I am 48, divorced for 6 years from my second husband. We were married for 18 years, and when we married I had one daughter, 2 1/2 from my previous marriage. My new husband legally adopted her, but he was never a good father. In fact, he began to be emotionally abusive to her shortly after we married.
He was extremely critical of her and jealous of the attention she needed from me. I was young and unsure of myself, and also of a religious belief at the time that caused me to take the traditional female submissive role. I did not stand for any physical abuse toward her (that I knew about), but I did not know how to stop the other which was sometimes subtle. Also, I was fighting my own mixed feelings concerning her real father that got displaced onto her. All in all, a mess. I soon had her half-sister, but I knew after about 5 years of marriage that the second marriage was doomed to failure. My husband just was not ever going to be able to be a good husband or father, but I stuck it out until the kids were grown, mainly for financial reasons.
Anyhow, my oldest daughter moved to the west coast about 7 years ago with some mutual acquaintances and I have not seen her since. She never answers any mail. She is now 27 years old and still unmarried. I would like to get to know the person she has become, and to be forgiven for whatever she holds me responsible for, and to establish some kind of adult relationship. To confuse me further, she maintains contact with my ex-husband who recently flew out to visit her, something that is beyond my current financial resources.
My question is: why does she maintain a relationship with the person who was directly abusive to her, and how can I go about trying to mend the past?
Thanks for writing. Your situation is a very difficult one, for which there is no simple or easy answer.
You made some mistakes, and the biggest one (probably) was teaching this young girl that financial security is more important than honesty, love and genuine commitment. When you "stuck it out until the kids were grown, mainly for financial reasons," you taught her to prioritize financial security above all else. She is doing that now, by maintaining contact with the parent who can afford to travel to see her.
Like you, she will have to learn that choosing financial security over everything else is - in the long run - very costly. Its toll is dignity, self-worth, honesty and personal freedom. You were willing to give these up for material comforts, so she saw this and internalized this. She became like you.
There's no way you can un-teach what you taught her, so, in that sense, the past cannot be mended.
On the other hand, you CAN stop continuing to teach her to compromise dignity and self-esteem. In my opinion, that's what you are doing when you keep trying to "be forgiven" by her. You have written her, you have reached out to her, you have approached her. She is an adult woman who is responsible for her own behaviors, actions and choices, and she chooses to ignore you and devalue your relationship to her.
You said "Why does she maintain a relationship with the person who was directly abusive to her?" Do you see that you reinforce that behavior every time you attempt to make contact with her, since you are tolerating her abusive, negating and hurtful behaviors towards you?
You feel like a "disowned" mom. I hope you can see that you have tried many things to make amends for the mistakes you made. You have even written to an online counselor for advice - that's how sincere your intentions are.
My advice to you is that you forgive yourself for the mistakes you made. Begin by owning what you did in the past and then you - at least - will not "disown" you.
You might want to participate in weekly psychotherapy to get some help with this. There are also support groups which might give you encouragement as you make choices to live a life filled with meaning and fulfillment. CoDA might be a good support group for you to investigate.
Learning to love and accept yourself and to own your mistakes, though, won't guarantee that you will get your daughter's love back; she may never choose to have a relationship with you. But you will have your own self-acceptance, self-worth and dignity. If she ever wants to know more about you and your strength, wisdom and love, she will know where to look, and she will find you.
Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT
This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit: http://www.pegburr.com/