“My parents don’t care about me.”
“How do I deal with narcissistic parents?”
“My dad doesn’t even spend time with me.”
“The only thing I hear from my parents is criticism and pressure.”
“How does one deal with stress coming from his/her parents who keep letting out their anger and stress on you?”
“My parents are toxic; it is killing me! Help!”
“My parents are so difficult such that I have considered suicide.”
These are some of the comments that have been sent to me from the presenter of a local TV station, KTN, who has been discussing with his viewers, the experiences of teenagers and youth in general, who feel that their parents are rather difficult. The conversation resulted majorly from when some girls were reported missing only to be found later saying that they had just gotten bored and decided to go out for some fun. People from all walks of life had an opinion ranging from blaming the parents for not being present in the lives of their children, on one side, or not being strong disciplinarians on the other, to teenagers being blamed for being rebellious and fun-driven. Others blamed parents for being too draconian in their parenting, leading teenagers and youth to rebel.
Many teenagers, however, are seeking guidance on how to navigate the difficult situation of dealing with parents they consider not to be sufficiently supportive and accepting. Whereas it is difficult to know exactly what is happening in each home, I have compiled some ideas that I think could help teenagers and their guides to manage the relationship they have with their parents.
No simple solutions: First of all, I am sorry that you are going through such a tough time. It is a suffering that I would wish to no one. Feeling that your parents are not loving and present to you can be draining and scary if not outright depressing. At the same time, it is not something that can be solved at the snap of one’s fingers. So, don’t look for simple answers here or anywhere. They don’t exist. However, I do agree that there are many times that parents have fallen short of their parenting obligations. But it often comes from not being parented any better themselves.
Be truthful: Are your parents really being difficult or are you not living responsibly? Do you do your duties properly or do you have to be pushed to do everything? Do you clean your room or the house or do what you are required to do? Be honest and remember, you cannot always be your own judge. If you become your own judge and your parents become their own judge, each of you will believe that they are right! I am sure your parents think that they are right. Ask a sibling or another family member for feedback on your level of responsibility.
Accept: This may sound difficult but the first stage to dealing with any difficult situation or emotion is to accept it instead of fighting or denying it. You have difficult parents. You are not going to change them for others so stop comparing them with your friends’ parents or the parents of anyone else. Understand that you are in a difficult situation and that you have to find a way to survive it without being angry or self-harming.
Change Perspective: When people are going through a difficult time, they can become difficult without being aware. Try to be understanding of what your parents could be going through. They have to fight through the Covid-19 times, financial difficulties, relationship challenges and their own mental illnesses. If you assume that they are being evil and malicious and selfish, you will be angry and hateful and the situation will be worse. However, if you see them as vulnerable people who are trying to find their way, you might be more understanding.
Assume Goodwill: This point builds on the above. With all the baggage they are carrying, assume that they are acting like that because they think it is the best way. Again, don’t assume that they are doing this intentionally to hurt you. Unless they truly are malicious and you can see the deliberate rejection and loathing.
Focus on Changing You: You cannot change your parents; that will only leave you exhausted and upset. But you can change yourself: your thoughts and actions. You have two options really: to continue being angry, sad, depressed, bitter and resentful or to change the way you respond to them by controlling your thoughts and actions towards them or the situation as a whole. If your parents are not very supportive, and then because of that, you start doing drugs, you are not making your life better; you are making it way worse. And that is not smart.
Speak up: What you believe is what you see. If you believe that your parents can never listen to you, that is what you will see in real life. So, speak up to them clearly but concisely and control your emotions. Don’t be too emotional when you say what is bothering you. A STRONG reminder for this point: If you have never communicated gratitude to your parents, they will be less willing to listen to your communication of the challenges you are facing. They will only see you as selfish and insensitive. However, if you are in the habit of showing gratitude with words and actions and showing responsibility, your parents will feel inclined to take your concerns seriously.
Take care of you: Just like one maintains and fuels their vehicle before a long journey, you too need to take care of your body so that it is ready for the tribulations you are experiencing. Your body cannot cope with constant fights if you don’t go to bed regularly and sleep for at least 7-8 hours, exercise, eat proteins and fruits and keep a journal where you write down the experiences that are hurting you. Moreover, have a friend or older adult with whom you can speak to.
Involve a third party: this could be a family member like a respected uncle or even a religious leader who can intervene. You could explain to them what is happening if it has become too difficult to bear and ask them to help. Be ready for a bit of misunderstanding for involving someone else but it is better than silence. Remember, your parents may not think they are doing anything wrong. Someone might need to point it out.
Pray for your parents: It is difficult to present your parents to God if you are bitter and angry. Either way, present them to God. Don’t present them as problems only. Present them as blessings for which you are grateful. Pray for their wellbeing and good health. Pray that they become good parents. Don’t be a judge and executioner in your prayers or turn it into a gossip session.
Pray for yourself: Don’t forget to tell God honestly what you are going through. Ask Him for his grace to be courageous, patient and understanding and the strength to persevere through it all. Pray to God to guard your heart against bitterness and sadness. Pray that your heart will always be free for whatever is good and beautiful and true. Remember that God may not take our suffering away; in fact, he mostly doesn’t, because that is like a teacher doing an exam for his students, which is not love, even if the teacher sees the students struggling. God suffers with you.
Forgive your parents: Forgiving is not forgetting and it is not excusing your parents for what they have done wrong. It is responding to evil with goodness and love. Evil responded with evil breeds more evil. Forgiving is simply treating yourself as worthy by refusing to be a storage of anger and hate. Forgiving, therefore, is letting go of any anger and bitterness which you feel you have the right to hold in your heart because you have truly suffered.
Write: Keep a journal. Writing when you feel overwhelmed is very therapeutic and very helpful. You can burn down your journal soon after you write if you feel that you cannot guarantee its privacy. Don’t get tired of writing the same thing over and over again. You can also keep an audio journal by narrating your emotions and thoughts onto your phone. However, writing is still a better option.
Be a Transition Figure: A transition figure, according to Steve Covey, is a person who stops any bad and harmful practices and attitudes from running in their family. Since you cannot change anybody else, including your parents, you can promise to be a better person yourself. If everyone in your family treats each other with unkindness, you be kind. Treat people with respect. Witness to what is different. Believe that you have the courage, patience and strength to do this. And when you become a parent, be better.
Character and Competence: Remember, this is for a time: you are not going to live with your parents forever. Be patient and hold your horses. Work hard in your education and make yourself competent so that you can be independent as soon as you can. NEVER EVER use your education or future as leverage against your parents. Your education and good morals are for you and not your parents. If you decide that you will misbehave and not study properly in order to “punish” your parents, you are hurting yourself and your future and making your life way more difficult. The best way is to ensure that you have character and competence that will increase your chances of finding your own path, away from the toxic environment.
Life is not Magic: It is not wise to desire immediate results. It makes you impatient, anxious and even corrupt. There are people who will write to me and tell me that they have kept their journal for two or three times but they still feel worse and so they stopped. They want the suggestions that I give them to work immediately and show results within a week. That is magic. In real life, you have to be patient and stick to the process. Just keep writing without having deadlines. Keep forgiving. Keep loving. Keep exercising. Keep taking care of yourself. One day, it will happen. You won’t know which particular day it did. But it will. Just like going to the gym, you really don’t know which day you started building muscle but all those days you went to the gym do matter.
With lots of love and prayers.
Your number one fan.