Parents’ Constant Fighting Affects Kids

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Please help me :( I am sixteen years old. I have a little sister who is five years old, and a little brother who is fourteen years old. Yesterday, my parents got into the biggest fight they’ve ever had. It was absolutely horrible. There was screaming, yelling, name-calling, pushing and shoving…you get the picture. At this one point, I even told my dad that I hated him, which was an “in the moment”, frustration-fueled sort of thing. My brother was in tears and was sobbing about how he wishes he wasn’t born into an Indian family (because we are), and my poor baby sister was crying helplessly, watching the fight unfold.

After an a very pregnant pause, my mother took off her wedding band and all other jewelry my father had given her and told him she hated him and was done with him and his antics. He was just sitting there on the couch, and didn’t react when she told him this. She said that after my siblings and I graduated high school, they would be sure to part ways.

Now, my parents do not usually mean what they say when it comes to things like this – it’s all hate-fueled talk, and the awful thing is that issues always go unresolved because things just “go back to normal”. Anyway, my sister asked me whether or not she would get to see Dad, and I said of course she would! But she was crying and said she just wanted to eat dinner with Mom and Dad and go to bed. That just about broke my heart. It also opened my eyes to realization that a potential separation could leave everybody extremely bitter.

I also can’t help but remember my lovable dad, the funny guy that everybody loves, the one that is so helpful it’s refreshing. I can’t forget that guy. I just can’t. I love that guy – NOT the anger-managemnet-issue monster that comes out every once in a while. I can’t forget my beautifully quirky mom, the sweet one, a genius to boot, the one with the fantastic sense of humor, the one who’d do anything for you if you asked nicely. I cannot forget how perfect these two people were for each other, and how quickly that’s been falling apart lately.

I cannot even begin to imagine the impact this is having on my siblings, especially my baby sister. My brother’s frustration and sadness just makes me cry. Honestly – I don’t even know what to do. I want my happy family back, even though that might be impossible right now. My parents usually make up – it’s initiated by my dad, who says something goofy to make my mom smile, and then they hug it out. But this time, I talked to my dad, and he told me that we should stop acting. I don’t want to stop acting. I want to act forever and ever, even if it hurts me badly. I want to be happy and have a normal family and not let anybody get hurt. I can’t exactly talk to anybody about this. It’s killing me. Please, please, please help.

A: Your parents both seem addicted to drama. They are also being incredibly selfish. They may get something out of the fierce fights and then making up but it’s having a terrible effect on their children. They have no idea how lucky they are to have a sensitive, thoughtful daughter like yourself who is more concerned about the kids than they are.

At 16, there is a limit of what you can do to help your folks. You can certainly tell them how you feel. You can tell them what you told me about how much you love and respect them when they aren’t engaged in the fighting. You can plead with them to get some couples counseling before they do irreparable damage to their kids. You can tell them that it’s not fair to bring up kids to think that a fight-make-up-fight cycle is a normal, loving relationship. People generally do repeat what they saw growing up. You can ask them if that is really what they want for all of you.

If they are truly locked into this cycle they may not even understand what you are talking about. But a careful, calm presentation of the issues by their mature daughter may put a dent in it.

The only other thing I can think of is for you to talk to your guidance counselor at school about what is going on at home. Depending on their job description, some school counselors will call parents in to talk about a home environment and to suggest some family therapy. Sometimes adults will only listen to other adults. Since you are Indian, you may need to find a wise elder from your own culture to try to talk some sense into these people. If you have a grandmother whom your parents respect, that might be a good choice.

I’m sorry you lose your folks to fights. It’s very sad that at 16, you have more maturity and sense than they do. I hope you can find a way to get them the help they need to be their best selves. But if you can’t, please don’t blame yourself. Just do what you can to reassure your siblings and to remind all of you that the best predictor of what will happen next is what people have done in the past. That being the case, the parents you love will come out of their current fight and will go on as they have before.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Dec 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Parents’ Constant Fighting Affects Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/12/02/parents-constant-fighting-affects-kids/