Thursday 23 March 2017

Dear Patricia: Dad's moods are frightening if mum and I don't agree with him

Patricia Redlich

I'M 18, in school, and living with my parents. My father is a great worker, but he is sometimes frightening in the house, especially if my mum doesn't agree with him, or if I say something that he doesn't approve of or like. He tells me how to dress, what to wear to school, what to wear if I go out with my friends, what to put on even if I'm just in the house.

At times, he completely loses his cool and gives out to us, for simple things. This morning he wanted me to wear a jacket, but I had a light coat on, and he just flipped. I was afraid he was going to hit me. I think he would, but he knows that my mother would bar him from the house if he did.

He's in good form when he's going out with his friends, but he never takes mum out, although she doesn't mind. He's also very nice when he's out or when we have visitors in the house. When my mum has a disagreement with him, he doesn't talk for weeks, not just to my mum but to me as well. My older sister and brother are away at college, and they phone mum but they rarely come home. And dad never contacts them, or asks about them.

I need to talk to someone soon who can help, but I don't know who. And I'm worried whether it would be in total confidence or not.

Patricia replies:

ANY counsellor you might go to would treat everything you say in complete confidentiality. You don't have to worry about that. So it's really just a question of working out how to find someone -- although you don't actually ask me that question. Maybe you have an idea already. If not, I would suggest you talk to a teacher, or the guidance counsellor if your school has one. You're under no obligation to tell them anything, just that you feel you need to see a counsellor about some personal matters.

My concern is a different one. Certainly, you need someone competent to talk to. But I hope you understand that there's a limit to what you can do in terms of solving this issue. Put a different way, your father's controlling behaviour, his explosive temper, his sulky withdrawal, and the general aura of danger that emanates from him, that's primarily his responsibility.

He should not allow himself to behave like that. He has, above all, a duty of care towards you. He is the parent. You can't "fix" him. You can't fix things for your mother either. It is her responsibility to deal with the way your father treats her. It is her battle, not yours. She has to rescue herself from the situation. You can't do that for her. I know he drags you in, giving you the silent treatment too when his row has been with her. But we've already established that he's behaving badly. On top of that, your mother has a duty of care to you too. She's also a parent. It's up to her to make sure that you live in a safe environment. Do you understand?

It is not your task to rescue anybody except yourself. And if that sounds harsh, I'm sorry. I'm particularly sorry if I sound unfeeling about your mum, because I understand you are close to her. And I also understand that she does put up a fight on your behalf, in the sense that you feel confident she would step in and get a barring order if your father hit you.

In other words, she does hold him in check on your behalf. All I'm trying to make clear is that you are the child in the house -- even at 18 -- and they are the parents. They have come to some arrangement with each other, obviously, since they are still together. But it's different for you. It's in the nature of things that you will leave and create your own life. You have no duty, or responsibility, to try and improve their lives.

The reason I'm labouring this point is because I want you to succeed in rescuing yourself -- emotionally as well as physically. If you try and carry the whole family with you, you will fail in your task of looking after yourself. Can you see what I'm trying to say? Please don't think it's selfish to think of yourself. It is not. It is both realistic, and right.

Your father's behaviour is unacceptable. He is creating a climate of fear around you. That is wrong. Unfortunately, it may not be possible for you to change that. How do you stop someone bent on doing bad things? Instead, you may have to leave in order to breathe freely. If that's the case, then you'll be able to go shortly, since college can't be that far away. In the meantime, you may have to settle for survival strategies, rather than solving the situation.

So let me say it again. The only person you need to rescue is yourself. No, that doesn't mean you stop loving your mother -- or your father for that matter. It does mean that you can't solve their lives for them. You can only solve your own. Find that counsellor, fast.

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