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Mariah Carey's Parents: How the Pop Star's Neglected Childhood Shaped Her Life
Mariah Carey parents
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Mariah Carey's Parents: How the Pop Star's Neglected Childhood Shaped Her Life

Mariah Carey has been a phenomenal songstress since the early 1990s, when she took the world by storm with her unshakeable voice and astounding range. But while she has attracted extensive media attention over the years for her romantic relationships and, of course, her music, it's only recently that Mariah Carey opened up more about her parents.

Like many of us, no matter how much time has passed since childhood, Mariah, now 52 years old, continues to navigate her deeply challenging relationship with her parents. 


Who Are Mariah Carey’s Parents?

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Mariah was born in 1970 in Huntington, New York, the third and youngest child of parents Alfred Roy Carey and Patricia Hickey. Alfred was an aeronautical engineer of African-American and Afro-Venezuelan descent, and Patricia a former opera singer and vocal coach of Irish descent. Mariah's paternal grandfather actually changed his name from Nuñez to Carey, like many immigrants did to cope with the racism of the day.

Mariah Carey's parents met in 1960, a full decade before she was born, and fell in love, despite Patricia’s mother disowning her for the relationship. The couple faced the overt racism of the era -- they were even shot at through their kitchen window — but they nevertheless eloped. After they were married, they decided to live in an all-White neighborhood. However, Patricia had to purchase the house, because the White owners wouldn’t sell to a Black man. 

Concerned there were no other Black people around, they soon moved again, this time to a mixed neighborhood. However, there were new problems. “They didn’t like us because we were living as a Black and White couple, and that just wasn’t done,” Patricia recalled. Wherever the couple went, it seemed, people opposed their marriage.

Mariah Carey's Sister and Brother Resented Her

But while the 1970s may have been more tolerant, even after Mariah was born, racial tensions remained high. Neighbors actually poisoned the family dog and set fire to their car. Although Mariah is comfortable today with her biracial background, the world hasn’t always shown her the same acceptance.

Mariah Carey's parents divorced when she was only 3 years old. Her older sister, Alison, moved in with their father, while Mariah and her older brother, Morgan, stayed with their mother. She has recalled her siblings’ resentment toward her for having lighter skin and hair, and described her brother as “extremely violent” and her sister as “troubled” and “traumatized." Mariah has opened up about her difficult childhood, discussing how her siblings were abusive toward her. Mariah had little contact with her father after the split, and her mother worked several jobs to support the family.

Behind Mariah's Toxic Relationship with Her Mother

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Patricia Carey in the music video for "O Come All Ye Faithful/Hallelujah Chorus"

To describe Mariah Carey's relationship with her mother as strained is an understatement. She has credited her mother as the primary reason for her exposure to music at a young age. However, she also maintains there were things her mother said that have haunted throughout the years

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“Jealousy comes with the territory when you are famous. But when it comes from your own mother, it is very painful," Mariah wrote in 2020 memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey. She goes on to recall how her mother once said, “You should only hope that you could be half the singer that I am.” Although Mariah wondered if her mother even remembers saying that, it impacted her just the same. (Patricia actually performs on Mariah's 2010 song "O Come All Ye Faithful/Hallelujah Chorus," and is featured prominently in the music video.)

In addition to the jealous and competitive comments, Mariah has also opened up about how she felt neglected by her mother.

“I’ll always take care of her,” she said. “There’s been a huge role reversal in our relationship since the beginning, since I first started [singing] I’ve been the go-to, that matriarch person, even as the youngest child in the family. Not everybody gets it. That’s a lot of pressure because also with that, with the expectations come resentment as well, or envy. It’s really a tough place to be.”

Mariah's Complicated Relationship With Her Mom Continues

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Mariah and Patricia, with Luciano Pavarotti (Photo: Instagram)

Mariah admits she still craves a mom like those she used to see on television, one who will have “genuine, sustained interest” in her before asking for money or favors.

