Grieving the Parents I Never Had

I have this picture in my mind of what parents are supposed to look like. Yes, it is a little bit Norman Rockwellian, but that’s how I see it. There is a dad who works and supports the family. There is a mom who maybe works or maybe stays home full-time to take care of the house and family. As a kid, this was the stereotype I looked up to and wished I had, but as luck would have it, I was born into a dysfunctional family with a single mom and an absent father.


I am not responsible for what happened to me as a child, but I am 100% responsible for what I do about it as an adult. So, here I am dealing with it as an adult.

My parents divorced when I was a baby, after my mom found out my dad was cheating on her while she was pregnant. After six months of age, I never really had a father.

My dad died in 1997, just a few weeks after I saw him for the last time at my brother’s wedding. He was absent most of my life, but we danced and talked that night at the wedding and had a great time together. The next morning I woke up and he was already gone, true to his style. I never saw him again. I think I only saw him a handful of times in my life before that.

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Here is the last family picture taken. 1997.

My mom is still alive, but she is essentially not in my life because of mental illness. I am grieving a living loss because she is still alive, but it is impossible to have a relationship with her. I want one, and she wants one too, but we are down to weekly emails and even those don’t go so smoothly most of the time. Talking on the phone is very stressful, and visiting in person takes a lot of work on both sides.

I have this picture in my head of what married parents are supposed to look like yet, it’s not what I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps that is why my life is the way it is. My husband works, I work part-time at home tutoring math, and I care for our kids and our house full-time. I am trying to create something I never had, yet want more than anything else. It is fulfilling and rewarding just as much as it is stressful and trying, but it is what I think a household should be like. Maybe I create my life the way I think it SHOULD be instead of based on my experiences.

My mom is so difficult to deal with. She has been diagnosed with depression, OCD, and borderline personality disorder. Look all of them up, and you will see that this combination presents a major challenge to all those who love her and care about her. Her illness is like an elephant in the room, but if we talk about the elephant everything goes bad. And when things go bad, we don’t talk, so we don’t talk, and then the elephant becomes something that we talk AROUND and never address. So, the problem itself never gets solved or dealt with. It’s just a game of “I have my cards and you have your cards.” And that’s it, deal with it.

I don’t like the cards I was dealt. I don’t know how to deal with it. It hurts me to my core that I don’t have parents I can to talk to, lean on, etc.

I do what I can to meet my own needs. I write my mom weekly emails and do my best to let her know what is going in our lives without engaging in her problems with her. It is difficult, but it is all I can do to keep a ‘relationship’ going.

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!


Friday Fiction #8: Home = Our Beliefs about Love


It’s Fiction Friday and the last week of romance month.  Every Friday, the Fiction Friday Femmes Fatales post different fictional stories based on the same prompt (see below).  This is episode eight. If you missed the first seven episodes, the links are below.


Amanda sat down in a chair in her front yard with her laptop and her assignment. Just thinking about her childhood made her both angry and sad, but her counselor gave her online homework. If I want to start feeling better, I need to do this.. She told herself, even though she didn’t want to do it.

“Think about what it was like growing up. Are there specific feelings or situations that come to mind? Write them down and use a word to describe the feeling or situation (ex: mom was always angry: anxious).

Raised by a single mom.  I remember a lot of fighting, frustration, and angst.   Frustration.

Questions to ask yourself:
 Was there lots of affection in your home or was affection withheld?

There was affection from my mom.

Were you frequently criticized?

Yes I was. I felt like I was never doing well enough at anything. My father was Korean and preferred by brother, my mom told me, because of cultural reasons.  He didn’t want me because I’m a girl. And I never lived up to either parents‘ expectations-spiritually or academically.

Were your parents available to take care of you? Were your needs met?

My mom was for the most part, but she was very busy working three jobs to support us. My dad was not available. My physical needs were met, but not my emotional or spiritual needs.

How was anger expressed – or not?

Yelling, throwing things, fighting, crying, threats of suicide from my mom.

Were there addictions?


What was your parent’s relationship like?

