CARE TALK: Family Conflict

CARE TALK is a monthly advice column in Aurora Magazine where a registered psychologist offers answers to common questions around mental health and counselling.

Q: I am a very tired mother of three adult children. Two of my daughters have struggled to get along all throughout their teenage years into adulthood and I have tried to do all that I can to help repair their relationship. Nothing has worked and their hostility towards each other impacts on all of us – my third (amicable) daughter and I end up being stuck in the middle constantly. I am considering offering to pay for all of us to attend counselling to see if we can support them further. Is there anything else that would be helpful in such a complex family situation? As a mother, it is so hard to see my children behave so negatively towards each other and I just want them to be happy.

A: The family situation you describe is sad and unfortunately, many other families reading this will be able to relate to you. As a parent, we spend a lot of time during our children's younger years helping them to fix their problems and encouraging family as an important value in life. However, your children are adults now and it seems as if your influence and concern is not having the impact it may have when they were young.

You have tried a variety of ways to encourage improving the damaged relationship between two of your daughters. Counselling is an option some adult siblings take but only if they are both willing parties and do not feel forced to go.

I am going to suggest a strategy that probably will not fix your daughters’ ill feelings towards each other – but you seem to have already tried many without success. I suggest now is the time where you take a step back and let go. Although it may be uncomfortable for you and your family, your daughters' conflict belongs to them and it is up to them to decide if and when they will do something to work on their relationship.

As their mother, you should let them know you are ready and willing to support them anytime. You can let them know why you have tried hard to help them resolve their conflict – because you care and you want to see them happy. But do be prepared to be told that your efforts are not welcome – this may not be because you are unwelcome as their mother, but rather, your advice may not be welcomed for a number of reasons. It may be that they are not ready to address their issues, perhaps they do not want to address their issues and even though this may be difficult to imagine, they may not be as uncomfortable with the situation as you are.

Please start telling yourself that as a mother, you have done the best you could, you have done your job in raising your children and you no longer need to pick up the pieces for your adult daughters. Instead of focusing your energy on “fixing” your daughters’ conflict, consider spending time with each daughter, maintaining healthy relationships between you and them. Try not to engage them in discussions about what is wrong with their lives and talk with them about the good. Sometimes, parents end up in the middle and accused of interfering in their adult children’s lives, which could create further tension.

Often as parents, when we see our children struggling, it is extremely uncomfortable for us and our own discomfort is what we end up acting on. If you feel you would like further support on how you can cope with this difficult situation, you could talk to friends or family. Or perhaps you could consider counselling for you – not for the purpose of “fixing” but for the purpose of supporting you in dealing with the family situation you never hoped for.

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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