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Technically, I'm not a parent, but I'm hoping you can help me. My father has recently left and a big void of fatherly like stuff has been left. I am that older son who moved back in and isattempting to help out the family. So naturally, the mini-father part of me is kicking in.

My sisters, however, are starting to lose maturity. One is in the state of constant anger and one false move means argument and confrontation. The other is now throwing tantrums and adding to the drama in the house; one is young and the other older.

So in my attempt to help, I try to get the angry sister to think about her words before she says them or to understand that she is not the only one with anger or hostility. However she argues (quite loudly) that she's not angry and that the only problem is me. While I can't discount that, I find it very unlikely that I can fix the said problem in me, if I can't identify it well. While I remind the drama sister, that she needs to be mature and that attempting to manipulate someone's emotions for your benefit will only turn them away.

So, in essence: What can I do? I fear I don't have many options. I'd imagine that my mother would need to step up but this experience has been emotionally crippling thus far. Any advice here?

Thanks,

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I know what your going through My dad recently left but it wasn't his fault I feel like I am falling apart but I am also getting motherly stuff going on in me because my has had a emotionally break down so don't worry there are some out there! –  user1367 Aug 1 '11 at 22:58
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3 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Anger is part of the grieving process, and everyone works through it in their own way and at their own pace. Specifically, the "suck it up" approach might work for you, but girls usually need someone to vent to who will listen, sympathize, not judge, and not try to tell them how to "fix it" until they get it all out. They are probably acting with more maturity than you think, but are letting loose at home where they feel safe so they won't lose it at school or elsewhere. The faster you let them get it all out, the faster they will recover. Trying to stop the anger in its tracks only prolongs it.

Also, don't try to replace your dad, just be a brother. Don't tell your sisters what to do, show them and be there for them. Good parenting requires years of practice and building a large foundation of authority and trust, usually starting when it's much easier because they're too small to run away and too young to talk back. However, you are already well qualified to be a brother.

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I agree with pretty much everything you wrote, except (possibly) with the part about letting anger out vs. stopping it in its tracks. I know that in Western cultures in particular there's a traditional belief that "venting" is a good thing, but recent studies (and some Eastern traditions) show that acting out in anger actually makes a person more likely to become angry again later, since it establishes a pattern. That said, there's a big difference between suspending anger (good) and repressing it (bad) and in any event it's something a person has to do on their own, and can't be forced. –  Bill Clark May 17 '11 at 22:25
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@Bill, I'm not quite sure I understand your distinction. By "venting" I meant more "talking out" about what's making you angry, but you used the words "acting out." At any rate, I'd be interested in links to those studies if you can dig them up. –  Karl Bielefeldt May 17 '11 at 23:07
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I wasn't entirely sure if that's what you meant or not, which is why I put the "(possibly)" in there. It sounds like you're suggesting a fairly healthy way of expressing anger, but a lot of people might read it as a license to express anger in a more aggressive way (yelling -- even if not at anybody in particular but just "at the world" -- or hitting pillows, etc.) which is not a healthy way to vent. Here's one news article that includes quotes from a Duke University Medical Center researcher: abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=4176825&page=1 –  Bill Clark May 18 '11 at 0:40
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(Sorry, hit character limit on that last comment) ... and here's another article that alludes to the study I think I'm remembering, which was done on Botox patients: happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2009/03/… As I recall, Botox patients actually experienced milder emotions -- both positive and negative -- presumably because of their inability to express them with their facial muscles. Simply expressing anger, even by frowning or furling your brow, actually trains the brain to become angry more easily. –  Bill Clark May 18 '11 at 0:44
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Also, don't try to replace your dad, just be a brother. Yes, absolutely right. –  bobobobo Dec 29 '11 at 23:29
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How old are you and your sisters? What was your relationship with them like before you moved back in? How is your mom handling all this?

Some general truths:

  • Unless the age gap is big enough that your sisters saw you as an authority figure before your father left, they won't now. His actions won't change how they see you.

  • Your sisters were just betrayed by their father. They are going to be angry, slow to trust, etc. It's natural. They don't want to be hurt again.

  • It sounds like your sisters haven't figured out what to think about or how to handle all the changes going on in their lives, and are acting out. Young people (and sometimes adults) often do this. Really look at their behavior, and figure out if it's stupid drama, or self-destructive. If the former, then make a point not to reward the behavior (by getting into a screaming match, etc.) and focus on helping them move on with their lives. If the latter, get help.

  • In general, people can be stronger in the face of something like this if they feel there is something they can do about it. That's probably why you may be holding up better than the rest of the family -- you moved home to help, you did something. Figure out how you can help your family members do something (something that they will be successful at and that will make a difference in some way) so that they can start to feel empowered again, less out of control. If you keep your eyes open, the right opportunity will present itself.

  • If your sisters are very young, they're probably going to process this stuff all over again each time they reach a new level of maturity. So, don't freak back if things calm down and then in a couple of years it all seems like a fresh wound. What we think about these things at 4 and 14 is going to be different, so our brains have to take a stab at it again sometimes. Just be there if they want to talk to you, and understand that it gets easier as time goes on.

  • What works to get somebody back on track after something like this varies incredibly from person to person. So, watch and listen. People tend to give off some subtle clues as to what they need, even if they don't know it themselves.

  • Another pretty common reaction in these situations is self-blame, and it's one that can eat away at somebody before they realize they are feeling it. Keep an eye out for it and do whatever you can to reassure your sisters and your mom that they didn't cause this.

Whatever happens, it is good that your sisters and mother have someone around who cares. Don't try too hard to "fix things" -- as someone already pointed out, that's not what everybody responds to. Just being a calm, constant, uncomplicated, unconditionally loving presence in their lives can mean a ton.

Finally, feel free to hang around here. I can't promise we'll have answers to everything, but you are certainly welcome here and we'll try when we can.

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So, you are needed. They need you very much.

There is always a lot of anger from children that lose their fathers. Here is where I think the anger comes from.

You're not their dad. They lost their Dad. So don't try and be their Dad, because that will anger them.

I try to get the angry sister to think about her words before she says them or to understand that she is not the only one with anger or hostility.

It sounds like you are lecturing like a Dad. Try to avoid that. If something's really wrong, try to resolve the conflict not "fix people".

However she argues (quite loudly) that she's not angry and that the only problem is me.

the only problem is me: Odd as it sounds, don't take it personally. It's not you, it's how you're acting.

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