Every family has a great deal of drama—from lies or cheating to drug addiction and divorce. And when it gets to be too much to bear, listening to some good songs about family issues can ease the pain and make you feel a little less alone.
So in this article, I’m going to present you with my absolute favorite songs on this very topic. Hopefully you’ll walk away from this list with a newfound appreciation of a couple new songs, as well as recognize some of your personal favorites here as well.
Headlights by Eminem featuring Nate Ruess
In Eminem’s grand gesture of an apology to his mom, he finds empathy, regret, forgiveness, and hope. It’s honest, raw and beautiful. He acknowledges his feelings growing up and his poor choices because of them. And after years of anger, he is finally able to see that his mom is a human with her own struggles.
Instead of beating his mom down, he lifts her up. It’s a love song between a mother and a son. And the crap we do to each other when we’re hurting.
Family Portrait by Pink
Songs comfort us. They help us feel less alone. Pink is a master of this. This is a song about “growing up in World Ear 3, never knowin’ what love could be, you’ll see.” Growing up in violent homes affects the entire family. It changes us. Morphs us into people we are not because we grow up too quickly, miss childhoods, never learn about emotions, and feel awful about ourselves.
Attachment style is thrown out the window and replaced with distorted beliefs about love and acceptance. Family can do a number on us. And our futures. Pink gives us a song about a girl growing up in this family system of abuse. She witnesses her mother’s pain, verbal arguments, violence, and just wants it to all work.
Mother by Pink Floyd
If you were a teenager when Pink Floyd’s The Wall album came out, you know that every song on that album belongs on this playlist. It was a mammoth masterpiece about a son questioning his mother’s abusive relationship with him.
He evolves into mental illness and drug addiction as the album progresses until inevitably loses his mind. And this song particularly has caught a lot of people with its stark nakedness and vulnerability.
From the exhale at the beginning of the song to the last great question some of us might like to ask our parents. Family can have devastating effects on us. This song is about insecurity, self-doubt, mistrust, and failure. Over enmeshment with our caregivers. And the isolation and abandonment that follow.
A codependent dance between mother and son that leaves him behind his mother’s wall. When parents don’t work through their own issues, it can mess us up. “Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true. Mama’s gonna put all of her fears in you,” sings Roger Waters.
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to sort through it all. And sometimes, we just want a guitar and some lyrics to put a name to our experience.
Piece by Piece by Kelly Clarkson (American Idol Version)
If you saw Kelly Clarkson sing this on American Idol, then you know why this song has a permanent home in songs dealing with family issues. In the live version, she stopped singing several times fighting off tears.
Keith Urban, a judge that was on the show, choked up. It was very emotional. She finished the song and got a standing ovation. It’s a song about her dad and him not wanting her. And his attempt at returning when she becomes famous.
“Begged you to want me but you didn’t want to.”
And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum—her husband. This is a man that shows her that not all men disappear. Some men can be good fathers and husbands.
I made somethin’ of myself and now you wanna come back
But your love, it isn’t free, it has to be earned
It’s devastating. Sorrow, confusion, hope, and wondering about our worth. She is a badass singing through her tears. Jennifer Lopez, another “Idol” judge was left just speechless. Keithwas on verge of tears as soon she began and she left J-Lo in the same condition by the end.
This song is a killer. Some of us may not know what it’s like to have a parent leave us as a child. But we can empathize with being left behind—and having an endless list of unanswered questions about the whole ordeal.
We know what it’s like to wonder why they left. It’s full of sorrow, regret, longing, need, and heartache. There are many reasons why we love Kelly Clarkson. And this is just another one.
Over You by Miranda Lambert
“But you went away, how dare you. I miss you. They say I’ll be okay but I’m not going to ever get over you,” sings Miranda in this song about a brother’s death. Blake Shelton wrote this song about losing his older brother in a car accident when he was 14 years old.
He wrote it with his previous wife, Miranda Lambert. And she did the rest. It’s a very powerful song about grief. It doesn’t matter if you like country or not, this song will take your hand for 4 minutes and 16 seconds. Might make you spend the whole day listening to it on repeat.
That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morissette
Many things are handed down from our parents like DNA, personality traits, physical appearance, and predispositions. As children, we are also given the emotional legacies that come with our parents giving us a distorted road map of future relationships with ourselves and others.
Alanis gives us a very vulnerable song for wondering if we would still be good (loved) no matter what happens to us. Growing up not knowing if we will will be loved and accepted is almost a universal plight for us all as children. We are left with self-doubt and questions.
We wonder if we can survive with or without the love and acceptance of another person. It’s a hard place to overcome and why therapists have nice cars.
Father of Mine by Everclear
West coast rockers Everclear give us a song about growing up without a father. It’s a song that perfectly captures the emotions that come with a parent leaving our lives, and the damage that is left for us to uncover, battle and let go.
