The Creativity Cure

A do-it-yourself prescription for happiness

Feuding Families, Tumultuous Homes

It's normal and fine but keep it civil if you can


The other day, my client Rebecca came in teary eyed and told me that she had spent the morning fighting with her eight-year old son. “Is this normal?” she asked. She looked desperate, beleaguered, overwhelmed and sad. Here is what she said:

“I did not sign up for this. Work is so much easier. Does this happen to anyone else? We are always screaming at each other, me, my husband, my kids. I say, 'We have to treat each other with respect, guys, we can’t do this.' But words do nothing.

It starts with small things.

'Pick up your towels. Put the dirty socks in the laundry, not on the floor. Take your books off the table.'

Then the kids start arguing, 'They’re not mine, he did it, she did it, it wasn’t me, yes it was.'

I can feel my heart start to race as it builds into a domestic nightmare. Everyone is yelling and accusing and blaming. I just want to get out of there.

A friend of mine told me that when he was seven, his mom, a single parent, just drove away and left him and his nine year old brother and five year old sister standing in the driveway. They had driven her crazy with the fighting. She came back in ten minutes, but I always think about that. “

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I think this scenario is more common than people think. People hide their angst and the acrimony. They feel there is really something wrong with them or their family.

Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike: Every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” 

What can one do?

Clear-cut rules, family meetings, respect for boundaries, consequences for violations and reinforcing positive actions can help. Having friends, extended family, or neighbors around to distract, support and provide another influence is also useful. Go out and do things.

Psychologically speaking, ride it out, hang in and tolerate agonizing moments.

 If on average, tenderness outweighs hostility in the domestic sphere, chances are things will move in the right direction.

My client’s friend and his siblings apparently grew up to have pretty happy families that were not at all alike.

Carrie Barron, M.D., is a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It Yourself Prescription for Happiness, which she wrote with her husband, Alton Barron.

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