After Thomas Markle told reporters about his rocky relationship with his daughter, the press exploded with commentary on the stressful dynamic between the new Duchess and her dad. “How much trouble will Meghan Markle’s dad cause the royal family?” asked the Daily Beast. “[This has] become a dark tale of parental harassment,” The Cut posted. “Let your daughter be happy,” celebrities tweeted.
The concept of a turbulent parent-child relationship isn’t anything new, but with Meghan Markle’s playing out on the world stage, commentators and fans are going to bat in defense of the Duchess. Family matters can be deeply personal and psychologically challenging, and it’s unfortunate that this saga has become so public. While the world is concerned that Thomas Markle is causing his daughter stress by airing their family’s dirty laundry to the press, we thought we’d ask an expert about how to deal with a stressful parent in the right way.
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“It’s not uncommon to have strained interpersonal relationships in families” says Dr. Marie Claire Bourque, MD, FRCPC, a psychiatrist and clinical lecturer at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. “Stressful personal relationships are always difficult, and it becomes a lot more emotionally salient if that relationship is with a family member. There are a lot of conflicting emotions that go along with it… love, disappointment, anger – even guilt.”
When it comes to taking action, Bourque says step one is all about identifying your own emotions and setting boundaries accordingly: “Often times when we’re dealing with a family member, we avoid responsibility and don’t see our own behavior patterns, so it’s important to identify your emotions first.”
In terms of communication, honesty is the best policy. “Be honest,” she suggests, “And come from the lens of feelings. Tell your parent, ‘I am saddened’ or ‘I am angry.’” Beginning the conversation with emotional honesty will help foster a healthier, more open dialogue. “What not to do is avoid,” Bourque says. “Set your boundaries clearly, but remember that avoiding your parent entirely can often perpetuate and amplify the conflict.”
Finally, overall compassion is key. Dealing with a stressful parent is never easy, and while there isn’t one best practice that will work for every family, it’s important to avoid blame and try to be sensitive. Blame will only cause more tension, while communicating with compassion may help alleviate some of the stressful tension. As Bourque advises, “Be compassionate with yourself, and be compassionate with your parent.”