Stress and Parents Fighting
It’s been a tough year for everyone, especially parents. The stress of this pandemic has put extra pressure on their responsibilities to care for you and communicate with each other, so if they’re fighting more than usual… that’s not abnormal! No matter the reason, though, when your parents fight, you’re left to deal with that stress. Whether you’re used to family tension or not, it can be tough to know how to deal with parents fighting. So, then what can you do? First, let’s look at why parents fight.
Why are your parents fighting? Guess what: it’s not your job to know that. Whether they act like it or not, they are fully grown adults who are responsible for their relationship and communication with each other. The “why” only matters between them, and they’ll need to figure that out in order to make a healthy decision about moving forward. Sure, you might already know the “why” because you know your parents, but as far as you are concerned… all that matters is that they are fighting. As parents, they are responsible for creating and maintaining a healthy home in which their child can grow and feel safe. The fact that you’ve noticed (and presumably researched) the issue means it is already impacting your sense of stability.
What’s the big deal? All parents fight, right? Yes, a parental disagreement is bound to come up now and then, but if the fighting is frequent and in front of the kids? Actually, there are some pretty huge impacts that parental tension can have on a child’s life--and not just if the fights are getting physical. Sometimes the exact opposite of lashing out physically--when one parent “freezes out” the other or gives the silent treatment after a disagreement--can be just as psychologically damaging to their kids as witnessing more “obvious” forms of abuse. Even if your parents are trying their best to hide their fights from you, you can still feel the tension. From mental health concerns like anxiety and depression, to behavioral issues or even decreased cognitive performance, the long-term effects of parents fighting can be devastating for a child of any age. You deserve a warm, open, honest, and healthy environment. So, what can you do when your parents are fighting?
Talk To Them, Not Like Them
Sit your parents down, preferably in person, and ask them to listen to you for a few minutes without interrupting. If you regularly have dinner together as a family, bring it up when you’re gathered around the table. If they’re divorced or separated, ask them if you can have a family meeting. If they truly can’t or won’t meet with you together, you can sit them down separately. The important thing is that you need a moment to share your experience with your parents. Do your best to remain calm and loving. Try not to fall into the same traps they fall into during their fights, but also… you’re the child, so it’s okay if you get overwhelmed or emotional. This is important stuff!
State your case. Let them know, as kindly and patiently as you can, that the tension between them has begun to impact your life. If they’re yelling so loud that it wakes you up at night, tell them. If you’ve noticed that they never speak to each other anymore, even when they’re in the same room, tell them. If you hate going places with them in the car because they always argue about driving, tell them. Most importantly, let them know how those things make you feel: too tired for school or work because you’re losing sleep, unsafe in your home or car because they’re paying more attention to their fight than they are to the road, afraid to make one of them mad because they might give you the silent treatment, etc. Explain your experience to them. Tell them you need a change. Ask them to find some help, couples counseling or family therapy.
No matter how well (or poorly!) you communicate your feelings to them, your parents will probably not like hearing about their failures. Hopefully they respond with compassion, but they may resist or deny what you’re saying to them. Don’t get caught up in that, and definitely don’t get caught in the middle of their “why.” If they start arguing right there in front of you, don’t engage. Do not take sides. It is not your job to be the referee of their disagreement… that’s their job. You need to set a clear boundary that YOU are not the one they’re fighting with. Ask them to hear you and to take a few days to think about what actions they can take to make the family environment a better one.
Set Boundaries with Parents
Protect yourself. If your parents are in denial that there’s a problem, or if they refuse to seek help or go to counseling, the fighting might continue. In that case, there are a few boundaries you can set to mitigate the impact their fighting has on you. Find ways to remove yourself from the situation if they begin to fight and be clear with them about your plan to do so.
Tell them, “If you can’t stop fighting with each other in the car, I’m going to drive separately or get a ride from a friend from now on.” Ask someone you trust to be your go-to person when the parents fight at home. Tell them (and let your parents know) that when a fight erupts, you are going to call or text saying, “My parents are fighting again. I’m on my way over to your house.” You are allowed to remove yourself from a toxic situation, and it is reasonable to inform your parents that when they fight, you will leave the house unless they clear it up healthily.
This can feel tricky, because of course your parents do have some authority over you. Approach each boundary you set with respect, and if they disapprove of your plans, ask for a compromise. If they won’t allow you to go to a friend or family member’s house, maybe you can ask to be excused from family dinners or request that only one of them at a time attends your extracurricular events until there’s been healing. If they continue to disallow you to set boundaries that protect you, or if they disrespect the ones, you’ve agreed upon, reach out to another trustworthy adult or counselor for support. It’s okay to ask for help.
Truths To Remember
- Be careful that you’re not reading this article with the thought in mind that “this is how I will get my parents to stop fighting.” The hard truth is that you can’t make them stop. And you can’t control how they choose to go about their healing. Just like their “why,” whether they can commit to healing is between them, and if you put that pressure on yourself, you’re shouldering a responsibility that does not belong to you. The last thing you want to do is start blaming yourself when your parents fight because you think you could’ve stopped it. Listen close: it is never your fault when your parents fight. Even if their fights seem to be about you or your siblings, the root issue is their communication. It’s never you.
- You are not alone. It can feel incredibly isolating when the people who are supposed to be your biggest source of guidance and support are not providing that. Find another responsible adult in your life, an aunt, a teacher, a coach, a counselor, and ask them for help. Your wellbeing is incredibly important, and there are so many people ready and willing to offer you a listening ear or shoulder to cry on. Just because your parents may not be handling their stress in a healthy way doesn’t mean you have to feel ashamed or hide.
- Of course, if you’ve witnessed your parents physically abusing one another, you need to tell another responsible adult in your life or report it to the authorities yourself. When physical violence enters into the equation, safety is the number one concern, and it’s clear that your parents need outside help and support.
Hope For the Future
This is hard stuff. No matter how much we love our parents, or how much they love each other, family tension happens. The good news is that healing happens too. You can’t control whether or not your parents heal, but you can take care of your healing. You weren’t fearfully and wonderfully made just to suffer… Jesus wants to see you thrive. Seek out support. Tend to your own mental health as much as you can. Rest in the truth that your parents’ tension is not your fault and know that you are not destined to be just like them. You have the freedom to do it differently.
If you are dealing with anxiety or depression, please know that you are not weak, and there is hope. Here is a resource that will help you gain a greater understanding about God’s love for you and His ability to care for you… and as always HopeCoaches are available 7 days a week if you need to chat.