Non existent. Dad sent a monthly check and visited maybe once a year. They never talked as far as I knew.

Was love freely exchanged?

Same answer as above. We were told we were loved by my mom. Not between me and brother.

Did you feel a sense of stability?

No. I didn’t understand why my dad wasn’t around and other kids had dads. I didn’t understand it when my mom got so mad and sad that she would threaten suicide. I wondered if I would find her dead several times and that it would be my fault because we fought.

Did your family communicate about feelings?

Not very well. My dad was absent. My mom did the best job she could. She would try to reassure me when I was sad about not having my dad. She explained that Koreans favor the first-born son. She tried to love me enough for both of them, but it didn’t work. She didn’t really listen to me about anything I wanted to do when I became a teenager. She said no to everything so I just started lying and doing whatever I wanted anyway.

Did family members support one another?

My mom supported me to be a good student, to keep my eyes Asian and not have plastic surgery. She supported me through college. She supported me financially. Brother never supported me. Not sure that I supported him either.

How about fidelity?

My mom was single so I never had an example of faithful parents. I learned that my dad was cheating on my mom when she was pregnant with me. My mom said not to have sex until marriage because of the bible. But I didn’t listen to her. I cheated on all my boyfriends.

Did you feel “safe” or anxious in your home?

Anxious. I wanted out. I didn’t know why I was born into my family.

Key Words About Home
Write down 6 keywords about your home life growing up.

Chaotic, volatile, critical, rebellious, abandonment, rigid

Positive examples might be:

Negative examples:

not available
shut down
Take the six keywords you wrote about home:

Home = Chaotic, volatile, critical, rebellious, abandonment, rigid

Now substitute the word home with LOVE = Chaotic, volatile, critical, rebellious, abandonment, rigid

This may help you understand how you have formed your beliefs about love and relationship. It may also shed light on past or current partners you have chosen as we tend to repeat the familiar until we learn new patterns of relating.” – read more and take the online quiz by clicking here

These were probing questions. The more she thought about it, the more upset she became until for some reason tears started erupting. She never realized how much of an effect her parents’ relationship had on her overall outlook on love. No wonder she had problems inside her own marriage. She didn’t trust the forever part of marriage even though that’s what she wanted more than anything in the whole world.

Her dad taught her to run from her problems, to abandon your children, and that because she was a girl, she was actually worth less than a boy. She spent her adolescence seeking male approval and the intimacy she lacked with her father. She blamed herself unconsciously, blaming herself just for being born. She didn’t know what to do or how to behave to gain his love.

Her mom taught her to be easily overwhelmed, to act out in times of stress. She taught her to be rigid and unreasonable. Amanda constantly fought off critical thoughts about how she didn’t measure up to expectations. Her mom was desperately depressed before Amanda was even born, yet when they fought, she would threaten suicide because Amanda was so cruel and hurtful. Amanda grew up with the irrational belief that she had power over someone else’s will to live. She wondered if she would find her mother dead from suicide and if it would be her fault because they had bad fights.

As a teenager, she started lying to her mother because she said no to everything. There was never an intelligent, rational discussion about life and how to live it. There were just angry lectures full of ‘shoulds’ and the only time she felt free was when she was away from her family.

She didn’t have a good example of marriage, love, or fidelity. To her, it was all pie in the sky. Yet she based her whole life on creating what she never had.

Amanda decided to write them a letter to let it go once and for all.  Perhaps letting it out would be beneficial to her progress.

Dear mom and dad,
Thank you for bringing me into this world. Thank you for my life. I now know why I am alive, and I am changing things in my life from this day forward. Say goodbye to the old Amanda. She’s dead.

I forgive you for abandoning me dad. I accept that your life, your culture, your personality made you behave the way you did, I believe that you loved me even though you didn’t know how to show it. I forgive you for cheating on mom. I forgive you for leaving us. I forgive you for setting me up to believe that all men will act like you did.

