What Happens To Kids Who Raise Themselves

On growing up with neglectful parents.

Group of teens who raised themselves entering adulthood beaveraphotos | Canva

"Glenna raised herself."

My Aunt Martha said this to my father when I was still a teenager. He didn’t disagree with her. My dad and I spent a lot of time apart when I was growing up, partly logistics and partly because of my mother. She wanted nothing to do with him, and it irritated her that I still adored him.

My mother was always a "hands-off" kind of parent. She suffered from severe mental illness and had her own problems to deal with. Depression and anxiety got the best of her, and she acted out for attention and went through one crisis after another.


As I got older, our distance was due to my reaction to years without parenting. I did whatever I wanted and didn’t respect anything she said. In our little apartment from my teenage years, we acted like roommates even though I was still in high school.

Other moms became my mom. I’d go to friends’ houses and show off my good manners, and the moms would fawn all over me. These women cared about my well-being and wanted to take care of me, and I ate it up with a spoon as if I were the hungriest little girl in the world. I’d visit friends and stay for days, not wanting to leave the protective bubble they lived in with real parents who looked out for us. They gave us bedtimes and dinnertimes and instructions to hold their hands crossing the street.


I’d make sure to keep a low profile and be on my best behavior so I wouldn’t be sent back home. As kind as these parents treated me, I felt pressure to behave and be whoever they wanted me to be. I didn’t have a place where I could just be myself and be accepted.

I’d finally go home irritated, asking my mother to cook me a homemade dinner only to have her look at me like an alien. When it was time to eat at my mom’s apartment, we each fended for ourselves and hadn’t shared a table together in years.

RELATED: If These 7 Signs Sound Familiar, You Were Likely Emotionally Neglected As A Child

I stayed at home alone for a good part of my childhood. My parents were either working late or just not home, so I escaped into one book after another to pass the time. Sometimes I’d write in my journal, but the absence of my parents made me feel lonely and disorganized.


When I was in middle school, I started inviting the bad kids over to party at my house where there were no parents and no rules. I drank my first beer and learned how to smoke cigarettes and marijuana. My mom and dad didn’t find out until later, but it deepened the wedge between us. Trying to be parental with me no longer worked.

I’d been on my own taking care of myself for longer than they realized.

I acted out by skipping school, drinking too much alcohol, and experimenting with drugs. The school called my mother and told her I was skipping, but when there were no consequences I kept doing it. After all, I had an arsenal of resentment over my childhood that was directly pointed at her.

Instead of demanding I go to school, my mom finally told me to drop out completely and get a job so I could help with rent. I got a job at Haagen Dazs scooping ice cream part-time. I gave her money at first, but it was something else I resented. I felt like my mom would rather have my money than take responsibility for me. I refused to let her know how much that hurt.


I met the man who would become my husband when we were both 17. Even at his young age, he was incredibly responsible and mature. I turned to him for guidance since I had none at home, and he helped me get a better job and move into my own studio apartment where I lied about my age to rent the room.

My mother had a new boyfriend and didn’t want me around anyway. She gave me the ultimatum that I could stay if I listened to her and did what she said. Both of us knew that would never happen, so I packed my clothes and makeup into a black garbage bag and never looked back.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Heal From A Toxic Relationship With Your Mom

When you’re a girl who raises herself, you don’t have any idea how a family really works.


I remember a friend of mine years ago who said she was going shopping with her mom. I couldn’t relate to it at all. "Shopping with your mom? Do you mean on purpose?" The friend explained she liked spending time with her mother. I felt like I came from another planet because I didn’t enjoy the same thing. My boundaries were so rigid and my heart so dead to my mother that a simple thing like shopping seemed next to impossible.

As much as my new husband helped me to get on the straight and narrow, it was his family who gave me a sense of belonging.

I became closer to his mother than my own mother and let her take me to get my driver's license and later to help pick out my wedding dress. We had Sunday dinners every week and even traveled together.

I felt a little sorry for my husband. He had a wife whose "home skills" were sorely lacking. I didn’t know the right way to cook, clean, or sew, but he was patient and taught me things I needed to know. He was a great "parent replacement," but unfortunately that doesn’t always lead to a great marriage.


When my husband and I got divorced in 2005, it left me reeling and afraid. I’d never lived by myself in my entire life and freaked out, especially with our two young boys depending on me. All I wanted was for my husband to come back and take care of things like always. When he didn’t, I took a cue from my mother and started acting out for attention.

Being destructive seemed to be the only way he noticed me, so I decided to be as bad as I could be.

I started drinking heavily, using drugs, and got mixed up with the wrong guy who I couldn’t shake for years. Even in my 30s, I acted completely immature to the point where my sons went to live with their father, which shattered my heart into a million pieces.

RELATED: Why I Decided To Reparent Myself In My 20s


My father did not live to see the hell I went through during those years. I couldn’t imagine how disappointed he would have been.

My mom and I were still not talking, and I wasn’t about to share any personal information with her, regardless of whether she could help or not. I had too much pride to go running to my mom after all the years she wasn’t there for me. I was still bitter and resentful and wanted no relationship at all. I didn’t tell her about my new boyfriend’s abuse, how my car got repossessed, or the poverty I lived in. I simply couldn’t trust her and thought I could handle things on my own.

My mother passed away two years ago while we were still estranged.

I realized that we no longer had "all the time in the world" to make things right. I’m not in contact with extended members of my family like my aunts and uncles. They never stepped in or spoke up for me growing up, and I didn’t expect them to care just because my mother was dead.


I’ve learned that family can have different meanings to different people. The people who live in my house, including my husband and our daughter, are a real family now. The same goes for my two sons, one grown and the other still living with his father. I’d lay down my life for any of them.

I still am not the greatest cook. I couldn’t sew a button if my life depended on it. My family loves me anyway. When you’re a girl who raises herself, your idea of normalcy can become skewed. I know now that a real family doesn’t constantly stress each other out or hurt each other. There are many more good times than bad. We’re there for each other without question, and my house is filled with love.

I’m blessed I have the chance to experience it today, and I’ll never take a minute for granted.

Children need enough care to be healthy and enough supervision to be safe.


Child neglect is when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection, and support needed for a child’s health, safety, and well-being. Adults who care for children must provide clothing, food, and drink. A child also needs safe, healthy shelter, and adequate supervision. There are several kinds of child neglect, which you can read more about on the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline’s website. There is no “smoking gun” for most child neglect. While even one instance of neglect can cause lifelong harm to a child, neglect often requires a pattern of behavior over a period of time. If you suspect a child you know is being neglected, contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline for more resources at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

RELATED: 11 Signs You Were Raised By A Bad Mother Or Father (And It's Affecting You Now)

Glenna Gill is a writer and blogger from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her articles have been featured in Scary Mommy and P.S. I Love You. When I Was Lost is her first full-length book, a memoir of love, loss, and hope.