Learning how to deal with difficult parents will fill you with peace and happiness – for perhaps the first time in your life! These tips are for adult children who are ready to start moving past their unhappy or difficult childhoods.
Below, I share how I survived a very difficult childhood and offer tips for dealing with your own difficult parents. Whether you’re dealing with rejecting, distant, self-involved, or controlling parents, you may find support and comfort here. I won’t be able to solve your family problems or show you how to change how your mom and dad treat you – you will need to read a book like Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents or talk to a counselor for that! But, here you’ll see you aren’t alone…especially if you read the comments section below.
One of my favorite quotes about coping with difficult parent is, “If it’s not one thing, it’s my mother.” 🙂 The good news is that you are not alone! All parents make mistakes, and they put their own needs and ambitions ahead of their childrens’. Some parents have serious mental health issues – like my mom does. Others are physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually abusive. And still other parents are just selfish, or were emotionally damaged in their own childhoods.
The thing with parents is that they’re human. They are flawed, weak, and often unprepared for the responsibility of parenthood. They care about and love us – their children – but sometimes they don’t know how to parent us properly.
Now that I’m almost 47 years old, I know how to cut my mom some slack. I call her every Sunday, and every Sunday I want to hang up the phone in frustration and anger! And every Sunday, she asks how my estranged sister is and why she doesn’t call. My mom was hurt as a child, and she hurt me and my sister.
And I have forgiven her. Not because it was the right thing to do, but because forgiveness fills me with joy, peace, and surrender to what was. I still struggle to cope with my difficult mom, but I’m not mad at her anymore. I don’t resent or hate her anymore.
May you get to that same place in your relationship with your parents. May you learn ways to interact with them, but not let them destroy your mood or ruin your life. May you learn how to move past an unhappy childhood – and may you experience the true freedom of acceptance and surrender.
3 Most Powerful Ways to Deal With Difficult Parents
Note that my suggestions below are more psychological than practical. And, these tips for dealing with difficult parents are powerful because they involve changing the only person in your life you have any power over: you. If you’re looking for practical tips for dealing with parents who are making life difficult for your whole family, read 6 Ways to Handle Problems With Toxic Family Members.
My mom has suffered from a severe mental illness called schizophrenia my whole life, so I know firsthand what it’s like to deal with difficult parents. I love my mom anyway – but I really felt like I hated her when I was growing up. You should read my diary, it’s full of fury! Her illness was the reason I lived in three foster homes growing up, was on welfare and eating from food banks when she wasn’t hospitalized, and changed schools three or four times a year.
If you’re the adult child of an alcoholic, mentally ill, or toxic parent – these suggestions may help you connect with them and and help you move past your own unhappy childhood. And remember: even the worst, most damaging childhood can be a springboard to success – depending on your attitude and perspective. At some point, the choice is yours.
1. Take time to face your feelings of hurt, pain, and grief
“When we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, the feeling becomes the master,” writes Sue Patton Thoele in The Courage to be Yourself: A Woman’s Guide to Emotional Strength and Self-Esteem. “A repressed or suppressed emotion builds up power until it’s impossible to contain and, as a result, erupts destructively.”
Thoele also says that unresolved grief is created when we don’t allow ourselves to work through feelings as they arise. If we deny having painful feelings about having difficult parents or put them on a shelf, they don’t simply evaporate. Rather, unresolved feelings gnaw at our energy, prey on our emotions, and generally debilitate us.
The painful, sad emotions you’re pushing away won’t disappear. Take resentment, for instance. Maybe you feel rejected because your mother smothers you or keeps “lending” thousands of dollars to your brother. Maybe your mom nags you to lose weight, get married, clean your house, or get your hair out of your eyes (oh, to have a normal mother!). Avoiding your feelings of anger or resentment does pay off – otherwise you wouldn’t do it. Avoiding your feelings is easier, less painful, and requires less energy – in the short run.
In the long run, however, ignoring your feelings about your unhappy childhood or your struggles to deal with difficult parents can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illnesses, and unhealthy intimate relationships. Violent and angry eruptions become more likely, such as emotional meltdowns over computer glitches and screaming fits over lost keys. If you’re coping with difficult parents as an adult child, you need to find healthy ways to express your feelings…or they will consume you.
