Young People Ask . . .
Why Are My Parents So Moody?
“MOM is just impossible,” says young Jeanette.a “If she is tired, she takes it out on me. Nothing I say is right.” Jim has a similar problem. “When something goes bad,” he claims, “they’ll take things out on you for no good reason. Say the car doesn’t start up. My dad will yell at me—as if it were my fault!”
It is a widespread complaint among teenagers: Their parents are moody, grouchy, unpredictable. One day, they are happy, cheerful, and trusting. The next day, they are down in the dumps and critical of everything you say and do. “They yell at me for no reason,” laments one youth.
As confusing as it may sometimes seem, however, almost everybody—parents included—goes through different moods from time to time. It’s part of being human. The Bible thus tells of various individuals as being in “a merry mood,” “a gentle mood,” or even in “a fighting mood.” (Esther 1:10; Job 11:19; Acts 12:20) Some mood changes appear to be linked to various biological cycles. Women, for example, often experience mood swings during phases of the menstrual cycle. And it is not unusual for members of both sexes to experience a physical or emotional low in mid-afternoon and the evening.
Stresses and Strains
An article in American Health notes: “Many a bad mood has physical roots. While illness and poor diet can set the stage, fatigue is usually the prime culprit.” These are “critical times hard to deal with,” and in many if not most families, both mother and father must work outside jobs. (2 Timothy 3:1) Fatigue and exhaustion are common side effects. Stressed out by unrelenting pressures, some parents may feel like righteous Job, who described himself as “saturated with affliction.”—Job 10:15; 14:1.
When parents are so preoccupied with their own difficulties, communication can suffer. Complains young Jason: “They tell you to do something, and you do it. But then they claim they told you to do something else, and they get upset. You get mad, and then they punish you for being upset!”
At times the pressures of life may also deplete parents of the emotional energy needed to respond to your needs. Says Proverbs 24:10: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.” One parent confessed: “I often pick Diana up from school when I’m on my way home from work. She’ll get in the car and start talking to me about all the things that happened at school that day—and some days I just don’t have the energy to listen. I’m too exhausted and preoccupied with my own day’s events to have patience for hers.” It may feel like personal rejection when parents act this way, but often it amounts to little more than fatigue.
“It is also possible,” notes writer Clayton Barbeau, “your parents have problems you know nothing about. Many youngsters underestimate the economic difficulties of family life. Given housing and food expense and the job insecurities of the modern workplace, your parents could be worried about things they haven’t told you but are discussing between themselves.” Or they may be dealing with responsibilities that are confidential in nature. One Christian father serves as an overseer in a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Says his daughter: “Sometimes when he has a bunch of congregation problems on his mind, he gets really grouchy. He tries not to take it out on us, but he has so much stress that he can’t deal with other things.” Proverbs 12:25 puts it well: “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down.”
Your parents may try valiantly to hide such distress from you. But it is as a proverb puts it: “Because of the pain of the heart there is a stricken spirit.” (Proverbs 15:13) At times their inward pain may get the best of them, and the smallest of irritations can trigger an outpouring of pent-up frustration. “Sometimes when my dad gets home from work,” says one teenage girl, “he’s kind of angry because of what happened at work. And if I forgot to do something, then my dad tells me about that. Then he looks around for something else he can yell at me about.”
Now, there is no question that abusive speech should be avoided. (Colossians 3:8) Parents are commanded by God not to irritate their children. (Ephesians 6:4) But even the righteous man Job, under the pressure of distressing circumstances, found himself uttering “wild talk.” (Job 6:3) So before you begin judging your folks harshly, ask yourself: ‘How do I react when I’ve had a bad day or when I’m feeling under a lot of pressure? Do I sometimes get grumpy or irritable?’ If so, perhaps you can be more forgiving of your parents.—Compare Matthew 6:12-15.
One teenage youth named Chad found out firsthand just how stressful his father’s life is. “I work with my father in his auto paint and repair business,” he says, “and now I can see how much pressure he’s under. He’s running in a million directions all day!”
Crisis in Mid-Life
At 2 Corinthians 7:5, the apostle Paul admitted that he had “fears within.” Some of your parents’ moods may be triggered by internal anxiety. Says the book The Healthy Adolescent: “Just as the adolescent struggles with the problems of youth, so do parents struggle with problems of age. The latter are nearing middle age, which, like the teen years, is a difficult period full of its own crises.”
For some parents the realization that they are getting older is disturbing. “I began to feel that my life was ending,” said one father. “My work was no longer exciting, my children were preparing to leave me, I felt old, and I couldn’t think of anything to look forward to but retirement.” While you enjoy being in “the prime of life,” they may be enduring the physical problems that have come with increasing age. (Ecclesiastes 11:10) Your mother, for example, may be experiencing the hormonal changes of menopause and its often annoying symptoms—fatigue, backaches, hot flashes, and mood swings, to name just a few.b
The nearer you grow to adulthood, the more your parents must face the reality of the Bible’s words at Genesis 2:24: “A man will leave his father and his mother.” Why, already you may be taking big strides toward independence from them! The book Talking With Your Teenager states: “This can really hurt. . . . We [parents] may sense that we are not loved in the same way we used to be . . . Our adolescents are often more distant, less demonstrative, more defensive. Their desire not to be with us, to have experiences outside the family, to make decisions or formulate plans independent of our influence demonstrates that we’re less important in their lives than we were.”
It is therefore easy to see why at times your parents may be especially moody or touchy when it comes to issues involving your growing independence. Young Steve says: “My parents are forgetful. You tell them you are going out, and later they ask, ‘Where are you going?’ You say, ‘I told you I was going to play volleyball.’ They say, ‘You never told us,’ and they start yelling at you. It happens all the time.” But what you may perceive as pettiness or grouchiness may simply reveal their deep love and concern for you. They know how bad the world is, and though they recognize your need to be independent, at times they may fear for your welfare. (Compare 2 Corinthians 11:3.) They may overreact to things or be inconsistent. Should you love them any less?
Putting Parents in Perspective
When you were younger, you may have seen your parents as all-knowing and all-powerful. As you get older and wiser, perhaps their flaws become more apparent. And when parents are occasionally moody or grouchy, it can be easy to start looking down on them. But the Bible warns against ‘holding a parent in derision.’ (Proverbs 30:17) Besides, it may very well be that they are not the only moody ones in your household. “Sometimes I get moody too,” admitted one girl. Perhaps you are touchy, sullen, or uncommunicative far more than you realize.
Whatever the case, rather than looking at your parents with a critical eye, try to develop “fellow feeling” and empathy toward them. (1 Peter 3:8) As the next article in this series will show, this can help you deal with their moods.
a Some of the names have been changed.
b For further information on middle age and its challenges, see the February 22, 1983, and April 8, 1983, issues of Awake!
[Pictures on page 23]
Many parents are simply stressed out by the demands of life