My daughter moved back in with us over a year ago. She said she needed to stay one month. Nineteen have now passed. We want her to move out but can’t get her to. The pandemic has made things difficult. She refuses to get a real job. She refuses to clean up. She recently got her stimulus check and didn’t offer us anything. She is very disrespectful and now our granddaughter is mimicking her. How do I stop this toxic relationship we are in? What can we do?
Dear Manipulated Mom,
I can discern only so much from your question, but this is what I hear: You love your daughter, you’re willing to help her, and you offered her a space in your home when she was in need. She has outstayed her welcome and she doesn’t help around the house. It also sounds like her living with you might not be a problem if she had a job and helped with household responsibilities and expenses. And yet I wouldn’t expect her to quickly change at your request, for you describe your relationship as “toxic,” and that leads me to believe your current challenge is more than 19 months in the making. In other words, perhaps the problem isn’t her living with you; perhaps she’s living with you because other problems have gone unaddressed.
Here’s what I suggest: work first on yourself, then on the relationship, then on the problem of her living with you. Let me explain.
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld wrote, “The devils enter uninvited when the house stands empty. For other kinds of guests, you have first to open the door.”
At some point you opened the door to the situation you now find yourself in. Not just literally, but also figuratively. And while it no longer matters when you opened the door, you should try to identify how you are holding it open. So, step one, ponder this question: Am I pretending not to notice my role in the problem? When you’ve identified how you’ve contributed to the challenge you face, whether deliberately or unintentionally, you can begin to change how you respond to it.
There’s another question I’d like you to ponder: What do I really want—for myself, for my daughter, for our relationship? Too often we attempt to resolve problems with immediate concerns in mind only to sacrifice long-term outcomes and deeply held values. Of course, you want your daughter to move out. But is that all you want? Think long term. How could you address your current challenge and improve your relationship with your daughter? Pondering this should help you resolve your inaction.
It sounds as though you have been sacrificing your interests for the sake of preserving what you call a toxic relationship. Why? Has it occurred to you that this may be why the relationship feels toxic? Kindness does not require that we remain quiet. Love is not afraid.
It sounds as though you have been holding your tongue in an effort not to upset or offend your daughter. Don’t make this Fool’s Choice. You can tell others what you think without disrespecting them. In fact, you can maintain boundaries that protect your person and property and values without violating others’. Yet it sounds as though you have been sacrificing your interests for the sake of preserving what you call a toxic relationship. Why? Has it occurred to you that this may be why the relationship feels toxic? Kindness does not require that we remain quiet. Love is not afraid. So start talking.
As you talk with your daughter, look for a common cause. Given that she intended to stay only for a month, I suspect she’s also frustrated about still living with you. She may want to be independent as much as you’d like her to be. Maybe she doesn’t feel confident in her ability to navigate all the responsibilities of independent adulthood. Whatever the case, see if you can uncover some long-term goal you both share, then agree to work together to achieve it.
Finally, approach this as a problem of ability rather than motivation. You repeatedly say that your daughter “refuses” to do such-and-such. Forget about it. Focus on what you can do rather than on who’s to blame. Try to identify and address barriers to ability. This will have two effects: First, you’ll become one who tries to lift rather than condemn. Second, you’ll better uncover behavioral sources of your current situation.
Matters of parenting can be incredibly difficult and personal. I don’t feel it’s my place to tell you what to say, so I’ve tried to outline how to rethink and approach your situation. I hope one thing is clear: the work you must do is not on your daughter, but on yourself and how you relate with her. May these ideas help you find the courage to speak your truth and act with love.
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