2. Find healthy ways to express your true feelings about your parents
The pain of not getting what you need and want – and deserve – as a child is so deep and damaging. Sometimes we can’t even express how much grief we feel because our parents can’t give us what we need and want. The best way to deal with your difficult parents is to deal with your own grief and anger that they can’t give you the support or love you need. Knowing and accepting your feelings brings freedom and a stronger connection with difficult parents. As an adult child, simply saying out loud, “It infuriates me when mom tells me how to discipline my kids!” can be liberating. This is a very small example – I know you are dealing with much more than this.
Resisting your feelings makes them stronger; accepting your feelings makes them manageable. Talk about difficult parents: when I was in high school my mother regularly visited me at lunch – she had long scraggly hair and wore dirty, baggy street-person clothes. I fought my humiliation and embarrassment for years and those feelings grew, just like compound interest.
When I couldn’t swallow my pain anymore (it was leaking out in self-destructive ways), I finally let myself simply feel my despair. And it was bad, but then the feelings became less strong. Now, it’s easier to connect with my difficult mom because…
It is what it is. My mom is sick, and she couldn’t give me the love I needed and deserved. I had to learn how to be okay with this, to accept and surrender to it.
3. Forgive your parents for not giving you the love and support you deserve
Oprah recently said that forgiveness is releasing the hope that things could have been different. True forgiveness is realizing the gift in a bad childhood – and learning from it. Every experience you’ve had makes you who you are and makes you more yourself. Your unique personality and spirit wouldn’t be yours if you had different parents or siblings – even if you got a bad deal.
Coping with difficult parents is easier when you accept and let go of the past. Sometimes that means letting go of someone you love.
Some moms are more apt to boil rabbits and stalk married men (like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction) than balance a successful white-collar job with a nurturing home life (like Claire Huxtable). Adult children of difficult parents need to know how to build good relationships with them anyway – even if we have a mother-in-law is determined to ruin marriage – or we suffer the consequences.
Forgiveness is easier when you accept that your parents did the best they could. You need to accept them for who they are, and remember that you can’t change them. The only person you can change is yourself. Sometimes, accepting this can be a great way to deal with difficult parents.
What do you think about my tips on how to cope with difficult parents? If you have thoughts on coping with difficult parents, please comment below. I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.
Help Coping With Difficult Parents
If you grew up with an emotionally immature, unavailable, or selfish mom or dad, you may have lingering feelings of anger, loneliness, betrayal, or abandonment. You may remember your childhood as a time when your emotional needs were not met, when your feelings were dismissed, or when you took on adult levels of responsibility in an effort to compensate for your parent’s behavior.
In Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal, Donna Jackson Nakazawa describes how the emotional trauma we suffer as children not only shapes our emotional lives as adults, but it also affects our physical health, longevity, and overall wellbeing.
Scientists now know on a bio-chemical level exactly how parents’ chronic fights, divorce, death in the family, being bullied or hazed, and growing up with a hypercritical, alcoholic, or mentally ill parent can leave permanent, physical “fingerprints” on our brains.
It’s not just about dealing with difficult parents…when you as a child encountered adversity, the stress hormones caused powerful changes in your body and changed your body’s chemistry. Your developing immune system and brain reacted to this chemical barrage by permanently resetting children’s stress response to “high,” which in turn can have a devastating impact on your mental and physical health as they grow up. In Childhood Disrupted, Nakazawa shares stories from people who have recognized and overcome their adverse experiences, shows why some children are more immune to stress than others, and explains why women are at particular risk.
In Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, Lindsay C. Gibson describes how to handle the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable.
She describes the four types of difficult parents:
- The emotional parent instills feelings of instability and anxiety
- The driven parent stays busy trying to perfect everything and everyone
- The passive parent avoids dealing with anything upsetting
- The rejecting parent is withdrawn, dismissive, and derogatory
You will see how these difficult types of parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood. By freeing yourself from your parents’ emotional immaturity, you can recover your true nature, control how you react to them, and avoid disappointment. You’ll also learn how to create positive, new relationships so you can build a better life.
Your childhood wounds can be healed, and you can move forward in your life. May you find healthy ways to deal with your difficult parents, and remain close to them – and may you find peace and joy in your adult life.
Your thoughts are welcome below! I don't give advice, but you can get free relationship help from marriage coach Mort Fertel.