Tell Me About It: Acting as your own protector

Posted: March 26, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: When I was 16, I came home to my mom sneaking out of our house with her belongings and my younger brother. She was leaving my stepdad, and me, too. She left us a note on the kitchen table.

After watching my stepdad go through the motions of moving out and not asking me to go with him, it became clear I was on my own. I called relatives, and the consensus was it was none of their business. After years of no communication, I called my dad, and he let me move in with him.

Come to find out, he was a nice person who made me feel wanted for six great years. After he died of a heart attack, I called my mom crying, and she said, "Good, he got what he deserved." She didn't contact me again for nine years.

Over the years, I tried to work on our relationship, but she refuses to acknowledge any possible negative feeling I have. She says I was abusive to her (I wasn't) and has told relatives these lies about me. It's ruined my life and has left me without any family support.

Answer: I've said this before, and it applies here: The adults in your life were responsible for nurturing and protecting you. When they abdicated this responsibility, it devolved onto you. Of course, as a child, you were in no position to act as your own parent/protector. You were betrayed.

Now, though - in your 30s? - you're equipped to act as your own protector. You had some terrible models, but I bet you can list pretty quickly all the things you'd do for a child, and never do to a child.

That list is what you need to do on your own behalf now. Let's say No. 1 is "I will respect my child's needs and feelings." Then: Apply that standard to dealing with your mom. Maybe No. 2 is "I will protect my children from family members who mistreat them." Applying that to your situation is a straight line.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at

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