I Envy My Kids’ Relationship With My Parents

Photo: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
grandmother and granddaughter baking together

The storm door opens, then closes with a long creeeeaaaak. From my vantage point in the kitchen, I watch as a black backpack sails over the back of the couch and lands haphazardly on the seat, spewing water bottles and writing utensils from its half-zipped pouch. My ten-year-old is a tall, tan blur as she disappears down the hallway.

“How was your day?” I call. The only response is her sneakers on the hardwood and the click of her bedroom door latching behind her.

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The distant sound of a phone ringing, and then, “Hi, Grandma!”

Huh. So this is a thing she does now.

Her giddy voice drifts through the house as she talks to my mother, and then to my father. She giggles as they joke together. When my son sneaks in and makes an appearance, I run in and shout a brief “Hello!” before hauling off a very angry one-year-old and leaving them to their conversation.

And so it goes. Every afternoon, when she comes home from school, my daughter goes to her room and video chats with her grandparents. She tells them about her day, about math class and mean girls. She talks to them about her gymnastics tournaments and how her friend, Eva, is giving her the cold shoulder at recess time.

This is a good thing, I remind myself.

But that doesn’t stop the heat from rising in my cheeks or my chest from hollowing out.

My kids have a great relationship with my parents

My mom texted me not too long ago with a concern about my daughter. “She said she was trying to use voice-to-text for a class assignment, and it took a really long time and was really frustrating.”

“I’m not surprised,” I said. “The program doesn’t always recognize her words because of her speech issues.”

She’s had similar conversations with my dad. Her learning disability, I think, endears her to my parents because I’m certain they both have undiagnosed learning disabilities as well. She opens up to them about how sometimes she feels dumb when she can’t understand the assignments her teacher is giving her.

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“You’re not dumb, sweetie,” my dad says. “You know, I had trouble doing the work when I was in fifth grade, too. Do you think I’m dumb?”

“No!” is her unfailing response.

“Then neither are you,” he says.

It’s all so warm, so comforting.

I’m so glad they have this.

Then what is this emptiness pooling in my chest?

I don’t regret not knowing everything about my children’s lives

One of the biggest shocks of parenthood was the day I realized my kids knew something I hadn’t taught them.

For my oldest, it was the day she came home from school with the newfound ability to sound out words. For my middle, it was the “preschool flip” — how to put on a jacket without wrestling with the sleeves. My youngest is only 17 months, and I left him with a babysitter for a few hours last week. When I came home, he was building towers out of blocks.

I don’t know, maybe it sounds ridiculous. But for the first months and years of my kids’ lives, I was their only teacher. So when they left the house and started talking to other people and learning things from them, I got a little insecure about it.

When my mother first mentioned my daughter’s text-to-speech issue, my first thought was, Wait, when did that happen? And why didn’t I know about it?

The older they get, though, the less I know about what they’re up to on a day-to-day basis. And after ten-plus years of parenting, I’ve come to accept the older they grow, the more sidelined I’ll be.

So, while there’s a momentary pang of guilt when I realize my parents know something about their lives that I don’t, it soon passes.

It comforts me to know they have trusted adults with whom they can confide. I am pleased with their developing independence and, if I’m being honest, their ability to carry on phone conversations. Thank goodness they didn’t inherit the painful telephone-induced awkwardness that afflicted me at that age.

I relish in the other kinds of closeness my kids and I share — snuggles in bed at night, walks to the park, trying to find all Mario’s stars.

I’m so happy they have so many touchpoints to connect with the people they love.


Where were these warm, understanding people when I needed them?

These people my children know are not my parents.

My parents are the ones who once forced me to wear boots that made my feet bleed because they’d paid twenty bucks for them. My parents are the ones who pulled me from an abusive babysitter only after I showed up crying at school and blamed her for my troubles. My parents are the ones who, when confronted with an allegation that I’d had sex with a 19-year-old (when I was 12) called me a slut rather than getting me help.

As I sit here, I can think of one (one!) conversation I ever had with my parents about my feelings.

