Ask the Expert: Our grown-up daughter is making us miserable
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Think how best you can open a constructive conversation with your daughter about her behaviour at home. Photograph: Thinkstock Images
Q We need help in dealing with our 20-year-old daughter who is still very rebellious at home. She is in full-time education and we can’t afford to pay for her to live out of home. She can be disrespectful and moody and takes no part in family life (we have two younger children) and treats the house like a hotel. I think things have become particularly difficult recently as she is drinking more and is often nursing a hangover during the weekend.
When we try to tackle her on the issues, she explodes and says she is an adult and we have no right to tell her what to do. I am not sure how to respond. Many of my friends say I should just tell her to leave but it would cost us more to set her up in accommodation while she is attending college.
I feel very miserable about it and I am worrying about the effect on the younger children.
A When I deliver talks about managing teenagers, many parents describe to me how they are having ongoing problems with their adult children living at home. Their now grown-up children are continuing to be disruptive or challenging, but they feel less empowered about insisting on rules in the same way as when they were younger. These adult children are often less connected to the family (treating the home as a “hotel”, as you say) and even displaying more serious problems such as drinking, and so on, which were not present when they were younger.
Whereas many people offer the simple advice that they should insist the adult child leave, this may not be easy, particularly when the child is still dependent, financially and otherwise, on the parent. In these situations there may be opportunities for achieving a more constructive middle ground.
You have a right to insist on rules
Try to understand your daughter
Her drinking is a worry, both for her and because of the mood changes it can visit upon everyone else. It is helpful to start by first being empathic and understanding towards her.
Start a conversation with your daughter
Next, be clear about your concerns and what you need from her. You could say something like: “I’m worried that you seem unhappy”; or “We need you to be more respectful at home”; or, “I’m worried about your drinking, especially in front of your sisters”; or, “We need you to help out more at home.”
Finally, try to explore solutions, compromises or ways forward that might make you all happy.
Remember, it may take several conversations to make progress. You may find it helpful to seek some support either for yourself (see parentline.ie), or your daughter might seek support elsewhere (for example, through student counselling).
Be prepared to use consequences if necessary
You do of course have the big consequence of asking her to leave if problems persist, and I understand your reluctance to employ this, but it is something you can consider down the line. Try to frame this choice she has positively by saying, for example, “Come on, you know you have to be polite/meet us halfway if you want to continue to live at home.”
Keep the lines of communication open
Try to reach out and improve your relationship with your daughter. Are there times when you get on better, or when you have a good chat (albeit about daily ordinary things)? Are there ways you could perhaps set more of these times up during the week? Perhaps you could help her with something, do an activity or take her on a trip which would give you time alone to talk to each other. The better you are getting on with her, the easier it will be to tackle the big issues above.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and founder of the Parents Plus charity. He will give a talk about overcoming anxiety in children in Cork on February 20th and in Dublin on March 19th, and a talk about positive parenting in Kilkenny on March 30th. See solutiontalk.ie