‘My daughter hated me when she was a teenager and she still does’
Tell me about it: She is in her 40s but still says hurtful things to me
‘Could you go to where she lives and take her out for dinner on your own.’ Photograph: iStock
Question: We have two adult children. My daughter, who is the oldest by nearly three years, was an easy, happy child. However, when she hit mid-teens, she started to treat me with contempt. This has carried on getting worse and now she is a married mum in her early 40s. Our son was a difficult child and teenager but is now a son to be proud of, also married with a teenage son. I have a great relationship with him and our daughter-in-law.
Our daughter seems to hate me. I have never interfered in either children’s married lives and I love them dearly. They know how much I care for them and their families. My husband has not been easy to live with, anxiety and depression being the main problem for him. Thankfully, he is in a better place now. We have a good relationship, except he will not support me when our daughter is so vile to me. Are my husband’s past problems being blamed on me? I have always loved and supported him through 46 years of marriage.
We rarely see our daughter, the last time was a week ago, after we moved to a lovely bungalow in a beautiful area and we are really happy here. She said awful, unprovoked things to me on her first visit here.
I make friends easily, try to help other people and am generally outgoing. However, I am brokenhearted by our daughter’s treatment of me, and for the first time ever, told her how I feel.
She did apologise to me later, but I can’t forget the things she has said.
Answer: It seems that in the last week you have finally broken a silence that has permeated your family for very many years. You were driven to this by frustration and a feeling of injustice but should this conversation not have started many years ago?
It may be true that you have been blamed for your husband’s poor mental health but teenagers often target the most functioning parent as they have an innate sense that the vulnerable parent would not be able to cope.
She is an adult with children of her own and as such is culpable for her behaviour
As a teenager, your daughter may have resented the fact that the parental attention was not on her but on her father and she did not know how to voice her hurt and abandonment, instead she lashed out and this became a pattern of behaviour she never addressed.
However, she is an adult with children of her own and as such is culpable for her behaviour and what she models for her own children. You too are responsible for your speaking, or not speaking, and perhaps over the years you have taken on a position of victimhood. Being married to someone with a mental health condition can bring with it responses that deny, or subdue, your own needs and desires. While this is inevitable as proper care and support is instigated, having it as a default position can lead to resentment not only in the partner with the mental health condition but also in those directly involved in the family. Your daughter may have wanted a mother who was able to demand for herself and she attacked you in order to push for a response.
While this is not the ideal way to help someone voice their needs, and certainly as an adult your daughter could do with a more reasoned approach, it could have been a primal call for a mother who stood up for herself. You finally did this and there is no reason to stop now.
Recently, you have made lots of changes: the bungalow, your relationship with your husband has improved and you have good friends and a social life. We are more open to change when we are already in flux, so now you can change how you relate to your daughter. This demands a different approach. Could you go to where she lives and take her out for dinner on your own. Ask her what she thinks needs addressing in your relationship and tell her that you want a close and connected relationship with her and her family.
If you can be convincing and firm in your intention, she will see the truth of it and realise that you will not be moved in your stance. It seems that our daughter feels you haven’t heard what she has to say fully as she has reiterated this message again and again in hurtful terms over the years. Can you tolerate hearing her out fully so that she feels understood and then tell her in depth the hurt and rejection you have suffered over the years?
It is unlikely that one conversation will suffice and so you could say that you will make the journey to where she lives once a month until both of you get beyond the hurt to having a real relationship.