Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Deal With Moody Parents?
“MY PROBLEM,” says Claudia, “is that my mom gets nervous and irritable.a One day she asked how my piano lesson had gone. I simply said that it had gone all right and went in to practice the piano. Mom came in, angrily said that I was being rude, then stormed off. I got upset and banged on the piano and ran to my room. Mom then came and scolded me for banging on the piano.”
Parents may be really touchy when they are in a bad mood. At times you may feel that you must walk on eggs around them, nervously awaiting the next time you will get criticized, yelled at, or even blamed. The article “Why Are My Parents So Moody?” in the preceding issue of Awake! showed, however, that it’s perfectly normal for parents to get moody from time to time. Stress, fatigue, poor health, and the pressures of life are often to blame.b Knowing this may help you to sympathize with your folks. (Compare Proverbs 19:11.) But it doesn’t change the fact that at times they may be tough to deal with. What can you do to improve things?
Proverbs 24:3 says: “By wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established.” In harmony with this principle, one thing you can do is try to discern when your parents are in a bad mood. The psalmist said of his own depressed state: “All day long I have walked about sad.” (Psalm 38:6) An observant person would surely have detected that something was wrong with him! In a similar way, a parent will usually give clear-cut signs that he or she is not in the best of moods.
The youthful authors of the book The Kids’ Book About Parents thus compiled a list of common warning signals for young people to watch out for. Among the things noted were parents’ ‘eating a lot, not talking, going to bed early, not saying hi when they come home from work, snapping at everyone, ignoring your questions,’ and ‘staring blankly at the TV.’ In other families, parents are predictably touchy at certain times—such as when bills have to be paid. Whatever the case, by being observant you may be able to recognize your own parents’ warning signals.
‘Is Something Wrong?’
What, then, do you do when you sense that a parent is glum? Run for cover? Not necessarily. Proverbs 15:20 says: “A wise son is the one that makes a father rejoice.” This does not mean that you must burden yourself with your parents’ grown-up problems. After all, each parent must “carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) But you can at least show an interest in them. For example, you might tactfully ask: ‘Is something wrong?’ (Compare Nehemiah 2:1, 2.) There may be little or nothing you can do to change the situation, but they may appreciate your loving interest in their welfare.
Here’s how a youngster named Kama recommends handling matters when a moody parent arrives home: “After you say hi, go into your room for a while, until they get settled. Then come out and ask what is wrong and how was their day . . . See if they want you to do anything.” Sometimes, simply showing that parent the needed attention or affection may snap the sour mood.
In her book My Parents Are Driving Me Crazy, Dr. Joyce Vedral tells how a teenage girl named Deena responded to her mother’s angry mood. Says Deena: “When I came out [of my room] and saw the grouchy look on her face, I grabbed her and gave her a big hug before she could do anything to stop me. Then I gave her a big kiss and said, ‘I love you, Mom.’ You should see the way her mood changed—like that.” Concludes Dr. Vedral: “A perfect remedy for a grouchy parent is affection. . . . Affection is a real mood lifter.” The Bible puts it this way: “Love builds up.”—1 Corinthians 8:1.
Sometimes, though, your parents seem to be irritated with you personally. If you are not sure why, try drawing your parents out a bit so that they may air any grievances. (Compare Proverbs 20:5.) A young girl named Ruth, for example, noted that she and her father had been “growing further and further apart” and that he had become unreasonably critical of her grades. After a family discussion of a “Young People Ask . . .” article, Ruth asked what was bothering her father. “We discovered that Dad was trying to succeed through his children, since he had been forced to quit school. He wanted us to have excellent report cards.” When Ruth got grades lower than expected, he would get angry. The result of their discussion? “It helped me to view things from his point of view,” she says. Naturally, her father also had to make some adjustments in his thinking. Reports Ruth: “Things are starting to improve.”
By having a similar conversation, you may discover that your parents have valid reasons for being irritated with you. It might be as simple a thing as your forgetting to perform some assigned household chore. Reminds Proverbs 10:5: “The son acting with insight is gathering during the summertime; the son acting shamefully is fast asleep during the harvest.” Perhaps more diligence on your part would do much to improve your parents’ mood.
Sometimes, though, a parent simply isn’t disposed to talking things out, and all attempts to encourage him or her to do so are met with anger or resistance. What then? The Bible tells us of how David, as a youth, coped with a similarly touchy situation. As a youth David worked in the court of King Saul as a musician. Saul, however, was subject to unpredictable mood swings and fits of rage. Why, on one occasion Saul tried to pin David to the wall with a spear! Notice, though, what the Bible says at 1 Samuel 18:14 of David’s behavior: “And David was continually acting prudently in all his ways, and Jehovah was with him.”
Few parents are as volatile as King Saul. Still, you may need to be prudent when dealing with them. For instance, young Sam says: “My father’s not a Christian, and he has some temper! When he gets mad at you, he really starts yelling. You really have to watch what you say and do. You have to try not to upset him.” The Bible puts it this way: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself.”—Proverbs 22:3.
This does not necessarily mean giving your parents a wide berth. Try to be as warm and sociable as you can. If you pester a grouchy parent with needless questions or with petty problems that could be discussed at another time, you may be asking for trouble. (Compare Proverbs 15:23; 25:11.) Indeed, when they are tense and tired, they may even feel like the righteous man Job when he asked: “How long will you men keep irritating my soul?” (Job 19:2) You are therefore wise to avoid any irritating habits that you know get on your parents’ nerves—such as snapping chewing gum or cracking your knuckles. Along the same lines, it would be inconsiderate of you to blast your stereo or play the television at full volume.
Another way to act prudently is to take the initiative. Is Mom always in a bad mood when she comes home from work? If you come home first, why not set the table, take out the garbage, or do the dishes? Greet your mother affectionately. Such gestures might make her look forward to homecoming. One teenage girl named Julie takes such initiative. She says: “My mom drives a school bus, and she usually comes home upset. So I have to lie low. I just stay out of her way until she’s calmed down. Then I’ll watch the kids for her or clean or do something for her.”
Try as you may to avoid it, some conflict is almost sure to ensue when parents are touchy or irritable. When this occurs, application of Bible principles can help you avoid making a bad situation worse. Proverbs 15:1, for example, says: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” Further guidance is given at Proverbs 17:27, which reads: “Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.” Remember, too, that while parents do have their bad moods, likely there are also times when they are pleasant, good-humored, glad to have you around. Cherish those times, and use them as an opportunity to cultivate good relations with your parents. It will make the tough times a little less rocky.
a Some of the names have been changed.
b This article deals with the normal mood swings that most people experience. Parents who suffer emotional distress because of major depression, alcohol or drug addiction, or other serious physical and emotional ailments may need professional help.
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Working parents appreciate it when their children help out with household chores