Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Inside "The Glass Castle," Parents Betray Their Children

"The Glass Castle," a newly released movie, is based on the best-selling memoir by Jeanette Walls.  It is painful and powerful. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking. Jeanette Walls, despite being raised in a chaotic and negligent environment, broke free from the bonds of family dysfunction and built a life for herself as an accomplished journalist. Today's blog is not a review of the movie nor is it a commentary on how Jeanette's story has touched the hearts and souls of its readers and viewers. After seeing the movie, although I was moved by Jeanette's triumph over tragedy, I was reminded that it came at a cost. The message which resonated for me was...

Inside "The Glass Castle," Parents Betray Their Children 

Over the past ten years, I have written and spoken about "betrayal." It is a topic I am comfortable with and passionate about. When we think of "betrayal," our minds typically turn to issues of infidelity or other relationships in which trust is broken.  It is indeed that. It is, however, so much more. In "Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within 2nd Edition," I explain betrayal in three ways:

An investment into someone or something met with rejection and/or abandonment. 

A profound trust in someone or something which is profoundly violated.

A belief which is shattered or a truth that becomes a lie. 

Although there is crossover among the explanations, each one also stands alone in its injurious impact on victims. I believe that all three definitions apply to Jeanette Walls and her siblings; however, the one which connected with their story the most was, "A profound trust in someone or something which is profoundly violated." 

In "Breaking Through Betrayal", I describe two kinds of trust:
1. Trust as an innate emotion
2. Trust as an extension of us

For the purpose of explaining betrayal in relationship to "The Glass Castle," we will examine trust as an innate emotion. This is the kind of trust which forms naturally within us. It is a preconceived bond, an almost supernatural current within us and/or between us.This is the mother-child trust. This is the father-child trust. And this is important. This is the trust which children innately feel for their parents, guardians, and caregivers because of  who they are and the roles they hold.

When mothers, fathers, step-parents, grandparents, etc.
 misuse, abuse, and betray the "reponsibility" of trust bestowed upon them,
 this parental violation has prolific and profound consequences on the children.

In addition to the violation of trust itself, there is another component which makes this kind of betrayal extremely damaging. All victims, especially children, carry around a great deal of shame, guilt, and a plethora of self-deprecating life messages because they feel the lack of parenting is somehow their fault. To compound the shame and guilt, when the standard of care falls into a pit of chaos and negligence where children are required to take on the parental roles, layers of confusion, worthlessness, and powerlessness also take hold within them. 

Jeanette Walls, her older sister, and her younger brother took on the parental roles of their household. However, the deeply entrenched inadequacies and extreme inconsistencies of their parents continued to betray them on multiple levels. Their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter were not met. Although it was evident that Jeanette's dad expressed his love for his children and his authority over them, other needs such safety, security, and sanitation were lacking. When children's needs take a back seat to the unhealthy behaviors of  parents, or when children's basic needs are not met, their internal dialogue plays out in life messages such as the following:

I am invisible.
I do not matter.
I am not enough.
I am on my own.
I don't belong here. 
Why did they have me?

These internal messages greatly damage a child's core being and erode a child's sense of worth and mattering. These painful life messages require a tremendous amount of recovering to repair, and it takes a committed process of healing in order to replace them with healthy life messages.  

There is one final factor about parental violation of trust which is paramount to understanding its depth of devastation. It is difficult  for anyone to stand up to one's betrayer.  For a child, adolescent, or teen to stand up to parent/s who are the betrayers - the violators of their trust - is extremely complex and complicated. Not only do internal loyalties wage war with one's psyche, but societal expectations, cultural norms, and familial traditions demand its silencing. Too often when victims find the courage to speak their truths, they are shamed by their parents (or caregivers), by their extended families, and by their communities. Often, victims default to their defense mechanisms, desperately trying to make sense out of the betrayers' actions. Others seek to diminish them. 

Well, they did their best.
I guess she did what she could.
I accept he didn't know anything else.
They were just repeating how they were raised.
Well, I know they loved us. They just didn't know how to show it.


These rationalizations further betray children 
by minimizing their truths and normalizing their suffering.

After moving to New York and establishing her career, Jeanette Walls did not disclose the truth about her past.  When she became engaged to a successful businessman, she and her fiance' concocted a story about her parents and her background. Understandably, Jeanette was fearful she would be judged and not accepted into the world she had built for herself. More importantly, she was not ready to do so. 

At the end of "The Glass Castle," Jeanette Walls, her older sister, younger brother (and his family), her younger sister, and Jeanette's mom arrived at Jeanette's home to celebrate Thanksgiving together. As they sat around the dinner table toasting their late father (and husband), the camera closed in on Jeanette's face. In her tears, I saw a mixture of promise and of pain.

After returning home from the movie, I googled Jeanette Walls. I came across an interview with her in "The New York Times Magazine" (May 24, 2013). Alex Witchel reported that "...she [Jeanette] seemed to make a clean break from her  mother, who was still living in an East Village squat. But when it was damaged by a fire, Walls, alone among her siblings took Rose Mary (mom) in.  Her brother, Brian, a retired policeman who lives in Brooklyn, finds it hard to be around her mother. Her younger sister, Maureen, stabbed Rose Mary in the back 20 years ago, before being given the diagnosis of schizophrenia; she now lives in California and claims she has  no mother. Lori remains close to Rose Mary...though she lives in Manhattan." After reflecting on the concluding scene once again and contrasting it with the article, I was reminded...

Parents who betray their children leave a legacy of brokenness. 


Every day, in this country and all over the world, children are living in "glass castles" with parents who betray them. They are afraid to speak up and share their truths. In 2005, Jeanette Walls wrote hers down.  By doing so, she took the first step towards healing the wounds of parental betrayal.  Her journey is not everyones'. In its various forms and different approaches, wellness awaits each of us. However, we must choose it and act upon it.

Our healing begins by speaking our truths.
Our suffering continues by not doing so. 

In order to provide you with a safe platform for speaking your truths and guide you on your journey from betrayal, I invite you to pick up a copy of "Breaking Through Betrayal."  I promise you...You will not feel judged. Your pain will not be minimized. It is a self-paced, compassionate companion for breaking free from the bonds of betrayal and recovering your peace within.


Before I leave you, I want to share a  future source of further hope and healing from betrayal. For the past two years, I have been interviewing daughters who were betrayed by their mothers and who chose wellness over victimhood.  One daughter's truth speaks for many of us.

"She probably did her best. For me, it was not enough."  
February 2018!!
"Daughters Betrayers By Their Mothers: Moving From Brokenness To Wholeness"

~ Believe and Be Well ~ 

For more support and resources, visit Holli Kenley - Recovering Process / Betrayal

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