We have all experienced passive-aggressive behaviors to some extent with our parents during our lifetimes. The important thing for parents to recognize is the amount of trust issues and baggage that comes with passive-aggressive behavior in the parent-child relationship. Here is a list to identify some of the more common passive-aggressive behaviors used by parents and ways children can deal with them in a healthy manner.
Bad-Mouthing the Other Parent:
Growing up, my father would always go on and on about what a horrible person my mother was after the divorce, but would never express it directly to my mother. In this situation either ask your parent to stop bad-mouthing your other parent and express how it makes you feel when they do (anxious, upset, angry, sad), or simply remove yourself from the space and the situation after expressing your feelings. The effects of a child feeling that their parents hate each other are considerable. We are one being created from two people, so when a child’s parents are not in harmony the child themselves feels split.
Overloading Responsibilities onto the Child to Prove That They Love the Parent:
I have known several friends who grew up in a household where they were expected to take full care of the parents. This expectation manifests in later life with the understanding that the child should accommodate any of the parent’s wishes. The only way to solve this issue is to take a stand and let the parent know that you will not accommodate their every wish and that there must be mutual consent in the relationship. Growing up with this expectation from a parent will cause estrangement and a feeling that the person who should care for us the most only wants to use us.
Forgetting Wrongs When They Are Brought Up:
My high school English teacher once told me a story about his father claiming to not remember the myriad abuses he subjected his son to in his youth. The passive-aggressive mentality is to not claim responsibility for one’s own actions. Sometimes the best thing to do in this situation is be a duck and let it roll off your back. No one can force another person to acknowledge what they have done in the past. A child growing up in this environment will feel themselves unacknowledged and find it especially difficult to hold any kind of a healing conversation with their parent.
Playing the Victim:
It is easy for the parent to fall into the role of playing the victim. The role is usually centered on the idea that the child is ungrateful and that the parent has done everything in raising and providing for them. For instance, my best friend growing up would often tell me how by simply asking his parents if he could have extra money to go to the school dance they would break into a tirade about his disrespect and ingratitude. The habit of parents to sometimes take on the roles of victims is somewhat common. Try and refocus the conversation on what you are really talking about and let your parents know that you do appreciate them. A child growing up in this environment of victimization will often have low self-esteem due to the high level of psychological codependence engendered by the relationship.
These are comments that are said abruptly or in passing, but without any direct confrontation. They can be as little as my mother sarcastically saying “Geez! Thanks for the help!” when I didn’t bring in all of the groceries or as serious as “This wouldn’t have happened if your mother were still alive.” The best way to deal with these comments is to confront them and express how you feel and define your own boundaries of what is acceptable behavior directed at you, whether it be passive or not. Children growing up in this environment of backhanded comments will often learn to do just the same thing as their parents. Ultimately, it will stunt the development of effective mediating and communication skills.
Acting As If Everything Is Fine While Really Holding Resentment:
When my friend was growing up, his mother had a habit of saying that everything was fine when he would come home at one in the morning. However, the next day she would withhold any love and affection from him. This was her way of punishing him. Because it is difficult for a passive-aggressive to directly confront, she would simply punish him without directly acknowledging the real reason for her lack of affection: She was upset with his lack of respect. The best thing to do in this situation is to tell your parent that you are sorry for the lack of respect. There is a chance that the parent will not acknowledge what you say, but they will hear somewhere deep down and this will begin the dialogue for effective and direct communication. A child with a parent that passively punishes will tend to rebel more and more in order to get the attention from their parents they so desperately need.
Blaming The Child For The Circumstances of Their Life:
When my cousin was younger he would always tell me that he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders because of his dad. Apparently his father would belittle him to the point of tears, saying that if he had done “this thing” better or “this thing” differently that the quality of the father’s life would be so much better. This is a common practice in varying degrees by parents. The best thing to do in this situation is to express how you feel when spoken to in a belittling manner and that no one can be responsible for their own feelings other than themselves. Children growing up in this kind of environment are more inclined to project their feelings onto others.
Lack of Trust in Child for Wrongs Done Long Ago:
Children grow up and often make mistakes that tend to disappoint parents. I know that growing up I found actions that happened even years before used as a reason to withhold trust. When I wanted to go to the movies in eighth grade and lied by saying there was an afterschool program I had to attend, or when I wanted to hang out with a friend whom my mom disapproved of in seventh grade and lied by saying that my dad was taking me to play basketball. Examples such as these were used to limit my freedom in sophomore year of high school. The best thing for a child to do in this situation is to see if they can come to a mutual agreement with the parents. Communicate and come up with a solution so that trust can be built back up. That way the relationship can step out of the realm of passive-aggression and into constructive dialogue. Growing up in this kind of environment tends to create feelings of guilt in doing what one really wants and an aversion to directly expressing one’s thoughts to those who may disapprove.
Instigating a Fight in Order to Claim Maturity:
My parents playing the “holier than thou” card was always a sure bet to set me off when I was younger. It was often a way of staying in control of the situation for them. As with most children, I had a short fuse when I felt my parents were treating me unfairly, and when my parents openly acted as if they knew far more than I did it caused me to become emotional. At this point they were able to demonstrate their maturity and calm and point out my lack of self-control in order to establish who knew best. The best thing for a child to do in this situation is remain calm themselves and recognize that no matter what they are powerful decision makers as well. Try and engage in an honest and heartfelt conversation with your parents. The effect of this kind of relationship with parents often leads to children using superiority tactics with others around them in order to create a sense of control and identity.
Creating a Situation of Fear to Communicate:
The number one sign of a passive-aggressive parent is the child has a fear to communicate with them. However, that is exactly how passive-aggressive behavior is allowed and tolerated and continued: By neglecting to confront the parent. The main key to eradicating a passive-aggressive relationship is to be direct and loving.
It is important for all of us to be cognizant of how our parents have raised us so that we can break whatever unhealthy habits we have learned and encourage whatever healthy habits we have gained. If we do not recognize how our parents have impacted our psychological lives then they are still in fact raising us. Luckily, we all have the ability and the choice to create our own destinies through our own self-awareness and forgiveness of our past and present. Parents, just as everyone else, are either doing one of two things. They are either asking for love in the best way they know how, or they are giving love. For more support, consider going to individual and/or family therapy sessions to facilitate and flesh out family expectations in the household. Find a mentor or a counselor and always remember to love yourself and forgive your parents. When you forgive your parents you are actually giving yourself permission to let go of any hate or resentment that may be lowering your quality of life.