Thirty-one years ago, my mother abandoned us because she was abused by my jealous father…. Our home was a living hell, because we older three children were also abused. Six months ago, I found my mother after all these years…. I haven’t wanted to tell my father, since he always forbade us to even mention my mother. But I don’t feel that I am betraying him or hiding it from him, but rather that it’s something I can take advantage of now, especially since I always understood what my mother put up with and all that she suffered. Even though my youngest sisters say that I am lying to my father, I don’t see it that way. What do you think?

Dear Friend,

We are very sorry for your traumatic childhood, for the abuse that you suffered, and for the loss of your mother. We congratulate you for having such a positive attitude toward both your parents.

Although one of the Ten Commandments is to honor your father and mother, many people are confused as to what that really means. While a child is growing up, it means obedience to parents and respect for them. But once a child becomes an adult, he is no longer obligated to obey his parents, though he should still respect them. (However, an adult child who chooses to live in the home of his parents must obey the house rules or move out if he feels that the rules are unreasonable.)

When a parent tries to control an adult child using guilt or manipulation, the parent is the one who is wrong, and the adult child must find a way to respectfully disagree. If the adult child feels that he must hide normal, legal, ethical, moral behavior from a parent, then that parent is trying to control his adult child in an unhealthy way. That parent has created a dysfunctional relationship in which the adult child is not free to make his own decisions or think for himself.

Your letter makes it seem that you have evaluated all the circumstances and have come to believe that your mother left your home to avoid being abused. Yet while some of your siblings are quick to blame your mother for her actions, they are willing to overlook your father’s abuse. Most likely, your father has manipulated them into excusing him for his responsibility for what happened.

We suggest that you sit down with your father, man to man. Tell him that you appreciate the fact that he took care of you and kept the family together, but that as a grown man, you have the desire to know your mother before it is too late. Then ask him to respect your decision.

Your father will probably be angry. He will probably say cruel things at first, and then he will act like you have hurt him deeply. Recognize this for what it is—manipulation. Refuse to argue with him. Instead, say that you are sorry that he cannot accept that you are an adult and that you have the right to have a relationship with anyone that you choose. Tell him that nothing has changed in your relationship with him and that you want to continue as before. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but eventually your father will come to respect you for taking a stand.

We wish you well,

Linda and Charles