Dear Kelly: My dad is so mean to my mom, and I don’t understand why she lets him be that way. When he’s at work, our house is relaxed and mellow, but the moment he comes home, everybody gets uptight and there is always some kind of arguing. My dad walks in and instead of even saying hello, he immediately will complain about how dirty or cluttered the house is or how he’s so tired and no one appreciates how hard he works for our family or how much better people treat him at work than we do at home. My older brother never comes out of his room anymore when my dad is home and has told me that he hates my dad. My dad thinks he provides us with such a good life because we live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, but really we are all miserable.
My mom is supportive and loving and never gets mad at us, but my dad is always mad at us or criticizing us for everything we do wrong. He doesn’t think other people are good enough for him and puts down any of our friends unless he thinks their parents make a lot of money.
What should I do? I would rather go live with my aunt who lives in another state. She knows how bad things are here and said I could come live with her anytime. I don’t want all of my time in high school to be so awful because I hated being home and hated my dad. He ruins any good things that happen to me because it’s never good enough and he always has something bad to say about it. My mom’s reply whenever we tell her how much we hate it when he comes home is just that he’s stressed, and we should just ignore what he says if he says something mean. Maybe she can do that, but I can’t do that anymore.
What’s your advice? Please don’t suggest I try to talk with him because it’s impossible, and all he will do is tell me how ungrateful and spoiled I am that I have all these great things, and that if I want a different family, I can walk out the door and never come back. He has said it before, and I know that it’d be the same response if I tried to talk to him about how he treats everyone. He says that he’s not the one with the problem, but that it’s us and we have no idea how lucky we are.
Dear #myfamily: Breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend is one thing that’s so common for teenagers and talked about all the time. But what about when you want to break up with your family member? It’s not like dealing with an obnoxious friend or ex-boyfriend whom you want to end things with and hope to never see them again. Families are different, and the dynamics that play into being a family can make life very difficult when one person sets the tone for the entire household. You can’t just break up with your dad when you’re a teenager and move on. It’s not that simple, or easy, to walk away.
Have you tried family counseling? Clearly, your family is in a state of emotional crisis. Your brother has checked out both emotionally and physically. Your mom enables your dad and makes excuses for his poor behavior. You are aware of all that is wrong within the family, but feel you have no viable options that would bring about any kind of positive change. Everyone in your family is idling and there is no movement forward. If anything, your family is moving backward, and yet everyone is afraid to speak up because that involves the wrath of Dad.
Go to your mom. Tell her that you either get family counseling or you will begin the process of looking into living with your aunt. I don’t want it to seem like you are threatening your mom, but I want her to see how serious you are about your family needing help. If your mom refuses to get the family into counseling, then perhaps moving with your aunt is something to consider. You deserve to live in a healthy and positive environment where you can grow emotionally and find happiness in your life.
If moving in with your aunt won’t work out and you have to stay at home and your parents refuse to get family counseling, go talk with your school counselor. Let them know how negative things are at your house and have them call your mom to suggest you get individual counseling. If you can’t change your parents or the mood in your home, at the very least you can get support from an outside source that can provide you with tools for dealing with your dad.
Your dad sounds depressed and angry and is projecting his misery onto your family. He isn’t aware that he has pushed you and your brother away by being so judgmental and critical.
Is there anyone he respects? Grandparent? Pastor or church leader? There are no guarantees he would listen to anyone, but it’s worth a puncher’s chance to have someone whose opinion he values talk with him about how his family needs professional help.
No parent is perfect. But I don’t think you are looking for a perfect father, just one who doesn’t make life so miserable and negative. It doesn’t seem too much to ask for.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.