How To Deal With My Parents' Fighting?
December 8, 2012 4:33 PM   Subscribe

My parents fight. A lot. My brother is able to drown out the fights somehow and stay neutral. I am not--I get in between the fights and support my mother. And this obviously, does not sit well with my father, who calls me names and tells me he doesn't love me and blames me for fights. What should I do?

I can't seem to stop myself from getting involved mostly because I KNOW my father's in the wrong--I support my mother. My mother screams and cries hysterically and I feel the need to support her. I love my father, but he's certainly majorly in the wrong in most of the problems in their marriage. He's overbearing, unappreciative, lethargic, selfish, brooding...My mother's a great wife, but she cracks sometimes.

I find the fights completely anxiety-provoking and make me physically nauseated. I find, though, when I am able to ignore them, that it goes smoother for me--no one tells me they hate me or they'll never talk to me again.

There's a major fight happening right now. I've already interfered and taken some abuse. What should I do? I'm really, really scared.
posted by rhythm_queen to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a minor? Are there other minors in the household?
posted by Nomyte at 4:40 PM on December 8, 2012

I'm sorry this is happening. Can you explain why you are scared? The reality is that you cannot change the dynamic between your parents, but if there is violence in the house, you can call 911. In order to get you some other resouces and advice for support, I think we need more specific details. Can you tell us how old you are and maybe elaborate on your school/housing situation? Because obviously the best thing would be for you to live elsewhere but if that isn't possible, it would be good to know that.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2012

Response by poster: I'm 20. I'll be leaving for exchange in less than a month, so I'll have a 5 month break from his crap. My brother is 14. He seems to be completely neutral. He just stays in his room, plays video games, doesn't talk about it and certainly doesn't express his feelings on the matter with my parents.

No violence, my parents aren't violent at all, but there's an extreme amount of screaming, crying, yelling, and sometimes throwing things (from both parties.)
posted by rhythm_queen at 4:43 PM on December 8, 2012

Best answer: Why don't you take your brother and go out for the evening? There is nothing you can do to make them stop, so remove yourself from the situation and come back in a couple of hours when it's over.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:51 PM on December 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

This may sound really harsh, but it's not actually your job to support your mother in her relationship.

I'm really sorry that you have to live with this.

And I totally get how hard it is not to step in - I lived through something quite similar, although my father didn't ever actually tell me he didn't love me. It was hard not to step in and defend my mom, but here's the thing - when I stepped back and looked at what happened when I did interfere, it didn't actually make anything better. In fact it often made it worse because although it might have made my mom feel less alone, it also left her with a lot of guilt and angst that she had 'put' me in a position that I had to take this from my dad.

Looking at my years living home in hindsight, I wish I had just stayed out of things completely. And while I still feel like my dad's behaviour was completely inappropriate, now that I'm married and in a much healthier relationship of my own, I have recognized that my mom also shared in the responsibility for the dynamic. She made choices in how she engaged with my father that were not helpful or healthy, even though I know she was just doing the best she could in the situation. But still, they were her choices.

To reiterate - it's not your job to support your mom in her relationship with your father. And it's not fair for her to expect you to do so.

**On preview - what snickerdoodle said.**
posted by scrute at 4:57 PM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your parent throw things, they are violent. Full stop.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:03 PM on December 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

Having grown up in a household where screaming and belittling was the normal mode of conversation, the best advice I can give is to truly try your hardest to stay out of it. Without fail, every time I got involved, it got worse. The only things that improved the situation were time (my step-father mellowed as he got older) and space (I moved out for college and never went back for more than a week at a time).

snickerdoodle's advice really is spot on. Try your best to take a step back, and remove yourself physically from the situation whenever possible (because it will be next to impossible to divorce yourself from it emotionally if you're in the thick of it—ask me how I know). You cannot fix this for your mother, as much as you might want to, and getting in the middle will only make things worse for you. (Without witnessing the dynamic personally, I can't say whether it would make things worse for her, too, but it clearly isn't making it better.)
posted by cellar door at 5:04 PM on December 8, 2012

Best answer: I agree that you shouldn't get involved in their fights, but I do think you have a right to speak up about the harmful impact it has on you and particularly on your brother (a la "Do you guys realize how much stress your screaming is probably causing Little Brother and are you sure you want to damage his psyche like that? We'd appreciate it if you'd take your screaming somewhere else because it's totally inappropriate for a civilized household").
posted by Dansaman at 5:13 PM on December 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry you're going through this. My boys went through something similar with their father and a woman he lived with for a time ... awful fights and horrible things said, and one boy coped by escaping into video games in the basement and the other tried everything he could to get them to see reason. Like you my peace-loving son then became the target of the abuse. What you don't realize is that your brother's coping strategy can also cause him great harm in the future. He can become conflict-avoidant even about small things, he has learned that people can't be trusted, that he's on his own, that he has to hold it all in and be strong.

