During a recent visit, I noticed that my father was growing increasingly impatient with my 3-year-old. At one point, my son dumped some crumbs from his stroller tray onto the floor at the supermarket. My father grabbed the tray from him and pushed him hard against the side of the head. I immediately intervened and told my parents that “we do not hit in this family.” Growing up, my mother had been strict, but my father was controlling. He hit me until I went to college out of state. He used cruel and demeaning language. He often hit me in the head, sometimes knocking me into walls. I had compartmentalized different aspects of my parents in my mind in order to try and build a healthier relationship with them as adults.
Later that evening, they dismissed my concerns, minimized what my father did, talked over me, tried changing the subject, and then threatened to leave right then and cut ties. I told them to stay in hope that we could make some progress. But they just pretended like nothing had happened. I am reeling. I am prepared to cut them out of my life unless they can assure me that they will not physically harm my children. I am looking into therapy to work through this. But in the short term, I am not sure how to respond to people who ask about my parents. I don’t mind being purposefully vague with acquaintances or strangers. But I am unsure what to tell people to whom we are not close but we see on a regular basis—for instance, day care teachers and neighbors. What would be enough information to tell people so that they know not to talk to my children too much about my parents but also not to ask me too many follow-up questions? I feel the need to protect my children and to protect myself, but I also feel like I’m drowning.
—Stopping My Father