I was a single parent from the time my oldest daughter was four years old. It was not easy, financially, but I loved being a mother and enjoyed my relationship with my girls. Both are grown and are living together rent-free in my condo as they complete their university education. I have remarried and live about 20 minutes away.
The problem is my older daughter, Tanya, who is 22. She has become so angry with me. She complains that I have my own life with my husband (the nerve of me, getting on with my life), that I don't visit her enough (she comes to my place because she claims hers is too messy), and that I'm 'not a legitimate force' in her life (I'm not sure what a legitimate force is; I thought that was a military term). She focuses on any event that was negative in her childhood, or any parenting mistake that I made, instead of the many happy times we had.
I am tired of her criticism. I'm not asking for kudos for being a great mom, but I was a more than adequate mother and cannot understand her bitterness toward me. I have told her that her words and attitude hurt me, but it has had little effect. We have never had trouble communicating with each other, so this isn't a problem about miscommunication. I love her so much, but I don't love who she has become.
Should I limit my contact with my daughter? I have suggested that she see a counselor to deal with her anger, but she refuses, saying 'the problem's yours, Mom.' (What problem?) Should I soldier on, hoping this is a phase, or some residual anger from her adolescence? Help!
Astrid (47-year-old woman) Portland, Oregon
I have seen other parents of adult children in this very distressing situation. You have done nothing that you need to feel guilty about, but as far as Tanya is concerned, you're the pits as a mother. Everything that has ever gone wrong in her life is your fault.
There is an approach that has worked for some of my clients in this kind of situation, but there are no guarantees. It is possible that Tanya is unknowingly motivated to keep the situation as it is, even if she is as hurt by it as you.
How could that be possible? She may have major problems she is worried about, but denies them. They are too big, too threatening, and too difficult. For a person in that situation, it is MUCH easier to 'externalize' the problem. If it is all someone else's fault, then she cannot fix it, can she? If she is not responsible for her own unhappiness because she is able to blame you, then she doesn't need to work at it. And working at it may be just too big, too difficult, too threatening.
But, the approach I am going to suggest MAY work. It is to write her a very carefully worded letter. It should have three components:
- First, you cannot lead someone from a dark place unless you first join her. So, as well as you know how, describe to her your understanding of how she feels. Quote her own words as well as stating her feelings in yours. This will make her feel heard, validated, understood.
- In the second section, tell her that, despite all the tensions between the two of you, you love her deeply and want to overcome this schism between you. You want to become friends again. Tell her that although you understand her beliefs, you disagree. Then, more briefly than for the first section, state your view of your life together when she was a child. Do not go over specific accusations, just state more or less what you said in your question.
- Finally, state that you don't think the problem is that there is something wrong with either of you, but that this is an issue of different visions of your past. The only way to resolve such differences and find common ground once more, the only way to forgive each other for past hurts and start a new, positive relationship, is to have meetings between the two of you, mediated by a skilled, impartial third person. Suggest that the two of you find a relationship counselor and start on the way towards reducing tensions and mutual forgiveness.
The letter should not be too long, two or three pages.
It's a pity you didn't leave an email address. If you read this answer, I'd be interested in your response to it.