Thursday 21 September 2017

Family Life: Model-student daughter makes our home life hell

David Coleman

David Coleman

I am writing for advice about my 19-year-old daughter. She is in college and doing well. She was always a model student who gets on well with friends and teachers.

But for the past two years she just doesn't seem to care about me or my husband. Her attitude to everything in the house is "I don't care," as if we are constantly tormenting her. She won't speak civilly to us and is unbelievably rude to me. Everything seems to be a row with her. If I ask her to do the simplest job in the house for me it turns into an argument. I find this so hard to tolerate as this is not how we reared her. A lot of the time we don't even talk. There are times I cry because I am so broken-hearted and then just as easily I can be angry and bitter. We spent a lot of money last year on her going to college and this year it's going to be a lot more. But she doesn't stop to think where it all comes from once she gets what she wants. I have tried talking with her and explaining how I feel. She promises to change but she never does or she is back to her old ways in no time. What should I do? Should I ignore her and just let her live in the house? She's my daughter and I love her but I just can't carry on like this.

What you are describing sounds to me like a delayed onset of adolescence. The deepening disrespect, alienation from her family, taking what the family gives her but not giving anything in return are all hallmarks of a truculent teenager.

Often I feel like the saturation of media has led to an earlier onset of adolescence for many children. The attitude and behaviour of many 11 and 12-year-olds is what we had expected perhaps of 14 and 15-year-olds.

School

It does happen, however, that some youngsters put their heads down through their secondary school years and don't buck the system.

They plough on through schoolwork, friendships and keep positive relationships with their parents too. They are the kind of youngsters parents are referring to when they say: "I never had a day's bother with him/her."

But these youngsters often end up stuck in their development because they never separate out and become independent. They never explore their identity and so don't come to know who they are.

There is, however, an instinctual drive in all of us to form an identity that is individual and, usually, separate from our parents. At some point children will push their parents away to create enough distance to be able to work out who they (the children) are.

I think that since your daughter has gone to college she has begun this process. The greater freedom and responsibility has probably been a release for her. Throughout school she may have felt constricted but now feels free.

With that freedom has come an innate selfishness. This, however, is normal. We all are intensely selfish when the time comes to form our identity as our focus narrows to thinking just about ourselves.

We expect this of a 15-year-old, but, as in your case, are surprised and hurt when it occurs in a 19-year-old.

Alongside a shift in her development she may also have inherited a sense of entitlement. As a young teenager in the boom years she may have had the experience of plenty, leading her to believe that you, and the world, will always provide for her.

I do think that this phase in her life, although starting late, will pass. If she continues to live with you, though, you need to clearly set out your expectations of her behaviour and attitude in the house. If she chooses to act like a young teenager then that is how you must treat her.

Conditional

This might include making her allowance and/or college fees conditional on her civility and participation in the household. If she treats you badly then she is not entitled to your support (for example money, lifts, clothes being washed, dinners being cooked).

Be firm in your dealing with her. Don't let her abuse you and get away with it. If she is disrespectful then she needs to know that there is a consequence for that. The ultimate consequence would be that if she persists in being rude and insolent towards you, then you and she might be better living apart.

Living separately might actually allow your relationship to move naturally to the next developmental stage of being two adults who have mutual respect for each other.

It might seem extreme to consider making her move out, but it may also be the lesson she needs to learn about not taking things for granted (and being disrespectful into the bargain). You have given her every support up to now and you deserve to be treated better.

It sounds like she needs a serious push before she will realise this.

Irish Independent

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