Grow Through Pains of Family Differences


“You want to be what when you grow up?” Alyssa’s Dad says accusingly.

Alyssa hesitates to answer her Dad. Yet with a deep breath she courageously responds with, “You heard right. I’m going to be an artist.”

“Well, don’t expect to come back to me for help when this moronic choice doesn’t work out for you,” her Dad blurts out and walks away.

Has this ever happened to you? You feel like you either need to give up yourself to keep the peace. Or you risk losing someone you care about to carve out your own path.

While not every family encounter is this intense, family pressure almost always exists. We can expect our family to pressure us about small choices and big decisions. This is part of the pain of growing up that doesn’t stop.

Yet we can define ourselves in the face of family pressure and differences. How do you do define yourself without turning away from those you love?

8 Ways to Define Yourself Without Losing Loved Ones:

You can both define yourself while staying in contact with those that think differently. It may be a challenge, but it is a growing experience.

State Your Differences Without Pressure: Say that you think differently without overly explaining or defending yourself. There is no pressure on the other to accept or adopt your different way or thinking.

Differences Aren’t Better or Worse: Think about differences as just different. Your way isn’t better or worse, it’s just the way that works for you.

People Are More Similar Than Different: This can be hard to accept. While we may have different lifestyle choices, we all struggle with similar emotions under the surface.

Interpret Differences Less Personally: Think of your family’s pressure as their anxiety projected onto you. When people worry, we get more sticky with others. We want others to do it our way, so we can feel calmer.

Attempt Good Personal Contact: Even in the face of cutoff (or threat of cutoff), let your loved one know you don’t want to lose them. For instance, tell them how important they are too you even if they think differently.

Focus On Topics Outside The Relationship: Beware of over-processing your relationship with your loved one. Share something about yourself even if different, and be interested in your loved one’s p0sition.

Set Boundaries When Abusive: If your loved one delivers their differences with name calling (or whatever you consider abusive), it’s okay to draw a line. You can’t make them stop, but you can draw a line by defining what you will or will not do.

Resume Contact After Calm Returns: In my opening example, Alyssa can stop taking calls from her Dad when he uses abusive language. But after she gives him time to calm down, she resumes contact. This is part of defining herself through the pains of growing up.

Defining and holding onto who you are even in the face of family differences is a great bonus to growing through the pains. And being able to stay in contact with those you differ from gives you more opportunities for ongoing learning and relationship resources. 

What helps you manage differences with your family without cutting off from them?


Giveaway Winner: Thank you for taking the time to answer my blog survey. Tali form Treehouse Chatter wins the giveaway for a print copy of my e-book. (Tail, please email me your mailing address.)

Blog Survey Open for 7 More Days: I want to give more readers a chance to give me feedback and make topic requests. This post was inspired by 2 readers working on defining themselves in the face of family differences. (Note: All names in this post are fiction. Survey responses are recorded anonymously.)

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon

2 responses to “Grow Through Pains of Family Differences

  1. Hi Marci,
    Insightful post and an incredible share!
    Your suggestions resonate deeply with me. My family dynamic includes deep intergenerational boundaries, trust issues, deep love and concern and all around miscommunications galore.
    You mention-interpret differences less personally and to focus on topics outside the relationship.
    I have found this to be extremely helpful. When my mother and I made the effort to stop interpreting our differences as personal attacks against eachother, everything changed for the better. Our conversations used to revolve around our relationship which led to many arguments and mental exhaustion. Now, we share aspects of our lives that we are passionate about without expectation of the other person agreeing with us or needing them to validate our interests.

    It’s a long road and the whole family is still working on it. The biggest step was in realizing how destructive we were all being in the first place. Now we are slowly rebuilding, establishing trust and healthy foundations.
    Thank you for a beautiful post!

    • So true Tali, when we share as equals, two people working through our life and stuff with less pressure/personalizing, it’s so much easier to relate/hear/connect. Thank you for sharing your personal experience and journey.

      I’m also thinking about how great it is when at least one family member can see their part in the problem, and get to work on self. Way to go!