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I Miss My Daughter

Question:

My daughter and I always had a great relationship. We were friends and we respected each others’ boundaries as mother and daughter. She could tell me anything, but she knew she couldn’t misbehave, swear, or disrespect me in any way. We didn’t go through the typical teenage issues that most parents go through. I told everyone "this is my stellar child."

Her father abandoned us when she was very young, and we became very protective of each other. In 2004, my second marriage failed. A few months later, my niece (who was also my daughter’s best friend) was tragically injured in an auto accident, leaving her paralyzed. I created a website and tried to earn money for my uninsured niece who laid nearly dying and in a coma for almost a year. I also single-handedly held a concert to try to help. I believe I was a bit absent for my daughter at that time – the entire family was suffering from trauma.

A girl my daughter went to high school with called our house repeatedly, at all hours to talk to my daughter. My daughter (depressed) refused her calls. The girl seemed to almost stalk her. My daughter finally spoke to her when she learned the girl was also about to lose her best friend to brain cancer. They became close very fast, and I accepted this because they obviously needed each other in the wake of tragic events. But something strange started to occur. My daughter left our church for her friend’s church (nondenominational) and spent more time with this gal than she did at home. She no longer had respect for my rules. She seemed to blame me for not being able to fix my niece’s injuries. Arguments transpired between my daughter and other family members that seemed to be fueled and/or supported by her friend . . . all in the name of "God." On one occasion, they were caught "kissing." The friends’ parents insisted the pastor meet with them to explain that homosexuality/lesbianism is not allowed in the church. They promised it was just an experimental kiss, but that they had no interest in becoming involved romantically. Since then, they asked that we simply trust them, and not bring it up again. Anyone who brings up the subject again will be stricken from their lives indefinitely.

When my daughter turned 18, her friend and she repeatedly insisted she didn’t have to obey my rules because she was an adult living in my house. I told them that as long as my daughter lived with me, she would abide by my rules, or they both could leave. They both left that night. My daughter’s friend told her father, who is a cop, that I had threatened her with bodily harm. I insisted this was not the case and wanted to speak to my daughter calmly. He refused to believe me, told me I was a terrible parent (though he doesn’t know me), and that he would take any ACTION NECESSARY to protect the two girls from me. Of course, the fictitious accusation and threat angered me and I swore like a trucker. My daughter moved in with her friend’s family, which I was unhappy about, but had to accept.

Later I reconciled and got them both a job at my law firm. Her friend had difficulty in her tasks and was reprimanded by a supervisor. My daughter’s friend believed I was sabatoging her and her job to her superiors. My daughter and her friend confronted me and I told them that was not the case. They did not believe me and both quit their jobs (without notice) on the same day. A few months later, my daughter moved to another state with the family. This was nearly 2 years ago. I’ve tried to be civil, but always end up getting hurt.

A year ago, I began seeing and moved in with a new man. My daughter’s friend sent me nearly 30 scriptures – using God’s word to call me a "whore." Additionally, she has told me I’m a horrible parent. I’ve tried to ignore her antics, but what hurts the most, is my daughter will not come to my defense, which leads me to believe she believes all of this, too. She no longer wants to pursue a career in the medical field, but is taking her best friend’s advice – find a hardworking, good-Christian man to marry so she’ll never have to work. But she hasn’t had one date since she moved away with her girlfriend. And she has nearly terminated every other relationship she had with her family and other friends – again in the name of "God." She poses in portraits as though she is a member of their family . . . and I feel like a biological toxic waste dump. But she does call before birthdays and holidays to insure her token gift, and she always says she loves me.

I feel like I don’t know this person my daughter has become. On one hand, I know she’s being manipulated and brain-washed to a certain extent. But on the other hand, I raised her to be an independent, self-thinking individual – so I know I shouldn’t make excuses for her. Recently, she was hospitalized with an ovarian cyst . . . she didn’t even bother calling me. I am to see her in two months, if she keeps her end of the bargain. I’m afraid to tell her how deeply she hurts me because I don’t want to lose her anymore than I already have. She already put me on notice, she will not stay with me during her visit, but with her stepfather (who in my opinion – let us down). She thinks it’s okay to dictate to me. She’s using MY LOVE FOR HER as a weapon against me. I want to ask her what I did to deserve this treatment. If it’s because I don’t like her friend, then perhaps, I could compromise. When her friend loosens up her hold on her a bit, I’ll begin liking her more and maybe one day even forgive her for calling me a whore and bad parent. I have asked many people for advice. The first two questions they ask are always: 1. Are they gay? 2. Are they in a religious cult? And my answer is "I don’t know. I just miss my daughter." Help?

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Answer:

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world because it involves getting very close to another human being and then learning to let go of that closeness. You have to get very close to your child when she is young. You do so because your child is helpless and dependent upon you, and because you simply fall in love with that child. The child’s mission in life is not to remain helpless and dependent, however, but rather to grow over time into an independent person. That this developmental trend is at work doesn’t mean that children are supposed to become estranged from their parents when they become adults, but this outcome does happen sometimes when things go wrong. There are lots of ways that that parent-child relationships can go wrong as children grow to become adults. A common but opposite complaint to what you are expressing is that some children never become independent enough, but instead remain content to live in their parents homes forever.

