How can I improve my relationship with the family?
May 28, 2012 2:56 AM   Subscribe

Dad and I don't really get along, and I don't feel happy or comfortable in the same house as him. What can I do to make things better, short of moving out?

I've never had the most comfortable relationship with my dad. A lot of my memories of him when I was a kid were of him being angry, and it only got worse in high school when I started getting really unhappy and withdrawing from everyone. I'm 22 now and I'd like to think I've grown up a lot since then - I'm mostly happy, more self-confident, have friends that care for me, and am slowly working at being a more decent person - but I still live at home with my parents, and some days it just feels like no matter how mature and successful I might feel in the outside world, back at home I'm still the quiet, unhappy child I used to be.

Part of the problem is that dad works from home, so he's pretty much always in his study or sleeping. His study area also functions as the dining room and is connected to the living room and kitchen without wall or door, so whenever he does conference calls the expectation is that the whole house should shut up and tiptoe around until he's finished. (This bugs the shit out of me, especially because his voice can be loud and he has a tendency to launch into a call without telling us, which forces us to quickly accommodate him.) I feel stressed when he's in the next room even if he's just sitting at the computer typing. I don't know how to stay (inwardly) calm when he gets mad. He doesn't even have to be mad at me - I'll still freeze up and think of all the things I might be doing wrong that he'll pick on me for, like is my desk clean enough, or am I playing a game instead of working. This jittery state makes me anxious and withdrawn and will last for hours, probably way past the time he stops being annoyed. Last time we actually did have a fight, I screamed back at him for the first time but it didn't shut him down at all (he threw a chair at the window. I actually ran to call the police then, but mum stopped me and said not to 'for her sake' and I was too tired by then, so I started crying and just let him yell until it was over.)

Just today we were talking about me and sis' upcoming trip to New York. He started talking about how we need to be extra careful going through customs, and started telling stories about people he knew who had been treated badly by customs officials. This really stung me because my counsellor just last week commented on the fact that I didn't seem to be looking forward to the NY trip at all, and I realised this was true. It's true because I'm scared and stressed about it, because I don't know what will happen. And mum's cautions about NY being a dangerous place and dad's shit about going through customs and making sure we knew where the Australian embassy was in case we get our stuff stolen is not helping. At some point during the conversation I retreated back to teenage habits and stopped responding or looking at him, apart from the occasional nod. He ended the conversation with an ominous-sounding "well, I think we need to have a briefing about this soon. Okay? This is not about play. This is about what happens if something happens and you can't play." I basically felt like I was a child again. And now I am hiding in the bathroom in tears typing this up in case someone can tell me what the fuck I'm supposed to do. Pardon the French.

Moving out so far is not an option. My heavy courseload precludes finding a job I could put sufficient time in to support myself. I keep thinking it's probably my problem, that if I could communicate better this wouldn't be happening, or if I were more in charge of myself I'd be less stressed about the trip, or maybe it is my fault when dad says he feels underappreciated because it's not like I do much for this household anyway.

I guess my question is, how do I make this a better place for me to live in, at least until I can work something else out? I feel like I could do so much more if I weren't constantly brought down by stress and anxiety, especially when it's mostly self-generated. I would also rather not have to confront anyone, as I'm never sure whether dad's going to get upset over a perceived criticism. I just want this stupid situation to end.
posted by cucumber patch to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, I think we have the same Dad.

You absolutely need to move out of home, but I realise you also need strategies for surviving until that happens.

What I mainly did as a teenager to cope was to shut myself in my room and READ. Tons of fiction. Stuff I could completely immerse myself in and lose track of everything.

I was actually back visiting my father this week, and realised this strategy still works, and that for me, anyway, it is essential that it is actual novels I read, not just surfing the internet. The internet is engrossing in a different way, but it jumps around enough that I can still kind of stay alert for Dad's moods in the back of my mind, so I can't truly relax.

The other thing you can do is take up a hobby that gets you out of the house a lot. Walking or running are good. Marathon training could get you a few hours a day! If your dad is like mine, you will need to justify the hobby and it will have to be something that fits his ideas of what is worthwhile, but I'm sure you can come up with something.

Basically spend as little time around him as possible, and engage in whatever soothes you best as often as you can.

