I have a grown daughter problem that is tearing me apart and I don’t know what to do! She blames me for everything that has gone wrong in her life, especially in the last few years!
Her father died in 2004 and since then it has become even more of a downhill struggle – for blame! I confess I was part of the problem when she was growing up, as her father and I had difficulties in the marriage, which have all surfaced in recent years. I was in the real estate business and gone much of the time when she was growing up but not all was the pits as we enjoyed a lot of fun times as a family.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was this past December – I had asked her to go to NYC with me for her Christmas present and two days prior to leaving she emailed me saying, “I don’t believe I would enjoy NY and have decided not to go.” Travel tickets, show tickets, hotel were all booked. Her reason: I owed her an apology when a phone call prior to departure got out of hand and I hung up.
I am 82 years old now, and this kind of stress I don’t need – but she is still my daughter and I can’t let it go!
What do I do?
Betty, 82-year-old woman
Betty, my dear,
Of course you are hurting. So is your daughter. If you are 82, she has to be over 50. You both have a lot of wisdom and life experience, and are probably wonderful sources of help and advice for other people. Chances are, like with most of us, it’s only with people you love that you have such conflicts.
This is why, when I feel tension with a person who is close to me, I imagine that someone else is in my situation, and asks me what to do. Things usually look clearer when I remove my personal involvement. So, if your cousin Bev had this problem with her daughter, how would you advise her to handle it?
From what you wrote, your daughter has the mindset that, if something goes wrong for her, it must be mother’s fault. You have identified the reason for this fixed reaction: your over-commitment to your work when she was a child. She probably doesn’t know this. We all have such core beliefs that develop in childhood and are useful at that time to make sense of the child’s world, but later can distort reality. If you lived in my area, I’d invite the two of you to see me together for one or two sessions, and we could sort this out. Maybe you can find a psychologist who uses cognitive therapy or interpersonal therapy and have those couple of sessions.
Another thing many of my clients find very helpful is to write a letter. To do it right, compose two letters. You don’t send the first one, which puts all your hurts and resentments into writing. Then, the second one is a loving, forgiving letter in which you apologize from the heart for all the past hurts you have caused her, and extend your unconditional love to her, regardless of what hurts she has done to you. And note: the words “heart” and “hear” only differ in one letter.
You can ask her a question that often keeps me free from resentment. Suppose tomorrow I am told that I’ve only got a few months to live. that can happen to any of us. Would I spend those last precious days in hate and resentment, or would I make peace and go with love? Life is too short to hurt those we love, and who care for us. And isn’t this the message of all the great religions?
What if, regardless of what you do, she continues to reject you?
Betty, we are only responsible for ourselves. You make choices, she makes choices. If she makes what I would consider to be the wrong choice, that is her right. If I was on the receiving end of such a hurtful situation, I would grieve for a while – how could it be otherwise? However, I would console myself with the fact that I had done my best. If it didn’t work, that was not my doing, not my choice. Once I got over the initial pain, I’d mentally send her my blessing, and get on with my life.
This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 31 years experience as a psychologist and is registered with the Australian Psychological Society. He practices in Australia.