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 parents’ wishes. The only way to solve this issue is to take a stand and let the parents 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 your parents will cause estrangement and a feeling that the people who should care for you most only want to use you.
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 parents.
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.
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.