Ask Amy: Toxic, bickering parents worry young adult

Dear Amy: My parents are in their late 60s and early 70s, and to say they "bicker like an old married couple" would be a huge understatement. It feels as though every other word that comes out of their mouths is full of hate for each other. Every little thing either does annoys the other to the point of yelling and screaming. My father is disabled, and I, 23, still live at home to help him with day-to-day stuff, taking care of the house, etc.

I've tried telling them it's both of their faults, that if one isn't starting something, it's the other. But that just leads to more yelling and finger-pointing. Both have made the empty threat of wanting to move out (knowing that neither could make it alone). They've never been physically abusive to each other (nor do I believe either has the strength to do so), but the yelling and name-calling is there constantly. How can I stop this mutual abuse and bring some peace into our house?

Honestly, I just want to move out.

— Desperate


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Dear Desperate: I am so sorry your home life is like this. It sounds truly terrible, and I think you should move out. There is no way that you — at age 23 — can possibly effectively mediate between your parents to change this dynamic in a lasting way. I assume that you are a loving, caring young adult, but this is poisonous, potentially dangerous, and it is bad for you — for all of you.

A book I believe you will find very helpful is, "Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life," by Susan Forward and Craig Buck (2002, Bantam). You need help and support.

You should research other solutions in terms of whatever benefits your parents might qualify for. Your local Office on Aging and Department of Social Services could help set them up with alternative housing and home care. Please do your best to enlist a social worker to help.

Dear Amy: A new TV was installed in the break room of the office where I work.

I stare at a computer screen for eight hours every day, and I look forward to a one-hour break from looking at a screen during my lunch.

The problem is that during lunch the TV is always on (and usually tuned to trashy shows.)

I can eat outside some days, but it is extremely hot where I live, so eating outside every day is not an option.

I have to take my lunch at the same time as everyone else. How do I ask for a TV compromise that won't ruffle too many feathers? Am I just stuck in a society where screens run our lives?

— Tired of Screens

Dear Tired: You should speak with your supervisor about this. This television was recently installed, and you should assume that they are interested — or at least open to — feedback from employees. The pitch you should make is that you believe the TV will impede workplace morale and productivity.

I agree with you that the last thing most of us need during a work break is more noise, more screens and more trash.

Dear Amy: I feel you are talking to me when you recommend some tough love for young adults.

Our son, at age 19, was drinking and driving home late and showing this behavior to our other children and foster children.

We decided to warn him: "If you come home drunk with the car again, you will not be allowed to live here."

Well, he lived in his car for three months. He visited food banks for food, and he got by (he had no job) by asking his friends to buy gas if they wanted rides. We allowed him home once a week for a shower and a good meal.

He is now married and has three children and steady employment. It was a difficult decision for us, but it worked.

— Wendy

Dear Wendy: "Tough love" is not always the answer, but if parents have tried everything else, it is a last resort.

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