My Daughter is Controlling and Aggressive with Her Daughter

Reader’s Question

My daughter is very controlling and now has become very aggressive toward her daughter who is 15 years old. She does not allow her daughter to talk to anyone unless she is present and knows every word said. She provides her daughter with a nice home and good clothes but uses those things and throws it up to her. Her daughter makes excellent grades, the highest in her class, but my daughter belittles the child. She is so strict on her that she is never allowed to make any choices. Recently my granddaughter called me crying so hard I could not understand her. She said her mother had found her diary and read what she had written. She wrote about how her mother was towards and her and expressed feeling of not wanting to live. My daughter took her to her great grandmother’s and left her, saying she would have to make her own way. She cannot have her clothes and she will have to find her own way to school.

Help me to help my granddaughter and my daughter. My granddaughter is a Christian, and she wants to be baptised but her mother will not allow her to be. My granddaughter cannot ever choose a meal from a menu. My daughter chooses and would not allow her to eat a salad at a recent outing where her grandfather and I were present. My granddaughter has recently started experiencing seizure-like movements, and my daughter says she is not taking her for the scheduled EEG study.

Please help. I don’t want to make things worse for my granddaughter, but this must stop. It is making the child sick.

Psychologist’s Reply

As you describe, severe parental control and emotional pressure does make children ill. Severe parenting styles create highly stressful home environments, and the children develop adult-level emotional and physical reactions to the stress. Emotionally, they develop depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive symptoms and even suicidal thoughts. Physically, the brain/body chemicals created by severe stress lead to problems with sleep, concentration, energy level, bowel problems, headaches, stomach distress, and yes — even symptoms that seem neurological, including “spells” and muscle twitching.

To help your granddaughter, we can approach this in several ways:

  • The most obvious intervention is talking to your daughter…but I suspect she’s as much of a bully with others as she is with her daughter. Before talking to your daughter, develop a backup plan. I can assure you that she will not suddenly realize that her parenting style is creating problems. However, controlling personalities are often all or nothing personalities — they want to either control everything, or nothing. As she has done in the past by dropping her daughter on the great grandmother’s doorstep, she will likely suggest that someone else take responsibility. Be prepared for that possibility and have a plan in place to assume informal custody. Can other family members be helpful such as other sons/daughters? Can the child stay at one home, another family member providing transportation to school, another helping with expenses, etc.?
  • When you place severe stress on an automobile by driving hard and fast for a prolonged time, various systems in the automobile begin breaking down. Tires burst, engines overheat, lights appear on the dashboard, etc. Your granddaughter is starting to break down emotionally and physically. As this happens, she will be brought to the attention of community gatekeepers such as school counselors/administrators, family physicians, or the emergency room. While your daughter will deny responsibility for these incidents, she will recognize that the situation is shifting attention in her direction — and it’s negative attention. For this reason, with each incident (such as the seizure-like episodes), contact your daughter and support the need to medically treat and evaluate these symptoms. While you daughter has no difficulty putting pressure on her child, she doesn’t want to be pressured. Negative attention in the community may cause her to change her behavior or consider another placement for her daughter.
  • Does your daughter listen or trust anyone in the community, perhaps a sibling, relative, you, your husband, her husband, etc.? If so, it’s often helpful to express your concerns to that person — with the complete understanding that your daughter might hear about it, call you, and tell you to mind your own business. If you get that call, express your concern for the granddaughter and remind your daughter that you will continue to be very concerned about the child’s health — no matter what. It’s a good idea to remind controllers/abusers that their behavior is being monitored.
  • Keep in mind that being this controlling is also very stressful. Volunteer to keep the granddaughter for the weekend — giving both a break. Keep close contact with your granddaughter, as this lets her know that she is supported by other members of the family.
  • In one of those weird psychology things, while it would seem that a controlling parent is totally concerned about their child — it’s actually the opposite. Severe controllers and abusers are actually very self-centered, selfish, and preoccupied with their demands. They are aggressively concerned about their feelings about the child’s behavior — not about the child’s behavior itself. While most parents want what is good for their child, the controlling and abusive parent always wants what is good for them personally. They never accept responsibility for their abusive behavior and feel the child is creating the situations. When volunteering to take the granddaughter for a weekend, assure the mother it’s to provide her a break.
  • If the situation becomes worse, you may approach every parent’s nightmare. You may face a situation in which you may need to demand a change in the parenting behavior or face contact with the child protective agency. Ignoring the child’s physical difficulties or failing to provide medical care is moving in the direction of child neglect. All parents can select to treat or not treat medical issues — but only within a certain legal range. If her denial of treatment or assessment for the child creates a medical danger to the child, outside legal/court intervention may be necessary.

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