Relationship Problems with My Adult Daughter


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Sandra A Doron LCSW

Dear Sandra:

I am having a relationship problem with my adult daughter. I have been divorced for many years, and took on the awesome responsibility of raising my children by myself. Now that my daughter is an adult, she blames me for many of her problems. I know that I made the mistake of conveying to her that I was a wonder woman, and could do everything single-handedly. Unfortunately, my daughter has taken on my characteristics: she is working full time, studying for her Master’s degree, and volunteering regularly, never saying no to anyone who asks her to do something for them. Just this past week, she was hospitalized, and tests are indicating a serious immune problem that may cause permanent hearing loss. I believe that her need to be “wonder-woman” has produced so much stress in her life, and that her hearing loss is stress- related. I am devastated by this news, and needless to say am feeling somehow responsible. Deeply Distressed

Dear Deeply Distressed:

I cannot think of any deeper anguish than what you must be going through at this time. Parents strive to prevent pain and sorrow in the lives of their children, and when we believe that we are somehow responsible for that pain, the guilt is often more than we can bear. Many parents convey to their children that they are capable of doing everything. When we are raising our children, we often take on the role of appearing invincible. When we think back on what we had to do during those child-raising years, we wonder how we had the stamina, perseverance and energy to do what we did. Perhaps we needed to believe that we were “wonder women” in order to endure the extraordinary challenges of parenthood, especially when one parent is carrying all the responsibility, as you had to do. At one point in your life, you may have felt proud of yourself for accomplishing what you did, under such difficult circumstances. You must have felt proud of your daughter as well, who like you, was working so hard to succeed.

It sounds as if you are paying a heavy price for assuming responsibility that rightfully belongs to your adult daughter. You will feel a great sense of relief if you are willing to take the following steps:

1. You will want to be compassionate and helpful during this stressful and anxious time. Share your concern and help your daughter cope with the fears she must be experiencing now. The hearing loss may not be permanent, and your support during this scary time is essential. You may want to suggest to your daughter that she get a second opinion, if she has not already done so. You could find out what the medical connection is between the immune problem and the hearing loss. It may not be stress induced, as you currently assume it is. 2. If she indirectly or directly blames you for her current problems, tell her that you did the best that you could. While she may have acquired many of your characteristics, your daughter is a separate individual from you, and you are not responsible for the choices she makes in her adult life. 3. Ask her what she thinks she needs to change so that she can better cope with the present situation. She herself may realize that she has undertaken more than she can handle, and has a problem setting boundaries and saying no. 4. Tell your daughter how much you love her, and discuss ways you and she can improve your relationship.

As parents, we often continue the pattern of taking responsibility for the behavior of our children, even into their adulthood. Even though it will not be easy to relinquish that responsibility, your mental health and your concern about your daughter may mobilize you to change. When she blames you and you accept that blame and feel guilty, you are enabling her to remain a child who is unable to look within herself, and see the consequences of her behavior. She cannot mature, deal constructively with reality, and adapt to change, all criteria for emotional maturity. Also, she cannot appreciate the tremendous effort you made to provide for her needs as a single parent. In the end, you continue to bear the guilt and the unbearable sense that you are causing her pain, which can destroy the beauty of a mature and satisfying mother-daughter relationship. It is never too late to change patterns of behavior, although sometimes you may not be ready and it may be too early.

Sandra A Doron is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker A & A Couples Counseling Acknowledge and Appreciate (Keys to a Successful Relationship)


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This site was last updated 02/06/06