care manager that had been helping her since 2016, who she decided had Brainwashed Us, and I said, “If you say your things were Stolen, they were Stolen! I don’t care anymore!” She still threw us out of her house. We only were estranged for about three weeks before she couldn’t stand it and called me up. “Just Trust Me A Little More, Okaaay?” All I could say was the nonapology, “I’m sorry to have caused you pain”. I knew, though, that the price of admission was pretending to Believe In Her. I felt like Thomas Cranmer tearing up his manifesto after watching his brother bishops burn. At 53 I betrayed my 21-year-old self’s cognitive integrity.

    Allowing Mom to test the hypothesis that she was a sovereign adult of full capacities ended in her medical self-neglect. She was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in 2018, received us with joy in her hospital room, apologized for how she had treated us in 2016 (but never took back the rest of the AUC of delusional statements, which keep working their way out of my memory like splinters), and died a few weeks later, a year ago April 29. I’m glad we saw each other in person and I’m glad that all the “I don’t need help” was descoped by a different medical landscape.

    Yet as I mourn, the Good Kid who was never quite Good Enough is disturbingly prominent in my inner chorus; there is less freedom now than I expected. If I’d believed in Tinkerbell (or the Gremlins Who Stole and Rearranged Things without signs of forced entry) would she not have given in to the cancer quite so fast, 6 weeks rather than 6 months?!

    Atomic Cowgirl, I’d like to be an early beta tester of your decoder ring. Angelique, she changed just enough to change everything about our parting, but not quite enough to free my grief from guilt. Christine, I’ve been blaming myself for not having found the secret combination of words or actions! Beth, I gave in but she could always tell that I didn’t do so quite willingly enough. Madtown Maven! I am lighting candles for you.

    Captain, I’d like to nominate you for Nobel Peace Prize for this: “If you’re out there reading this from inside the un-safety of the Mold-O-Rama because all the other options are even less safe, I see you, friend and I need you to know that your choice to try to preserve an unfair and difficult relationship doesn’t make them right about you.” I’ve been seeing Mom as partly right about me ever since she died. Thank you for untying me from that stake.

    1. Oops. The Geriatric Care Manager had been there since 2012. I couldn’t math the other night.

    2. Holy shit, FM. I was going to say “thank you ” for your supportive comment to my blurb, but Good God. I’ve never had to cope with anything like that. So, thank you, plus YOU get the Jedi hugs and all the kittens, along with LW. I’m slackjawed.

      1. Bless you, Cora. I arguably violated “comfort in, dump out” toward both you and the LW by writing this; thank you for showing grace (and our dilute tortie cat, who is 13 pounds and 3 years old and still thinks she’s a kitten, says ‘prrow’). I hope you find supportive road crowd as you heal from FIL’s death and the Drama.

    3. Clarification: I did not surmise or book-diagnose Mom’s disease. Doctors diagnosed it.

  79. Also here for the You Are NOT A Bad Daughter; Your Parents Are (At Least BEING) Shitheads parade, party, whatever.

    [Content note: Child sexual abuse, estrangement, mention of suicide, death of parent.]

    I cut off contact with my bio-father (after years of sexual abuse from him) when I was twelve. I tried to reconnect in my early twenties. It did not go well, but it did show me that I wasn’t the problem, that I could not have any sort of contact with him and expect to keep myself alive. (I wish I were exaggerating.)

    My aunt, his sister, actually confronted him (with my permission) about what he’d done to me; he told her I was lying, she said she believed me over him, and he cut off contact with her (which, if you knew my family, was earth-shattering–we all thought that my aunt would be the only one who would never be estranged from him).

    He died in December 2011, and because none of us (my aunt, my three older brothers, their mom/my bio-father’s first wife, my mom, me*, my niblings) were in contact with him, we didn’t find out until one of my nieces found his obituary online in April 2012. (She was doing a genealogy project for school.)

    From this side of “I cut contact with [Parent] for [Reasons], and [Parent] died without the estrangement ending,” I have no regrets. I might have regretted it if I hadn’t made the attempt as a young adult to talk to him (and due to geography, we spoke on the phone and corresponded by postal mail; I never saw him in person after I disclosed his abuse of me), but knowing as an adult that if that fence could be mended, I’d done everything I could, and he wasn’t going to pick up any lumber and make an attempt at his end, was and remains valuable information.

