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Authoritarian Father/Adult Child Relationship issues
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dorothygalelion posted:
Recently, my parents and brothers came to visit me and my husband. I live in another state than them. Without getting into details, the trip ended in a big fight because my father got involved where he shouldn't have and, I feel, overstepped his boundaries.

Background: I am married, 30 years old, the oldest of 5 children, college-educated (2 bachelors degrees), served honorably in the military for 6 years, own my own home, and am packing to move overseas with my husband for 3 years, all-the-while not having had relied on my parents for so much as a dime for at least a decade (and yes, I put myself through school and have the loans to prove it.)

Bottom line is, my father, despite my husband and I telling him that it is not appropriate for him to scold me like a child, let alone in my own home where he is a guest, told my husband (who is 45, I might add) that since he is the "parent" and I am "the child" that he will speak to me however he wants, whenever and wherever he wants. Likewise, angry with me that my mother was upset over the fight, proceeded to tell my husband that he would've (I'm assuming) verbally assaulted me up and down and that my husband was lucky that he didn't come home from work to find a "broken shell of a wife." This, among others things, indicating that even at 30 years of age, I am not entitled to a mutually-respectful relationship as an adult with my father or my mother but, rather I am to continue to subject myself to their authority (though, I don't understand why he feels the need to continue to exert "power" over me...I've been raised already!) And quite frankly, none of this is new to me. I had grown up with "we are the parents, you are the kids, now shut up." While I did what I was told and tried to deal with that while living at home and even into my late teens, I certainly feel that I have reached a point (a long time ago) of independence from my parents.

I feel very violated for the way my father disrespected me and felt himself entitled to "break me down" in my own home. I feel that a boundary has been crossed and he had said some things that could truly affect our relationship for life. He maintains that as my father, he has that distinct right over me and always will.

Is it wrong of me to expect, that at this age, that my father should no longer be my authority figure? Is it appropriate for me to set boundaries with my father and insist that he does not have the right to scold me like a child and verbally assault me in any way? I understand that as someone's child, I should be respectful of my parents but I do not believe that respect means total submission. Is it ok to say that to them? Clearly, I still worry about being an obedient child but I do not find this to be a healthy dynamic. Frankly, I do not think I should have to accept that sort of relationship and will not subject myself to it. But is that ok? Or am I being openly disrespectful to my parents by trying to stick up for myself and my husband? Is it normal and/or expected that my father will always be my authority figure, no matter my age?

I don't think so...but maybe I'm wrong. Am I being out of line? Or is it appropriate for me to demand a change?

I appreciate any feedback...
Reply
 
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fcl responded:
I get the feeling from your post that you're still in shock about your father's behaviour...

Here's my take. You are a grown, responsible adult and you are under nobody's authority but your own. Your father is mistaken. He cannot tell you how to live your life. I don't know what kind of things he was saying but they obviously cut you deeply.

I don't think there is any point in trying to insist that your father stops treating you like a child because I doubt that it would have any effect. He will carry on regardless. He's not going to change now,

So, the only thing you can do is change what you do about the situation. Limit the time you spend with him. I suppose that's fairly easy when he's in another state. However, if he's living with you and starts on at you, calmly state that you will not be spoken to in that manner and walk away. Do not get involved in an argument. If he continues to rant, tell him to kindly stop (do not raise your voice, do not get angry, do not get dragged into a fight) or leave. If all else fails, remember that you can have him removed from your home. Yes, that would forever change your relationship with him but, let's face it, you're never going to have the relationship with him that you want.

You are not a child and should not be treated like one. You are your own woman. Refusing to be treated like a verbal punching bag is not being disrespectful. You and your husband come first. You do not need an authority figure


Best wishes.
There's nothing inherently dirty about sex, but if you try real hard and use your imagination you can overcome that.
 
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mariecc_14 replied to fcl's response:
My grandmother was like this with my mom. My mother was an only child and my grandmother was in orphanage for most of her childhood so "letting go" was a huge issue for my grandmother. She tried very hard to make my mother insecure when she married and had her own children the same way ur father does to you. Raged and belittled my mom to try to make her believe that in her mid 30's (when this was going on) she still needed her mother.

I have no idea what was going through ur fathers mind when he thought it was okay to scream at you in ur own home but when you mention you were leaving the country, i wondered if this is your fathers way of expressing his insecurity of you leaving the Country.

