Is quiet quitting your parents the solution to a fractured family dynamic? Guest writer Jess tells of her experience.
Most eight-year-old kids relate to Disney princesses or fairy-tale characters. For me, it was Matilda.
Left to her own devices to figure out the world, trundling along to the library with her book trolley and figuring out how to make pancakes when you can’t even see over the kitchen bench – I felt like I was watching my life play out on VHS. Well, apart from her magic powers, my GOD that would have made my life easier.
I’ve never had a wonderful relationship with my parents. From as early as I can remember I always felt different from them – like we’re occupying the same space, but we’re seeing what’s in front of us in a completely different way.
This isn’t a story of having terrible parents at all. They’re lovely people and would give anyone the shirt of their back if they needed it. But from an early age, I was mostly left to fend for myself as they dealt with my older sister Sarah, who had lots of mental health issues, and then our other brother Dylan when he came along.
As a kid of relative privilege, life was fine. But hugs were sparse as my mum and dad spent their days fighting with each other about everything and anything. There was no watching my hockey games, being the parent who went to the school field trips, or mum-daughter trips to the café.
I was making my own lunch at age six because Mum would never remember to do it for me, yet Sarah and Dylan’s little lunchboxes would always be magically full and set out on the counter. Three fruit roll ups, a packet of tomato Munchos and raw two minute noodles it was then (to be fair that part wasn’t so bad).
Starved of attention, I had two choices – act out, or act better. I chose better (thank God, that decision probably saved me some bad tattoos and a teen pregnancy). I aced school, became one of those annoying high achievers and did my best to be the perfect kid because surely, that’s deserving of a hug or two.
Eventually I became a successful vet – animals are always there for you, after all – and got on with my life as a strong independent woman.
As I’m sure 90% of you will agree with, moving out of home was the best thing I could have done. But with distance came, well, even more distance.
I’d always have to be the person who called, or popped in, because it never seemed to occur to my parents to do the same, and when I did call, I’d be met with a “wow, we haven’t heard from you in ages” dig that made me want to grab one of Mum’s decorative ceramic hearts that adorned the lounge wall and throw it through the window.
While the distance was fine for a while as I got to my mid 20s and saw all of my friends’ relationships with their parents, I felt like something was missing. They’d all transitioned to the friends stage of the parent-kid relationship, and it looked like such fun. Holidays together, lunches out where they’d complain about Dad and then their own partners; the exchanging of recipes and life hacks they’d found on a weird internet site. The fun of a friend, with the familiarity of family?! Sign me up.
So I tried to force it with elaborate family dinners I’d cook, lugging groceries I couldn’t afford to the family home and whizz up a three-course meal we could all eat together (that ended with Dad telling me the Spaghetti Bolognese I cooked wasn’t very nice because it had too many flavours – I’d just used salt and pepper).
I tried to organise outings with Mum, who never wanted to come. Work was too busy, she was tired, or “oh I’m not going to the MOVIES, I can’t stand hearing wrappers crinkling”.
I couldn’t figure out why my parents didn’t seem to want to spend any time with me, and for years, it was a source of real hurt and sadness.
Many hours of expensive therapy later, I realised that my perceived rejection from my parents shaped almost every part of my life. It explained why I was so picky with relationships; why I’m great at conflict resolution (I spent years between my mum and dad deflecting fights and barbs, I could work for the UN now). It’s why, no matter what I do, I never feel good enough, and I’m always waiting for something to go wrong.
And then, last year, came the straw that broke the camel’s back. A family secret emerged that rocked me to my core – that I wasn’t, in fact, my dad’s daughter. My mum had an affair right after they’d married, and while they both always knew who my real father was, chose not to tell me until the old Ancestry DNA test unravelled more than 27 years of lies.
It was during uncontrollable tears in the arms of my partner Matt that I realised that I was done with my parents. That I HAD to be done with them. But how does one cut their parents out of their life? SHOULD you even do that!? They’re still your parents after all, but my own mental health was suffering. What to do?
Ever the pragmatist, Matt suggested a simple solution – quiet quitting. You’ll know all about it now in a work context – where you quit the idea of going above and beyond in your role – but Matt suggested that it could also apply to my parents. Do the bare minimum – the birthday phone calls, trips for Christmas – but give up trying to make anything else happen.
It was a huge lightbulb moment for me. Why, after all these years, did I keep trying to fit into a dynamic where it’s clear I just don’t? Why did I think that something would miraculously change – that my dad would pick up the phone and give me a call ‘just because’, and my mum would want to catch up for a wine and dish about what’s happening in her office and tell me about the new pants she bought from Farmers?
In the words of Regina George, “stop trying to make fetch happen. It’s not going to happen”.
It’s been about nine months since I made the call to pull back from my family and quiet quit my parents, and it’s truly been transformative.
My anxiety around the whole situation has disappeared. I’m no longer hurt by our lack of relationship because I’ve taken control of it for the first time in my life.
It might sound defeatist to some, but it’s been empowering for me as I’ve accepted a huge thing that I cannot change – but I can sleep easy at night knowing that I damn well tried.