My daughter, aged 42, lives with her young child as she is separated from the father. She lives near her older sister who has a number of children but who also helps out with the childcare.
I find my daughter’s company very difficult at times. It seems that no matter what I do for her or how thoughtful I try to be in buying this or that, it doesn't seem to make for a lasting, happy relationship. She seems to blame me for everything. When visiting the area I try to include both families by sharing myself between the houses which feels so disruptive. I return home very tired.
My late husband was an alcoholic and when growing up my daughter coped by “keeping her head down.” She didn't like me to confront my husband about anything as it would end up spoiling the day. Ironically, my daughter seems to behave in much the same way and has spoiled many family occasions which we all find very difficult to cope with. It seems to be all about how she feels, how things affect her and, although we appreciate that being a lone parent is not easy, it feels like we’re “walking on eggshells” and worried about saying the “wrong” thing. Understandably, we gravitate to the other daughter’s house as it’s so much more relaxed. This causes jealousy, accusations and upset. When I try to change my responses in the hope it will help her change hers, she says she doesn't know me anymore. I live a few hours away from her and usually end up feeling so down and unhappy.
I'd appreciate any suggestions. Can you give me any suggestions to manage this difficult situation?
Indeed this is a very difficult situation, and I can see how it takes a lot out of you. Seems to me, you want to be there for your daughter, want to be in your grandchild’s life, but it’s just too hard...
Her response pattern is not that of a narcissist, and in any case, such labels are not much use for anything. When she was young, she saw her father as being all-powerful, and however much she feared and perhaps even disliked him, she modelled on his behaviour and attitudes. That’s what kids do. It is fortunate that your other daughter has chosen to react differently.
If she were ever to acknowledge that she has the power to change her life from one of unhappiness to something positive, and that her problems are her responsibility, not yours or anyone else’s, then she could turn her life around. However, no one else can make her do this. Any attempt by you, her sister, or anyone else would feel like an attack to her, which will make her counterattack.
She is 42. Her personality and habit patterns are formed, and are unlikely to change without some external event to get her to question her deepest inner beliefs. Such things can happen, but you can’t do it for her.
At the same time, you have the power to improve YOUR life, even while she continues her unfortunate pattern. Do you know the Serenity Prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
She can change herself, if she ever realises that she needs to, but you can’t. You can grow spiritually as a person by making her a loving gift: simply accept her the way she is, whether that’s for now, or forever. If YOU can make this change, then you will be able to put up with her abrasive ways with an inner smile. You won’t succeed in doing this all the time. When you manage it, you’ll feel good about yourself, and know that you are giving the unconditional love that all the great religions say we should give to others regardless of their behaviour. When you can’t manage it, that’s all right. We don’t need to be perfect, only to do our best. So then forgive yourself, and do your best to return to the high path.
This may well drive her mad, because her provocations will no longer have an effect. Or, it may surprise her, and without knowing why, she may respond to the changed social situation within the family by changing herself. Give it a go, and let me know in a few weeks how things are doing.
With love (of the kind I’ve described),