I am sick of my separated parents using the holiday to score points
Tell Me About It: I feel like I will explode. I worry about my brother too
Illustration: Saya Gansai/Imagezoo via Getty Images
PROBLEM: I am so frustrated and want to scream. Family stuff drives me crazy around Christmas. My parents separated six years ago, and we do the strictly every-second-year bit in each house. But this is not about me or my brother; it’s about them scoring points.
I am 22 and have just finished college. Again this year I had to pack up and go to my mother’s and pretend that I love being with her new partner and his 15-year-old son. I hate it and I have to share a room with my brother when I am there.
My dad always rings me to say mournfully that he is alone and feeling very low. If I tell my mum, she will get upset and feel guilty, and so I end up minding everyone’s feelings but mine.
I know it is hard for my parents but when is it going to be time for me to have what I want at Christmas? I long for a time when I can go away with a friend. I love my parents, but if one is happy, the other is upset, and somehow I always get caught in the middle.
I worry about my brother too, as I can see him becoming quiet and spending more and more time in his room on his computer.
I am not in college and can’t afford to rent a flat so it feels like I am stuck living with one of them for the next year. I feel like I will explode.
ADVICE: It is very hard to look at all the images of perfect families around the festive season and to feel the disappointment in your own situation. It sounds like you feel stuck in the middle of your parents’ separation and that you have been there for some time.
However, you are an adult now, so perhaps you can begin to set up the kind of relationship you would like with each parent. Your feelings are telling you that the current situation is damaging for you, and that things need to change. Our usual response to these situations is avoidance – hence your urge to run away – but as these relationships are among the most important in your life, this response will not suffice.
First, you must manage your own heightened emotions so that you are not lashing out when you speak to your parents. You can take your time with planning an intervention, as all of you might be feeling edgy at this time of year.
You are blaming your parents for how you feel, and this leaves you feeling resentful and angry. Your parents certainly carry some responsibility for their actions, but you are in charge of your feelings. If you approach the issue from this place, you are likely to get anger and defensiveness in return. Can you accept that your parents are the way they are? That your mum wants you to love and connect with her new family and your dad is still caught up in sadness and loneliness? If you fully accept them as they are right now, it allows some of the emotions to calm down so that your rationality and decision-making ability can return.
There is a lot of suffering in the family. As an adult, you have a right to call attention to this and to look for change. It might be that you can only tackle this once you have been away from the intensity of the holiday break, but you could flag it now and get general agreement on a course of action.
Calling a meeting with your parents might be in order, but first you have to assess whether your father is capable of attending. Is his mental health sufficient to allow him to reach out and consider your feelings and your brother’s? If not, he will need to address his own situation first. Encourage him to seek help for his own sake but also for his children’s sake.
When he is in a position to attend, you can be clear that the arrangement for holidays that existed no longer meets the needs of the family and things have to change.
Your brother might need some support, and he can begin by logging on to the website teenbetween.ie, which caters for teens who have separated parents. He might find comfort and support there.
Your family might need some professional help to have this difficult conversation. See familytherapyireland.com for someone in your area. Continuing to be angry is not an option for you. Now is the time to act as the adult you are becoming and to seek a solution that takes everyone’s needs into account. All of you will benefit from such a discussion.
- Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into