Confronting your parents when you're all grown up

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD suggests ways to confront your parents when you are grown up and want to address negative issues
Parenting and Family Advice | Confronting your parents after an unhappy childhood
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Confronting your parents when you're all grown up

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So a lot of the people in my practice who want to know whether or not they should have the conversation with their parent where they talk about the mistakes that their parents made, and they want to know if that’s a good idea or a bad idea. And the answer is it depends on two things. One is how your parent is going to likely respond; and (b) how important it is to you. For some adult children, even if the parent’s going to respond terribly, it’s very useful to them psychologically to feel like they pushed back on a parent’s destructive behavior. So if a child felt very hurt or neglected or misunderstood and the parent has never taken responsibility in the ways that I recommend the parents do, and they've only been defensive and guilt-trip the kid whenever they’re tried to talk about their feelings, sometimes adult children need to say, “Well I have to get this off of my chest for me even if you don’t like it and even if it feels bad.” Now that said, I do think that it’s important if you’re an adult child and you do want to confront your parent, that you do it in a kind of a kindly way. In reality, parents do do the best that they can, even when the way that they did it was terrible. I mean, in general, parents of older generations didn't have the same kind of guidance that younger people have today. So in all likelihood, they didn’t really know; they didn’t have the same kind of information and education. So, sure they made many more mistakes. So when you confront them you should know that you’re going to be going into a territory that they’re going to be very vulnerable about, they’re going to probably feel very hurt about, they’re probably going feel very betrayed about when you’re doing it, so you may want to start by saying what they did right, what you valued, what you liked about them as parents, what you thought they contributed to you as a person and then say what you want in confronting them. Because sometimes parents get very confused when their adult child confronts them. They feel like the adult child was just saying this to humiliate them or shame them. So you might want to say something like, “I’m raising this because I want to have a better relationship with you.” Or, “I’m raising this because I’m in therapy and I’m trying to have a deeper understanding of myself.” Or, “I’m raising this because I really want to be a good parent and I feel like talking with you about some of the mistakes that you made will probably help me to be a good parent. I’m not raising this because I wanted to make you feel like you were a terrible parent.”

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD suggests ways to confront your parents when you are grown up and want to address negative issues

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Expert Bio

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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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