You love your daughter so much. You’ve given much of your life to raising her the best you possibly can. You’ve given her lots of love and have made so many sacrifices for her. Now that she’s grown, when you thought it would be easier, it isn’t. Why does it seem she is pulling away from you?
This is the first in a series of posts that will appear in the next few weeks about mothering your adult daughter. How can you have a strong mother-daughter bond and a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship when your daughter lives on her own, and even has her own family?
First, you have to throw away your manual. What manual, you ask? We all have unwritten manuals for the people in our lives with instructions about how they should treat us or behave so that we can feel good. We may not realize it, but we have manuals containing our expectations for how our children should live their lives. When they don’t meet these expectations, we may feel hurt, worried, disappointed or even rejected.
When our daughters leave our home and begin a life of their own, we lose the control we had over them when we supported them and they lived with us. For some, this loss of control is very difficult.
Maybe you raised your daughter in a clean house, but you think her apartment or dorm room is a filthy mess. She hasn’t washed the sheets all semester, for Heaven’s sake! Your manual says, “She should keep her living quarters neat and clean like I taught her!” Maybe you even take it personally and think, “She doesn’t respect me because she didn’t even bother to pick up before I came to visit, and she knows how I hate using a dirty toilet!”
But it isn’t about you, Mom. It is about her. It is her home and like it or not, she can decide how to decorate it and how clean to keep it. Would you want someone telling you how to your home should look so that they can feel good? Well, you can’t expect others, even your daughter, to do that either.
The problem with having these manuals is that we then believe that it is our daughter’s fault that we don’t feel good. But it isn’t. Other people’s behavior has no impact on us emotionally until we think about it, interpret it, and choose to make it mean something. We don’t have to give our daughter (or anyone else!) the power to determine how we feel. We are the only ones responsible for that. When we have a manual, though, we delegate our feelings and our happiness to someone else. That is a lot of power to give someone!
Let’s say Karen thinks that her daughter Sara should not date men she meets online because she’s afraid that Sara will get raped or murdered. Sara has done quite a bit of online dating, and hasn’t had any problems. Many of her friends have dated guys online, and she has a cousin who married someone she met on OK Cupid. Karen, however, feels that Sara doesn’t really understand the risk. Sara knows Karen worries when Sara dates a man she met online. Karen has made this mean that Sara doesn’t respect Karen’s feelings or care about her. If she did, she wouldn’t do online dating. Sara loves her mother, but thinks Karen doesn’t have a clue about online dating, and she doesn’t want her mom’s advice about it anyway. How she meets guys is her own business.
Because our thoughts cause our feelings, Karen can change her thoughts. She can think, “Sara is a smart young woman with a lot of common sense. She’s been doing a good job taking care of herself and I can trust that she would know what to do if the guy was a creep.” She can realize that Sara’s decision to date is not about Karen at all, and that Sara is just doing what many single women do. Rather than feeling worried and rejected, Karen can feel confident that her daughter is a responsible adult. It is her choice. She can take control of her thoughts and feelings, and not delegate them to Sara, who doesn’t want that responsibility anyway!
Your daughter is an adult. If you try to dictate to her the kind of people she should hang out with, how to raise her own children, or how to live her life, she will see it in negative ways, such as criticism (even if it only a suggestion), rejection of her or her judgment, or an attempt to run her life. You will have a much better relationship with your daughter if you work on changing your thoughts rather than changing her, which is impossible to do anyway.
Even if we tell our daughters what our manuals say, which we are more likely to do with our children than other people, they don’t have to follow it, which makes us even more upset and disappointed!
When we throw away the manual, thought, we realize that we have control over our feelings. We also realize that we don’t like when other people want us to behave a certain way so they can feel good, and that we should not expect others to behave the way we want them to.
With our daughters, letting go actually facilitates a closer relationship. As Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, said, “If you raise your daughter with unconditional love, mutual respect, healthy boundaries, and realistic expectations, she will always find her way back to your arms and your heart, no matter how far afield she seems to wander.” You just have to trust that!
We’ll talk more about these issues in the coming weeks and months.