Mom, I forgive you for your angry past. I know you’ve had a rough life and have done the best job you could have given the circumstances. I forgive you for criticizing me and for being so angry you threatened to kill yourself. I know it wasn’t my fault that you got so angry. Know that the guilty feeling you gave me still lives inside of me. Two of my kids died because of decisions I made. I really was my fault. It’s ironic that our fighting never resulted in your suicide, but that a momentary lapse in judgement killed my two kids. I can never fix that. And I can never go back in time to fix what you said to me when I was a kid. All I can do now is forgive you and myself for everything that has happened.

Richard loves me. Steven, Brad, and Robert love me.  Richard weathers the storms with me. Richard and I have a life together despite all our ups and downs. We lost two kids, but we still have three who need us to be happy people and parents. I release you into the universe so I can live my life without a heavy cloud from the past hanging over my head. You tried the best you could, and you both really messed up. I refuse to let the past define me. And I refuse to use the past as an excuse not to fully appreciate and trust the relationship I do have.  I believe in love and fidelity, and intend to live my life accordingly.  From this day forward, I am vowing to life my life in a way that when my kids grow up and take this quiz or one like it, they will have different results and healthier beliefs about love.



Here is the prompt:  Your character has a certain deep-held belief about love and fidelity. This belief may be based on religion, on something s/he learned from her/his parents, or on her/his own experience. Decide what this belief is and where it came from. In your story, something happens to the character that seems incompatible with this belief. How does your character react? Write the story.

Visit the other  blogs to read what they wrote based on the same prompts:

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Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

Life as a Married Mom

Two movies in two days, both with the same lead actress and plots about being married parents. In This is 40, a couple faces middle age, parenthood, and marriage. In the Change Up, a single slacker and a married lawyer switch lives by accident after wishing for each other’s lives. In both movies, the characters learn to appreciate what they have and how to fix problems common in every family.

Let’s face it. Life is hard. Being single is hard. Being married is hard. Having children is hard. Being childless is hard. It’s hard to be a kid. It’s hard to be a student. It’s hard to have a job. It’s hard to be the parent of adult children.

It’s tough having quality time together as a couple and/or family, and its tough finding time to be alone. Meeting our own needs as individuals is difficult, much less meeting the needs of spouses, children, and parents.

Our jobs as parents require us to have all our shit together enough to provide for, care, guide, and nurture the little people we created. We shape and mold them emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, and psychologically. If we are too busy or unhappy with own own lives, they pick up on it. It affects their sense of self. It affects family dynamics.

As with everything in life, it seems that the answer is always balance. As adults, we need to take care of ourselves first or we are no good to our children. Do we sacrifice for them? Of course we do. But if we don’t take the time to meet our needs first, we won’t be able to give to our children in a quality way. And we won’t be able to be happily married while we raise them.

Both moms and dads work hard to provide financially for families. We have different needs, but it’s important we allow ourselves some down time when we are not working to pursue our interests, socialize, and exercise. It’s important we care about what we eat and how much we sleep so we can feel our best day to day. We need quiet time to reflect and develop ourselves spiritually. We need friends and fun. We also need alone time, both as individuals and alone time as parents.

Holidays together exaggerate family dynamics and intensify expectations and tempers. A college aged kid wants to come home for the comforts but doesn’t want to be treated like a kid. Little kids misbehave when they eat too much sugar, stay up too late, and are bored because adults are talking. We try to give them what they want, yet we try to teach them that Christmas is for giving, not getting. We try to make things special for them, but we also need to be consistent with expectations and consequences.

We have to remember we made these little people and act accordingly. We need to remember that life is precious and we create our realities. A yoga teacher once told me,a “where the feet go, so do the hips.” It’s the same with the mind. The way we think is reflected in the world around all of us. It’s up to us to be strong, balanced, and loving. It’s up to us to communicate. It’s up to us whether our kids have happy memories from childhood. Nobody is perfect, but finding the fine line of balance can make life feel perfect.


Daily Prompt: Time Capsule 2012

“The year is drawing to a close. What would you put in a 2012 time capsule?”

1.  A dance bag with ballet, jazz and hip hop shoes and gear. This is the year my daughter (12) became super serious about dance, and our lives now revolve around her practice schedule.

