Surviving

Should You Support Your Abusive Parents?

Should You Support Your Abusive Parents? | Hopeful Panda

A while back, a reader reached out with the dilemma of their abusive parent being extremely dependent on them. And unfortunately, needing to support abusive parents – financially, emotionally, and perhaps even physically – is a role that many people find themselves in.

This position can be particularly challenging because, on one hand, why should you have to take care of someone who’s hurt you? But on the other hand, how can you walk away from a family member who needs your help?

Some people have no trouble deciding whether or not they should support their parents. But I think, for many others, it’s more complicated than it seems.

More people than we realize need to support their parents later in their lives, especially if they’re from a culture where it’s expected. But what if their parents are abusive? Should they still support them then?

Honestly, it’s up to you.

I know this is probably not the answer you’re looking for. But I am not here to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t support your parents. Ultimately, it’s your decision to make. And remember, there’s no “right” answer.

You’ll likely hear a lot of opinions from other people that might make you want to go one way or another. Some might argue just to leave them helpless because who cares, it’s not like they’ll care for you if you need them. And others might argue that no matter how they treat you, they’re still your parents, so you should take care of them.

You could consider these opinions if you want. But again, this is up to you.

Needing to support your parents is already tough. Needing to support parents who are abusive is going to be an emotional tug-of-war. And you have other people’s input, societal expectations, and internal conflict on top of it.

For some, it’s as easy as a “Yeah, of course I would” or “Nah, screw them.” If that’s you, that works – you have your answer.

But if you are conflicted or uncertain about what you should do, I hope the following things to consider can help. And whatever your decision is, know that you can change your mind at any time.

Why?

First, ask yourself, “Why do I want to do this?” What’s your reason(s) for wanting to support your abusive parents?

I want you to truly think about your choice. Do you feel obligated to do it? If so, why? Is it only because they are your “parents”? Do you get anything out of this arrangement? Are you doing this for yourself? Or are you doing this for other people?

Understanding what is motivating you to want to support your parents can hopefully help you make the right choice for you.

There are some possible reasons why you might want to support your abusive parents:

  • You’re trauma-bonded or enmeshed with your parents. In other words, you have this emotional attachment to them and/or cannot imagine your life without them or without helping them.
  • You feel obligated to support your parents because they are your “parents”, regardless of how they treat you. You feel like you have no choice.
  • Your culture places a significant emphasis on the idea that children should support their parents, even if they are abusive.
  • You’re hoping your parents will change or redeem themselves.
  • You hope they’ll be grateful and provide the validation and affection you desire.
  • You’re worried about the negative consequences of abandoning your parents, such as guilt, societal judgment, or repercussions within the family.
  • You’re worried about filial responsibility laws.

Whether you have one reason or ten, know that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether or not supporting your abusive parents is the right choice for you. Everyone’s situation is unique.

So once you’ve thought about your reason, here are some reminders you can consider before making your decision.

You DO have a choice

It might feel like you have no choice but to support your abusive parents. It could be due to your personal beliefs, culture, or even just the trauma bond that seems impossible to break. But you DO have a choice.

You don’t owe them anything

I’m not here to change your mind or to push you one way or another. But I do want to remind you that you don’t technically owe your parents anything, especially if they’ve repeatedly hurt you and shown no sign of remorse or change.

Many abusers have a sense of entitlement, especially when it comes to their children. Our abusive parents don’t usually acknowledge their hurtful behaviors toward us.

On top of that, they typically believe we owe them for “raising” us and giving us “life”. So it’s common for abusive parents to expect their children to support them.

The thing is, no matter how much we do for our parents, it’ll never be enough. Our life is something that can never be repaid. And because of that, not only will they not be grateful, they’ll act like it’s their right. It’s almost like it’s our purpose to serve them, at least that’s how they see it.

But it isn’t our purpose nor our responsibility. Even IF they were normal, loving parents, we did not ask to be born. Besides, giving birth and raising us was their choice. And providing for us was their legal responsibility.

I’m all for reciprocity in a relationship. If they were loving and supportive towards me, I’d be loving and supportive towards them, whoever they are. But if not, then they’re no one to me. Or worse, they’re someone who has repeatedly hurt me.

So if you want to support them just because they’re your “parents”, I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to.

Just because it’s culturally acceptable doesn’t make it right

As an Asian, culturally, it’s expected of me to support my parents in their old age, regardless of how they treated me.

And unfortunately, cultural factors can play a significant role in pushing us to feel like we have to support our parents no matter what. And the pressure from society can be so immense that you may feel like you have no other option.

But let me remind you that just because something is culturally appropriate, acceptable, expected, or encouraged does not mean it is right or without fault. YOU are what matters in this decision because this decision affects YOU.

It will be hard to go against what you’ve been used to all your life and what people from your environment tell you is “correct”. But try to do what’s in your best interests.

Ultimately, making any decision, especially one this big, shouldn’t be about pleasing others. Focus on what you want to do.