Even if it were your responsibility, which it is not, it is just not something you can fix. Your parents are stuck in a negative cycle of anger and pain and unfortunately your involvement has the opposite effect that you want, it's fuel for a fire that's already burning, it gives your father a new place to direct his rage.

I would suggest talking to your mother privately, when there is no fight going on, and asking her to take action to protect your brother. Neither of you deserve to be in that environment and you definitely don't deserve your father's abuse. Frankly your mother should be stopping you from getting involved too ... both of your parents are doing you and your brother wrong here. Your mother's crying is understandable but at this point it is just part of the cycle, it doesn't do anything positive. Her children are suffering and she needs to do something about it.

I would also talk to your brother, say "I hate when they fight like this," open it up so he knows you are a safe person to talk to. You will be siblings your whole lives, you need to help each other by taking care of yourselves.

Screaming, yelling, throwing things ... those are violent. Maybe not in legal terms but for kids to be witness to/recipients of? Traumatic and violent for sure.
posted by headnsouth at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

I hate conflict, too. It's at the root of most of my anxiety issues.

This is way beyond normal conflict, though. People throwing things at one another is violence, and it presents a physical danger to every single person in the home (including you.)

My recommendation is to get out for good. And to help your brother get out while he's still only 14 and hasn't done another four years of time in this kind of nightmare.

Failing that, go to therapy for you, and meanwhile give your mother the phone numbers/addresses of a few resources (like this place in London, ON, which has some food for thought regarding abusive relationships.)

While you're on your exchange, please do some real work on yourself. I know you're probably supposed to speak French/whatever the whole time, but if you do read things in English, have them be about things like assertiveness and self-esteem. Your previous questions, put together, make me very worried for you.

(I'm happy to give more specific reading recommendations if you want.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 5:27 PM on December 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's not your job to support your mother. My parents are divorced and they still fight all the time. Whenever I say something that is even a little bit supportive of one side to the other, I get a load of crap from them for being "rude, unappreciative and cold." Hence, I've learned to bite my tongue when it comes to these things. Nothing I say makes the situation better and it really isn't my job anyway.

You should do the same because when you support your mom, you're only getting the anger misdirected at you which is totally unfair and really hurtful. I know you want to help your mom out and you want to do the right thing but it really isn't the way to go about it because you end up becoming a part of the fight.

However, I really urge that you get them together when they are not fighting and tell them how it hurts you and how you feel torn. Don't take sides - just tell them your concerns about how this is affecting the family and ask them to do something about it as mature adults and parents. My hope is that they do, but if they don't do anything about it, continue to stay out of their fights.

Also, talk to your brother. My brother also plays video games endlessly and seems to be nonchalant towards the whole thing, but through talking to him, I've realized how much it does bother him and how it has affected him. I've been through it so I try my best to help him out. He's also 14, and they're at an age where things are confusing enough as it is and I really wouldn't want him, or your brother, to feel alone in something like this.
posted by cyml at 5:44 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only side you should be taking right now is your brother's. He is hurting too, even if he won't show it.

Otherwise, stay out of your parent's fights. Just go somewhere else. Pick a side after they get divorced.
posted by gnutron at 6:04 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up with parents who throw things. That's enough to be considered domestic violence and have the cops called on you, it's not okay.

That they are doing this in front of you and your brother, who is still a minor, is doubly bad.

It doesn't matter who's right in their argument. It's WRONG for them to fight in front of you--this is damaging to you. It's doubly bad that your mother allows you to take sides in a fight, or lets you know what's going on, rather than shielding you from it. It's HORRIBLE for children to pick sides. Your dad might seem to be in the wrong for the argument, but that doesn't matter. If it's that horrible, and your mother is in the right, then she should leave him. If she's not leaving him, and instead fighting with him, she's doing just as much, if not more harm, to the children (i.e. you and your brother) as he is.

