“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”— Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Confronting the disappointing humanity of our parents is part of growing up. Our folks didn’t emerge into this world as fully-formed adults who were ready to change diapers and set curfews? Get out of here! That they had other lives after our birth can be hard enough to stomach. If said life was less than savory, the disenchantment can be especially traumatic.
Reddit asked the “children” of the Internet to reveal Ma and Pop’s dirtiest little secrets. The replies were sometimes jaw-dropping. Turn a blind eye towards these 42 chilling stories of parents’ most shocking secrets.
42. Imprisoned By Lies
I know that my mother is a convicted felon.
Not my parents, but still my family. I also know my grandfather had an illegitimate child with my aunt. I put two and two together. My aunt is my mother's sister, my uncle is her son, my mother's brother. And my cousin is my aunt's child, my uncle's sibling, and my mother's niece.
It was later confirmed by the other side of my family. My mother doesn't know that I know.
41. Ex From the East
My dad would always tell my little brother and I about this Russian girlfriend he had when he was younger.
What he very CONVENIENTLY left out, however, is that they got married so that she could have citizenship.
Thank you Ancestry.com! He still has no idea that I know anything about it.
40. Guilty Before Proven Innocent
When I was around ten, my father came storming into my room and stiff-armed me into the wall—he screamed in my face through tear-filled angry eyes, “What did you do to it?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
He dragged me into the bathroom and pointed at a box of Arm & Hammer (used to deodorize the bathroom) still screaming—his hand squeezing the back of my neck so hard I thought he was going to snap my neck. I still plead ignorance—no clue what he was talking about. He threw me in my room and barricaded the door with a large dresser so I couldn’t get out (even though it was a pull).
He left me in there for three days—no food, nothing. I was terrified. He never explained why he did what he did, or what he was talking about.
Found out later when my much older cousin confessed at a family Christmas party that she broke into our home and stole my dad and step mom’s cocaine stash that they hid in the Arm & Hammer—she said this like it was funny family story.
So my dad locked me up during a coke bender, and almost killed me in the process. I’m now a dad and don’t speak to my parents at all.
39. I’m Take Two
I didn't know my dad had a wife before my mother until I was 18.
38. Raised in a House Built on Snow
Found out the reason we were so poor growing up was because both my parents had drinking and drug issues.
We always had a house, food, health insurance, clothes.
But a few years without Christmas and birthdays happened. We almost lost the house.
My parents were pretty high functioning drug addicts to keep us.
37. Banking on Your Attention
I know their bank and budget details.
My parents were raised to never talk about money. It was considered improper. Which is not great when it comes to learning budgets etc. (Google saved my wallet). When I was real young we didn't have much of it and I'm sure that influences that attitude too.
My father was forced to retire (job qualifications were changed on him, more school vs early retirement after working for this one job his entire life). Mom had a government funded job that got cut this year.
I was worried about their finances, I wasn't planning on helping them out for at least another decade and I've been anxious about them. Accidentally overheard them debating some stuff while visiting for Christmas. His 401k is okay, and it turns out he did get his pension, it's just reduced.
Going to keep an eye on their needs but I think they're going to be okay minus any emergencies.
36. The Storm Before the Calm
The circumstances of my parents’ divorce.
I was ten when they separated, and they never really told us why, just that their marriage wasn’t working anymore. I didn’t really care so I didn’t ask, but over the next few years I would eavesdrop on bits and pieces of conversations they had and eventually put the pieces together.
Basically, my mom cheated on my dad with my now-stepdad. My mom and now-stepdad worked at the same high-school and my mom had taught each of his kids.
When my dad became suspicious, he put a key-logger on the family computer and her phone and found some suspicious texts/emails/searches, etc. He hired a PI who followed my mom to the airport one day and struck up a conversation with her. My mom took the bait and ended up confessing everything to the PI under the impression it was some random stranger.
I was introduced to my now-stepdad a little under a year after they separated but didn’t meet any of his children or family until a few years later. Turns out he was having an affair as well but was introduced to me and my brothers while he was still with his wife.
I don’t think any of my parents know that I know this and it’s not something I would ever bring up with them. I love all of my parents/step parents the same and although they all did some bad things, they all seem much happier now than they did when they were married to one another.