Another strategy that SOMETIMES works for me in the moment when he is stomping around and muttering and I know he's about to explode so I'm getting all tense is to run a little narrative through my head like a voiceover, highlighting the ridiculous. Sometimes I do it in his voice: "I dropped my glass of water and the water has splashed on the counter and this is the end. of. the. world. because we will NEVER EVER have another glass of water like that one again, and the water might not even evaporate, because the laws of physics might have changed and then we will have a wet patch on the counter FOREVER. But perhaps if I stomp around and slam doors enough, that will convince the gods to make sure it evaporates correctly and everyone will be saved. Hallelujah."

Sometimes that can make me laugh on the inside, at least.
posted by lollusc at 3:08 AM on May 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

Here's something that is going to be hard to accept, but when you say "I just want this stupid situation to end," what you're really saying is "I want the whole dynamic of my family to be different." And it isn't going to, because that would require people you can't control to change.

The reality is that nothing here is going to change until you get out, which you really need to do. Yelling and throwing chairs is, you know, really not okay.

I understand that you are living in Australia, and I wish I knew more about how it works there so I could offer more concrete options. Are your parents paying your tuition, and how onerous is the tuition? How much longer until you graduate? Are you eligible for loans, whether you want them or not? (And have you actually investigated that option?) Does your school offer mental health services? Because I think you need someone to talk to, and someone to help you with your family situation and generalised anxiety.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:15 AM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I understand that you can't move out, though the throwing of the chair along with the other controlling elements sounds like this is a situation you want to be far away from. I would suggest talking to your school about any options they might be able to suggest - sometimes you get lucky.

Can you minimize your time at home by working in a library? It doesn't have to be your university library, just a library that you find pleasant to work in. Can you also work at friends or join study groups? Because then you won't have to worry while you do your work at least. When I am working somewhere that is not exactly optimal I always wear earphones to block out noise and so I can play music that calms me or makes me happy or relaxed.

It is also important that you do not let your father strip this trip to NY of any pleasure well in advance. It's hard, but just try not to listen to him; for some people this is the way they interact with the world and it has bugger all to do with what you may experience in NY and more to do with him wanting to control that experience and your expectations.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:21 AM on May 28, 2012

Would it be possible just to disengage almost completely and pretty much just come home to sleep? Like lesbiassparrow said, you could work from a library or maybe a cafe or a friend's house or possibly a local museum/other public space. Spend your evening out with friends or on campus studying (you could bring your own lunch and dinner if money is tight) or doing some sort of hobby that you enjoy.

Remember, even if you are living at home, you are still an adult and he has no right to treat you the way he is treating you. You could try telling him you don't want to discuss the NY trip and other stressful things ('Dad, I appreciate that you're concerned about me. I don't want to talk about this any more.') and then leave the house if he continues to go on about it or berate you.

I would also suggest you have an escape plan - enough money for a hotel room for a few days or a guarantee from a friend that you can sleep on their sofa plus a bag stashed somewhere with a change of clothes and some form of ID. That way, you know mentally that you aren't stuck at home, you can escape if necessary.

Having said that, if you know that this sort of disengagement will only make him more angry and more controlling (and leaves you feeling stressed for your own safety), then your living situation and family life is not just stressful, it's really unsafe and I would really suggest you look into moving some place else - even if it is crashing on a friend or relative's sofa.
posted by brambory at 4:00 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's possible to improve the relationship as it stands. It feels like you're still a child both to you and your dad because all of the trappings of being a child remain, specifically, the big one -- you live there.

As for your dad's conference calls -- independent of everything else, hells yeah, you have to be quiet during conference calls and you don't always have a heads up ahead of time you're going to be on them. Such is the wonderful world of conference calls.

The only thing you can do is disengage and keep your conversations extremely short, but if there is any way you can move -- roommates, fewer courses at once -- you should really think about doing it. Lots of people struggle financially and with their course load when they are in their early twenties, and they eat a lot of sad food and live in shitty places and feel freaked out, and it's totally worth it because not living with your parents is sweet indeed, my friend.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:10 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

how do I make this a better place for me to live in, at least until I can work something else out?

Make useful plans to mitigate repetitive problems.