Your mother is WRONG for allowing you to take sides at all. And your father is WRONG to take his anger out on you at all. But they are both WRONG. The end.

As for how you deal with it... you hole up in your room. Or you let them fight it out because you are not SUPPOSED to get in between parents. Or you call the cops to break them up. Or you head out with your brother until it's all resolved, to a cafe, or the library, or a friend's place. (I have done all of this, all the while thinking that this is just normal childhood.)
posted by ethidda at 6:11 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They're really not throwing things at each other, only at the ground, and this occurs really rarely, like...once every 6 months. They yell at each other. My mother cries. She's hysterical. He's quite a fair bit calmer.

I'm not trying to demonize my parents. My mom smacked me around in elementary school a fair bit, but my dad never raised a hand to me. Ever. And My mother has stopped with her smacking, too.

I'm not afraid of anyone getting physically hurt. But're all right, and as usual, have given me a lot to think about.

Thanks. <3 You're all so helpful. I'll be PMing some of you soon.
posted by rhythm_queen at 6:15 PM on December 8, 2012

Best answer: >My mother's a great wife, but she cracks sometimes.

With all respect and sympathy, you have no idea what sort of wife your mother is. Protect yourself and your brother, and stay out of their relationship. I'm very sorry that you and your brother are having to deal with this. That fault rests squarely on both of your parents.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

My recommendation is to get out for good. And to help your brother get out while he's still only 14

OP, this is simply dangerous advice. It can result in very serious legal disruptions for both your parents. Consult a professional or close friend.

Secondly, you let the cat out of the bag, and you can't put it back in - your parents are violent - there is violence in the home. You are 20: have a sit-down with both your parents, and request that any such violence must stop, otherwise you will seek outside help.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:59 PM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just sayin : There's no cat to be let out. I'm the one in the house and I see no physical danger whatsoever. Don't need to guilt me for trying to be hhonest straightforward.
posted by rhythm_queen at 8:04 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Violence doesn't have to be physical, and I don't think anyone is trying to guilt you. Mostly, we all do the best we can. Hugs to you and your brother.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:08 PM on December 8, 2012

What Kruger5 and others are saying, I think, is that throwing things in the midst of an argument—at someone in particular or otherwise—is itself a form of violence; it's is not a normal, healthy response to a disagreement. Whether it's been physically directed at someone is not really the point (although these kinds of behaviors do tend to feed into each other and escalate). I seriously doubt that anyone here is trying to make you feel guilty.
posted by cellar door at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also please consider that while your brother looks like he is unaffected by this, be might just not know how to react and he can feel a number of negative emotions as well - fear, anger, hurt, concern about family life/safety/divorce. He is only 14 and being that age is tough even without big fights at home. So as others said, maybe focus your attention on protecting him. Your parents are adults and it's not your responsibility to stop their fights, but you're his older sibling, so you can try to be protective and supportive of him.
posted by at 8:58 PM on December 8, 2012

Nobody is trying to make you feel guilty. We're trying to help you stop diminishing the reality of what's going on in your home because the sooner that you accept that reality in ALL its forms the sooner you can move forward and do something about it.

Your mother and father throw things. Your mother used to smack you around. Your parents therefore have a history of violence that is not gone. Dormant violent tendencies are still violence tendencies. I know it's kind of mind numbing to say it out loud, but you must realize that what your parents are doing is making your home unsafe for you and your brother and it looks like everyone who has responded to you thus far is taking that seriously -- please see that as a vote of reassurance not a vote of criticism.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:44 PM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts that might help you deal -
- Your parents have been married for a long time. These fights are part of their pattern.
#1 - when you get involved, you are NOT protecting your mother, it just gives your father two people to yell at instead of one. I know it is really hard to stand by when you see this unfairness but getting involved is not helping and it is hurting you.
#2 - your mother's screaming and crying is part of the way she has developed to deal with your father's anger. It doesn't mean that you need to rescue her (especially since trying to rescue her doesn't actually help). If she is staying in the marriage despite all the yelling, then that is her choice and you should respect it. If you think that she is staying in the marriage because emotional abuse has undermined her self-confidence and she doesn't know how to leave, then read up on how to support women in domestic violence situations. (This would emotional abuse but the advice is the same)
#3 - this is not a good environment, emotionally or psychologically for you or your brother. Take care of yourself and see what you can do to support him. While your mother has a choice about being the relationship, you didn't (until now) and your brother doesn't. So, when your parents fight, tell yourself that your job is to take care of yourself and your brother, your parents can take of themselves and trying to get involved isn't helping.
posted by metahawk at 10:06 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

My home had such things. It was best for me to spend as much time away from home as I could, form as few memories as I could of that time, be alone or with friends, not the parents.

