Knowing how to cope with your difficult parents will help you find peace and happiness. These tips are for adult children who want to move past their unhappy childhoods.
Before the tips, a quip:
“Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy,” said Robert A. Heinlein.
Easy childhoods can set you up to falter in adulthood because you haven’t learned the necessary life skills. But, having difficult parents can certainly set you back, too! To learn more about coping with difficult parents, read Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr Susan Forward.
And here are three ways to move past an unhappy childhood…
How to Cope With Difficult Parents
Note that these coping tips are more psychological than practical.
For practical ways to cope with difficult parents, read 6 Tips for Toxic Relatives – How to Handle Family Problems.
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 who doesn’t accept us – or we suffer the consequences.
I know firsthand what it’s like to cope with a difficult parent; I’ve learned to love my mother, who has struggled with schizophrenia for most of my life (which made for a very unhappy childhood for me). 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.
Remember: even the most unorthodox childhood can be a springboard to success – depending on your attitude and perspective!
Become Aware of Your Feelings
“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 repressed or suppressed emotion builds up power until it’s impossible to contain and, as a result, erupts destructively.”
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, swallowing your feelings about your unhappy childhood or difficult parents can lead to anxiety, depression, physical illnesses, and unhealthy relationships. Violent 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.
Are you stuck in your unhappy childhood? Learn how to break free from the past.
Accept Your Feelings
Knowing and accepting your feelings brings freedom and a stronger connection with difficult parents. As an adult child, simply saying out loud, “It aggravates me when mom tells me how to discipline my kids!” can be liberating.
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.
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.
Forgiveness is easier when you accept that your parents did the best they could.
For more family help, Dysfunctional Families – 5 Tips for Solving Family Problems.
If you have thoughts or questions about coping with difficult parents, please comment below.