For example, the conference calls. Maybe you can use noise-cancelling headphones when you're just lying around the house. But for when you're studying, always keep a book bag ready with your current study materials (work out of the bag; don't spread everything all over the desk) and have two or three possible study destinations planned out. When one of those yammering conference calls starts, just grab the bag and casually head out the door. If you need to explain, just say you're going over to the [library/cafe/park/school/friend's house/back yard/shopping mall/artillery test range] to do a little studying. Don't stomp out, and don't be passive-aggressive about it. If you need to explain, say that you need to do a little studying and it's easier to concentrate where you're going.

And try to think of this stuff from his point of view. Maybe that will help you understand him and find ways to get around him or calm him down. There may be a code you can crack. I'm not saying it's your fault at all that he gets so angry, but you might be able to deflect or defuse some of that anger if you know what triggers it. Is money tight (is the car falling apart? does the house need repairs? do you never have money for decent vacation? does your mother never have new things?)? Is his work load difficult? Is his job stressful or uncertain? Is he spending money on your education that he might rather spend on other things or save for retirement? Does he think your activities or educational goals are frivolous or unrealistic, maybe just a drain on all the money he works to bring in for the family? Does he fear you will never be able to move out and take care of yourself? Do you do your share of household chores? Maybe he's stressing out in part over feelings like that, founded or not. Try to show him signs that (to him) indicate that you are holding up your end of things by working hard and earning (or at least not wasting) money and getting ready to support yourself. If you can appear to be studying when you are really playing games, do that. If you can save the naps and trashy television for when he's not around, do that. If you can appear to be saving money (taking the economical options), do that. If you aren't doing the dishes, cooking some family meals, doing some household shopping, etc., maybe you could and should be doing some of these things when he is watching. When he looks up from his work and sees you working, he's going to have a hard time being angry with you.
posted by pracowity at 4:40 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you did move out, I assume you'd be eligible for Austudy (it's been a while since I was at uni) -- it's a pathetic sum these days, I know, but plenty of uni students do live off 2 Minute Noodles (personally, I preferred Indomie in my starving student days, because they were cheaper and came with soy sauce).

For the benefit of the non-Australians here: Australian students don't typically take out loans for university - the government pays, and then you pay the fees back if and when you have a job and earn over a certain amount of money (I think about $50,000 a year?). If she/he did take out a loan, it would be a regular bank loan. This would not be typical for an Australian student and, I think, not advisable.

dad says he feels underappreciated because it's not like I do much for this household anyway

Do you think this is true? You're living, I assume, rent free, or if not, to some extent financially subsidised by your parents. Do you make up for not paying rent or bills or food or whatever it is by helping out with cooking, housework, gardening, etc? I'm not asking to guilt you, but the way I see it is:

You're an adult now, but (based on the information you've given) it seems like little has changed since you were a teenager. You still live at home, you're still studying, you're still financially dependent, and if you're going on an overseas holiday with your sister, you must be still fairly socially connected to your family. Obviously your dad's being a dick - I don't think anyone would dispute that - but I can also see why, however unfairly, he has never made the leap from seeing you as a kid to seeing you as an adult.

Chances are his behaviour isn't going to change any time soon, but you can, theoretically, change your own. I know it's way easier said than done -- he treats you like a kid so you act like a kid so he treats you like a kid -- but if you can break that cycle, it may help change the situation. The more you act like an adult, the harder it will be for him to both treat you like a teenager and make you think and turn into one. One of those adult things is adhering to the rules of the house -- even if they're stupid rules like keeping your desk clean. Another is doing your share -- maybe more than your share -- of the housework, without being asked. Another is speaking to your parents as an adult -- initiating conversations with them, being polite, asking how their days were, even when you don't want to. Maybe you're already doing this stuff, but if not, it may be a good place to start.

As for New York, I wouldn't stress. I'm an Australian who regularly travels in and out of the U.S., and your dad's talking out of his arse. You wait in a long line, you eventually show someone your visa/visa waiver form, have your fingerprints taken, they might ask you how long you're staying, or where else you're travelling in the US, and that's it. It's actually more relaxed than Australia, because they don't go psycho about fruit and wood.