What my parents finally did was calmly told my grandmother that if she did not control herself and couldn't keep her degrading comments to herself they would stop talking to her and letting her visit (which included her grandchildren). Believe it or not after that the relationship between my mom and my grandmother actually got better and we enjoyed the time we had with her.

I don't know if this would work for you but i don't think you deserve to put up with your fathers abuse. Good luck.
 
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cjh1203 responded:
Growing up with a father like that must have been really difficult -- I'm sorry it's continued into your adulthood.

Does your mother ever take sides when he gets so verbally abusive toward you?

In addition to what the previous posters said, maybe you could write him a letter (not too long). Tell him that you love him but you expect to be treated with the same respect he would give any other mature, responsible adult. Tell him that wanting to turn you into a "broken shell" is not normal or acceptable behavior from a father toward his child, and if he continues to try to bully you, you will have to limit your contact with him.

I don't know if your parents are planning to visit you while you're living abroad but, if they do, I would tell them they'll have to stay in a hotel. If you visit them, you should stay in a hotel. That will limit the amount of time he has to try to belittle or berate you (and if he does anyway, take FCL's advice and walk away). Let him know that he has to show you that he can treat you in a civil and respectful way before you can spend a lot of time with him again. Remind him of your accomplishments. Let him know that he has finished raising you, and you turned out very well.
 
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD responded:
You sound like a very strong woman who has worked hard to create a good life for herself. Just as the other posters have responded, I think your instincts are good. It is okay, even essential for your mental health, for you to stand up for yourself. Setting limits on what you will accept from others is a matter of self-respect. And, if doing so means that you need to set limits with your father, then it is because he is doing things that are damaging to you. No one -- including parents-- have the right to physically or emotionally harm other people. In fact, I'm saddened by the thought that he would treat you similarly when you were a child and could not really defend yourself effectively.

You cannot make your father change, but you can refuse to accept his behavior. You clearly want a loving, respectful relationship with your parents, and it 's sad that you don't have it. But this is not a casualty of your behavior, but rather of of his.
 
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dorothygalelion replied to Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD's response:
I truly appreciate everybody's input. I am heartened to know that even though I've never been permitted to think for myself, that at least my instincts are right. You all made my day a little brighter. I took a lot of your advice and I composed an e-mail to my dad. If, at your convenience, I could have your feedback, I would really appreciate it.

Dear Dad,

The following letter may come as a shock to you, considering our relationship has apparently never been one of open and frank dialogue. However, as a grown adult, I feel it important to speak my mind. Everything I say from here on out is my feelings and my perspective. I feel that it is not open for negotiation. It is important only that you read it, not that you agree with it or pass any other sort of judgment on it.

I won't get into the trivial "Ben said this, you said that" stuff. It isn't relevant. A spat between my brother and I should have remained just that; a spat between my brother and I. I witnessed a lifetime of quarrels where sometimes the boys would be left to fight it out. Yet, I don't understand why, as an adult in my 30's and in my own home, my father determined that this was the time that he was going to interject in an argument that didn't concern him. I find it to be out of line that my father would be waiting for me outside of my bedroom door with the objective to scold me like a child. It is a fact: this is my home and you were a guest.

With that said, I know I am probably never going to convince you to look at me as an adult. I can only control what I can control. Yet, I find it within my purview to at least state that I am an adult child and I do not wish to be dismissed or scolded as a child, by my parents, ever again. And certainly not in my home. I do not agree with statements that were given to my husband. I no longer have parental authority figures. I do not accept "I am the father and I will say what I want to my child whenever and wherever I want." This is a home that my husband goes to work for everyday to provide for me. This is a home that my husband and I have worked our asses off on for 4 years. I will not allow my husband to be disrespected in our home by my father.

But really, the scolding and the not-wanting-to-be-treated-like-a-child are the least of my issues. I find it pertinent to discuss the letter that was left for me, in my mailbox, and other statements that had been made to my husband. That letter was cruel and vindictive. I feel as though the tone of that letter was one of complete and total exasperation after years of trying to get me through, I don't know, rehab. And let's be clear: my actions did not drive anybody away. You all chose to drive away. But despite my telling myself that a million times over, I still walk away with the feeling of "I'm a horrible, cruel person that does not deserve family." I do not deserve to be treated as a pariah. I do not deserve to be treated as a lost cause. Especially considering how I've tried to show you that you've raised a kind and generous daughter. I feel that the "prison guard" was put on paper for me to read, concretely, over and over again, so that I may never forget. That letter was a very big mistake. To leave that behind with the assumption that you could throw a grenade in my face and then drive away may have very well severely damaged our relationship for good. And if I decide that I ever need to seek professional help, that will be a discussion for me to have with my husband. I do not feel that "suggesting" professional help in a vindictive letter written out of anger is the kind of support a parent should give to their adult children.

cont'd...
 