2.  An iphone.  Four out of five of us in the family have iphones. They are definitely a sign of the times.  They have itunes libraries reflecting today’s music too.

3.  My Obama victory magnet.  It’s on the back of my car. I’m happy that he won reelection this year!

5.  Camoflauge pants and combat boots to represent my stepson (20) who is now in the army, stationed at Ft. Drum NY.  He is an infantry man. We are super proud of him for his sacrifice and service.

6.  A Texas Tech flag and a Zeta Tau Alpha sign to represent our daughter (19) who is a ZTA at Texas Tech. She loves going to school there!

7.  My son’s (8) last baby tooth in the front that finally fell out (the yellow one).  It was yellow because when he was a toddler he fell down the stairs and whacked his face and mouth on the tile floor. It cut off blood supply to his tooth, so it turned yellow.

8.  My husband’s business card. This is the year he made partner at his law firm.  He also turned 40 this year (officially over the hill).

9.  An Algebra 2 book because I’ve been studying it a lot this year.  I’m a private math tutor, and I have kids everywhere from Pre-Algebra to Algebra 2 and in between.  This year, I have lots of kids in Algebra 2 and have been enjoying working with them.

10.  An electric guitar because this is the year I’ve been taking lessons consistently and finally learning more about music theory and writing solos.

Daily Prompt: My Hero

My hero is my husband. I grew up without my dad and always wanted to be a wife and mom. I craved what I didn’t have – a functional family unit. My first marriage failed, and then I was a single mom for four years. I wanted to remarry and have another baby to put a family back together for me and my daughter. That idea was scary to most guys I dated at the time. But he stepped up and committed to creating a healthy family life with me. He wasn’t afraid to love my daughter like she was his own. And he was ambitious with goals of getting us a nice house and a good job as a lawyer.

We got married and had a daughter right away. I was teaching and tutoring while he went through law school. We planned to have a little boy, and I stopped working when my husband found a job at a large firm in DC.

We moved to Texas, and he moved to a smaller, more family friendly law firm. My oldest daughter turns twenty this year, and she changed her last name to my husband’s. He is her hero too. When we both needed someone to step up to the plate and love us and provide for us, he was willing.

Because of his hard work and caring attitude, I have the opportunity to stay home full time (in our beautiful house) and focus on the children. He also supports me in tutoring math part time to pursue my professional interests. He is the rock of our family. He works hard to provide for us and takes special measures to help out with the kids and all the work and logistics of running a house and a family. We are truly a team, and I don’t know where I would be without him. He is definitely my hero.


Nice Things My Kids Say

“Are you playing Moves Like Jagger?” my son asked as I was practicing my guitar (improvising). And no, it wasn’t any song at all, just playing notes in the key of E.

“Did the maids come today?” Why no they didn’t, but thanks for asking! My daughter noticed that I actually got the house to look and smell nice today.

“That’s beautiful, but not as beautiful as mommy, right daddy?”  That little boy has me wrapped around his finger ❤

I love my job as their mom. The rewards are priceless!

30 Days of Truth: Day 7-Someone Who Has Made Your Life Worth Living

I’m dropping the ‘for’ at the end of this sentence on purpose. I don’t think it belongs there.  Grammar aside, this question is well worth asking and answering.  My first thought was my husband. I gave it a couple of days, and my answer is still my husband, Joe.  He makes my life worth living.  I kind of don’t like this question because to me all life is worth living.  But if you are going to ask me who is the most important person in my life and who is the person I couldn’t live without, it is definitely Joe.

I met him in 1998 when he was a personal trainer at a gym (I was his 12:30 appointment one Sunday) and I had just moved to Reno, NV for my first teaching job.  We clicked right away, became quick friends and running mates.  I broke off an engagement with another guy (the guy I moved to Reno with) because it didn’t make sense to me that I was to marry him when I spent all my time with my best friend Joe from the gym.  I was clear with Joe about my goals, to be remarried and to have another baby.  Sierra was six when we got married in 1999, and we had Zoe in 2000.  Let me talk for a minute about being a single mom with Sierra trying to find a new husband.  I was never at a lack for dates, but what was lacking was the kind of guy who was not afraid of commitment and fatherhood.  Joe stepped right up and loved Sierra because he loved me.  Amazing.