As for NY itself, yes it's potentially more dangerous than most Australian cities, but that's true of most of the world. Just stick with your sister, don't go to rough areas at night, bring locks for your bags... all the same stuff you'd do if you were travelling basically anywhere. That said, knowing where the embassy is in any foreign city is good advice. You can easily misplace your passport on a drunken night out.

Also, your parents are going to worry when you travel overseas, and that may never change. I have a healthy, adult relationship with my parents, I'm married, and have been living overseas for two years and still when I mention I'm going somewhere like New York I get the "Well don't go anywhere alone at night, and bring tropical strength mozzie repellant and get a tetanus booster and only get in licensed cabs..." They're parents. It's what they do.
posted by retrograde at 4:45 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

It sounds like under the latest Centrelink rules you could qualify for independence - have you looked into that? My other suggestion would be to look into jobs that perhaps pay less but offer time for study. For example, manning a help desk or hotel office after hours, a shop office over the weekend, or babysitting after the kids were asleep were all study opportunities for me.
posted by quercus23 at 5:11 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

At 22, moving out can't not be an option. Cut back your schooling so you can work. Nothing will get better until you support yourself fully.
posted by spitbull at 5:31 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

whenever he does conference calls the expectation is that the whole house should shut up and tiptoe around until he's finished. (This bugs the shit out of me, especially because his voice can be loud and he has a tendency to launch into a call without telling us, which forces us to quickly accommodate him.)

It is a common complaint among people who work at home that the people around them don't respect the fact that they're working. So they're expected to take calls, do laundry, be part of the neighborhood carpool, and suffer every interruption, because they're at home. Even in a separate office, even with dedicated hours, etc.

So while this doesn't solve the entire problem of your relationship with your father, consider the common areas of the house a business office during business hours. Then you will be reading/studying/talking quietly/writing music/surfing the web anyway, and you won't have to change your behavior when you hear him on a call. And you won't resent that he didn't tell you he was making a call (which is an unfair expectation--he's working! He shouldn't have to stop working to shush everyone around him every time he makes a call.)

Remember that his work makes your lifestyle possible, and start viewing his workspace/work hours the same way you would see a professor's office space. That may help you change your response.
posted by headnsouth at 5:42 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

You haven't explained how the New York trip is being paid for: do you have a part time job? If not, I would suggest you get a traditional Thursday night/Saturday job just to start bringing in some money. At 22 you need to be building up your work experience and savings.

if you are not already contributing board, do that. Before you go on the trip. Make a written agreement with your parents. This will demonstrate that you want to step up to a more adult-like relationship while you're under their roof.
posted by wingless_angel at 6:49 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. It's really good to get answers that get me out of my head for a bit. I do have a lot of trouble figuring out what's 'normal' - what I'm actually responsible for and what can and can't be changed, and this helps a lot.

quercus, I am on Youth Allowance ($265 a fortnight). I pay my own public transport fare 6-7 days of the week, but the leftover does allow me to be out enough that I don't have to stay home all the time. I haven't had to ask mum for money for a while, or at least only every now and then. So that's good at least.

To those advising acting more like an adult at home: I think that's a good idea. Reading through your answers, in retrospect I haven't really been doing anything at home to give my parents confidence in me. We never set up a schedule, and mum never asks for anything, so it falls into a pattern of mum doing most of the work, dad occasionally cooking and me occasionally washing up.

Now that I say that, I didn't even realise it had gotten that bad. No wonder I feel so guilty and horrible all the damn time.

headnsouth and Terrible Llama, thanks for the insight about working from home. I found it really easy to resent dad because all I see of him is him sitting at the computer all the time and having loud, sometimes hostile conversations with his partners/employees. Dad doesn't have business hours as such - he sleeps when he's tired and wakes up at any hour of the day, so that makes it more unpredictable. Perhaps sis and I have been a little selfish on this point.

I've been notoriously awful with thinking about my future - getting jobs, planning things, this trip especially - because it stresses me out not knowing all the variables, and if I mention moving out to my parents I don't know if I'll be able to handle it if they barrage me with "what happens if X? what will you do if Y? how will you Z?". I feel like I need to have the answer to everything. So I guess I've been avoiding that a lot. But I'll try looking into that further.

