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Teenage/Parent Conflict can Cause Emotional Outbursts and Do Great Family Harm - How to Avoid Them
How often do we find ourselves saying painful things in the heat of the moment to those we care about that we then regret? Words that cut deep but later realize we don't really mean. But once uttered the damage is done. No matter how bad we feel about what we've said these words can never truly be retracted. So what to do about it? Well, relying on set strategies to curb irrational outbursts in these emotionally charged moments doesn't always work for by then we're out of control and it's too late. There are two ways I know to avoid this disastrous state of affairs. The first is don’t keep pressing the emotional hot button of the person that presses yours! And the second is keep in mind the heavy price others have paid for ill-considered words in the heat of the moment and learn from their mistakes. A telling example of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can make us think twice about what we choose to say to avoid a similar thing happening to us.
Let’s look at the first one of not pressing those emotional hot-buttons. For years our family has enjoyed each others’ company at the tea table. But for some reason when my eldest daughter was nineteen we began fighting with each other over trivial things to the point where everyone ended up being upset and just wanted to get out of there. The friendly atmosphere we’d be used to for years was shattered, everyone ate their food with pent up bad feelings and left the table as soon as they were finished. It got to the stage where I would dread tea time and my relationship with my daughter was at rock bottom, not to mention the affect on the other members of our family. It just wasn’t fair. I couldn’t even open my mouth without her hitting back with some cutting remark. Then it dawned on me that I was part of the problem. The tone of my responses to her comments and the hurtful things I’d find myself flinging at her just added fuel to the flames. And of course she’d retaliate in kind. The whole thing was spiraling out of control.
Here’s how I turned the situation around. Now this took some effort! I decided that I would let the things that normally upset me pass me by and not make a big deal about them. I tried very hard to keep whatever I said positive and not hit back when a barb came my way. Mostly I just kept my mouth shut. And guess what? Almost overnight things began to change for the better. But it’s an ongoing thing I have to keep working on for I now realize that I am the one who controls the way I behave and think, which in turn has an influence on others. The wonderful thing is I can now sit back and learn instead of being the judgmental father. I now enjoy the friendly banter of those I love instead of upsetting them. All because I now understand that young people have their own challenges as they navigate life’s difficult journey.
This neatly brings us to our second point: Having things we learn the hard way reinforced by what we learn from others.
Heather Thompson* was just like any thirteen-year-old teenager experiencing the normal joy and pain of growing up that we've all been through. On this particular night she had exchanged especially harsh words with her mother over some trivial observation her mother had made about the untidiness of her room. This heated exchange culminated in Heather storming off to her bedroom screaming, 'I really hate you!' and slamming the door behind her.
Feeling extremely angry with her lot in life Heather then took herself to bed. But she didn't sleep peacefully. Tormented by the hurtful words she had thrown at her mother, she tossed and turned for hours and finally fell into a fitful sleep in the early hours of the morning.
Unbeknown to Heather, in the middle of the night her mother quietly passed away.
Days later a grief-stricken Heather found a letter addressed to her in the drawer of her mother's dressing-table.
Mummy has been sick for a long time now. I've tried to keep it from you in the hope that I'd get better. Please forgive some of the things I've said and done over these past twelve months as I've never meant to hurt you.
I love you very much and will forever,
Your loving mother
Now a grown woman, this letter remains one of Heather's most cherished possessions. Painfully, she reflects: 'If only we could turn back the clock, I'd make sure the last words I shared with my mother were words of love rather than words of hate.'
In times of great emotion keep your experiences and Heather's story in mind and choose your words carefully. You alone have control over the way you think and what you say. Good family relations depend on you biting your tongue instead of lashing out. Not only could your words be the last thing this person hears you say, you're the one who has to live with them for the rest of your life.
*(Not her real name)
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