We married in 1999, had Zoe in 2000, and moved to Virginia in 2001 so he could start law school.  We had Thomas in 2004, and then I stopped working to be a full time mom.  In 2006, we moved to a bigger house in Texas, and just this year he made partner at his law firm in Dallas.  Although I returned to work for a few years, I’m now back at home full time and tutoring math part time.  Joe supports me in whatever I want to do.  Even as a stay home mom, he supports me in having ‘me’ time, and he helps out with grocery shopping and cooking now and then to give me a break.  He works hard for us to enjoy a nice quality of life.  He is my best friend and an excellent father to our kids. He spends time with them one on one so they can develop healthy relationships, so the kids can grow up assured that their father values them, something I lacked so much in my youth.

He made all my dreams come true and fathered two beautiful children with me.  He wants me to be happy, and he’s there for me when I need him.  He is smart and challenges me intellectually.  He is sweet and loves me just the way I am.  He believes in me, and he says that I bring out the best in him.  Of course we have our issues and little fights like every married couple, but without Joe my life would fall apart.  He is my person, my rock, my soft place to land.  He makes my life worth living.

In Search of Good Parents

I put so much pressure on myself to be a good mom.  Sometimes I feel that I spend so much time in my head dealing with Susanne’s world that I wonder how good of a mom I am being.  I never got my bucket of self-esteem filled when I was a kid, and now it’s my turn to fill my kids’ buckets.  There is a lot I need to do to meet my own needs, and sometimes those things require me to be unplugged from my kids.  I do yoga and play guitar. I am working on a blogging habit.  I do math and tutor math.  I work out and do a lot to keep up with my health.  So how am I doing at being not only a person, but a mom?  I asked my kids to grade me as a mom with the following grading scale: A is excellent, B is above average, C is average, D is needing improvement, and F is failure.  My seven-year old (boy)gave me an A-.  My twelve-year-old (girl) gave me a B-.  And my nineteen year old (girl) gave me an A. It’s noteworthy to me that the tweenager graded me the lowest, and I suspect that’s because we are having issues around allowing her more freedoms.

What are they grading me on?   I am pretty sure my kids would tell you I’m a lover, and that one of my favorite things to do is snuggle and cuddle.  I hope they would tell you they know how much they are loved and cherished.  I hope they would tell you they feel strong in who they are and that they believe in themselves.  I want them to dream big and take baby steps every day to realize their dreams.    I am learning to meet them halfway in their struggles and want them to feel like they can openly communicate with me.  I work on finding that fine line between providing structure and accountability and allowing free time and opportunities for imagination.

I wonder if I’m involved in their lives at school enough.  And I wonder what their childhood memories will be like when they are adults.  Because I’m becoming more aware as an adult of the effects my own parents had on me, it makes me super sensitive about the fact that each of my children were born uncarved blocks.  Everything I do and say writes on the slates of who they are and who they will become.  It’s an amazing responsibility, one that I gladly signed up for, yet I am still learning to meet.

What is the definition of a good mom anyway? Every family is different. Times have changed over the years. Women are now juggling family and careers. Usually we look at the model of our own parents, but in my case looking at my parents as role models launches me into a fantasy land of ideal parents since I didn’t have them.   Ideally, a ‘good’ mom loves her kids unconditionally, encourages and consoles them, disciplines and guides them. She shops and cooks, does laundry, and keeps the house clean. She keeps herself in good shape and pursues her own interests.  She looks nice when she goes out, and provides healthy meals and snacks for her growing family. She decorates the house to make it look lovely for her family and any guests that might stop by. She helps with homework and tells bedtime stories. She keeps track of all the appointments, signs all the important papers, and reminds kids to take their medicines on time.  She provides opportunities for her kids to learn and thrive.  A good mom does all these things and more and maintains composure in the midst of stressful times.  Good moms don’t yell, well they don’t yell very much.  Moms are human after all.