35. This Is Why Math Matters
My mom was cheating on my dad. That’s a huge reason why they split.
She very quickly remarried and popped out my brother.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I did the math and realized she was pregnant by her second husband and still married to my father.
34. Not Every Reconciliation Is Nice
Found out my mom and dad have been hooking up behind my stepdad’s back for at least a year. From my dad.
33. Just Say No, Dad
I found out when my dad was about 19 years old and in the Marines, that he was dishonorably discharged from the military for smuggling drugs across the US and Mexican border.
I just stumbled upon it one day. What is weird is my dad is really anti-drug.
32. Maternal Hazard
A laptop that was handed down from my dad to me, and then to my sister, had some disturbing court documents buried really deep about my real mom on it.
It was regarding the custody battle and there were numerous accounts of our mom trying to cause physical harm to us.
We were too young to remember any of it, but one of them was about how my mom drove our Bronco into a lake with my sister in it. She's wasn't even 2 at the time.
I always wondered where that car went... both my sister and I have just never said anything, because we know how hard it was and how long it took for our dad to get custody, and the amount of stuff he went through we'll probably never understand.
31. The Missing Link
I'm the eldest, but only because of SOMETHING that had happened to the one before me. My old aunt called me his name, before correcting herself and telling me a bit. When she realized I actually didn't know, she shut up and wouldn't say another word.
All I know is that my entire family knows, but they refuse to tell me anything and they tell me to drop it because it was some traumatic event that my parents don't ever want to talk about. My dad apparently gave my uncle (mom's side) a black eye just for mentioning it, and dad's pretty calm and coolheaded.
I'm 19, my brother is 17. He doesn't know, and this will be a mystery until the day they die, and I can dig out the information from someone else.
30. Not Suitable for Offspring
I found love letters from my dad to my mom.
I read one or two sentences (the one that sticks with me is he said he wanted to pour champagne all over her body) then thought this is personal (and gross) and put them back.
The sad thing is they hate each other now :(
29. Dad’s Toxic Past
When my brother and I were pretty little we were snooping in our parents’ room and found a bag of white powder. My brother told me it was drugs, I scoffed. Our dad would never do drugs.
Well, as we got older my dad went to rehab for alcohol. When he got out, he told me he had gone for alcohol, but he had also been getting help for coke. At this point in my life, I couldn't say it didn't make sense, but it was definitely weird.
I didn't even remember about finding a stash when we were little until my brother reminded me of it. It was such a wooooosh moment for me. My dad was my idol when I was a kid and I just wouldn't have believed it.
I never told him about it, I think it would just make him feel bad. He's done so much for better himself since and is finally the person I believed him to be when I was small. He's at least 5 years sober now, happy to have lost track.
28. Bird Bites
I always thought my father had a very small appetite, he’d eat a few bites at meals and declare he was full.
When I hosted my first big Thanksgiving in my new house with my fiancé, my father put away three pounds of potatoes, a whole pie, and more than half the turkey by himself.
My mother remarked how he’d had a bottomless stomach since they were kids.
I was telling my fiancé later that night how oddly the remark struck me considering his track record.
My fiancé explained my father was previously not eating so that there’d be enough food to go around for me, my sister, and mother when I was little.
27. Going Cold Turkey
I know the real reason my parents moved states was because my mom got pissed about my dad's drugs and old partying ways. She left him and took me and my older brothers and went to her family in the other state.
My dad followed and mellowed out once he was away from everything and never did more than pot since. I've never even seen my dad drunk.
26. The Other Woman Came Sooner Than She Thought
I found out my dad was seeing another woman long before divorcing my mom... I borrowed his phone for a call and found an unread text saying "I can't wait to meet your family I love you" from LZ.
Well, what do you know: after my parents’ divorce, my dad is already moving in with his current wife, Liz.
I'll never truly accept her in my life, even though she's not all bad and it's really my dad's fault. But I still get mad thinking about it. My mom is the greatest person ever... and she still thinks they met after the divorce.
25. Smoking Gun
My parents never told me my dad has been using medical marijuana since I was around three.