Your life has not been an easy one with your failed marriages and the still-recent significant death in the family. These events have had to have been difficult, even traumatic, for all members of your family. You say that your daughter was in fact depressed around the 2004 time frame (at which point I gather she was an older teen). You also suggest that you’ve always set clear boundaries for your daughter which she needed to respect. Though you say that you and she never went through the typical teenaged conflicts, I can’t help if in fact you did but didn’t notice it because she kept it a secret. Maybe she perceived you as overly strict and uncompromising, and/or she may have blamed you for the failures of the significant relationships you’ve attempted. Her perspective as a teenager is not the seasoned perspective that you have and she is likely to have formed a different and potentially very biased understanding of why things fell apart. She likely never understood (nor should she have understood) the details of why relationships failed, and even so, she is likely to have formed conclusions based on her emotional hurts and losses and not tried to put herself in your shoes, or see things from a rational perspective. If your first husband abandoned you, you didn’t have any control over that, but your daughter may not see it that way. She may, instead, see it that you drove him away. There may be no evidence to support such a belief, but that wouldn’t stop her from having it. Where I’m going is that your daughter may have become a teenager who was angry at you for reasons that may or may not have merit, and that her anger and her sensitive age (as a young adult ready to become independent) may have collided with this friend of hers in such a way as to have convinced her that she is better off without you. This is truly unfortunate, if it has happened, but this sort of thing does happen.

It is clear that your daughter is not a mature adult at this point in her life, despite her desire to live independently of you. It certainly seems like she has formed prejudiced opinions about you, and has acted on those prejudices to act irresponsibly towards you and others (such as quitting her job without notice). As I think about other teenagers I know, this sort of flaky, emotion-driven behavior is typical enough. But people tend to grow out of that stage of life as they mature. Life crises happen, fair-weather friends aren’t around for support when they do, and you start to realize the importance of family. She may grow to see the error of her ways. Or, she may not. Only time will tell, I suppose. Either way, what she does or doesn’t’ ultimately do is not something you have control over.

What you do have control over is yourself, and how you behave towards your daughter. You can extend the olive branch to her when you’re able, you can work on not becoming bitter towards her for her failure to recognize you as someone who has done their best, and you can work on accepting that you don’t have control. This latter thing about learning to accept what you don’t have control over is particularly important. If you cannot accept that you don’t have control, you will continue to impale yourself with how much this all hurts you and how this shouldn’t be happening. It will still hurt you if you can manage to learn to accept that you can’t control the situation, but at least you won’t be re-wounding yourself all the time. Since you prominently mention that you are a religious person in your letter, I’ll suggest that you might profitably work on this problem of acceptance through prayer. There are other ways to do it too, however. Seeing a therapist for grief-work might be a good idea as well. You are definitely grieving the loss of your daughter. It is indeed the case that you don’t know this person that your daughter has become.

Since your daughter has rejected you in favor of these other people, I wonder if there isn’t anything to be learned from studying these other people and how they relate to your daughter. One of the questions I’d ask myself is, what are these people offering her that she cannot get from you. Not that you could offer what they offer, or should (as a parents’ role is to guide their children, and that means setting limits on them sometimes), but if you can wrap your head around what your daughter might find attractive about living with these people, you might gain some insight into what you can do to have a better chance inviting her back into your life when and if she is ready to do that. Parent-child relationships do have to adapt as children grow – it is important and inevitable that this happen, and parents and children who have difficulty adapting to the changed needs that adult children and older parents require can run into problems. If you can do some soul-searching now and come to a better understanding of what a mature adult interaction might look like with your daughter, you might be in a better position to act when/if she reaches out to you in the future. Certainly, if you come at her with rules and judgementalness she is likely to become defensive. If you come to her with how much you miss her you’re more likely to win her over (although you can overdo that too).

With regard to the possible lesbianism happening here, my advice to you would be to let it go entirely. Experimental kissing of the sort you describe doesn’t mean anything really; you cannot form any accurate conclusions about the nature of your daugher’s sexuality from such teenaged activity. Really, your daughter’s sexuality is none of your business. Would you want her poking her nose into yours? I didn’t think so. You have the right to not let her have sex with a girlfriend in your own home, but that about ends what you can and cannot do with regard to who she chooses to sleep with. And you would be frankly foolish to let worry over something like who she sleeps with interfere with your ability to reform a relationship with your daughter. There are bigger and more important things at stake for you personally then possible homosexuality.

I guess at some level this situation just sucks, and you have to suck it up, or take it on the chin, so to speak. Life is full of crappy things that happen (and some good ones too). Work on accepting what you cannot change (as the old serenity prayer advises) and that may help some. I hope this ultimately works out for you, but if it doesn’t, don’t waste your life pining away. Take the steps you need to take to put some happiness into your life, and the lives of others around you.

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