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dorothygalelion replied to dorothygalelion's response:
Furthermore, I find it disgusting that my father could ever entertain the idea of leaving my husband a "broken shell of a wife." Should I dare ask what one would say to me in order to leave me in shambles? Likewise, how could a father EVER want to do that to his daughter? Especially a daughter that has never made that egregious of a mistake in her life? I must set a boundary here: I will not be bullied by my father. Not now, not ever. Also, I will not allow my husband to be threatened with that.

As an adult, I feel I should be able to have respectful conflict resolution with my parents. I haven't always been perfect and I haven't always been respectful. Admittedly, that is something I have been trying to work on. Yet, there have been times where I had been nothing BUT respectful and my statements were still met with tears and anger. That is not anything I can control. I feel that I have a right to try and navigate a mutually-respectful relationship with my parents. I feel that I have needs I deserve to have met as well.

I am an adult child. I would like to have a relationship with my parents that is more along the lines of good friends. I want to be able to be open, and honest, and to respectfully speak my mind. I would like to be given advice or opinions only when I ask for it. I would like to feel the safety of being able to talk to my parents about things that are bothering me without worrying whether my parents are judging whether my problems are bad enough just because I don't "have cancer and four kids." I would like to feel trust.

I'm not expecting you to like what I've said or to do exactly what I've said. However, I am married and an adult, and I no longer have to keep trying to please my parents. I have set my boundaries: I will not be bullied. I will not be disrespected in my home. I will not have my husband disrespected either. I also must say that I do not feel as though I only deserve respect inside of my own home. I feel that, as an adult, I should be afforded the respect I earn wherever I may be. Obviously, that proves that I must take responsibility for my own actions and consequences (something that I learned when I was but I do not feel that bullying, vindictive letters, or blatant anger is ever a warranted consequence. If these boundaries cannot be respected, I must sadly say that our relationship and contact with each other must change.

I have been raised. You can let me go. I think I turned out pretty good.
 
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dorothygalelion replied to dorothygalelion's response:
ok-so, that emoticon is not supposed to be in there! ha! It's supposed to be the number "8"
 
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cjh1203 replied to dorothygalelion's response:
I obviously don't know everything that went on with your father during his visit or in the past, but your letter sounds reasonable to me. Before you send it, though, if you look objectively at what happened during his visit, is there anything you need to apologize for (not saying there is -- I have no way of knowing)?

One of the most important things my father ever taught me was to sit on an emotional letter for at least 24 hours before sending it. I would strongly advise doing that.

You mention rehab in your letter to him. What is it they want you to go to rehab for?

How is your relationship with your mother and brothers?

It sounds like your father made the suggestion for you to seek counseling, out of anger. For a completely different reason, I think counseling could be helpful to you -- not because of anything you've done, but to help you with emotional damage that must have been done while you were growing up with such a difficult and harsh father. That has to affect you in so many ways and you probably don't even recognize some of them. For one thing, your self-confidence must have taken a real battering, despite all of your accomplishments.

Even if your letter causes more hard feelings in the short run, I hope it will make your father think, and help your relationship with him as time goes on.

Please keep us posted.
 
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fcl replied to dorothygalelion's response:
Honey, you are a big person. You have thoughit it all through. As Chj suggested, sit on this letter for 24 hours. Not only to let the anger go but also because you need to let it sink in. For yourself. There is a lot more going on there than I had thought.

You are being a grown up. Leaving you a vindictive letter after your hospitality was petty, not to say worse. If your father cannot behave like an adult towards his children then he stands to lose them.

Stand your ground.

(((HUGS)))
There's nothing inherently dirty about sex, but if you try real hard and use your imagination you can overcome that.
 
