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Thursday, 22 March 2001

I'm Sick of Fighting with my Dad

Written by  Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

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QMy dad and I get into so many stupid little fights its not funny. Sometimes I feel like I'm nothing but a punching bag for him to take out his anger on. My mom and I get along great but sometimes it gets a little ugly, but we work it out. With my dad, I can hold a grudge forever. My mom tells me that his parents were really strict and hard on him, but I don't think he should take it out on me. He punishes me for no reason, and what I think is that if you teach a child to punish, then that's all they learn. They learn to punish others and later on, even their own children. I try not to get fights ignited but sometimes I say something that is not intended to start a fight and WHAM!! I'm fighting with him. What am I supposed to do? I'm 13 years old and I know that parents get in fights with their teens all the time. But to me - it gets really old, can you help me?

- Sick of It

ADear Sick of It,

It sounds pretty clear that your relationship with your Dad is bad, and that you are seriously hurting!

You mentioned the term "punching bag". Was this figurative or literal? I hope only figurative, because if you are being physically threatened, then I would advise you to act now!

I would tell you and your Mom to go to speak immediately with someone who you trust. Preferably a trained professional counselor, therapist, your school counselor, or clergyman.

If the situation is any way ever even close to life threatening, then you and your mother must waste no time in securing plans to have this inexcusable behavior dealt with accordingly. (See Crisis Center /Abuse.)

However, I will assume that you were talking figuratively. Without trying to make excuses for anger, you should know that many parents will err on the side of "strictness" with their own children.

The bad news is that often times, those parents who grew up with a certain kind of strict or volatile parenting themselves, when faced with comparable circumstances with their own kids, will fall into the same pattern of parenting that they grew up with.

This usually occurs as an unconscious (knee-jerk) response to the anger and fear they are experiencing as parents at that moment.

The good news, however, is that if in fact we're dealing with an otherwise fairly rational and decent parent, who just happens to "freak out" with his kids sometimes, then all is not lost.

Usually with some good, serious, family therapy, families can "make-up", try and understand one another better, and put together some new "rules" for engagement.

It's hard to really advise you without knowing more details, but it would not surprise me if you were his oldest girl. Many good fathers have been known to grossly "overreact" to their daughters' maturing and independence. They often even get accused of going temporarily insane!

Is your Dad scared by any of the things you do or by your friends?

Also, what do you do with your anger?

You mentioned that you can hold a grudge forever. Have you ever heard the old expression that "it takes two to tango"?

Some psychologists even try to describe family anger patterns to be like family communication "dance" routines.

Families frequently get into these sort of ruts - for example: he says something that gets you angry, you throw back some smart remark, he warns you - and you get into a fight. Over and over.

Sound familiar? You need to learn to deal with the anger without reacting right away - keep breathing, and find the quickest way out. Let it ride, at least for the moment - write or in your journal about what's going on, or, better yet, write to your Dad - and then read the letter over before you give it to him. That might be a great way to communicate without letting angry words get in the way.

The issues should be resolved, but the heat of the moment is generally not the best time. Try waiting until you are both calmer to approach tough subjects.

Learning to handle your own anger, and your reaction to other's anger, will probably be one of your great life challenges. As you quite accurately noted yourself, children grow up to repeat what they've learned!! You have the power to stop the pattern we mentioned before...

Just know that many families have been able to learn "to dance" in a new way. A way that brings out the best in each other, or at least avoids the worst...

Once again, no matter what, let me strongly encourage you to talk to someone professionally. Even if it's just you, without your Dad, maybe you can learn some methods to just avoid the fighting.

Try to look at it this way: if you can learn to "handle" your Dad, you'll probably be able to handle any other guys that come along in the future.

Good luck!


Marc H. Garson

Last modified on Thursday, 16 June 2011 10:51
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Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson has a BA in psychology from the University of Texas in Austin, a MasterSs of Social Work (MSW) from Yeshiva University in New York City, and a Master of Science in Business Management from Boston University. He has been a practicing clinical psychotherapist since 1986. He is a licensed clinical social worker and advanced clinical practitioner in the State of Texas, and a longstanding member of the National Association of Social Workers. His clinical specialties include marriage and family, adolescence, parenting, and family therapies. He also has an extensive background in chemical dependency and codependence treatment. Marc is married and the father of three beautiful little girls: Daniella age 7, Ariella age 6, & Miera age 3. Marc's special interests and hobbies include football, rock and jazz music, boating, weightlifting, chess, philosophy, and business. He loves to travel, and is something of a gourmet chef.

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