    *My daughter never met him, and in fact, I kept the fact of her existence from him because I didn’t trust him (which proved to be the right call), so he went to his grave not knowing I’d ever had a child.

    So try not to let anyone metaphorically beat you over the head with, “What if your parents diiiiiiiiiiiiie and you neeeeeeeeeeeeeeever reconciled?” You are not the person who is being unreasonable or unkind or disrespectful here.

    [End content note.]

    All the virtual/Jedi hugs from a queer auntie/older sister, if you’d like them.

    Also, if where you live now has any sort of Pride festivities, there’s a network of people called Free Mom Hugs who show up to various Pride parades/festivals/whatever to give actual physical Mom/Dad/Sibling/[Insert Relative Here] hugs to those whose families of origin have placed just such conditions on their willingness to love their children/siblings/whatever, if you’d like an actual physical hug from someone volunteering to be a surrogate relative. And the Stand-In Families International group that was mentioned up-thread has a Facebook page/group, if you use Facebook.

  80. I realized a few years ago that nothing I did would ever make my Darth Mom happy. I had tried everything. Couldn’t be done.
    From there, it was a much shorter step to deciding I might as well please myself. If she’ll be miserable and mean no matter what… and she will…why not do what I want?
    The other problem is, if they see you wavering, they will know pushing this button works, and they will do it again and again. I wish that wasn’t true, but it probably is.
    A friend of mine likes to say, “On a scale from one to serial killer, how bad is it that your relative is gay?” There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s a lot wrong with them.

  81. Also, LW, I’m very proud of you for your “sad and disappointed” script! Those are some excellent people skills and some excellent adulting skills, and you should feel good about yourself!

  82. “Can your parents possibly, possibly, possibly be more disappointed in you, I wonder, than I am disappointed in them at this moment? (No)”

    God, I missed you, Captain. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

    So much love and strength to the LW as well, and congratulations on moving in with your girlfriend! 💖

    1. [No disrespect to Lenee, she was great, I just have a special deep abiding love for the Captain’s writing ❤️]

  83. Please take a look at the kind, loving, intelligent, compassionate person in the mirror and take a moment to appreciate how such beauty can grow out of such awfulness.

    I hope you take that time you would have spent with your parents doing something fun and life-affirming with your partner.

  84. “If you’re out there reading this from inside the un-safety of the Mold-O-Rama because all the other options are even less safe, I see you, friend and I need you to know that your choice to try to preserve an unfair and difficult relationship doesn’t make them right about you.”

    I have many favorite responses from the Captain, but this one is so far my all-time favorite, and this quote is one of my favorite parts. Dear letter writer, it’s so easy to turn blame on yourself when other people are blaming you, but whatever you end up doing, you are not at fault, ever, for your family’s cruel behavior. I hope the Captain’s words are as comforting to you as they are to me. I’m totally on board for your parade.

    Recently I had to decide whether or not to go on a big trip to visit someone who has been really cruel to me. Some other people pressured me to go, but I ended up deciding not to. Even though some people judged me, it was definitely so much better not to pay hundreds of dollars and a week of a knotted up stomach (and insomnia) to see someone who’s treated me like garbage. Now I have a little extra money to spend doing fun, relaxing things with people who actually like me and treat me well. Whatever you decide to do, none of this painful situation will ever be your fault, and we’ll all be behind you.

    Captain, THANK YOU for this response. I’m not the letter writer, but I’ve been in some emotionally similar situations, and I’d put this whole response in a locket and wear it around my neck always if I could manage to wear that large of a locket.

  85. Captain, you’ve outdone yourself. Thank you for this, especially the part about “forever is a long time.” I’m somewhere in the early stages of re-evaluating a semi-estrangement with my parents, considering testing the waters of “creat[ing] a history of positive interactions moving forward,” and this post helped me see those choices a bit clearer.

    LW, you’re doing great. Like the Captain said, you’ve already been super clear with your mom about how you feel and what you want, and you don’t owe her anything more. I just want to reflect something back to you, though, to paraphrase something you wrote, just in case it’s helpful: you *don’t* want to be estranged from them, but you don’t want to endure 3 weeks of silent disapproval and confrontations either.

    If you want to say something more to your mom, if you want a script, this is something you could say to her directly: “I *don’t* want to be estranged from you, but I won’t just silently endure your disapproval and criticism, either.” The “so if you want to spend time with me, you can act like you like me the way I am” can be silent, or not.

