I’m back and it sure feels good to be home and sleep in my own bed. Vacations are great, but I am a girl who loves routine and structure, which doesn’t happen on vacation. It’s good to have a break but equally as good to get back to a routine. If you’d like to see some pictures and videos of my trip, head over to my Instagram account, Leslie.Vernick
I am thankful for all of you here. You are a great community and supportive and helpful to one another.
This week’s Question: My adult daughter has moved back home after making a mess out of her life. I think I’ve enabled her to be too dependent on me and now she is acting like an angry teenager instead of a responsible adult. What can I do to help her now?
Answer: I hear this so often. Well-meaning parents have crippled their children by not teaching them how to stand on their own two feet. My definition of a good parent is that you work yourself out of your job. In other words, your kids don’t need you in order to function anymore. Click To Tweet
With that said, you can’t change your daughter. But you can identify and own your problem.
What is that? You have given too much. You’ve been too nice and that may be one reason she is not taking responsibility for her own life. Unfortunately, this kind of unhealthy relationship fosters a love/hate relationship between you and your child. She loves you and is dependent on you and hates you for always being right and having to “need” you.
To change this dynamic, you will need to figure out why you have been overindulgent with your child for so long. Are you afraid to say no? Are you anxious that if she doesn’t need you, she won’t have a relationship with you? Do you pity her and believe she can’t do it without you? This is an important step so that you don’t revert back to rescuing her when things get hard for her.
Second, you need to evaluate what is in her best interests. I know you love your child but godly love acts in the beloved’s best interests, not just what feels good. I’m sure you didn’t give your child candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even if she screamed for it because you know that wasn’t good for her. It is the same principle here. To change things, you will have to say no to her requests for help, not to be mean, but because it is good for her to learn to figure out some things for herself.
Third, you need to let her know how you are changing. I talk about this in section two of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship in detail. But let me give you a sample speak up dialogue that you may want to share or write your daughter.
“I love you. You are my child and nothing will ever change my love for you. But I realize now that I haven’t always given you what you needed most. I have given you lots of things, probably too much, but I have not given you the confidence that you can manage your life just fine without me. I fear you have grown too dependent on me to solve your problems, to rescue you from your financial woes, and to provide your living space, when at this age, you should be doing these things on your own.
I will take responsibility for my part. I now see that by giving in to you, I didn’t help you grow up. I know you are in a tight spot right now and have moved back home but I want you to know that this is only a temporary solution. I expect you to get a job, work hard and save money toward moving out on your own. You will need to pay room and board while you’re here so that you learn that you have to be responsible for your bills and your life.
I want to have a good relationship with you and we will not have one if I treat you like a child and you behave like one. I want us to respect and care for each other as adults.”
If you haven’t done steps 1 and 2 first, it will be hard for you to stick with your resolve. Make a plan as to how you will respond when she cries, complains, criticizes you, or doesn’t pay her room and board. Remember, you can’t make her be responsible or mature at this point in her life. That is her job. However, you can create an atmosphere where it is more likely that she will make those choices.
Friends, when you realize that you have over functioned and resued, either your child or spouse, what steps have you taken to step back and stop.
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The sooner you do this, the better. Think of it as saving your child’s marriage. People used to ask why I was teaching my sons so many responsibilities at such a young age. I said I was making friends with my daughters-in-law.
I think we over-functioners also have a love/hate relationship with over functioning. It’s easy for me to be mad at the people who I think are requiring me to over function. It’s a little harder for me to ask myself, why are you doing this? What’s in it for you? Of course the Lord is faithful to gently point out what is usually behind it. I want to control outcomes and make people like me and be impressed with me. I want a public image of success even if it means I have to run around like a headless chicken to get there.
On the other hand I realize there are some situations in which we over function in order to stay safe. If that is the case then there is no guilt or shame in over functioning. Do whatever you have to do to be safe.
I hope the lady who asked the question can find a great support group to help her navigate this very tricky situation.
I appreciate the support you are offering this parent, but I have a very different take on this. I don’t believe the daughter is angry at her parent (unless she is being abused by them while she is staying in their home). I believe she is mad about her situation and the powerlessness she feels to change it. No adult wants to live at home with their parents. They want to be adults living and enjoying their own life. Unfortunately, many people lack the tools to experience success as adults, because this wasn’t taught to them when they were children. When you fall into a pit, it can be very hard to get your bearings, let alone get out of, especially if you lack internal and external resources. Constant outward pressure to “get your act together,” “grow up,” “move out,” etc. can quickly turn into what feels like intimidation, harassment, and emotional abuse. The loving parent you once knew is now kicking you when you’re down. Anger is expressed outwardly for the parents insensitivity, impatience, judgment, lack of understanding and lack of compassion. And it’s also turned inwardly and becomes depression, self doubt, low self esteem, etc. It’s a two edged sword that hurts everyone. Setting limits is appropriate, but basically kicking her out if she doesn’t “get a job” and “act like a responsible adult” will only add to the problem and cause her to sink further in quicksand. Why not get her the gift of life coaching for six months to a year – while she has a roof over her head and food on the table – and help her rediscover herself? She needs to reconnect to who she is, who she wants to be and become, and what she wants out of life. She needs an objective person to help her develop a life plan so she can stop stagnating, get unstuck, and learn to stand on her own two feet again. Expecting her to stand, walk, and run with broken spiritual & emotional legs is foolishness on the parent’s part. Her dependency on you is simply because she knows she can’t depend on herself or doesn’t feel confident to do so at the present time. Address the internal issues and the external manifestation of them (the symptoms) will go away. In other words, give her the tools to heal and grow again and she will move out on her own – with the relationship intact and both of you better for it. That’s my take having been in the same situation years ago.
P, I really agree with your post.Providing her with some help and resources to get on her feet again is helpful. I like the idea of finding a life coach for her; that takes the burden off the mother. Set some goals and some limits, but the main thing is to empower the daughter to build a life for herself.
I would add, that because of the failures of her past life, the “mess” she made, she would benefit from some christian shepherding, to learn how to confess, repent and receive forgiveness. Especially to forgive herself for all the bad decisions she has made. For her parents to compassionately encourage her to make a fresh start, get some help like coaching, and encourage and support her while she makes the changes she needs to, would go a long way to building a lasting, loving relationship with her. Talk to her as the adult she is, expect adult behavior in return, and love her through this.
Absolutely. That’s the end goal for both of them. They just need to strategize a plan to get there. That’s what life coaching is all about. And it’s less threatening & intimidating than counseling, which many people won’t participate in due to the stigma.
This is all great information here; I’ve had a similar situation come up recently. I spent years supporting and rescuing my daughter, I think it may have been because I tried to protect her from my emotionally and spiritually abusive husband (daughter’s father). I stayed married and tried to fix him for almost 32 years and I really think this did more harm to my daughter than good. I have been on my own for about 2-1/2 years, neither one of us talk to him anymore.
Fast forward to today, my daughter was divorced at the end of last year and she moved in with me with her two small children. It was great in the beginning, and then our relationship began to fall apart. She would tell me she felt like she couldn’t take care of her own life so she moved out. I thought this was what we both needed until she told me she now needed more space from me (and not just the 20 miles between us), I saw them Christmas Day and she will not allow me to call her or go see my grandchildren. My heart is in pieces, I pray all day, but I am a mess! I do not understand this. Any suggestions?