I think I have some concrete steps to work on now. Thanks so much everyone. Keep the advice coming if you have any.
posted by cucumber patch at 6:51 AM on May 28, 2012

my counsellor just last week commented on the fact that I didn't seem to be looking forward to the NY trip at all, and I realised this was true. It's true because I'm scared and stressed about it, because I don't know what will happen.

I suspect your approach to a lot of things in life is similar to your approach to your impending trip to New York, and this means you have a problem coping with both the situation you're in and figuring out how to change your situation.

Does your sister live at home, as well? Do you know anyone who doesn't live at home? Because I have a feeling that once school is over, you're going to have a lot of paralyzing anxiety about finding a job, moving out of the house, etc., and you will find it more comfortable to do nothing and stay at home. I'd raise these issues with your counselor as well as spending more time on campus.
posted by deanc at 7:21 AM on May 28, 2012

It might not help, but your father may be remembering old news stories about New York City that are way out of date by now. It's a pretty safe place in this century.
posted by zadcat at 8:00 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This comment is purely about going to New York because I went there a couple of years ago when I was 22 and had a blast:

What stresses you out? If it's procedural stuff you're worried about (customs, etc) you can find it out on the internets. If it's safety, NYC is actually quite safe even at night - in fact, there seemed to be more people on the streets at night than in the day, it really is the city that never sleeps.

Perhaps it might be helpful to have your "briefing" with your dad with a piece of paper and a pen handy. Every time they ask a question that's like "WELL WHAT ABOUT XYZ" and you don't have an answer, write it down (as well as their suggestion for a course of action, if any) and move on. After the conversation, Google it. Write down the answer. Come back to them with your list of solutions. Rinse and repeat.

Honestly though as long as you don't forget your passport, wallet, and phone, you'll be fine. And even if you lose one of those (or all of those) it's not the end of the world.
posted by Xany at 8:35 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your Dad is your Dad. He is telling you all the scary things about the US because he is worried about you, you are going to be going somewhere he will not be able to help and protect you. Also for some reason every Aussie that has visited me since I moved to the US from Australia, has had weird ideas about how guncrazed and dangerous the place was, your Dad is probably coming from the same place, because all you hear about the US in Australia is the extreme things. Good news is the US isn't that scary. Most of the people are nice, friendly and helpful once you talk to them (yes even in New York), just use your common sense you are in a very big city, yes things can happen, they probably won't, the reason they make the news is that they are unusual.

Customs officials are not that scary unless you are trying to bring in things you shouldn't and the ones that could maybe be, are the immigration ones. Here's the thing if you have your passport and have the correct visas or if traveling under the Visa Waiver Program you go online and pay your $14 bucks and fill in the forms. That's all they care about. You hand over your passport and forms you fill in on the plane, they look at them, they ask about your stay, you answer truthfully, you scan your thumb print, you are on your way. The worst part is the waiting in line when you are tired from the long flight and all you want is a shower.

As for being treated like an adult around the house, now is the time for you to start acting like one, people treat you how you expect to be treated, if you still act like a kid they will treat you like one. Pick up a chore or 2 and make it yours and do it consistently. Wash the dishes, feed the dog. Heck show them you are a grown up by cleaning up your own messes, doing your own laundry, offering your Dad a coffee if you are in the kitchen making yourself one and he's busy working. Little things. Maybe offer to pay some board, even if it is only a token about like $50 bucks a fortnight, that will help you feel more like a contributing member of the household instead of a bludger. Yes it will give you less free money to spend, welcome to the joys of being a grown up.

OH and your Dad is going to fuss and worst case scenario you until the day he dies, he's your Dad, that's his job to worry about you and try to look after you. My Dad was a lot like your Dad, always reminding me of the worst things that could happen, always doom and gloom about anything I was doing. He passed away 6 years ago and I would give anything to have him doom and gloom me one more time. Every time your Dad fusses you about the trip subtitle it in your head as "I love you and am worried about you and just want to look after you for the rest of your life why are you growing up and doing stuff I can't protect you from." When he's finished, give him a kiss on the cheek and say "I love you too Dad".
posted by wwax at 8:46 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey, I just wanted to say that your conversation with your dad actually made me chuckle. Because i pretty much heard he exact thing about how dangerous and sketchy travel was to the big city, Except I'm a New Yorker, it was my mom, and I was traveling to Sydney and Melbourne. I'm already nervous about travel, and neither my parents nor I had ever traveled there. It's kind of comforting to know that the "dangerous foreign city" story is an international theme in scary parent story telling. Though, I'm a person of color, so they are always nervous -as am I - when I travel abroad.