    If it were me, that might make me feel better. It might make me feel more confident in reminding myself that THEY chose estrangement by being bad parents. It might make it clearer to me that they’re the ones making the choice. If not going feels like saying you want to be estranged (it doesn’t, but I understand the feeling), maybe clearly stating that you don’t want to be estranged would make you feel freer to choose not to interact with them when they’re not being safe to interact with.

    But only if you want. You’re already being strong and awesome even though they don’t deserve your strength and awesomeness. And as it helps me to remember – there is no script you can use that will fix the way they’re treating you. Only they can do that.

  86. CA, thank you so much for this reply. Even three years after having been cut off by my mother for being trans it’s helpful to read.

    LW, if my experience of visiting my mom shortly after I came out is anywhere near generalizable, don’t go. I intended to go for a long weekend to give her a chance to discuss my transition face-to-face. In reality, I saddled up the nopetepus after one day of concern trolling, gaslighting, insistence that she knew me better than I know myself, blaming my dead father for ruining me, predictions that my children would be “ruined,” and accusations that my transition was to access male privilege. Shortly after, she cut me off completely. I can now look back and say that the best thing my mother did for me was to cut me out of her life and save me the trouble of doing it myself. She has definitively shown that my gender assigned at birth was more important to her than a relationship with me (her only child) or a relationship with her grandchildren (who are awesome people, btw). I finally realized that her earlier rejection of my career (she didn’t approve of my chosen medical specialty), her active interference with my recovery from anorexia, and any number of other examples of bad behavior, were the rule and not the exception and that i am well rid of her. I sincerely hope that your relationship with your parents can be what you want it to be, but I’m here from the other side to say that estrangement, if that’s the best option for you, can be a really healthy and soul-affirming thing.

  87. This discussion has been so helpful for a mostly lurker healing from a different experience of conditional parental love. Thank you, Captain and crew.

  88. OP, it is okay if you call yourself the “Bad” Kid…as long as you spell it with an “ass”.

  89. LW, about three years after I came out to my family as a lesbian and also told them I was planning to become a college professor, my Dad and my then-GF and I were driving somewhere, and he mentioned that the first time he saw me after I was born, he imagined my life, with a wedding to a man and being a stay-at-home mom (it was 1958 when I was born, and that dream basically meant “Sorcha will be in the middle class and not poor”). Then he said, “The hardest and most miraculous thing about being a parent is that you have to learn to put down your dreams and ideas about who your kid is going to be so you can see how fabulous and beyond your imagination their own dreams and ideas turn out to be.”

    My dad is by no means a perfect parent, but he is 100% right about that.

    When I tell this story, I am always shocked by how many people turn out not to have this baseline in their relationship with their parents. We all deserve this, and I am sad for you that your parents chose not to provide this for you. It’s not your fault, and so long as their approach to you is less than this, it is, in fact, their fault.

    You can mourn the parents you don’t have, and you can protect yourself from the damage they want to do to you in order to keep alive their fantasy about who you ought to be, and you can put up boundaries that give them the choice between treating you with respect and seeing less of you. You are not a “Bad Kid” because you find yourself in a family with people who had a baby when what they wanted was a puppet.

    1. Then he said, “The hardest and most miraculous thing about being a parent is that you have to learn to put down your dreams and ideas about who your kid is going to be so you can see how fabulous and beyond your imagination their own dreams and ideas turn out to be.”

      My dad is by no means a perfect parent, but he is 100% right about that.

      Your dad dead-ass knocked that one out of the park. Out of the state. Maybe entirely out of the time zone where the ball field is located.

      LW, I know I wrote a novel above, but I think sorcharei’s dad’s statement here illustrates in 100 words or fewer what you’re doing right and what your folks are doing wrong. Your dreams and ideas of who you are and what you want out of life are fabulous and beyond your parents’ imaginations; it’s saddening and angering how they can’t get over their dreams and ideas about the Daughter-Shaped Mold is supposed to be and appreciate the amazing reality of you.

      Keep being amazing. They’ll come around or they won’t, but in neither of those options is their attitude your responsibility.

  90. I keep typing out long responses that I never post because all they do is reflect my own personal hurt as the bi, trans scapegoat of my family. Don’t go see them. You don’t owe them access to you if all they’re going to do is hurt you. I’m trying to practice what I preach and it is hard but I’ve never regretted cutting my family off as much as I regret the times I’ve let them back in.

