Dear Patricia: Our relationship is so bad, I've stopped calling my daughter
Published 17/01/2010 | 05:00
I FEEL so helpless about my relationship -- or rather non-relationship -- with my only daughter.
She's in her early 30s, has had a troubled life and blames it all on me. I suppose it doesn't help that her four brothers have all done well.
She is a recovering alcoholic and is bipolar. She is extremely intelligent, but not emotionally so. She dropped out of college, lost various jobs, but has now got her life together and is back studying as a mature student, and doing very well.
I always helped her financially, seeing her through every crisis, and of course supporting her while she was studying. However, she recently refused financial help from me for a special family gathering, saying she never got it when she needed it, which is patently untrue.
I do not know why she turned on me this time. The things she said were so hurtful. We never had a good relationship, but since this recent refusal to take money from me, I'm finding it all very painful. I'm not sleeping very well, and not a day goes by that it doesn't bother me.
I have had years of worrying about her. I've tried everything. I apologised for anything I might have got wrong, or for any hurt I caused her and said I'd always done my best. She retorted that my best wasn't good enough. I've often told her I love her and would like to hear from her, but she just storms off.
She has a terrible temper and has to be right all the time. She comes home occasionally but the atmosphere is always awful.
My husband has never been any help. He preferred to avoid all confrontation, so I was invariably the big bad wolf in the house.
I feel so envious of my friends when I see them shopping with their daughters and doing girlie things.
My daughter never even returns my calls, to the point where I've stopped ringing her.
I've been to counsellors over the years, and am now just so tired of talking but getting nowhere. I'm in my mid-60s and want out.
DEALING with anyone who is bipolar, or manic depressive, is very difficult. The mania, in particular, is hard to handle. It's not just that people do way-out or impulsive or self-destructive things, such as your daughter apparently did by ditching college. They are very angry, and feel free to vent their anger. When manic, they also, invariably, blame others. Most distressing of all, they break the social barriers of normal kindness and consideration and say vicious things, to which there is really no reply. They give themselves permission to be outrageous. And at the time it's all happening, they don't even notice.
All this is possible because mania involves a dissociation from other human beings. The person becomes disconnected, emotionally closed down, switched off. This is felt most keenly in close relationships such as husband and wife, brothers and sisters, or parent and child, which is your sad dilemma. Your daughter might be civil to, say, your friends or neighbours, but vicious to you. We could talk for weeks, or even years, about the causes of bipolar disorder. Personally, I'm convinced it's a complicated mix of emotion and physiology, a delicate combination of psychology and body- or brain-chemistry. But the point is, your daughter is the one who has to solve it. You can't.
Instead you have to ask yourself a hard question. Why do you want a relationship with your daughter? Yes, I know you say you'd like to do girlie things with her, such as your friends do with their daughters, but that's not it -- or not all of it. You see, while you can't fix your daughter, because only she can do that, you can change your behaviour towards her. That, in turn, will change the dynamics of your relationship. But behaviour changes only when we ask ourselves why we're doing it. Hence my question.
A simple example: You offered your daughter money for some family event -- presumably to help her play her part. She refused. You were upset. You're still upset. Why? Yes, I know she said nasty things, but that's a separate issue. You tell me that she's got her act together. Couldn't you see her refusal of financial help as a statement of independence? Wouldn't it be possible to smile, be glad she doesn't need the money, and retreat gracefully? Or is it that you need her to need you? Or are you so consumed with guilt that you feel impelled to go on approaching her? And don't you see, that as long as you chase her, one thing is guaranteed. She will continue to be nasty to you, and continue to retreat.
Sometimes, we just have to let go. Sometimes, that's the biggest gift we can give someone we care for. And sometimes it brings them closer. You need to take a rest from trying. It's the only way forward for you. And it's not a statement of failure. It's the wisdom that comes with loving.