I suppose they didn't want him to be a bad influence, but they definitely could've made it a lesson that weed can have positive effects.
What's worse is the fact that there's a room of my house I'm convinced they're using to grow their own weed and sell to their friends, but I wouldn't know for sure as I've been locked out of that room for over ten years.
I'm turning 20 in two weeks, I find it ridiculous that they're still keeping these things from me
24. Press Send to Separate
That my mom threatened my dad with divorce, over text, while we were in Florida to go to Disney World.
It was because of my dad’s drinking, which was caused by an injury to his back and then a botched surgery to try to fix it.
He’s doing a lot better now (this happened in 2013), and my parents’ marriage is fine, but to 13-year-old me, it was terrifying.
23. Mom Still Parties
Saw a text blob pop up on my mom's phone that read, "How was that acid trip last night."
This was a few years ago. And I'm 28.
22. Mama of Drama
My mom broke up a close family friend's marriage.
We just all of a sudden stopped seeing the family, and when I was 15 I bumped into the daughter who was my age.
She kindly explained that my mom slept with her dad.
21. The Girls That Never Were
When I was 15, I was broke and looking around the house for spare change. I was home alone at the time. I looked in my parents’ room and found a metal box with a pad-lock on it.
My curiosity got the best of me and looked around for the key. I found it and unlocked the box. There were letters and a journal inside, written by my mom. Those were what she wrote in for therapy.
It turns out, my mother had had three miscarriages before having me.
I have an older brother and we are seven years apart. I don’t think he knows yet. I don’t want to tell him really. The letters made me cry my eyes out (I’m a momma’s boy).
All three of the miscarriages were going to be girls. She wanted a daughter named Mary Catherine. After she had me, she had to have surgery and was infertile afterward.
I always felt sorry for my mother since then. If I get married and have a daughter, I think I’m gonna name her Mary Catherine.
20. Possessive Behavior
That my stepdad tried to kill my mom.
And he used to threaten her that he would kill me and my siblings if she didn't do what he wanted, like come home from wherever she was.
19. Hard to Get Over
My dad was married to another woman before being married to my Mom. What they don’t know I know is that, before his first marriage, he was engaged to another woman.
He chickened out of getting married a few days before and just took off to another country, leaving my Nana and aunties to tell this girl he had left, and deal with the fallout.
His fiancée was understandably devastated, but then started stalking the house—turning up the doorstep crying daily, knocking on the windows at night, following my aunties to school, constantly calling and basically driving everyone nuts until Nana told her to bugger off and leave them alone.
A couple of months later, my Nana gets a huge bill from a florist, but in Dad’s name. She goes to the florist shop to see what it’s all about, turns out this girl has been sending a single red rose to herself every day since Dad had left, and had charged it all to my Nana’s house under his name.
Nana hit the roof, she wouldn’t tell me exactly what went down, but I believe there was a huge altercation between the two families, possibly with police involved and the (ex) fiancée was never heard from again.
I asked Nana if she was angry with Dad for putting her in that position, she said she was, but she was also “glad he didn’t marry that crazy witch.”
18. Won’t Get Out
Found out my dad was cheating on my mom in high school. Buried it and then in college found out he was cheating again with someone else. Sister knows as well as we talked about it.
Now it's been ten years since high school and my sister is still living with my parents due to financial reasons and I think she selfishly doesn't want to do anything because she doesn't know what will happen in the house.
Their marriage is garbage and I don't think my mom wants to see it. Part of me thinks she might know but is in denial, or thinks she can't do better than my dad, but I know she can. I'd rather see them divorced and happy, but they both believe in marriage due to religion (yet somehow cheating is fine???).
Don't have a good relationship with my dad, so it's hard for me to confront him. Telling my mom would crush her. I have no idea what to do.
As a side note I feel like my mom has been emotionally abused by my dad, and as a result she has low self-esteem. I've tried talking to her about their marriage in general terms, but she always insists they're fine.
17. Did They Tell You Anything?
Oh god, so many things. The number of things my parents (actually, my dad) have kept from me is ridiculous.
The main one was that my older sibling died in the womb before I was born. I saw this (accidentally) when I was on his computer for homework.