  91. This is your life. not theirs. If they are no prepared to treat you as anything other than a disappointing possession, then I see no reason to have contact with either of them ever again. Let them disown you, then they may come to realise that they never owned you in the first place.

  92. I have some advice for people reading here who may be considering coming out to their own parents while still dependent on them in some way. Note that although I am bisexual, I never had to have that conversation; my knowledge is that of d’Artagnan.

    Before redefining yourself in your parent’s eyes in such a momentous way, consider what has happened previously in your relationship with them. Was there another time when you showed them that you were not what they had imagined you to be? Think carefully about it. It may not look like you saying, “Parents, you assumed that I was [characteristic, choice, or goal] but actually I’m [other characteristic, choice, or goal].” It may look like your parents constantly being after you to dress a certain way that you loathe. Or your relationship with them abruptly cooling when illness or injury sidelined you from some extracurricular activity. When your life differed from their expectations, what did they do?

    In addition, look at how they treat people who aren’t you. Do they have one set of manners for people they consider to be Right and another for people they consider to be Wrong? I don’t mean punching Nazis–I mean deciding that people must be a certain way, even though choosing some other way hurts no one, and declaring people who make different choices to be in need of saving from themselves, or enemies whose malice must be beaten down. People who think like this may make exceptions for their own children. Or…not.

    If your relationship with one parent is tense in some way, what does your other parent do about it?

    Keep in mind, always, that you don’t have to tell your parents everything. Even if you love them very much and believe that they love you, you don’t have to inform them about your life. You do not owe them access to the most sensitive parts of your psyche just because they are your parents. It is absolutely okay for you to have a whole inner life they know nothing about. It is absolutely okay for you to leave potentially painful conversations, in which you puncture their expectations, for the future, when you’re no longer their dependent–or at least for when you have somewhere to run to.

    Finally, you don’t have to have your parents on your side about everything. It’s great if they are, but they don’t have to be. And–I’m sorry–if they are, or may not be, on your side because of something you are, then there’s no combination of words that will change their thinking.

  93. I’m not going to get into go/don’t go because presumably you have your own reasons and your situation, but if you do, please believe that they might make a kidnapping attempt or some other attempt on your physical safety and act accordingly. This is particularly important because international travel is involved.

    I know that’s probably really hard to imagine, but many people have been caught completely by surprise by it, even in previously loving families. At the time when I came out, every advice book and guide included how to prepare if your family either threw you out or became physically dangerous. You came out before, but your queerness may not have seemed “real” without a girlfriend in the picture; they may have previously felt you were going through a phase, or acting out, and now believe in it. I’m also not clear whether you’ve been back to visit since leaving home; if not, they may not have realized you would really leave the country before. If so, they could feel that this is their “last chance.”

    A kidnapping doesn’t have to be a dramatic chase scene with a gun. It can be as simple as “losing” an adult child’s passport and delaying their attempts to get it replaced by making sure the family care is unavailable, while they try to talk you into seeing their pre-picked conversion therapist or wait until you lose your TA position that lets you pay for school, to throw out some hypotheticals that may or may not apply to your situation.

    Some suggestions: make a photocopy of your passport and whatever travel permissions allow you into your country of residence; keep one set on you and one in a safe location your family can’t access like a locker or a friend’s house – I would not trust any family member with emergency docs right now unless they’ve been PREVIOUSLY sympathetic to you being queer. (The copy usually? won’t let you travel on it but your embassy will find it helpful getting you home without the originals if necessary.) Keep enough local cash on you to get to the airport by taxi or public transit at all times. Look up the closest embassy for your country of residence, write down the address and keep that on you too. Be in regular contact with someone who understands the situation and will call the authorities if you fall out of contact. Know whose side the local police will take if a homophobic hate crime takes place within the family and make sure your contact person knows this – it may be better to contact your country of residence’s embassy.

    If you do “lose” your passport, go to the embassy, don’t assume you’re stuck until it’s found. Travelers lose passports or have them stolen all the time.

    If nothing happens, none of this is going to be super disruptive and you’ll know you have the option of storming out and going to the airport or a hotel for the rest of the trip during any conflicts (without an awkward trip to retrieve documents while someone pressures you to stay.)

