Dealing with Difficult Parents in Adulthood

Hot tempers are not uncommon in my extended family. An argument breaking out is hardly rare, though it’s rarely anything serious. This particular fight, however, was not something that could be easily brushed off.

My teenaged brother was helping put away groceries, when he organized something in a way my father did not like. When my father tried to correct him, my brother’s negative tone bothered him greatly. Immediately, he reprimanded him for being disrespectful.

I was helping as well at the time and felt that it was a minor issue. I told my father that it wasn’t a big deal and to let it go; teen attitudes happen. My father did not like me questioning his parenting methods, and our exchange quickly escalated into personal jabs at one another. In the end, nothing was resolved, and everyone left angry.

For the rest of the day, I was fuming. My husband and I had moved in with my family temporarily not too long ago, and already I was fighting with family. It was high school all over again. Patiently my husband listened to me complain and moan about the argument until it was his turn to speak.

“He isn’t all that bad,” he told me. “He’s letting us stay here, and he’s trying his best to manage everything.”

In the moment, I been so enraged by how my father acted, that I did not stop to think that I was a guest in his own home. Even if we were family, he was gracious at the core for caring for all his children, both young and adult. Just because he handled situations in a way I disliked did not mean he was a cruel brute.

That did not mean I had to approve of my father’s choices; I rarely do. It did mean, however, that I had to learn my boundaries and respect him as a fellow adult, just as he respected my own choices. What’s more, he was family: Even with lots of fighting, we were in this together and had to make the most of it.

Instead of choosing to lick sore wounds, I decided that I had to apologize for speaking the way I did. And not only apologize, but find other ways to support my family members to help keep the peace in our household.

Later the next day, as I helped  my father make dinner, I said, “I’m sorry for the things I said the other day.”

Without skipping a beat, he smiled and said, “Not a problem.”

It was a huge relief, neither of us liked being mad at one another. Things were settled again and the tension was gone. By asking for forgiveness and giving it, my father and I learned that we valued our relationship and love more than we valued our pride. As we finished up cooking, we both admitted that our old dynamic was not any good; we set up a few basic rules of respect for conversation, and agreed to keep it that way.

We still disagree and argue occasionally, but we do so without being toxic: no accusations, no insults, just civil discussion. We speak calmly and plainly about things that bother us. We use “I feel” statements and give each other a chance to speak. Discussions about sharing bills, laundry, what food we share or don’t share, and even family are much more productive and healthy than before.

But better than that: My father and I have a newfound respect for one another as fellow adults. If neither of us decided to make up after our initial argument, I don’t think we would have reached this place in our relationship.

Even when my pride was hurt, I knew it was important to apologize. For my father, it must have taken a lot for him to accept that he needed to change how he handled things too. In the end, both of us know that love trumps ego, and we would rather love than cling to a hurt sense of pride. Our family is better off for it.

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