Thursday, April 18, 2024

Carolyn Hax: When does a parent stop trying to connect with an estranged daughter?

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Dear Carolyne: My young adult daughter is closer to her mother and makes no effort to see me when she is home, even though we have always gotten along well. I’ve tried suggesting outings that I think she’ll enjoy, I’ve tried watching shows she likes, I’ll text and get a one word response. If I call her, she says it’s a bad time. I asked her to call me and she doesn’t.

The separation was due to her mother cheating on her, so I don’t think there are any hard feelings towards me because of the divorce. Additionally, my daughter and I have not had any arguments and everything is fine with her siblings.

She reaches out when she needs money or help with something, and that’s it. She missed the last family vacation. I told him I was upset; she doesn’t seem to care.

At what point should I tell her that I’m going to stop trying but that I’m here for her if she needs anything?

The other parent: This is not the case. You don’t entrust the entire relationship to your child – certainly not to a young adult, but not even to a full adult. Especially not when there was traumatic upheaval in the family during his childhood.

If she’s in college, the answer can only be one word: patience.

It can get bumpy when a parent-child relationship transitions to one between two adults, especially if the parent is slow to let go of old habits and expectations.

In general, too, relationships become much easier when we remember that the other person has a lifetime of things that affect their interactions with us, much of which is beyond our knowledge and reach. (They can also become more difficult with this reminder, if you use it to inventory everything you’ve already done for someone who is now acting remotely. But I recommend the former, using it as a release.)

Your letter contains excellent examples of the importance of context unknowns: “I don’t think there are any hard feelings,” you say; “She doesn’t seem to care,” you say. This means you have no idea what’s fueling her current state of mind, you just know she’s putting some distance between you. It’s a sign of respect to keep in mind that she has her reasons, that you just don’t know them (yet).

Respect is essential in parent-child relationships in transition. Raising a child involves many years of presumption of knowing what is best for a child, then trying to act responsibly, then trying to determine whether the tantrum, the snapping of door or repression of the child is a sign that we have done the right thing as parents or as horribly wrong ones. Given this constant conditioning, it is normal for parents to continue to draw conclusions about their children far beyond the usefulness of such reflective certainties – and for children, especially young adults, to become angry with them .

Now take all of this relationship context and think about your daughter. First, imagine some typical young adult challenges: establishing independence, dealing with some childhood things, differentiating from parents, viewing old relationships through the lens of growing maturity and newly mixed feelings. Etc.

Imagine she needs a little break to sort her things. Imagine his mother being more comfortable giving it to him (or a total breeze, alas). Imagine that your daughter doesn’t (yet) have the maturity to tell you all this to your face.

Now imagine how your message “I’m going to stop trying” would strike his ears.

Not great, right? A touch of abandon as she goes for it, a bit of thin skin, a few hints of “You love your mother better!”

It is when children are least lovable that they most need constant parental love.

You don’t need to be a doormat or have all your feelings squeezed out of you. Just be the person who puts it all together: love, “we always got along”, people going through things we don’t always know about, patience, respect, self-respect and “I am the parent here. » These are the building blocks of a long-term vision.

What does this look like in practice? As always: the well-being of the children trumps your feelings. Stay in regular but non-stifling contact as she becomes what she is becoming. See the joy of its independence when you are tempted to complain about it; I would also skip family vacations if I felt guilty about going. Be happy that she is comfortable with a parent instead of being upset that you are not the parent she chose. She may also prefer her mother’s company, because she doesn’t make much effort.

And perhaps most importantly, don’t base your idea of ​​your relationship on who she was. If she sees you letting go of that, without asking her to deal with your hurt feelings, then she’ll know you’re ready to see her – no matter who it turns out to be.

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