One of the things I hear mothers of adult daughters talk about a lot is their expectations. Whether we voice them or not, we all have hopes and expectations for our daughters, both big things and little things. Big things like the kind of job our daughter will have, the kind of people she will date and possibly marry, whether she will have children, whether she will move too far away. Then there are the smaller expectations, like whether she calls or texts often, whether she lets you know what the grandchildren are doing so that you can go to their soccer games, plays and recitals, whether she sets aside time for you when you visit, or keeps her house clean and picked up.
Having a good relationship with our adult daughters requires us to be conscious that we have these expectations and to be prepared to manage our thinking about them. Your expectations are essentially your manual for her to follow so you can be happy. [For more about “the manual, see my blog post entitled, “Want to Have a Great Relationship with Your Adult Daughter? Throw Away the Manual!”] If you set expectations for her, and she doesn’t know what they are, or otherwise is unwilling or unable to meet them, you are setting the stage to feel hurt, disappointed or angry towards her and for there to be friction between the two of you.
Our daughters can’t read our minds, and their expectations for themselves and for us may be different than our own. I remember when my first daughter, Eliza, was born. My parents lived 325 miles away, and wanted to visit right after Eliza was born. My mother did not want to come to help, though. She wanted to play with the baby. I expected her to do what my friends’ moms did– to help out. We didn’t talk about it in advance, and I got upset with her, she became insulted and left without saying goodbye. I was devastated. Daughters have expectations too!
This is where good communication comes in. If you are planning to visit your daughter and don’t want only to be a free babysitter, or amuse yourself while she nurses her hangover, talk about the visit ahead of time. Ask her whether she has planned anything, and tell her what you would like to do. “I was hoping the two of us could go out to brunch on Sunday, then visit our favorite boutique. Do you think we could do that?” Perhaps you can find a balance between your desires and expectations and hers.
Sometimes, even when we voice our expectations, our daughters do not want to comply with them. The reality is that they don’t have to. We can’t control them. We can only control how we think about them and the situation. How do you want to think about your daughter? With love and compassion, or with disappointment and frustration?
When we find ourselves feeling disappointed because our expectations aren’t met, it is helpful to pause and think objectively about the facts of the situation. Separate the actual facts from your thoughts about it. We have a tendency to get wrapped up in our thoughts and believe that they are true. We make it about us. If your daughter went out with friends the night before, drank too much and is hung over when you arrive in the morning, you may be inclined to think, “She doesn’t care enough about me to drink less when I’m coming!” That isn’t about you, though. She didn’t plan to drink too much. She didn’t think, “I’ll get trashed tonight so I don’t have to do anything with my mom when she arrives tomorrow.” (If she did that, you likely have an entirely different problem, but managing expectations still helps!) She made a mistake, but she didn’t plan to hurt you. She feels sick and probably sheepish, so be kind. Assuming she doesn’t have a more serious drinking problem, you might then ask her, “How can we avoid this happening next time we have plans together?”
Loving your daughter unconditionally does not mean you approve of all of her behavior. It just means that you love her no matter what.