To add insult to injury, Mariah's mom even cautioned her against marrying Nick Cannon (now father of her 9-year-old fraternal twins) because of his skin color. Clearly, trauma is inter-generational, and forgiving a parent for ongoing hurt can take a long time.

The singer also revealed that, in 2001, amid pressures related to her impending movie, Glitter,she was physically and emotionally exhausted. She decided to spend some time recuperating at her mother’s Long Island home, which she had purchased. While there, she had an emotional breakdown while washing dishes. But rather than offering support, her mother called the police, who took her to a facility. 

“Bottom line is, there was a code-switching that happened and a power shift that was immediate,” Mariah explained. "It was immediate and she was in charge."

Mariah's Father, Alfred, Passed Away in 2020

This type of story will resonate with many of us who have parents stuck in traumatizing power-struggle patterns. It's not an easy thing to overcome.

When it comes to Mariah’s relationship with her father, there’s not as much to say. She didn't see much of him as a child, and sadly, he passed away in 2002. Mariah does, however, feel positive enough about him to wish him happy Father’s Day on Instagram. “Rest in Power,” she wrote in June 2020. “Love and Sunflowers for Alfred Roy.”

The Lessons Mariah Carey's Parents Taught Her

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Mariah's late father, Alfred Carey (Photo: Instagram)

The fact is, even those of us with the most traumatic parental relationships tend to find lessons buried in our trauma if we’re willing to dig a little.

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Of her relationship with her mother today, Mariah shares in her memoir: "I have reserved some room in my heart and life to hold her — but with boundaries. Creating boundaries with the woman who gave birth to me is not easy — it is a work in progress."

In fact, the dedication of her books sums up the rocky past and still-challenging, but somehow worthwhile, present-day relationship very well: “And to Pat, my mother, who, through it all, I do believe actually did the best she could. I will love you the best I can, always.”

Mariah's Lifelong Struggle with Her Biracial Identity

But when it came to struggling with her biracial identity and belonging, neither of Mariah’s parents were ever equipped to help her navigate the complexity she faced. She was largely on her own.

Mariah has discussed the lack of belonging she felt as a child that so many biracial people know all too well. When she first became famous, articles described her as a “White girl who can sing,” which really played into deep-seated insecurities. 

“My father identified as a Black man,” she said. “No one asked him because he was clearly Black. But people always ask me. If we were together, people would look at us in a really strange way. As a little girl, I had blonde hair and they’d look at me, look at him, and be disgusted. I understand people want to hold on to their roots. But for me, I was a complete nonentity because of it. Maybe that was part of my drive to succeed. I’ll become accepted.”

How Mariah's Childhood Shapes Her Motherhood

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Photo: Instagram

In her memoir, Mariah writes, “Time and motherhood have finally given me the courage to honestly face who my mother has been to me.”

Given some of the unforgettable things her mother said to her when she was young, Mariah believes it’s important to be careful what one says, especially when talking to kids. The singer explained that, because she wants her own son and daughter, Monroe and Moroccan, to feel safe, secure and happy, she makes every effort to acknowledge their talents and encourage them, effectively breaking the cycle of damage and abuse her family has known all too well.

Mariah hopes her own struggles with identity and racism will help her educate her kids on how to deal with similar issues. While times have changed since she was a kid, she points to social media, and all the modern ways someone can get attacked today.

Mariah's Loving Relationship with Her Children

In stark contrast to her own upbringing, Mariah’s relationship with her kids is the most loving relationship she’s ever known. 

“They help to heal me every day,” she said. “Every time we have a moment that feels real and authentic and genuine and it’s them loving me unconditionally.”

While stereotypes of abused children turning into abusive parents run rampant, the children who grow up and break those vicious cycles tend to get a lot less press, but there’s plenty of us out there. The trick: even if your parents don’t teach you directly, you can learn eternal lessons from their behavior alone. 

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