Mother longs for better relationship with adult daughter

Good Monday Friends,

I have a new grandbaby. Horray! Her name is Leilani Capri and she was born October 1. I’m heading out to see her on Saturday. I am so blessed. I can’t wait to meet her.

For those of you who are not on my mailing list, I also want to invite you to a special event this Saturday morning October 8th, at Faith Church in Trexlertown, PA from 9-12 where I will be talking on Emotionally Destructive Relationships. To register or for more information, visit If you are a church leader, pastor, or counselor, I am also doing a special event on Friday evening on A Biblical Response to Domestic Violence. You are welcome to attend both. Register for each event separately, and they are both free.

Thanks for all your prayers for my speaking at the AACC Conference in Nashville. It was a sold out crowd with amazing speakers, and God truly was present. God gave me some very special moments with people, but today I feel a little exhausted from it all.

Today’s Question: I am married to a pastor/mediator/marriage and family therapist, yet continue to struggle with discontent with my relationship with my adult daughter who is a physician married to another physician. She has two children, 3 and almost 1. I never married her father who left her at six and never returned to her life until she was 19. He remained in contact with her over the years but loosely, inconsistently, but did pay for college.

She began her rebellious behavior when I married and she was 13. She has disapproved since the wedding and battled with him for most of the time she was at home. She left for college at 18 and returned on holidays but stayed with her grandparents. She and I have always stayed in touch, but of course it was different when she no longer would return home. She is now 36 and lives in another state. I divorced her stepfather and remarried four years later to someone she approved of.

Not living in the same state, she usually calls a few times a day for many reasons, often when she is troubled with dealing with the kids while her husband works long hours. I always take her calls, regardless of the hour or inconvenience. For whatever reason, when we are both visiting what was our hometown, when she is around family, we have disagreements and then we don’t talk for a few months over something ridiculous.

Sometimes she visits our hometown without me, and this past summer did so and rented a camper and did not invite me or tell me about it until I found out about it from someone else. Knowing I would be hurt, she invited her brother and his wife and my other son for a week of vacation without me.

I’ve spent lots of time babysitting for her oldest child while she was an infant. I do not understand why my daughter and I cannot be closer. We are different. I am more about talking about emotions and feelings and she works hard to avoid the same. She is not affectionate with her husband or me and it’s so hard to see what is and accept it.

She flies me in to babysit when she needs me, but when she didn’t include me on this vacation I told her so and now we’re not talking again. I have not figured out how to deal with conflict without creating distance between us. I have apologized for overreacting to her choice not to include me and assured her that I love and miss her. She has finally let me speak again to my granddaughter but I feel my heart hardening.

I can’t be sad all the time because I miss her and the kids. We can never talk about what’s the problem. We just eventually go on like nothing happened. There is more but it’s so complicated, it seems like we are close yet incredibly far away from each other.

It seems like she is angry, sad and doesn’t want to deal with it, and I don’t know what to do with it. She is such an accomplished woman who is so successful in her career and is well liked and respected, but with those closest to her, it is a battle. If you could give me some insight it would be so appreciated.

Answer: Having an adult daughter who lives out of state with a new grandbaby myself, my heart grieves for you and your situation with your daughter. I wish I could give you three steps to take that would magically turn this relationship around. You already know if you’re married to a therapist, that the only person you can work on changing is you. That said, what things might you need to do differently in order to accept where things are right now and not feel so hurt and sad all the time?

First, it seems like you have no boundaries (you take her calls night and day, fly in to babysit whenever she needs you) but you do have some expectations that she does not (or cannot) meet. I think this is a set up for conflict and hurt – for both of you.

Are your expectations reasonable? I think so. You expect she would treat you as a person and not just as a babysitter or a stress reliever. You expect she would care about your feelings and not be exclusive or competitive. You expect that because you are giving so much to her, she would give back to you. And you expect that because she is an accomplished professional, she would be more competent in handling interpersonal conflict and stress. But that’s not the case.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So although your expectations are reasonable, they are unrealistic considering her past behaviors. If you want to get healthier yourself, you will need to let go of these expectations, otherwise you set yourself up to continually feel hurt. Again it’s not unreasonable that you wish her to be different. And you can hope that someday she grows and changes. But if you want to stop hurting so much, you must let go and emotionally accept who she is and where she is right now.

That takes us back to the issue of your own boundaries. You obviously love your daughter and grandchildren. You want to be a part of their lives. You will need to decide what you want to give and how often, regardless of whether or not you get much in return. This does not create a healthy relationship, but it does help you clarify your role right now. You can choose to give to your daughter and grandchildren out of your love for them, but without strings attached. The best word is “ministry”. You are doing this because you want to, because you love them, and because God calls you to. If you are doing it for any other reasons, you set yourself up to be continuously hurt, angry, and disappointed.

Lastly, I do think we as mothers can learn to be more strategic about how we say things to our daughters. I think every single child longs for approval from their parents even if they don’t want close connection. Your daughter is no exception even though she is accomplished and successful. I wonder if she has hurts from childhood when you choose to marry someone that she so strongly disliked, or that she feels she will never be able to be the kind of daughter you really want and has given up trying.

I remember once a client of mine feeling distant from her mother because her mother couldn’t accept her for who she was. Her mother wanted this strong mother/daughter bond with lots of emotional talk and the daughter was just not wired that way. Although the mother meant well, the daughter constantly felt the mother’s disappointment and disapproval. The only way the daughter could handle the tension was to further distance herself from her mother, accompanied by some passive/aggressive jabs to her mother.

I don’t know if this would help but I might encourage you to look for all the things you can encourage your daughter about who she is. Even when she calls you in her stressful moments, say something like, “Honey, I’m sure you can handle it, you’re a great mother.” Or “I know you have what it takes to figure this one out.” Giving our daughter’s the “blessing” as the Old Testament calls it, can be a priceless gift we give our children.

Friends, you who are daughters and you who are mothers, what else would you advise this dear hurting mom?


  1. Victoria on September 10, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Are you still checking this website? The last date I see on it with a submission from you is 2011…Victoria

    • Leslie Vernick on September 10, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Victoria, we have switched to this site for the blog.

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