Mother Daughter Connection Strained

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Reader’s Question

My 22-year-old daughter refuses to spend time with me and rarely calls me. She will neither accept invitations to do things with me nor will she invite me to do things with her. She lives within an hour of me and attends college. When we do speak, she shows no interest in what is happening in my life and is very vague about what is going on in her life.

About 4 years ago, and against my wishes, my daughter moved out of her apartment and in with a man several years older than she. When she did this I told her I would no longer pay for any of her schooling or living expenses. She eventually stopped calling me and spending time with me. She moved out of that man’s house when she met someone new about a year ago. She told me that the old boyfriend was making her feel as though she needed to adjust her schedule to his all the time and she felt she did not really know who she was. She also said she felt as though she was inadequate and was not accomplishing enough.

We had a long conversation about her getting some professional help for her feelings of inadequacy, which she said she would do, but as far as I am aware, she has not done this. Since she was starting a new relationship on the tail of an old relationship, I cautioned her to take it slow and to make sure she did not ignore her family and friends and fall into the same habits as with the other man. She said she was aware of the behaviors she had adopted and would be careful not to do so again.

Unfortunately, she is doing the same thing all over again, although denying that she is. While she and this new boyfriend are not technically living together; other than for work and school, I do not believe they spend much time apart.

I am divorced from my children’s father (12 years), and there were several years when this same daughter would have nothing at all to do with her father (between the ages of 16 and 20 approximately). She has since warmed to him again, for which I am very glad. But, it almost seems as though she cannot have a relationship with her father and me at the same time.

Her father and I had an acrimonious marriage which carried over into our divorced life. But, while life was difficult at times, both children always knew they were loved by both of us and they did not lack for much of anything.

My daughter’s behavior toward me is very hurtful, and I am fearful that it is permanent. I am at a loss to understand why it is happening since we had a very good relationship when she was growing up. I am at a loss to know if it is something I have done or said or if she just no longer likes me or what. My other daughter does not treat me like this at all, nor did she ever treat her father this way (she is 19).

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Any light you can shed on this or advice you can give would be helpful.

Psychologist’s Reply

Q: Given that you report having a daughter who doesn’t talk to you much at all, doesn’t like you, and doesn’t want you involved in her life at all, you report some very interesting and revealing conversations with her.

It can be difficult and challenging for a young person to separate from their former sources of support and try out the wings of a more independent life. It can also be very trying for parents as this process unfolds. To make matters worse, bids for independence always come at the price of the loss of some support (e.g., money for living and even for college) and the prospect of making some very big mistakes. Nonetheless, being able to function independently is what mature adulthood is all about.

Do your best to be as available and supportive as you can, and to be patient with her mistakes, even while you lengthen the leash your daughter’s been on. Eventually, you’ll need to throw the leash away, and it might indeed feel like your daughter might run away forever. But take heart. Even the wildest of creatures knows how to find their way home. And when your daughter is a fully functioning and independent adult, her visits with you, although different, will bring their own unique rewards.

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