    1. Thank you for saying this. I recently had my passport stolen (not by family) and had to spend around $1500 and a month to replace it (fees plus travel to embassy for me and my husband). It is easy to look up ahead of time on an embassy’s or government’s website what is the procedure to replace a passport, so one can prepare as best one can, with documents, etc. When I travel I usually carry the emergency things you listed in my bra (the “bug-out bra,” lol) and they do make pockets that attach to bras to contain passports. And if you get a push-up bra that lets you remove the “cutlets,” that’s a built-in pocket for smaller items. That way you can keep it on you at all times, even sleeping with a sports bra.

      But it is better not to visit and have to do any of this; it’s no way to live. Not to mention that is not the only way to harm her safety; one can be subject to mental health holds on specious grounds, police check-ups for “being a danger to one’s self,” prayer circles that collectively look the other way while someone is being “saved.”

      At the very least they could breach the information diet that they’re probably on in order to grievously invade LW’s hard-won space in the future. Or cause constant chaos so the LW can’t think straight (lost medications requiring some pharmaceutical wild goose chase, or surprise-a-relative-has-cancer-or-at-least-we-say-they-do, really whatever) and loses sight of calmly deciding to stay or go because she’s dealing with some totally unexpected emergency which takes precedence. Or pushing LW to her breaking point and arranging it so her relatives only witness her breaking point and they can better construct the narrative that LW is a bad seed. Which they’ll do anyway, but in that scenario LW would pocket the financial, managerial and emotional bill for her parents’ smear campaign. Sorry I’ll stop because there’s no point in speculating about all the scary things that could happen in a family I don’t even know but it’s tough not to worry about when actively abusive parents are planning to have the adult kid isolated in their “home turf” country for nearly a month.

  94. There are few forces more evil in this world than parents who mistreat their children because of the sexuality. It’s why once I came out and became a mostly self-actualized human, I swore I would always be available to be family to all other queer people who need or want that from me. I’ll be your dad, your mom, your sibling, or your aunt or uncle, whatever you need me to be. It’s cliché, but the greatest blessing of being gay was the realization that I get to choose who my family is. Letter writer, if you see this, please know that you have that choice too. You owe your parents literally nothing, and even less so after they’ve decided to treat you as their property instead of as their daughter.

  95. I totally agree with the not going, LW!

    Our situations sound similar, but instead of my sexuality being the issue, it was just that I had thoughts and opinions contrary to my parents. When I was off at college, I grew as a person and saw that I did not have to adopt (or tolerate) my parent’s bigotry anymore.

    Long story short, my mom threatened my financial stability twice before I did what I had to to prevent her from affecting me. I stopped going home on every vacation to avoid fights. As I removed her control, her bad behavior escalated. One night when I was visiting during grad school, she turned a fight she was having with my sister into a fight with me and kicked me out of the house. I went home with my cousin who witnessed the whole thing. Let me tell you: IT WAS FREEING. I finally realized that she had no power over me and I didn’t have to be subjected to her abuse any longer.

    She fucked up hard when she threw me out that night. She has never apologized for it. And because it was such a stupid fight, she couldn’t justify it.

    It was the beginning of the end of her reign of terror in my family. Over the next couple of years, my cousin (who helped me that night and was another main target for her abuse including over her sexuality) cut contact with her. My sister has put her foot down. My uncles seem to be ignoring her nonsense.

    My dad is the only one who pushes the “oh, I wish we saw you more! I wish you two were closer. Can’t you just apologize?” Etc. I literally tell him that mom is the one who created the relationship we have, and if she wants to change it, it’ll happen once she apologizes and changes her behavior. He used to push back on my answer, but now he just kind of sighs sadly. I know he never wanted this situation, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have to protect myself.

    Now, in my early 30’s, I talk to them by phone once every week or so for <30 mins. I boycotted the holidays for a few years after she tried to start drama over Thanksgiving in 2016, but I went to Xmas this year and it was fine. She is also fighting less with family members because all it does is get her contact cut off.

    I wish I could have that Hallmark relationship with my parents that you see on tv/FB, but I don’t. I mourn the loss of the relationship I wish we had. But in reality, I just keep my expectations low and boundaries high, so at least I can protect myself.

    I wanted to go “forever” no contact with my parents, but I would have lost access to other family (they take care of my sick grandpa). And even though my dad annoys me sometimes, I would have missed him. But the safety blanket of I /could/ is the power I need.

    I hope this story from someone who reached the other side helps. Good luck, LW.

