Ways to address family conflict


Q. I moved into assisted living two years ago. When I divided the family furniture, one of my daughters became furious because I did not give her something she wanted. Since then, she has not spoken to me. She said she was always the one who was left out, so now she’s leaving me out. What can I do to reconnect with her?

A. Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and co-chair for the Council on Contemporary Families, reports that parent/child discord is a silent epidemic that nobody wants to address. However, family conflict can often be resolved if both parties are willing to discuss the issues without becoming defensive.

Your problems are not about who received the furniture. If your daughter is stating that she always felt left out, then that is likely the problem that needs to be addressed. Remember you are the parent, and regardless of the child’s age, it is your responsibility to make the first attempt at reconciliation. Have you called your daughter? If she will not talk to you, have you written to her? Many times it is easier to say meaningful words in writing than in conversation.

When you reach out to her, do not be defensive. She may make accusations that will hurt you, and you will want to defend yourself. That approach will turn into an argument and further accusations. Listen to her, but do not allow her to become belligerent. If she does, let her know that the conversation is over for you. Assure her that you love her, you are sorry she was hurt, and you would like to establish a better relationship.

Above all else, persevere. It may take time for her to understand that she needs her family. If you have reached out to her, it is all you can do. You may find it helpful to read Dr. Coleman’s book, “When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Adult Child Don’t Get Along.” He makes several suggestions that you will likely find helpful.

Q. I’m 15 and my parents are both alcoholics. They deny it, but they go out for dinner and then come home drunk and nasty. Then they fight. I feel like the parent, and I hate it. Help!

A. As the “child,” there is little you can do to prevent your parents from drinking. Oftentimes, when a child expresses concern about the parents’ potential alcoholism, the parents become enraged or defensive. It seems likely that your mother and father are in denial and unlikely to change their habits.

There are many reasons that having alcoholic parents is so troubling. People often behave unpredictably after they have been drinking. One day alcoholic parents will scream at their children for forgetting a chore, and the next day they will apologize for their behavior. They often promise that they will do better, and they often do until the next time.

Their drinking has likely increased your levels of stress and worry. Should you have friends over? Should you get into the car when you know your parents have been drinking? How do you handle it when your friends know your parents have a drinking problem? All of these concerns can impact your academic success, ability to form friendships, and level of confidence.

I would urge you to contact Al-Anon/Alateen. They have a 24-hour hotline at 800-344-2666 and a helpful website. Find a support system through understanding friends and other family members. Anytime you feel unsafe, call someone you trust to remove you from the situation. Above all else, do not begin drinking in response to their drinking. Alcoholism results from both genetic and environmental factors. You have been exposed to both.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to drnryburn@gmail.com. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.