Practical Suggestions For Confronting a Parent

Aug 29, 2022

Confronting a parent or guardian or whoever raised us is probably the most complex of all face-to-face boundaries. You are now an adult, but you have a long history of being your parent’s child. You have been under their care, authority, training, and nurturing. You have been corrected and confronted about your life and behavior. Their primary job was to help you grow. Your primary job was to grow.

Then, in adulthood, the tabled are turned. The one who was corrected is now doing the correcting. The one who confronted is now being confronted. Even when the process works well, it can seem weird. When it goes bad, it can be disastrous.

Having healthy boundary conversations with parents can be helpful, producing growth and building relationship. They need confrontation the way anyone else does. And who is better qualified than an adult child who understands them, knows them, and loves them? However, for the process to go well, you may be well served to consider the following practical suggestions.

Convey Your Love and Honor

When you decide to have a conversation with your parent, make sure you are explicit about being “for” her in yoru conversation. If you have never confronted her before, she may not be prepared for this role reversal. She may feel persecuted, betrayed, or unloved by you. Try something like this:

 

You: “I want to talk about a problem that concerns me and gets in the way of our relationship. You mean a lot to me, and I want you to know I really love and honor you for being my parent.”

Parent: “No, you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t say these things.”

You: “I’m sorry you feel that way. It must be horrible to feel I don’t care, but I really do.

 

You may need to return to the love and honor time and again during the conversation, especially if your parent can’t hold onto the grace you offer. Just stop making your point and go back to the reassurance, as you would with a frightened child.

Know Your Parent

Context is very important in parental confrontations. Is he generally a person who welcomes feedback? Or is he resistant or defensive when something is brought to his attention? You might want to address resistance or defensiveness as issues in and of themselves, especially if your parent has a history of problems in this area. Try something like this:

“When I have brought up the issue of my feeling criticized a lot by you, it hasn’t seemed to go well. I think you may feel that I’m misunderstanding or attacking you, and I don’t want you to feel that way. Is that how it is for you?”

Sometimes this approach will help a parent work through hisperceptions and make it safe and normal to discuss problems.

Take into consideration his life situation, also. If he is dealing with serious health problems, a job or marriage loss, or aging issues, you may want to be sure those are stabilized before bringing up a problem. This is part of honring a parent as he becomes older and more burdened with the cares of age.

Evaluate the Resistance

If you encounter resistance or defensiveness, figure out if your parent resists everyone or only you. Some parents can accept feedback from others, but they have not yet made the transition to seeing their child as one who can give them feedback. You may need to address that with them.

You: “Dad, it seems to me that when I talked to you about how you sometimes disrespect Mom, you become really angry and upset with me.”

Dad: “You had no right to talk to me that way.”

You: “I’m sorry it affects you badly, and I want to resolve this with you. But I also noticed at the party, your friend, Hal, said something to you about it, and you listened to him.”

Dad: “Hal made sense.”

You: “I’m sure he did, but he said essentially the same thing I did. I’m wondering if it is more difficult to hear things from me, as your daughter, than it is to hear it from others. Can we talk about what that might be like for you? Is it difficult to have me bring up this problem with you? I don’t want you to feel that I don’t respect you. At the same time, I want for us to treat each other as adults. In fact, I do want to hear how you feel about me, as we talk.”

Make your approach as humble, equal, and mutual as you can.

Be Direct

It is easy to be indirect with parents, given all the emotional complexities involved. Sometimes a person will even think, she is my mom. She should know I need this without my being blunt about it. But if what you have said is not getting through, you have to be direct and clear, though not mean. Apply what we said earlier about concern and dependency, and make your requests from your adult stance, not from a child position. The basic difference here is to make it more about the relationship and less about your needs.