Sunday 26 March 2017

Dear Patricia: Whatever we do, we can't make our daughter happy

Patricia Redlich

I'M 54 years old, happily married to my husband for 30 years and we have four children, three boys and a girl. All three boys are happy. Our daughter is extremely unhappy. And no matter what we do, she remains unhappy.

She's had a skin complaint from early childhood, which has resisted all attempts at a cure. It can be painful at times and unattractive to look at when it flares up, and, obviously, this is very upsetting for her, and for us. We have given her every support in trying to find an answer. However, she wants to talk about her problem day and night.

When we feel we have talked about it ad nauseam, and want to move on to something else, she retreats into her room. When we try to entice her out of her room, she is abusive towards us and won't come down to meals prepared for her.

She has just turned 26. When she eventually comes out of her room, it is only to fight with us about us not being supportive enough.

I am beginning to feel my age and am just wondering if my parenting days should be over?

Patricia replies:

LONG over. And misguided too, if you don't mind me being direct. A young child may legitimately rant at you when in distress. It goes with the terrain.

Berating parents becomes unacceptable once children reach what used to be called the age of reason. So say by seven or eight, they have to ask for help, ask for support, ask for attention. And learn to be grateful for gifts received.

Of course, they can't yet decide on a medical campaign plan, or get themselves 'sorted' in that sense. But no matter how sick, they cannot be allowed to treat their parents badly. Because that's no longer the small child's inability to differentiate between herself and others. It's abuse.

Quite frankly, your daughter is being outrageous. And you are allowing her to be so. It doesn't matter what the disease, disability, or life-threatening disorder, even the sickest people must obey the basic rules of decency and good manners. Sure, they will lose it from time to time. We all do. And then we apologise.

Your daughter hasn't just adopted the 'sick' role, which is not good for her anyway. She has become an abusive bully. Not on.

Not only is your parenting role over, what you're doing isn't parenting anyway. It's kowtowing to bad behaviour. And that's never a good idea. Your daughter's problems are hers. And it's high time she got a grip.

Is it impossible for her to cook? Why hasn't she found some support group for herself? Can she work? Does she? And why on earth would you try to entice a badly behaved woman out of her bedroom? She abuses you when she's around you. Why would you want the company of someone like that?

As you can see, this is a situation you have created. To change it, you have to ferret out your reasons for acting the way you do -- and have done, it seems, all your daughter's life. What I found fascinating was your early statement that your daughter isn't happy -- and that nothing you do makes her happy, which obviously upsets you.

That would be a good place to start the examination of your personal belief system. Happiness is our own gift to ourselves. Nobody can make someone else happy. It's an entirely personal decision.

You cannot, ever, make your daughter happy. It is impossible. Not only is it impossible, the very effort perpetuates this awful situation you all find yourselves in.

Let me say it another way. Attempts at making someone happy are actually appeasement. And appeasing is what we do with bullies. So, in a very real way, your daughter's bullying is a co-creation -- all three of you are in there, yourself, your husband and your daughter. If you, as parents, pull out, the bullying will stop. And remember, bullies aren't happy people either. You'd be doing your daughter a huge favour if you stopped 'enticing' her, as you put it.

All this will take time and determination. After all, you've spent a lifetime helping your daughter to be who she is. Start by leaving her to sulk, as and when she wishes. Just greet her with a smile when she finally emerges. Oh, and ask her to help you cook that dinner before a sulk starts.

Feel free to say you're tired. Find something you need to do urgently when she starts her next monologue. Lots of dodging in other words -- the point being that you don't discuss how you're going to behave differently. You just do it.

And engage in relentless internal battle with the mind-set that got you where you are in the first place.

Sunday Independent

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