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Letting Go of My Parents’ Criticism
How it helped me grow
Anonymous
headshot

Both of my parents spend a lot of time at work. When I was a baby and we lived in Ukraine, my grandparents took care of me. Then when I started school, different babysitters watched me after school until I was old enough to be home alone. I never had many friends, so I spent most of my days alone.

When my parents are home, they usually argue. One night when I was around 9 years old, watching TV and playing with my dog, there was a particularly heated fight.

“You could have helped me carry groceries upstairs. What kind of man are you?” my mom yelled.

“I told you that I had to park the car. All you do is insult me!” he responded harshly.

“Because I never get any help from you! I have to carry the entire family on my shoulders!”

My father seemed especially aggressive that night; I was afraid he might hurt my mom. I thought that if I told him he was upsetting me they would stop arguing, so I stepped in and asked them to stop. I got yelled at and was told that arguments are normal and I should not get into adults’ business.

While my father was yelling at me, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I was scared of him so I ran into my room. I sat on the floor crying softly.

Later, my father came to talk to me. I stared blankly at the wall behind him while he apologized and even hugged me. He usually only hugs me when he feels guilty.

“I am so sorry, I was angry and could not control myself.”

I was silent.

“Are you OK? Talk to me.”

“Can you promise me not to yell like that ever again?” I asked.

“I will try my best not to.”

I knew he did not mean it. I knew that soon it would happen again and we would have the same conversation, just like we’ve had many times before.

Fairy Lights and Fragile Baubles

I used to spend every weekend with my grandparents and celebrated every New Year’s Eve with them. It is the most important holiday in Ukraine. I felt so welcomed at my grandparents’ house. There were hugs, laughter, a fireplace, my favorite candies waiting for me on the table, and the smell of my grandma’s cooking—vareniki, our national dish. I would help my grandma prepare dinner for the whole family, and then help my grandfather decorate the Christmas tree with fairy lights and fragile glass baubles, which we would occasionally drop on the floor.

Afterwards, we would sit together, watch TV, and exchange presents. There was no yelling, no lectures, only smiles and happiness. I loved hearing stories about their youth, especially those about how they met and got married.

“We knew each other since we were 12,” my grandmother would say while sipping a cup of hot tea.

“That is true, we used to be on the same swimming team, and your grandma would flirt with me all the time! I could not get rid of her!”

They made me laugh. I thought, “This is what family should be like,” and I wished that my parents could be like them. I felt safe telling them almost anything, but I did not want to say too much about what was going on at home because I did not want them to worry.

Then, two years ago, my parents and I moved to the U.S., and I lost my grandparents’ support.

Ignored

image by YC-Art Dept

The only time my father shows an interest in me is when he finds out from a teacher that I’m not getting a high grade in a class.

“Why is it so hard to get your work done? If other kids can do it, you should be able to do the same!” he’ll yell.

“Why can’t you just be like them? Perhaps, you need a special school that fits your abilities?” He was implying that maybe I need to go to a school for kids with mental disabilities. But I work hard in school and mostly get high grades. His thoughtless
comments make me feel like he has no confidence in my abilities.

So not only do my parents seem not to like each other, it feels like they don’t like me either.

I think that is why, as I grew up, I did not share my feelings with other people. I thought I would just annoy or disturb them.

Once, in 5th grade, I went to my mom’s bedroom to talk to her because I was upset about mean comments boys in my class made about me. They made fun of my nose and said that “I have too much hair on my arms for a girl.”

I saw my mom looking at her laptop with a troubled face. This face was familiar to me—it meant that something was not going well with her job in finance. I leaned on the door, a little scared, and I asked her in a low voice, “Can I talk to you?”

“Yeah sure, just be quick, I have a lot of work to do.”

“Today in school these three boys…” As I talked, I noticed that she was not paying attention.

“They were saying mean things about me and I—Mom! Are you even listening to me?” This time I raised my voice.

“I am,” she said, without pulling her eyes away from the computer. I felt so foolish for sharing my situation with her. “I guess it is not that important. I can handle it on my own,” I whispered to myself and left the room.

I went to the bathroom and turned on the shower so no one could hear me. I cried on the floor by myself. I waited for my mom to come to my room and comfort me, but she never did.

Shy Girl in the Corner

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled to socialize. It was hard for me to initiate conversations and make friends. Every time I opened my mouth to say hello to someone, I’d get so anxious that my heart would beat faster and I would mix up the order of words in the sentence. My anxiety would show itself through my voice, too. “I can barely hear what you are saying, you should speak louder,” people would tell me. Hearing this again and again made me feel uncomfortable and I would reply, “Never mind, it is not important anyway.”

When someone talked to me, I’d go over every word I planned to say in my head and try to make it sound perfect, instead of participating in a dialogue. I was constantly afraid that I would embarrass myself or make the conversation awkward. It got so bad that I developed a habit of being silent, whether it was at school or at the dinner table with my parents.

Even though I was fluent in English, by the time I got to middle school, I had earned the nickname “shy girl in the corner.” I realized that kids at school treated me like my parents did; they’d either ignore me or judge me.

Time for a Change

I wanted to have actual friends who I felt comfortable around. I decided that my parents were not going to be able to help me; if I wanted to change, I had to put myself out there. “If I do not have anything in common with them or they do not like me, I will find somebody new to talk to, but at least I’ll know I tried,” I told myself.

Overcoming my shyness did not happen overnight and required a lot of patience. Slowly, I started participating in conversations with kids at school. I made jokes, and discussed movies and school subjects. Before going to school, I’d stand in front of the mirror and tell myself that no one judges me as hard as I judge myself, and I’d list every good quality about myself I could think of: intelligent, kind, talented, hard-working, conscientious. Another trick I still use to improve my social skills is to observe people who look approachable and friendly and try to mimic the way they talk and smile.

Every day I set goals for myself to talk to at least three new people at school or say hello to someone I know in the hallway. I know that things like this come naturally to many people, but it made me anxious.

Before, as soon as classes ended, I would go straight home, but now I stay at school later to spend more time with people or I ask them to go with me to get something to eat. I even joined an after-school technical club. There I met even more people, including my best friend, who is now my boyfriend.

So now, even though I don’t have a healthy relationship with my parents, I have other people in my life who care about me and make me feel good about myself. I hope someday my parents get on board too.

I still feel shy or awkward sometimes, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life anymore. Putting myself out there and surrounding myself with good people has made me feel more confident.

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(NYC-2017-11-05)

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