Related: Cultural Factors That May Contribute to Child Abuse in Asian Families

It is possible to break the trauma bond or resist enmeshment

If you’re trauma-bonded or enmeshed with your abusive parent, it might feel like you have to support them, even if you know it’ll hurt you.

For a quick summary, trauma bonding is the unhealthy emotional attachment an abused person feels for their abuser. And enmeshment is unclear, blurred, or nonexistent boundaries between the parent and child.

While both are similar concepts, I think it’s much harder to break enmeshment than it is to break a trauma bond. But either way, it is possible to break a trauma bond and resist enmeshment. Please refer to these posts to learn more.

I suggest starting the process of breaking that bond or enmeshment before you decide whether you should support your parent. But it’s also okay to decide now if you feel pressured to make this choice soon. And again, remember that you are allowed to change your mind at any point.

You will likely not get what you’re hoping to get

If the only reason you’re considering supporting your parent is for possible validation, acknowledgment, or in hopes that it can change them into a better person, then please think twice.

Remind yourself of all the times you’ve hoped or thought they would change or have changed only to be disappointed and annoyed at yourself for feeling that way or falling for their sweet talk and self-pity. Supporting them wouldn’t have a different outcome.

If you do want to support your parents, but only because you’re hoping for some miraculous acknowledgment or to hear “Thank you” or “I’m proud of you”, then you are likely setting yourself up for disappointment.

This is just my opinion, but please don’t support them in hopes that they’ll change for the better or somehow acknowledge how amazing you were all along. Of course, it’s always a possibility. But for the most part, abusive people do not change.

Related: Can Abusive Parents Change? If So, What Does Change Look Like?

And if you want to support them because they are promising you something in return, such as including you in their will or giving you a part of their inheritance, understand the position you are putting yourself in.

Since they have something to hold over you, they will be in control. And this can make supporting them much more difficult. They’ll use it as an excuse to demand the most from you. And anything they perceive as disobedience or disagreement on your part would warrant them to threaten to (or actually) take away what you’ve been working for all along.

Again, this is your decision. There’s nothing wrong with wanting something out of this arrangement. I just want to make sure you are aware of what you’re getting into and the price you likely have to pay.

In other words, be cautious when making deals with abusers. You will always get the short end of the stick (if you get any stick at all).

It will be challenging

Is it possible to support an abusive parent? I’d say yes, but it’ll be extremely challenging. It will likely not be worth the effort you put into it. And you will likely never get the validation or credit you deserve.

Although needing your support puts your parents in a vulnerable situation, the existing dynamic between them (the parent) and you (the child) is still there.

You’ll likely feel the need to please them and obey their every whim while they’ll feel entitled to being served by you.

The good news is – there is a way around that by setting limits and boundaries. The bad news is – it’s incredibly hard to do that if you haven’t done it all this time. It’s very difficult to change the existing dynamic.

Sure, you’re an adult and they’re the ones needing your help. So as a matter of fact, you should be the one in control here. But abusers are extremely good at manipulation and control. It’s easy for them to wrap you around their fingers and make you feel like a helpless child again.

So if you do decide to support them, I hope you are prepared. And I don’t mean just be prepared to support someone toxic but also be prepared to prioritize your well-being (and anyone else involved like your partner and children).

What about filial responsibility laws?

Maybe you don’t actually want anything to do with your parents, but you’re worried about the legal aspects of what’s considered filial responsibility laws.

I don’t know about other countries, but in the United States, 28 states have filial responsibility laws (also known as filial support laws or filial piety laws).

These laws claim that children, typically adult children, have to support their impoverished parents. And 16 of these states apparently impose civil penalties like coming after your assets or income if you fail to support your parents.

Typically, these laws obligate adult children to pay for their parents’ food, clothing, shelter, and medical needs. And should the children fail to provide adequately, these laws allow nursing homes and government agencies to bring legal action to recover the cost of caring for their parents. Supposedly, adult children can even go to jail in some states if they fail to provide support to their parents.

However, according to a post on NY Times, you likely have nothing to worry about regarding these laws. These laws are very rarely enforced.

And all the states that impose this duty also allow certain legal defenses. For instance, if your parent has ever abandoned you in childhood, you can’t afford it, or if your parent has done you wrong, then you as the child bear no filial responsibility.

However, if this is something you’re genuinely worried about, you can always consult with a lawyer to make sure. Many lawyers offer free consultations you can take advantage of.

Conclusion

After everything, ultimately, it really boils down to what you want. So ask yourself, “What do I want?” Again, this is YOUR decision to make. Why do you want to support your abusive parents? And what do you get out of it?

I think the big thing here is to realize that you do have a choice on whether to support your abusive parents and how much support you want to give. The choice is up to you, but I hope you can do what’s in your best interests. And whatever it is you decide on, please remember that you are allowed to change your mind at any time.

If and when you’ve made the decision to support your parents, it’s important to know how to navigate the situation. Learn more at How to Navigate Being a Caregiver to Abusive Parents.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

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