Surrogate Spouse: When Your Parent Loved You Too Much


When marriages are troubled sometimes parents turn to their children as special – too special

Below is a sample from one of my novels about healing sexuality offered in the Transformational Fiction style. Grace explores being a “surrogate spouse” from her childhood. Join me at my website for free stories and chapters about all kinds of sexual violation and healing. Get on my mailing list to learn when the novel of Grace's story will be available. 

I don’t think I was molested. I don’t remember being, and I haven’t had any body memories show up. But I do know that strange stuff went on. It had more to do with relating than sex itself.

Here goes. My parents didn’t seem to love each other much. They married because she was pregnant, even though that had become less common in the early 80’s. I think Mom wanted to get out of her house, too, as my grandfather was controlling. Really controlling. Even though she went to college she had to drive to and from with him, and live at home. She barely got to go out, so I wonder if she got pregnant so that she had to leave home to get married.

Anyway, Mom and Dad seemed to make the marriage work business wise. Things ran smoothly. She stayed home with me and my brother, who was two years younger. She took college classes, but didn’t develop a career or seem to have any real interests. Maybe she was sort of depressed.

When Dad got home from work, he would come to me first. Don’t all fathers call out to their children, though? They love to come home and the kids yell, “Daddy’s home!”

But Mom didn’t seem to enjoy the ritual at all. I suppose when I’m married and have kids, I would prefer that my husband came to me first, and then the kids. But Mom didn’t seem happy to see him, so he was left focusing on us. Well, I should really say, on me. Even Brandon didn’t get overjoyed to see him.

He would sweep me up in his arms, even when I was getting a little to big to pick up. He would nuzzle in my neck, making cooing noises, and kiss my forehead. Finally he would put me down, give Ben a hug, and then find Mom. She would be in another room, usually the kitchen.

I felt bad for Dad that his wife showed so little interest. It didn’t occur to me until right now that maybe it was the other way around. Maybe I was his love, and Mom was second. That would make her jealous and resentful. And how did she feel about the “other woman?” Me.

I have read about this dynamic. Lots of times parents can’t join each other in a real marriage where they come first and the children are second. Then one of them may find that attention from the child feels so good that they focus on her or him. My lover, Richard, had that with his mother. His father was a sex addict, having affairs all the time, and his mother focused on him. It’s called being a “surrogate spouse.” The child accepts all that attention of course because she feels special and valued. Only from her dad can she get what seems like love.

But here’s the crazy part. The mother sees her as the other woman. Those poor mothers don’t understand why they don’t love their child, and of course make up all kinds of reasons. They can’t think that it’s because their husband loves the child more than the her.

I should change the gender. When the mother chooses a son to be her surrogate spouse, the father can feel betrayed by the son, and express resentment and punishment. So often children describe their childhood very differently based on these dynamics. When they are adults and comparing notes, one sib says how loving and wonderful a parent was, and another says how hateful and mean the same parent was. Most people can’t make sense of this until they know what questions to ask. A good friend of mine, Ginger, was the surrogate spouse and was finally able to talk with her mother about it. I don’t think many mothers can understand why they hated their child because they have to think it wasn’t their fault. Ginger’s mom was able to understand it, and to apologize to her.

I don’t think Richard’s mom ever will. She justifies why she hated her husband, and most people would agree with her. He was a womanizer of the most extreme sort. But that isn’t a reason to focus on your son and make out that he is way more special than a son should be.

What would I do with this information? Talk with Mom? Talk with Dad? At the least, talk with Brandon.

I called Mom and arranged to meet with her the next day. Might as well get started. I had lots of sexual shame to heal, and I needed to do a lot of talking that had been forbidden. My women’s group had been talking for a year now, and I was getting used to it. But not yet with Mom.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, please come to my web site for more. The rest of this novel will be available in April, 2014. My newsletter will announce when. Grace’s lover’s story is in Dirty Sex or Clean Sex, on Kindle.