  96. When I navigated an estrangement process, it helped me to realize that this was not a situation in which I could set an outcome goal and either make it happen or fail. I reframed it as a situation in which I could make the next right step. If a series of good, honest, true steps led to estrangement then that was apparently the good, honest, true place to be even if I didn’t want to end up there.

    If it helps as a frame of reference, LW, I often speak with conservative, religious parents of young adults who have high expectations and lots of social pressure to produce model children. None of their kids reached adulthood without embarrassing or worrying their parents. But none of those parents didn’t figure out how to keep their mouths shut and love, support, respect, and appreciate their adult kids. Your parents are behaving extremely badly.

    Also offered as a point of reference, I think spending three weeks with perfectly fine parents sounds unbearable past completing a bachelor’s degree or so. I’d feel too much like a beholden kid again (at any age!) and I think it would be hard for everyone to maintain their proper measures of adult privacy and independence.

    In case it hasn’t been said enough, you are not a bad kid at all! Living abroad, getting a PhD, enjoying a loving relationship, being true to yourself, working for a non-profit, and communicating with your mother in such a straightforward, sensible way are all wonderful things! I’d be trying not to bust my buttons with pride if you were my kid.

  97. LW I haven’t even read CA’s response yet, beyond ‘kindly get in the fucking sea’ to all parents as a sampler. LW what made me sad reading your post, was that though you have words for why this is so bad, and you seem to communicate them well to your mom, re: ‘I don’t feel safe visiting, and wouldn’t you be uncomfortable as well…’. But you felt the need to state ‘for the record…’ and go on to list your accomplishments as if your parents maybe had some reason to hate your choices? I hope that’s just clarification for us, or to obviate folks’ urge to wonder if you’re selling drugs or whatever. Because it doesn’t matter what you do. Are you self supportive? Chasing your dreams? Are those dreams hurting others? No? Hurting you? No? Getting you onto a path for a career? It sounds to me like any parent should be proud to have a child like you. You appear to be adulting well. You’re pursuing education despite a poisonous lack of support from your parents. You’re pursuing a long term (i assume since you’re moving in together) relationship with another human. All we want for our kids is that they grow up, be self sufficient (not bc we need them to excel or anything but bc after we’re dead it’ll be hard for them if they’re not), be reasonably happy in what they do for a living (bc again, they’ll be happier if they like their career), and if they so desire, to find a partner to share it with (or partners, or whatever floats their boat while not hurting others). Sounds like you’re doing all that. I’m sorry but it looks like you’re in the beginning stages of grieving the loss of your parents. You know that you’re at this crossroads of wanting them to be reasonable humans, finding they really aren’t going to be, and i get the feeling that you knew this was a strong probability before you came out to them. This will be a long process, because unless they get some personality transplants, you’re going to have to choose between dealing with abusive jerks for every life event (marriage, kids if you choose to have them later, your graduation, your partner’s life events) or else just moving forward. Find a support system, an alternate ‘family’ of people. The idea of being alone for every family event is tough, and i think it’s part of what makes people stick with abusers.
    I’m so sorry LW, i’d be proud to have a daughter like you!

  98. Dear LW: add me to the chorus of “don’t go.” 40 years ago, I was in your shoes, a queer grad student outed to my parents just as I was moving in with my partner. I wish I could say that I handled it with grace and wit and dignity, but I flailed and fussed and lied when I had to – and, most of all, I stopped visiting my parents. I spoke to them on the phone, but I didn’t see them for seven years. I refused to see them until they were willing to behave like decent people to me and my partner, and in the end we achieved… I won’t say reconciliation, exactly, because one doesn’t forget that level of betrayal, but we achieved a new and reasonably functional relationship. (When my partner was dying, they were genuinely helpful, and I have just returned from staying with my mother while she recovered from minor surgery: I can’t say that we’re emotionally close or that I would trust my mother deeply, but we can provide support for each other when we have to. We… function.) But even if they had never changed – even if their dire predictions and threats had come true – I would say I made the right choice to stop visiting. To stay away. To choose estrangement.

    CA said 3 very wise things: (1) Your parents have choices about how they treat you. (2) Estrangement can be a great equalizer. and (3) It might get better without getting fixed. I can tell you that all those things are true, and that it is possible to live, and live happily, with them. I wish you the life you most desire.

  99. Thank you, Captain, for this post. I needed it but wouldn’t have been able to ask for it.

    It’s going to be a big parade!

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