What helped at the time was remembering that thousands of people had made this exact travel and found it not only safe, but spectacular. Also that the anxiety I felt wasn't a bad thing necesarily - it was just a message to myself that I needed to make sure I understood the rules of traveling to Australia and where my embassy was in times of trouble. Also that while I wished my parents weren't so negative Nellie, I also wished I wasn't either, and I was just like them. But I could only do something about me. So I think every time my mom got triggered by something, I'd just agree that was disturbing, and thank her repeatedly for the advice. Because while it freaked me out to think she thought I couldn't handle it, I realized those were her anxieties coming out, even if she wouldn't admit it. And ultimately she wanted me to be able to handle it, but was, well, aggressively and tiresomely anxious.

So yeah, you'll be Nervous as will your parents, but just accept that and try to remain mindful when you, or they, sink into a stressy anxiety squall until it passes, because there is probably little you could say the calm their anxiety. Just take care of yourself while they rattle off all the things that they are afraid could go wrong. They,and you, are right - stuff can go wrong abroad, but stuff can and does go wrong in Australia too. And if and when something unexpected happens, your fellow Australian travelers have handled it with grace and aplomb, and you will too. So come to NY, and have a great time with your sister.
posted by It's a Parasox at 9:51 AM on May 28, 2012

I'll chime in with another "moving out is possible, really".

My early teenaged years were kind of rough, but past a certain point I've had a really good relationship with my parents. I don't think I really fought with them at all after I was 17 or so, and I still enjoy going home to spend time with them.

That said, I think there comes a moment in almost everyone's life when it is Time To Not Live At Home Any More, and I suspect yours is a lot like mine. I was 21ish and found myself spending the summer at home after a couple of years of school. My dad worked out of a home office, and even though he hardly said a thing beyond checking now and then if I was looking for work, I spent weeks and weeks just feeling generally guilty and awful about myself and really not knowing what to do next.

I wound up throwing some stuff in the back of a car and going to university a hundred plus miles away, which put me in a lot of debt and precipitated all sorts of questionable life choices before I ever figured out how to support myself, but is not something I regret at all. Not because it was the perfect decision, but because it was a decision, and I really needed to decide something and go somewhere.
posted by brennen at 10:21 AM on May 28, 2012

Forget about your parents' attitude and warnings about New York. They don't know what they're talking about, so you can just ignore everything they say about it. Their opinions are based on gossip and 70s Walter Matthau movies, and their comments only serve to keep you a child. The more you listen to them, the more you're going to be unsure about the trip because they're undermining your independence. I wouldn't be surprised if they've never been to New York, out of the country without being sent there, or even outside of the region they live. Suffice it to say it's a parochial attitude.

The housing thing, though, is the real issue here. Do you think there's anyway they would swing or help-with you living outside the house (dorms, apt, etc.) if you approached them seriously? Your parents need to understand (or at least be told) that your Dad's working situation is extremely distracting and it's affecting your schoolwork. If they tell you to just go to the library or something, well, I think that would mean you can conclude that they just aren't going to be very supportive of your schooling (you may already know this from your history), and you'll have to start making plans to put yourself first. This typically involves taking a lesser courseload in order to take a job, I'm sorry to say. However, you won't be the first person to have to put yourself through school even though you have reasonably successful parents who simply suck at making your schooling and scholastic goals a priority. Again with the children: children don't need a college degree so why should they give a fuck? Heck, if they're anything like my parents, they talk about how important it is to go to college while simultaneously not concerning themselves at all about what you might need from them to succeed in it.
posted by rhizome at 12:07 PM on May 28, 2012

I'm a touch concerned at the people replying that this is just how your Dad shows he cares for you. The man, when his authority was questioned, threw furniture. That doesn't come from a place of love and caring, that is about power and controlling through intimidation.

Don't confuse in the mind of a young adult just starting out in life that abusive behaviour is someone's "love language". It's not. His behaviour isn't normal. Belittling you and getting aggressive is not his way of showing you he cares about you.