I was about my daughter’s age, and my “boyfriend” (what does that word even mean when you’re ten years old?) had broken up with me for the new girl at school.

My dad noticed I was upset. “What’s wrong, honey?” he asked.

“He doesn’t love me anymore,” I said, and I broke down sobbing. Dad gave me a hug, told me I’d be okay, and that was that. It was sweet, and it stands out because it’s the only such comfort I ever remember receiving from one of my parents.

As I was growing up, there were so many things I needed to process. Toxic friendships. Bullying. Sexual abuse and grooming. Not to mention the random things that come up in the course of just existing as a child in this confusing world. And not a single one of those did I feel like I could discuss with anyone.

When I came home from school each afternoon, I did little more than finish my homework and park myself on the couch next to my parents, watching TV alongside them as they slowly descended into the fog.

I had no trusted adults, no warm and comforting relationships. All I had was the guilt of feeling responsible for the things that were being done to me, and the fear of being shamed, blamed and punished should I open up about them.

I am glad my kids have what I didn’t, but I mourn what I never got to have

One of my daughters loves unicorns. The other loves history. They both sleep with a rotating selection of stuffed animals every night. They are gaining independence, but they also know there will always be someone for them to talk to, someone to help them figure out their social situations, and someone to comfort them when they’re sad.

There was no such person for me. By the time I was their age, I’d lost that childlike innocence, and there was no one to help me reclaim it — or even to notice it was gone. I can’t help remembering this as my kids gush with excitement to see their grandparents.

I am fine not being the person my kids turn to with every little worry. I know if something concerning were to come up, my parents would let me know. It’s relieving, actually, to think my kids have a version of the village we hear so much about but too infrequently get to enjoy. As long as their conversations stay healthy and supportive, I wouldn’t dream of denying them that relationship.

But, damn, I wish I’d had these people as parents.

What might have become of my childhood, my young adulthood — my fragile, insecure psyche — had I been afforded the same warmth, caring, and availability my kids seem to be granted without question?

Would I have still ended up searching for love through toxic friendships and abusive relationships? Not if someone I loved and trusted had affirmed my intrinsic worth and given me strategies to cope with the abuse I was suffering. Hell, I might not have been as insecure and susceptible to abuse in the first place, had I had someone in my corner from the beginning.

Would I have still sneaked out of my house at night to meet up with strange men? Not if I felt cared for, heard, and fulfilled at home.

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If I’d had these people as parents, my eyes wouldn’t fill with tears when I think of all I missed. The contentment I feel when my dad’s understanding voice comforts my daughter wouldn’t be tempered by resentment and mourning for what I could have had but didn’t.

I’ve been asked before (notably in a comment to another of my stories) why I allow my parents to see my children if they created such a toxic environment for me when I was a child. The answer is complicated and messy, and I’ve been trying (and failing) to put it into a coherent narrative for a long time.

But the basic answer is this: My childhood is over. I’ve been through hours and hours of therapy, and I’ve wrestled for many more hours on my own, coming to terms with all I lost. I’ve processed my past, and all the things that sucked about it, through talking and thinking and writing and connecting with other people who have been through similar experiences.

I’ve established boundaries with my parents, and we have an okay relationship these days. I managed to find my way, and I am surrounded now with the kind of warm comfort I needed so badly back then.

If my parents and my kids can maintain a healthy relationship, I won’t punish any of them for the mistakes of my childhood. Just because I was deprived of this kind of closeness doesn’t mean my kids should be. And, hey — my parents seem to be ignorant of their effect on my psyche. But maybe, in some small way, they recognize it, and this is their do-over.

So, while I still feel remorse when I consider just how helpful such a relationship would have been when I was a kid, every time I hear “I love you, sweetie,” just before my kids hang up the phone, I know I’ve made the right decision for them.

Nikki Kay is a writer, educator, and mental health advocate from New England. She writes about the intersection of mental health and parenting with an emphasis on trauma recovery. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook: @NikkiKayAuthor

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.