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BalconyBelle replied to cjh1203's response:
I agree with cjh1203 . I'm in a similar predicament with my own father, and I would caution that while it's important that you set boundaries, defend yourself, and assert your independence and maturity...you should not count on it changing the way he behaves. Some people simply take pleasure in breaking and putting others down, quite a few so-called "authoritarian" parents are among them.

They are frequently closet bullies and abusers who've found a quasi-socially acceptable outlet for their desire to demean and dominate another human being--a way to get away with expressing their vindictiveness and cruelty without backlash. These individuals are not inclined to release the targets of their abuse--even as the children become adults. Doing so means losing their verbal or physical punching bag, and losing the opportunity to relish their control and power over another human being.

So by all means, set your boundaries and stick to them...just be aware that your father may not respect them. In that case, it will be up to you to stand your ground, and if necessary, abstain from further contact. I wish you the best of luck.
 
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dorothygalelion replied to BalconyBelle's response:
I truly appreciate everybody's responses. It is very helpful for me to hear advice from objective observers.

I don't want to come across as though I am mistake-free. I have made some mistakes, in the past.

The reference to "rehab" in my letter was a poor choice of words. I didn't intend to minimize rehab for anybody who may legitimately have a need for it to get their life on track. What I meant by that statement was to draw attention to my dad--in not so many words--that I had always been an obedient child who rarely, if ever, caused such severe anxiety to warrant a letter like that. In fact, I've always done everything (I thought) they've always wanted me to do.

You see, my father is EXTREMELY protective of my mother. And no matter the cause, if she cries, he will viciously defend her against whoever the "offender" was. In this case, it was me. She is quite sensitive and I think sometimes manipulative when things don't go the way she wants them to. I didn't say or do anything disrespectful to my mother. She was just upset that our "goodbye" from their trip to see me was on a terse note. This has been a constant in my life forever: Mom cries, Dad viciously defends. The letter was written to me in reaction to my mom crying. Apparently I got an abridged version of whatever it was that my Dad would've said to leave me as a "broken shell of a wife." My Dad just retired as a prison guard and really knows how to break a person down.

I know I can't expect my father to change. But I at least owe it to him and me to state how I feel a healthy relationship could exist between us and that I really want that.

I will sit on the response for the night. It is good advice. It means a lot to me that perfect strangers care enough to respond. Thank you.
 
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cjh1203 replied to dorothygalelion's response:
The relationship you describe between your parents is really interesting (although not very healthy). It sounds as though your mother probably is pretty manipulative and she and your father have developed a sort of co-dependent relationship where she cries and takes on the role of helpless victim, and he swoops in to destroy whoever made her unhappy and takes on the role of hero.

I have a feeling it's going to be difficult to change something that is probably very ingrained in them but, as discussed before, you can protect yourself with the boundaries you establish.
 
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD replied to dorothygalelion's response:
You have certainly shared a lot about your experience, which seems like a brave step, given what you've shared about your family. And, it in no way seems disrespectful, though there is clearly a lot that I don't know about your relationship and some of what you refer to in your letter. I am hoping you 'sat' on your letter a bit as others have suggested-- because, in the end, you will want to feel good about what you have sent out (no matter what the rest of us say). Please let us know how it goes.
 
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alittlebirdie responded:
Hello, I'm an adult that just figured out why my parents have been treating me the way they have been my whole adult life. I was shocked to learn that my parents firmly believe that me, their oldest child, is supposed to obey them for my whole life; not just when I was a child; but until I die.

I'm the oldest of five children also (we're down to two now, 3 have passed away already. Two to accidents and one to cancer). My brother was the second oldest and he also fought with our father his whole adult life.

I didn't put the pieces together until I had my youngest son read a note that my mother wrote to me in 2010 that I did not want to read at the time. Because I was exploring on-line about authoritarian parenting styles, I called my son and told him to please read me that note. He read it and I was shocked at the reasons my mother stated they are disappointed in me. They feel I have not embodied their views in life, and that I am showing them disrespect.

Silly me, I thought I was born into a free country. But a child born to authoritarian parents, is never free. Your parents feel they have the right to dictate all you do in life.

Today I figured out that my folks have never loved me because of their rigid parenting style.

Like I said, we're down to two siblings left and I know my sister will not contact me because she knows my parents will frown upon it.

I wish sending an email would be an easy solution, but I know my folks and they don't want to hear how I want to live my life when they feel they are always right.


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