I also know my dad has a secret brother whom he never told me about. They don't get along, so he acts as if he never had a brother. This, my grandparents told me because they thought I knew.
I also discovered my dad is about a decade older than my mom - he told me he was one year older than her. My grandparents told me this, too, because they thought I knew.
My dad also never told me my grandmother (his mother) passed away. I discovered this when I overheard him telling someone on the phone. I must have been about eight. I found this unimaginably cruel, the fact that he never told me. I loved her (and still do) so much. I could never grieve for her because I didn't even know she had died.
16. Just Be Honest at This Point
My parents got married exactly seven months before my oldest sibling was born.
They had always told us they got married one year before they did.
I found out when I was about 15, when I saw it on a document as I was rummaging through their closet trying to find something. The conceived-out-of-wedlock child found out at 26.
15. Better Left Unsaid
My dad was drunk once and told me that my mom was boring in bed. This was a couple years after they divorced due to him finding another woman.
Still, gee thanks dad. I didn’t need to know.
14. There’s a Story There
I found a father's day card from another child at my dad's house when I was 11.
13. Better Late Than Never
I’m 16 and when I was around 14 my mom was finally getting her citizenship after putting it off for so long.
I know I shouldn’t have looked but being curious I went through the papers and saw a page about my dad (her husband).
Turns out he’s been married before.
12. Avoid the Art
I found my mum's drawings from when she was 18/19. I just saw it randomly one day while cleaning the house up.
She never wanted me to see those because she was afraid I'd spend too much time on art and neglect my studies.
11. Early Inheritance
I know my mother is scamming money from a pension she should no longer be getting.
She also took hundreds of pounds that me and my brother were entitled to until we were 18 (both moved out at 17). And to top it off, she then took my (not my brother’s; only mine) bank fund that my father put away for me before he died.
They have a lovely car and home and excess money and when I asked them for help, they never gave it. My brother asked, and he got to move back home and got invited round for dinners.
I know I was treated differently because I had a daughter and my stepdad hates kids.
10. Can’t Blame Her
My dad was a pretty bad drunk. My mom is a really religious and kind woman. She is always helping people out and hard-working. She doesn't drink or swear.
The one time he hit her, he woke up to a kitchen knife to his throat and my mom saying, “If you ever touch me or the boys, I will kill you."
My folks are still married. My dad doesn't have a drinking problem anymore.
9. Follow By Instruction, Not By Example
My mom told me she would never sleep with a married man.
Found out my mom and my biological dad (divorced now, heh) met each other when they were both married. Also, didn't know about mom's other marriage.
I didn't tell her I know, and I understand why she said that/hid that from me. Some things we learn only after we mess up. She didn't want me to mess up.
8. Not Your Fault
I found out my dad was a paranoid schizophrenic one night when I overheard my grandma praying for him (she thought I was asleep).
I was like 16 but genuinely thought that his behavior was the most normal thing in the world since I had grown up with it. I cried myself to sleep that night.
I did some research on it not long after since I didn’t know too much about schizophrenia and was so traumatized when I realized how messed up he was. I don’t know if it was by chance or because I started noticing things, but he became unbearably worse after, and me and him started fighting really badly.
My mum finally told him to leave the house, and they had a really messy divorce. I still feel guilty about fighting with him to this day and wonder if things would be better if I had never found out. He lives alone now and isn’t allowed contact with any of us—it wasn’t originally like that.
My siblings used to go and visit him, and he started electrocuting them so “Nobody could hear their thoughts”—I feel so guilty when I think of him living alone without any family around him.
I’ve never told anyone that I found out through my grandma. My mum still has never spoken to me about it. Now that I look back on things (I’m 24 now) I realize that she was being emotionally abused by him. It was just so normal to us we never even realized.
7. Raised as Their Own
That I found my adoption papers and, coincidentally, months later my biological sister got into contact with me.
6. Mystery Sibling
According to my mother, my father got one of his ex-girlfriends pregnant when he was younger.
She supposedly went and had an abortion. What is unknown is whether she went through with it.
It's entirely possible that I have a half-sibling. As far as I know, my father doesn't know that I know.
