Grown-Up Women Who Fight With Their Parents – & What To Do About It

photographed by Megan Madden
Seating arrangements at a wedding. Laundry. Christmas turkey. Love Island. Donald Trump. Love. Grandchildren. Voicemail. Brexit. The colour of paint on a bedroom cabinet. Feminism. Birthday presents. The frequency of phone calls. Loose Women. Tomatoes. These are just some of the things grown women have fought about with their parents recently. Squabbling with our parents seems like something we should have grown out of by now, but a quick poll of women over the age of 20 reveals that we are never too old to scream "SHUT UP MUM" down the phone before we slam down the receiver.
If you fight with your parents – about anything from dinner plans to the concept of monogamy – please, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. I asked people to get in touch on social media if they still fought with their parents and the response was astounding: so many of us are still disagreeing with the human beings who brought us into existence, often on a regular basis. A lot of women confessed that they feel like they revert to their teenage selves when they fight with their oldies, in a way they just don’t with anyone else in their lives. Fiona, 32, says she does. "Mainly we fight about them telling me what to do," she says. "Treating me like a child and not listening to my opinion. I am being treated like a child so I tend to act like one."
Elaine, 33, fights with her American parents because they voted for Trump. "The heated discussions come when I seriously question Trump’s actions, his irrational ramblings on Twitter and the overall mood of the country. I was just so disappointed when I found out that they both voted Trump. On election night and the morning after, I felt numb and cried non-stop for hours." Even though they fight often – and this is a very common attitude – she still very much wants her parents in her life. "I do and will always love my parents unconditionally."
Ashna, 24, still lives at home with her parents – which of course is happening more often these days. Living together can preserve the dynamic an adult had with their parents as a teenager, and that can cause conflict. "We argue – mostly my mum and I – every day. About everything: laundry, what time I come home, how much I use my phone, why I’m single, what I wear, what we’re having for dinner, my friends, whether we’ll get a cat. I don’t know how to stop acting like a teenager when they keep treating me like one."

If you fight with your parents – about anything from dinner plans to the concept of monogamy – please, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

Rosie, 32, fights with her parents about politics, feminism, their life choices and their divorce. She has accused her parents of reverting to their teenage selves – and there is great tension in their failure to be the parents she wishes she’d had. "My dream involves parents who are still together, who kiss secretly in the kitchen, apple pies, wine on tap, fireplaces, big family Christmases – the whole Martha Stewart deal. Every fight is a reminder that we don't have that, and then I think, they could drop dead tomorrow and that will have been the last thing you ever said. So that's a guilt trip."
Judgment, fear, insecurity, uncertainty, mortality and distance seem to motivate grown women to pick fights with their parents about the way they’ve chosen to live their lives – something they couldn’t vocalise as children but can now. Sandra, 38, fights with her parents about their life decisions. "As they age, we try to support them, although their attempts at maintaining privacy and independence mean they’re keeping secrets as teenagers would. Tensions also arise over time spent looking after grandchildren, or not helping out with grandchildren, as the case may be. It breaks my heart."
Bernadette, 31, has lots of "petty fights that are resolved very quickly" with her mother, but they seem to know where their limit is when it comes to things that cannot be unsaid. "It's almost like we know we can get really angry with each other because deep down we know we will always resolve it. The bond is so strong that no matter how far we stretch it, it won't break."

Some of the people who approached me hadn’t spoken to their parents in weeks, months or years. Some never intend to speak again.

This, of course, is not true of every family relationship. Some of the people who approached me hadn’t spoken to their parents in weeks, months or years. Some never intend to speak again. To find out what causes us to fight with our parents, even as grown women – from the trivial squabbles to the relationship-ending showdowns – I spoke to family therapist, Dr Shadi Shahnavaz.
"The relationship you had with your parents as a child tends to continue into adulthood," she explains. "So if you had a good attachment to your parents then, and you felt safe, secure, understood and a priority, then you should have the same love and respect now. If you didn’t feel heard or understood, you’ll grow up with a feeling of emptiness and that can lead to conflict when you’re older. That emptiness often translates to anger."
Repairing that relationship is possible, especially if you can convince your parents to turn up to family therapy so you have an umpire to take you through some important conversations. "It is in our DNA to want to love our parents," says Dr Shahnavaz, "so most of us want to try and patch things up." In family therapy sessions, she asks her clients to 'mentalise', or put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Then they talk about how their actions might affect the other person. Outside the therapy room, it might help to simply remind yourself to have empathy for your parents, think of them as complex individuals who have feelings and problems, and imagine how your behaviour might make them feel. It might also help to understand your childhood dynamic.
"We need to put a narrative around what happened to us as children, in order to get on as adults," says Dr Shahnavaz. "If you are constantly in conflict with your parents, it’s important to understand where that may have started. There could be relatively benign reasons for your fighting, but it might hint at something bigger. Often there is anger left over from a confusion or a secret the parents created when you were a child. Maybe there was an infidelity the child was aware of, or a tension between adults, and they couldn’t talk about it at the time but they want to now, or it’s coming out as other conflict."
So, what’s a simple strategy we can use to diffuse fights with our parents, no matter what they’re about? "Take a time out. When you feel anger building, find an excuse to leave the room. Walk away, go into another room and write down what’s upsetting you. Leave it for 20 minutes. Come back and look at what you’ve written once you’ve calmed down and often we can get rid of half of what’s there because it was written in anger. If there’s anything on that piece of paper that is still important to you, find a way of calmly raising it with your parents. Often I suggest people use email because it means your parents won’t be able to react defensively or in anger straightaway. A client of mine did this recently and her mother’s first reaction was 'How dare she', then she reread the email, calmed down and really listened to what was said and was able to address some of their problems."
Often our fights with our parents may not even truly be about paint colour, marriage, seating arrangements or turkey. They’re the result of residual tension and fear from our childhoods and we won’t truly stop fighting with our mamas and papas until we get some closure, compassion and understanding there.

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