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Q I am a single mom in distress. I had a very difficult childhood. My egotistical father had serious anger issues and would justify beating my siblings and me in the name of discipline. I considered myself fortunate to find a husband whose personality was in complete contrast to my father’s; however, my marriage did not last. Post divorce, maintaining a healthy work-life balance as a single mom was challenging, so I sponsored my parents to come to the United States. Unfortunately, my father did not respect the fact that I am a mother, and my daughter is my priority. He managed to find fault with whatever I did, and he would scold me in front of my own child. Whatever little social circle I had has disintegrated because he asked my friends not to call. He has also discouraged me from marrying again. A few months ago, I had my parents move to a separate place. Since then, I feel better. However, I still care for my parents and want to help them without allowing them to take control of my life. Please advise.

A You have obviously gone through much hardship beginning with your life as a child with your father, your marriage not working out, being a single mother, and the current challenges with your father moving into your home. In mid-life, especially after a relationship break-up or divorce, deep family issues from the past arise more forcefully, and we have to deal with them. Although the parent has a right to discipline and guide the child, beating a child is abusive.

You sound very clear about recently having been controlled and criticized by your father, and that you are not able to tolerate that anymore. I hear your intention of wanting to help your parents. But I am not sure what kind of help you are interested in offering. If you want to help your father to change his personality so you feel better around him and can once again have him live with you, you’ve got a big challenge ahead of you.

If your father is still treating you as if you are a naughty and bad girl in need of scolding and discipline, he is obviously not seeing you as the competent woman you are today. He is probably blaming you for your divorce, as he feels shame and failure that you are now a single mother. His emotional, communication, and relational patterns are deeply entrenched and supported by the power of patriarchy and his ideas about being a husband and father. Unless he has an epiphany of humility and sees a need to change himself, he won’t. His issues are serious and long term (depression may be one of them), and he needs professional help.

You made the choice of setting a boundary by asking your parents to get a separate home. Since you invited them to migrate to the United States for you and your child, perhaps you can help them financially.

Your parents need to know that times have changed and you are grown up now. Let them know how it feels to be controlled and criticized and set appropriate limits around their feedback and discipline of your child. If this doesn’t work, you may have to get other help that is more suitable for your values and parenting style. Thus, you’ll get healthier support from other family or friends.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393.

Alzak Amlani is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. (650) 325-8393.