Q. My family consist of my husband and 4 kids ages 33,29,21 and 16. The 33 yr old daughter, 21 year old son and the 16year old son are all at home. The verbal abuse coming from all directions is just too much to bear. I know that there are two sides to every story, but I tell you, the name calling and the disrespect is too much. I can’t do this much longer. What can I do?
A. I’m sorry to hear that you live in a warzone. This is very toxic to your physical, emotional and spiritual health. When you say that you can’t do this much longer I’m assuming you mean you can’t continue to endure this treatment much longer. Good. That will give you the strength to make some drastic changes.
I know there are always two sides to every story. I don’t know fully either side, so I’m going to give you (and my readers) some general principles and steps to follow.
First, what’s your part? Why are you allowing yourself to be treated this way by your children? What kind of consequences have you implemented as their mother when they talked to you this way as they were growing up? Have they learned it’s acceptable to talk to you with disrespect and use abusive language?
Ask yourself why you’ve been willing to live like a prisoner in your own home? After you’ve done some of your own soul searching you first need to have a talk with your husband and then with your children. With your husband, start by saying something like this:
“I cannot live with all this abuse in our home anymore. I can’t stop you from treating me disrespectfully but I think the children feel it’s OK because you do it to me. I know I’m not perfect and may do things that aggravate you and them, but I will not tolerate any longer the verbal abuse and disrespect from you or the children. If they don’t stop I’m going to ask them to move out and I’d like your support. From now on, when you talk with me like that I’m going to go out for a while until you calm down. I’ll be back when you can talk with me constructively.”
After you give him this warning, the first time he gets abusive, leave immediately. Call him from your cell phone and tell him that when he can calm down and talk respectfully you’ll be back. Drive around for an hour – go to a mall, go to a coffee shop and call back and ask if he’s calmed down and ready to talk respectfully to you. If not, stay out and do not return or call him until the next day. Soon he will learn that his anger get’s him nowhere and you won’t allow yourself to be a target for his fits of rage.
Before you have that conversation with your husband, make a plan just in case you need to spend the night somewhere. I don’t know your extended family situation or financial abilities, but make sure you have the things you need packed in your car so that you don’t have to return home if he's still in a rage.
With your grown children I might say something like this with a calm voice tone.
“I love you very much and have been willing to sacrifice many things to help you get on your feet so that you could get a good start in adulthood. But I will no longer sacrifice my health and well being. I am sick of being verbally abused (give specific examples) and I will no longer allow you to live in my home if you choose to talk to me in that way. If you don’t stop immediately, you will have to find another place to live.”
Do not argue and do not back down. When they slip and start up with you, put your open palm up in the air like stop sign and stay “Stop it!” If they stop say “thank you,” and invite them to talk calmly to you about their concerns. If they continue abusing you, remind them of the consequence if they don't stop. If they still continue to abuse you, tell them they have 2 weeks to find a new place to live. And…you must stick with it.
With your 16 year old son you will say something similar but instead of telling him he will have to move out, implement different consequences. When chooses to talk with you that way, you will not allow him to use your car, or you will disconnect the computer, or cell phone, or whatever works to get him to understand that you mean business. You do this for 24 hours. Tell him that when he can talk respectfully for 24 hours, he gets his privileges back.
If your husband won’t cooperate with you in implementing these consequences for your children then the other option is for you to temporarily move out until the family understands you mean business.
That may sound drastic but it sounds like things are drastic. You will have to be firm on changing your part. No pleading, no arguing, just consequences. You cannot change your children or your husband. The only person you can change is you. But as you change, you are creating an atmosphere where it’s more likely that they will make better choices which would be good for you and good for your family.
Please read my book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship for a more complete understanding on changing your part to affect relationship change.