No easy task for any of us. It’s classic Everclear. Cool guitar riffs, vulnerable lyrics, and an outlet for some very heavy emotions. We can relate. We know what it’s like to love someone, to wish for their acceptance, and how hard it is to make sense out of their absence. It’s definitely a song for playing really, really, really loud. The neighbors will understand.
When Doves Cry by Prince
Here’s a classic love song from the soundtrack for Purple Rain, one of the best albums from the 80s.
When Doves Cry is a song about a disastrous love affair between two people who have family issues. They love each other yet bring up so much family drama for each other. The song goes back and forth between his childhood and the hard experience of trying to love someone else.
It’s an awareness of being drawn to the negative traits in other people because we have unresolved issues of our own. It’s about the trauma in a family, what it does to us, and how it brings up our greatest fears and vulnerabilities when we want to branch out. Its full of angst, pain, sorrow, and questions. It’s fueled by resignation, empathy, and harsh awareness.
True love can get so damaged by family baggage. And as adults, its our job to fix ourselves. And so the dove metaphor is not lost on us. The bird of love is looking to be healed. Prince has never spoken about its meaning.
Merry Go ‘Round by Kacey Musgraves
“Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane, and Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down,” sings Musgraves in this song about boredom, settling, and the things we do to cope.
Sometimes we don’t make a lot of noise about our unhappiness. Sometimes we just sit right down and accept it. And settle into a life of bad habits and distractions. It’s about discontent and quiet failure.
Right Thru Me by Nicki Minaj
This is an interesting choice for this topic, because while this song is about family (or relationship) issues, it’s really about how a man knows his woman so well–so backwards and forwards–that he can completely see right through her tough, hardened exterior. Despite all of their arguments, and even the times when she goes off the handle and throws dishes at him, he ultimately has “the peephole to my soul.”
In many ways, this is a song about the beauty and challenge of being in a relationship with someone that’s your soulmate.
Weight of the World by Blue October
Oh, Justin Furstenfeld. Is he not the coolest, saddest badass frontman? He gives us killer songs and lifts our spirits way up.
Blue October’s lyrics are often dark. They confront our dark emotional sides. They go in deep and grab you by the musical throat. They don’t let go. And neither do we. This song will hold you still. It’s a song about uncontrolled mental illness and its effects on the family.
In this song, Justin sings about his mother. And it’s heartbreakingly raw. It clashes and smashes up against and breaks into our feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, fright, and fragility. It’s vulnerable and his imagery brings us right into that bathroom with him.
“I blackout in the room again, a busted lip and broken skin. I wake up in the bathroom and dare not bother asking,” he sings.
“And my mother she sits beyond the door, she’s curled up crying on the floor. Look at what her son’s done when the weight of all the world’s gone wrong.”
Certainly, mental illness and addiction have enormous effects on our families. It’s painful to watch someone we love struggle with something we can’t fix (just check out a show like “Euphoria,” which ventures deep into the consequences of addiction).
NOTE: If you’re not in the best mental space, I think this is a song you might want to skip for now.
Family Business by Kanye West
On “Family Business,” which is one of my favorite tracks off the “College Dropout” album, Ye raps of how a tight knit family needs to keep their internal problems under lock and key.
And it’s not that Kanye is rapping about ignoring problems that might fester within a family. It’s more that, whether it’s an issue about money, or just an embarrassing family story, or perhaps even something more serious like getting arrested, the picture Kanye paints is simple yet powerful: your family is your family. And that’s a bond that should never break or fracture.
And, even if it one day did fissure, nobody outside the family should know. Because that’s family business.
Family is Family by Kacey Musgraves
Well, from a rap song about family issues to a country song about the same topic. On this track. I know—Kacey already made this list. I get it. But I just think that this song is too perfect for this topic to not add it to the list.
In fact, similar to Family Business by Kanye West, Kacey Musgraves uses this song to discuss the bond family members have with one another. Despite all of the ups and downs, and despite sometimes not even understanding fully who each other are, family is family. They are going to be there for you, they’re going to support you, and even if you have beef with them, blood is always thicker than water.
Family is family, in church or in prison
You get what you get, and you don’t get to pick ’em
They might smoke like chimneys, but give you their kidneys
Yeah, friends come in handy, but family is family-Family is Family by Kacey Musgraves
Hopefully you have enjoyed my selection of songs about family issues that I think are emotionally moving and musically quite brilliant. These songs span the gamut in terms of content and genre, but we all have individual issues with our families that we have to reconcile. And thankfully, songs like these make it a bit easier to deal with.
You Might Also Enjoy:
- Songs About Fighting Back
- Songs About Losing Someone to Addiction
- Sad Rap Songs
- Songs About the Past
- Songs About Emotional Abuse
- Songs About Believing in Yourself