You're living in a stressful situation. Moving out and having no money would also be stressful, so you have to choose between two not wholly positive options.

Living on your own would teach you the necessary skills it takes to be an adult. It's going to be a crash course, not entirely pleasant, but you will potentially come out of it a better and stronger person. Staying where you are will further stunt you emotionally and probably set you into a mindset where this behaviour is normalized.

Adulthood - it's not going to be easy!
posted by Dynex at 2:40 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think the single healthiest thing you can do for yourself right now is to create a little distance between your father's behavior and your emotional response. Right now, you are extremely sensitive to his mood and behaviors - which makes sense since this was probably a very important survival skill when you were growing up. However, now that you are older, this sensitivity is hurting, not helping you. There are a whole bunch of different ways of creating a buffer for yourself - one is the narration someone mentioned up-thread. Another is using cognitive-behavorial therapy to make list of your automatic responses matched up with more realistic thoughts that you can practice. (Eg: instead - "Dad's angry, end of the world" might replaced with "Just keep calm and this will blow over, it always does") Another is learn mindful meditation (search askmefi for lots of advice on how to do this). Your counselor might be a big help at figuring out how you can do this.

Bottom line is that you want to stay in touch with your truth and your own wisdom no matter how your father is behaving. This is will not only make your life happier but it will also give the confidence that you can trust yourself to deal with life's problems. Much easier said than done, but well worth it. If you want some more detailed suggestions, memail me.
posted by metahawk at 5:20 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been notoriously awful with thinking about my future - getting jobs, planning things, this trip especially - because it stresses me out not knowing all the variables, and if I mention moving out to my parents I don't know if I'll be able to handle it if they barrage me with "what happens if X? what will you do if Y? how will you Z?"

Yes, my father does this to me as well, and it's a form of control. I know it's out of love, but it's also selfish, and it drives me up the wall. (Love is often selfish.) Eventually I came to realize that it's not about arguing with him-- nothing I say will convince him, or suddenly inspire his confidence in me-- I just have to say, "you're right, travel can be dangerous, but I'll be able to handle it." Then go on the trip. It's about actions, not words. Next time you go on a trip and he hassles you about it, you'll be able to say, "you're right, travel can be dangerous, but I've done this before." You should know what to do if your stuff gets stolen, but a gentle parent would be telling you, not using it as a weapon to undermine you and keep you at home. (By the way, AskMetafilter is actually really useful in figuring out logistics that you're unfamiliar with.)

And if you're worried about getting jobs, planning, &c., realize that your actual needs in a given situation are quite small. Human beings are very adaptable. You need food and a place to sleep. When it comes time to look for a job, you'll look for a job. It'll be difficult but there are lots of small steps along the way. If you get lost or in trouble in New York, you'll go to the embassy. Etc., etc. Knowledge is power, and we live in a world of smartphones.

My sister recently visited me in Chicago and my dad nagged her continuously about taking time off from work (she works at a gas station). When she showed up and told me about it I said, "yeah, he's right, I'm sure on your deathbed you'll wish you'd worked at the gas station a little bit longer." We both laughed. Our dad is worried about us and doesn't want to be on the hook for our fuck-ups, but as long as we don't expect him to be (we generally clean up our own messes), he can't make us do or not do anything.

The only solution is independence. I have a friend who's in basically the same situation, but he's much more afraid of making mistakes or disappointing his parents. Thus he hasn't built the confidence that most people our age have, and confidence is extremely important. You can already see how your self at home is much less happy than your self in the world. Good luck! And have a great trip.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:31 PM on May 28, 2012

And if he's haranguing you with "What if X? What if Y?" and you don't know, say "I'm not sure. What do you think I should do in that situation?" I mean, that's what parents are really for. It might even catch him off-guard that he can't use your inexperience to disable you, because you're turning it into a positive moment.

metahawk is absolutely right, you need to internalize that your parents' disapproval is their choice. They've chosen to react to your independence with anger and meanness. They're emotionally immature. Stay in touch with your feelings, interests, and needs. As long as you live with them you should take their requests as paramount (when it comes to chores & their household), but when it comes to decisions about your life, they have nothing to do with it.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:36 PM on May 28, 2012

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