The less of this you internalize now, the less you'll have to mop up in therapy another decade from now. Be nice to yourself, their shit is not your shit.
posted by ead at 10:06 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You should not be involved in your parents' fights, and they should not allow you to be involved.
Throwing things, yelling, name-calling, etc., is not okay, no matter what label you give it('violent' or just 'bad').
Your mom can and should speak for herself.
You should speak for yourself, and maybe your brother. Describe the facts, and the effects on you and brother: Mom, Dad, you guys fight a lot. It's really disruptive. Brother isolates himself in his room. I get involved and feel scared and unhappy. You guys should see a therapist, and you should try to control yourselves so we can be a healthier family. I love you both, and the fighting really tears me up.

Even if the parents don't get therapy, you should. This isn't your responsibility or fault, and you can't fix it. They have to take responsibility for their actions, and they should paying more attention to parenting.
posted by theora55 at 10:28 PM on December 8, 2012

You are me a few years ago. Even to the age difference between your brother and you. I too got emotional and involved because not only is your mother being victimized, but your father is causing huge strife and pain, and you feel the need to protect the more defenseless parent.

One thing you need to realize is that this is NOT passing by your brother unscathed. My brother sat there and played videogames quietly, ignoring the storm, but he grew up to be addicted to coke later and is still struggling in his addiction. Nothing passes without leaving a scar, especially at his age.

No, it's not realistic for you to remove your brother from the bad home situation every single day. He's six years younger, and you have your own life and friends. I bet if you're like me, you can remove yourself from daily life pretty easily, while he sits and soaks in the violence day in and out.

What I wish I'd done is have very frank talks with my mother as to why she is permitting her children to be in this emotional climate. Talk to her about the consequences of growing up like this, and the scars it leaves. If she cannot separate from your dad, then she needs to reevaluate your brothers' living situation.

Talk to your brother. It's hard as the age difference makes such a huge gap. My brother didn't really share at all, he was a sweet kid, just kind of agreed with everything. The damage showed up later, in his late teens when he found himself unable to grow up fully, and had access to more cash and was surrounded by available escape routes via drugs and alcohol.

I'm so sorry you're in this situation, it sucks, and it's not your fault. My mom ended up leaving my dad when I was about your age, I moved out, brother lived with mom. Mom and dad continued to fight by phone, but now they could at least hang up on each other. Twelve years later... my father is dead this spring. He ruined his own health, mainly with alcohol. My brother is a struggling cocaine addict. My mom is doing well, but is very stressed and sad about him. I am doing well as I'm really introspective and can do a lot of self therapy so to speak, but to see the damage done by this family dynamic is something I know all too well. Show this post to your mom and tell her this is one possible future for her if she doesn't protect her child better. You probably can't change your dad, we couldn't.

Memail me if you want to talk.
posted by tatiana131 at 1:10 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know it's hard to stay uninvolved when it's happening right in front of you. So don't let it happen in front of you! Go out, as other people have said.

And whenever you are tempted to get involved because your father is 'wrong' remember: you can be right, or you can be happy. Leave it. It's not your fight.
posted by JoannaC at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2012

Sticking yourself in the middle of all that trauma's not a good thing for you. I speak from experience.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:48 AM on December 9, 2012

Best answer: Agree with getting out and taking your brother with you. Go for a walk, go to a movie, whatever. Also do talk to your brother. I'm big on the withdrawing myself, and this kind of behavior can cloak a LOT of hidden distress. See if you can help him find "safe places" he can go to when you are gone - public library, a friend or relative's house (especially someone who is cool with casual drop-in visitors and doesn't ask too many questions).

Harriet Lerner has good books on how to find your boundaries and stick to your guns in a calm way. This usually involves recognizing what you need, finding an authentic, calm way to say it, and letting them be defensive/upset and calmly staying with your position.

So if you follow any of the scripts above and the response is defensive or angry, you don't have to engage with anger. You can take a deep breath and quietly repeat your main point.
posted by bunderful at 9:51 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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