5. Fool Me Once
My parents started going through a messy divorce when I was in middle school.
It was a big mix of things which ended it. According to my dad, my mom was a secret alcoholic, and would often pick my brother and I up from school while drunk. When my dad found out, we would randomly get picked up by a friend's parents, and they would watch us while my dad made our mom sober up.
My dad likes to exaggerate, so I have no idea how much she drank, or if she was just having a couple drinks with lunch.
Either way, my mom doesn't know that I know she picked us up from school drunk. She's definitely not an alcoholic now. She keeps the booze front and center in the house now, and it always goes down at a reasonable rate.
For my dad, when the divorce was final, he completely shut down. He became a recluse and wouldn't talk to anyone outside of work. He felt like he lost all of his friends in the divorce, but I could tell something else was bothering him. He never really recovered from the divorce, and still only interacts with me, my brother, and his siblings.
The divorce was finalized about eight years ago. I was talking with my uncle, my dad's youngest brother, who roomed with him in college, saying how worried I was about dad being lonely as he approaches 60.
My uncle told me to never tell him I know, but apparently my dad was engaged to another woman when he was in college. They had been engaged for six months when my dad contracted gonorrhoea from his fiancé.
Turns out she had been cheating on him for years with the rest of the football team.
I guess he never recovered from that, because it explains a lot of his controlling behavior, and his distrust of anyone but a blood relative. I always want to tell him I know, and that it's OK for him to talk to me about what happened, but I also don't want to betray my uncle's trust and ruin one of my dad's last good relationships.
He recently found out his sister and mother were keeping a small secret from him and threatened to never speak to them again. He has a lot of trust issues and abhors being lied to.
4. Mom’s Little Cross to Bear
When I was around 10-11 I went through a really rough patch emotionally. The drugs I was getting for my ADHD started messing with me really bad, and that combined with regular pre-pubescent angst turned me into quite the little monster.
I started getting into a lot of fights in school and was generally an emotional wreck. I’d get so mad I couldn’t express it and would instead just be a jerk to everyone around me.
One night, I was on the couch with my eyes closed, basically being quiet for the first time in months, and I heard my mom say to my brother that raising me was really hard and that sometimes she wished I was just someone else’s problem.
I know she was just tired and frustrated, but I’ve never forgotten that, and I’ve also never confronted her about it.
3. They Aren’t Santa Claus
My aunt and uncle stopped talking to my parents when I was about ten years old, up until I was 18 and I reconnected with my cousin (their son).
It hurt my parents that my mum’s brother and his wife stopped talking to them for—as far as my parents were concerned—no reason. When me and my cousin became friends, our parents started talking again.
Once I was talking to my cousin about it and he told me that his parents stopped talking to mine because my parents didn’t buy big enough presents for my cousins.
Even though they were well off and my parents, at the time, were pretty broke.
2. I Could Destroy You With a Whisper
My parents are divorced. My father was a pastor who cheated on my mother with a member of his congregation. She took me and left. The families have no contact. Originally, I was used as a pawn by him, and abused until he had his son and left. I was five.
Fast forward to today. Through internet sleuthing skills, I’ve managed to find him. He has four kids and has inherited a couple million dollars from his father. His family doesn’t know I’ve found them and that I could bring up his past if I chose and ruin his life. The kids don’t know I exist.
My mother and I lived in poverty. I’m disabled, and he abandoned us, and never paid alimony or child support. I’ve even found his radio programs where he talks about being a good Christian and giving all of yourself to the poor.
I could ruin everything and take him to court. It’s my secret.
1. Sitting on a Time Bomb
I found out my dad has been cheating on my mother for most of their marriage with a large number of different women over the years by following Wireshark tutorials on HackForums as a teenager. We're an upper-middle class suburban family and I have three siblings, my dad does all the work, and my mom is a stay-at-home mom without a lot of payable skills.
Telling my mom would ruin her and the family—they would either divorce or my mom would stay quiet to keep the quality of life for her children. Either one has no positives for me, my mother, or my siblings.
My youngest brother is graduating high school soon, and the rest of us have moved out. I have a very large amount of evidence compiled and I'm planning on anonymously giving it to her in a few months.