Sunday 26 October 2014

'I am exhausted from the daily battles with my abusive 18-year-old daughter'

Published 18/08/2014 | 00:00

Photo: Thinkstock. Picture posed.
Photo: Thinkstock. Picture posed.

Clinical psychologist David Coleman answers your parenting questions.

My relationship with my 18-year-old daughter is at an all-time low. Every day is like a battle ground.

From morning to night she shouts at everyone in the house, using abusive language. Her list of complaints about us and our home is endless. She has a summer job, which she constantly moans about, but depends on the money to socialise. I think she drinks too much when she is out and I suspect drug-taking and sexual activity.

I have taught her to drive, wash her clothes, and generally tried to get her to care for herself but she complains that we treat her differently to her younger sisters and don't do enough for her. There are so few moments of peace and she has told me, repeatedly, how much she hates me. Her relationship with her dad is just as bad. I feel like a total failure and I am burnt-out by her. Is there anything I can do?

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David Coleman replies: It always seems so tragic when parents reach a point of burnout. I can only imagine your distress. It becomes easy to blame yourself and wonder where you went wrong.

In truth, though, you may not have gone wrong at all. Or, at least, you were not the only one going wrong.

You have to remember that "it takes two to tango". Whatever you brought to your relationship with your daughter was only half the dynamic. She is her own person and so she too brought her personality and her temperament to bear on the relationship.

Then, in addition, you are both part of a family which is an even bigger system and so the dynamics of all of your inter-relationships will also influence how you each get on with the other.

For example, you comment on how your daughter complains about what she considers to be your preferential treatment of her younger sisters. So, she reads something into your relationship with them, compares it to herself and allows this to influence her relationship with you.

In this example, her perception of how you treat her sisters has left her feeling bitter and resentful. Ironically, you give her more responsibility with the intention of positively differentiating her, but she seems to see it negatively.

When I first read your query, my gut reaction was to label your daughter a spoilt, self-centred young woman who needs a bit of an emotional and psychological push to move on, grow up and move out.

Even though I can see that she is simply struggling to create her own identity and become independent of you, I still think this would be a good thing for her.

Many youngsters pull away from their parents, cruelly, by dismissing them while taking advantage of their continued generosity and good will.

Indeed many parents then refuse to let go, still feeling responsible to mind and care for their 'children' even though they are adults. So they put up with the abuse, not wanting to put additional pressure on their offspring.

Moving out and taking full responsibility for herself would give your daughter a fuller understanding of independence. As things stand she plays with independence while still hanging onto a total dependence on you and her dad to care for her.

So, if she isn't willing to be civil and considerate then it would be okay for you to ask her to move out.

If you and your husband role model respect and mutual consideration in how you get on with each other then you could, fairly, demand the same from her. If she isn't prepared to give that, then she needs to live elsewhere.

In truth, I think you are trying to be too nice to her. She isn't going to appreciate, or respect, what you do for her, because she feels entitled to this care.

In fact, she may need to learn the hard way that she has had it good up to now now and that she needs to value that.

Sometimes, it is only when we lose something we realise it's true value to us.

So, talk to her about what you expect of her, in terms of her behaviour and her attitude. Give her a clear limit and timeframe for when she needs to change. Then, you need to hold your resolve and tell her to move out if she doesn't treat you better.

You seem very willing to be kind and respectful to your daughter and you deserve the same from her.

If she can't give it, yet, then let her develop it in her own time and, crucially, in her own home.

 

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