My name is Blake, and I am a victim of adults putting their desires before their responsibilities as parents.

I was born into a middle-class family that I thought was secure. We had no financial need that we could not meet, my mother took a very active role in raising my sister and me, and we both attended the best private school in the county. We were members of the local country club, my parents drove brand new cars, and we would frequently attend community events where my parents were large donors. It would seem as though I grew up in the perfect home. You may be wondering to yourself, “how could he possibly think he was a victim?” I admit that the beginning of my childhood was great when viewed from the standards of a child, but when I turned seven the individualistic desires of my parents which had long been brewing below the surface finally made their way out and completely derailed our entire family. What was once the picture-perfect family for raising children became a case-study in just how terribly adults can harm their children when they place their own desires and personal fulfillment ahead of their obligations to their children.

At the time of my parents’ divorce, my mother broke the news to me and my sister by sitting us down and explaining that she was no longer attracted to my dad. In fact, she was no longer attracted to men at all. Instead, she was attracted to a woman who she had begun seeing while my parents were still married, and it was up to my then-five-year-old sister and I to be comfortable with that. This was my first introduction to the fact that some people are same-sex attracted, and even at the age of seven I had an innate feeling that this would cause a great deal of harm to my mother individually and my family as a whole.

As a result, my father began to abuse alcohol heavily and I can remember one week where he had placed outside an entire bin of beer bottles that he had consumed on his own during the course of the previous few days so that they could be collected by the garbage truck. My father would also emotionally abuse my sister and I, but much of his anger was usually directed at me. I spent many nights while we were in his custody hiding underneath my bed. The only way that I could fall asleep was if I was underneath my bed because it was the only place that I felt I was safe. I was constantly terrified that he would finally snap, and the emotional abuse would become physical in nature.

Though it may seem extreme, my fear was not entirely unfounded. I can remember one night shortly after my father had moved out of my childhood home, I found my mother installing two brackets on either side of our front door so that she could place a two-by-four beam across them. At the time, I thought maybe she just wanted a little extra security, but I later found out that the night before she installed the brackets my father had attempted to kick in the door in the middle of the night. Combine this incident with the fact that my father would regularly say to me, “you’re just like your mother,” and it becomes easy to think that if he was willing to possibly harm my mom then there would be little stopping him from harming someone that reminded him of her, even if that person was his own child. 

Another prominent feature of my childhood after the divorce of my parents was major instability within each parent’s home due to their subsequent romantic relationships. My mother faced the greatest deal of relationship instability which had significant impacts on me and my sister. From the age of seven until the age of eighteen, my mother dated (that I know of) two women and two men. When my mother began dating men again it was extremely difficult for me and brought back many of the feelings and thoughts that I had when my parents first got divorced. If my mom got divorced because she said she liked women, what was she doing dating men again? Did she lie to me? Why was my dad not good enough for her? What did these men have that was worth destroying my childhood, my emotional health, my physical well-being over? When she ended up getting married to one of them, I was even more distraught. This man who was not my father was now married to my mom, moved into my childhood home that my biological parents had shared at one point in time, and was sleeping in the same room that my parents had shared when I was younger. Why was my dad not back in that room? Was it something I had done? 

All of this instability caused a great deal of emotional harm for me, and I was court ordered to attend counseling (though I was not aware at the time that it was court ordered). My father was very resistant to the idea and overall, the counseling did nothing to help me emotionally process everything that was happening in my home life. The emotional instability also made it difficult to maintain friendships at school and I began to be the outcast. I couldn’t go spend time with friends outside of school because I had to take care of my little sister, and I couldn’t invite friends over because of embarrassment and because of fear that a parent would blow up over something that happened at the other’s home. Everything quickly became too much to handle and, at the age of twelve, I attempted to take my own life. My efforts did not succeed, but it remains an emotional scar that haunts me deeply to this day.

Finally, because of the instability, my sister and I were primarily raised by our two grandmothers even though physical custody remained split between our biological parents. We were very fortunate that both of our grandmothers lived within thirty minutes of us, but this came with its own set of challenges. The greatest challenge was the physical toll it took on both, and the financial toll that it placed on one. Raising small children is quite obviously physically demanding, even if the children are over the age and weight where you are carrying them around all the time. My sister and I still tried to be involved in some kind of extracurricular activity outside of school to keep our minds as busy as possible. The mental strain and physical strain that this placed on both of my grandmothers was very evident. However, for my maternal grandmother, the toll was the highest. She had never been particularly wealthy and when I was very young worked a job stocking shelves at the local supermarket to make ends meet. When my parents divorced, she had to leave that job in order to help take care of my sister and I and as a result lived solely off of social security and food stamps for the remainder of her life. Because she had no retirement account or savings of any kind, she also relied solely on Medicare and Medicaid for her healthcare and her healthcare costs were often so high that she avoided seeking medical attention. Though it would happen a few years after I moved away for college, she died very suddenly from a ruptured aneurysm that had gone untreated for a number of years due to the expense associated with necessary procedures. When this happened, I was left in shock and was distraught for months. Though it has been nearly five years now, it still feels as though I lost not my grandmother, but my mom. She was my best friend, the person that I told everything to, and someone I called multiple times each day. The stress of having to parent in the place of her daughter because her daughter decided to put personal desires ahead of the parenting task would ultimately kill her before her time. 

There is far more that I could say about my childhood and countless other stories and examples I could give of the harm that I suffered directly and indirectly because my needs as a child were not prioritized by my parents, but I will simply end with this message to adults who could be contemplating taking these types of steps for themselves: it is not about you. Children are highly impressionable, moldable, and fragile. They need immense care. They need guidance. They need someone to look out for them because they are not able to do it for themselves. The best person to look out for them is you, but you have to be willing to fulfill that obligation. In the end, it will be far more rewarding than anything that you could possibly be chasing right here and right now.