How to manage & move past unhealthy family relationships

In this podcast (episode #489) and blog, I talk to bestselling author, relationship therapist and clinical social worker Nedra Tawwab about her new book Drama Free, managing unhealthy family relationships, creating a safe space for children at home, breaking generational cycles again, why parents aren’t solely responsible for sibling relationships, and so much more! 

In Drama Free, Nedra offers clear advice for identifying dysfunctional family patterns and choosing the best path to break the cycle and moving forward. Covering topics including the trauma of emotional neglect, the legacy of addicted or absent parents, mental health struggles in siblings and other relatives and more, this clear and compassionate guide will help you take control of your own life and honor the person you truly are. This book is an invaluable road map for understanding and moving past family struggles and living your life, your way. 

We can still honor our parents even when dealing with the impact of their parenting. All families are messy in their own unique way, but this is not something we have to run away from. We can learn how to identity what the messiness is and find ways to manage it and find healing. 

One of the most complex family dynamics is parent-child relationships, which tend to get “messy” pretty quickly. Each generation tends to view this relationship differently, especially as expectations change over time. This can be challenging for our parents to understand, as well as for those of us who are already parents to understand as we try navigate our own relationships with our children.  

Part of navigating these expectations is thinking about what we are willing to do for these relationships and what we cando in these relationships. This means being open to communicating with your child as you navigate these different expectations, creating a safe space so that everyone feels seen and heard. If we can pay more attention to the unique experience we have with each of our children and encourage them to tell us what they need and talk to us about their experiences, we can develop our parenting skills and better navigate tricky parent-child dynamics.  

Of course, many parents do the best they can, which makes it harder to acknowledge that they can still impact their child in unhealthy ways. And yes, parents are not 100% responsible for who their child becomes, but children do react to what they are seeing and experiencing in their households, and they often don’t have any outlets to express show they feel, which leads to acting out. This is why it is a great idea to not only encourage your kids to talk to you by making them feel that it is safe to do so, but also to talk to themselves through journaling. This will help them learn how to better identify their feelings and to talk to people when they have issues. There are so many things we can do as parents to help prepare our children and help them better understand what being in a family or having a relationship looks like.  

What parents do and don’t do can also affect the dynamic between siblings at home. Sometimes, parents can unintentionally pit their kids against each other through comparison. Instead, parents should teach their children how to treat their siblings and other people with respect and validate their concerns (when they are young and when they are adults) when they talk about how they feel about another sibling. We need to hear what our children are telling us and say that even though we love all our children, certain behaviors are hurtful and wrong. That is not to say that as parents we should step in every time our children fight, especially when they are young. We should encourage them to work it out, only stepping in when we see mean and inappropriate behavior.  

We also need to understand that every child is different. We shouldn’t try to parent every child the same way, which can not only exacerbate sibling rivalry but also impact the child and family as a whole.  

But what happens when children feel like they are parenting their parents, whether emotionally, financially or otherwise? It is really important that, in this case, the adult child recognizes the amount of work and effort they are willing to put in the relationship and make sure they have appropriate boundaries in place to protect their own mental wellbeing. We need to think about what a relationship will look like with an emotionally immature parent.  

It is important that we are honest with ourselves about our childhood. We shouldn’t feel guilty or feel like we are betraying our parents if we need to acknowledge how they impacted our lives growing up. Suppressing our feelings and experiences will affect our mental and physical health.  

This is also why it is so important to create open, safe spaces at home that encourage our children to be honest with us. Even though receiving negative feedback may be hard, letting our children know we are listening and we know that we are not perfect will help them better navigate their relationship with themselves and others as they grow. It allows people the space to make mistakes and acknowledge those mistakes without feeling shame or being consumed by guilt.    

For more on navigating family dynamics, listen to my podcast with Nedra (episode #489) and check out her amazing book Drama Free and her work. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).       

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This podcast is sponsored by:   

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Podcast Highlights

2:40 All families are messy in their own unique way 

4:00 Why we shouldn’t run away from or suppress family issues

5:33, 21:00 Navigating parent-child dynamics  

27:00 Managing sibling relationships  

39:01 Managing relationships with emotionally immature parents  

43:00, 50:40 Being honest about your childhood 

Switch On Your Brain LLC. is providing this podcast as a public service. Reference to any specific viewpoint or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by our organization. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. If you have any questions about this disclaimer, please contact  

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional. 

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