For me, it is too much pressure (self-imposed I admit) to meet all those expectations to the tee.  I make those my goals, and I’m learning to accept it when I fall short.  One area where I fall short is the keeping the house clean part.  I refuse to do it all by myself even though I stay home full-time.  We’ve broken up our chores in the house so the older kids do their own laundry, and nobody is stuck with cleaning the kitchen all the time (we split up breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes).  Whoever cooks dinner never has to do the dishes too.  The kids are responsible for their own rooms, and we also split up the other common areas.  Did I also mention we have housekeepers? They come every two weeks, thank God! Because of chronic back pain, the deep cleaning would never get done if we didn’t have help.  We barely keep up with the dishes, laundry, sweeping, and trash on a daily basis.   I resist the idea that it is strictly the mom’s job to keep up with the entire house.  I resist the biblical idea that I was created from a man’s rib and am here to be his ‘happy helpmate.’  In my house, mom and dad are a united front and a team.  We teach our kids responsibility from an early age so they can also be part of the team.

I am also a tough customer when it comes to my expectations of my husband to be a good dad.  He fits the bill.  He stepped up to be Sierra’s step-dad when he didn’t have to.  Commitment and a willingness to be a father is a very sexy trait in a man.  He went to law school and works hard at a great job to support us.  He fathered two more children with me after we got married.  He provides a comfortable home and lifestyle for us. He spends time with each child and develops relationships with each of them separately.    He drives the whole way to Florida and back on our vacations, loads and unloads the car. He literally does all the heavy lifting.

Sierra’s dad (my ex husband) is on the receiving end of my wrath because he fails at his duties. I won’t drag him through the mud here. But I will say he is an absent father to Sierra. It breaks my heart for her, but I’ve accepted I can’t make him be the kind of man he should be. And I’m forever grateful joe stepped up to be her stepfather! He can’t replace her biological father, but he sure plays the role of her father every day through thick and thin. She turned 18 last year and changed her last name to Nelson to reflect how she feels about the men in her life.

It takes so much more than the act of creating a child to be a good parent. When I was born, my dad was cheating on my mom, and they separated when I was six months old. Apparently he didn’t tell me he loved me during my first five years of life (important formative years). He paid monthly child support and advised us to rise to the top and stay there academically. But he wasn’t exactly what I would call involved. Once-yearly visits stretched out and tapered off as we were teens, and I remember being sad that I was a girl and my Korean father had been raised in a culture that favors boys. I didn’t understand why, but I saw it first hand when birthdays came and went without phone calls or cards, yet my brother got them.  He took us to play golf, paid my brother a dollar and me a quarter to be his caddies.  I got the message that I was not as worthy as my brother, and it was because I was a girl (something I had no control over).  So my reaction was to rebel. I thought that was stupid, and I thought he was stupid, and from then on I didn’t want to listen to a word he said.  Although he worked at Cornell University and expected me to go there, I didn’t get in and pursued a different path.  Perhaps my underachieving at school was my passive aggressive way of saying don’t tell me what to do.

My mom raised me and my brother as a single mom working three jobs to make ends meet.  She was wounded in her own ways by her own parents and other outside factors and had difficulty raising a rebellious kid like me.  Affected by several mental health diagnoses, but in denial and non-medicated, she made sure we both knew we were loved, but there was also a lot of discord in my childhood home.  There was a lot of yelling and anger.  There was emotional manipulation.  There were guilt trips.  There absolutes like you ‘must’ do this and you ‘must not’ do that.  From an early age, I set out to get attention and validation elsewhere and became hell-bent on creating a family of my own that would be different from the one I was born into.

So here I am today, the engineer of a new family. I have the power to break the cycle of neglect and emotional abuse. My aim is to be the kind of parent I never had. Above all, I want my children to know they are ok the way they are because it’s something apparently I never learned. It’s harder to learn that as an adult. Looking at my kids, I’m filled with pride. They seem pretty well adjusted and that they live safe, comfortable, and happy lives. Zoe and Thomas have the incredible gift of growing up with both parents in the home. I’m going to keep loving all the kids and being the best mom I can be, even if I don’t get straight As.