Dear Amy: My adult middle child and I struggled during my parenting years.
I always connected with her older brother and younger sister more easily than with her.
I had no idea how much this hurt her until she moved out. Once during a conversation, she shared many, many incidents showing a lack of affection during her childhood that hurt her. There is truth to this; however, at the time I did not see it. Now that she is an adult, I have tried to “make up” for the pain that I caused her. I have been there for her. She still (subconsciously) punishes me.
She is now a doctor, and all through medical school she wrote me loving cards of kindness and appreciation, thanking me for my support and love.
Yet we can hardly be around each other for two days without her picking apart everything that I say or do.
I am always on eggshells around her. She is very beautiful and professionally driven. I know that I annoy her. I can’t figure out if she still has resentments from her childhood. She is distancing herself from me. This happened after she and I drove several hundreds of miles together to the location of her medical residency. Even though she lived with me pretty happily for a month beforehand, the trip didn’t go well.
She says that she doesn’t like the person that I am. This came out of left field.
I don’t know how to react. She ignores my texts.
Should I just give her space? — Dumbfounded
Dumbfounded: First this: You cannot “make up” for a lack of affection, neglect or unbalanced treatment during your daughter’s earlier years. You can only do your best to acknowledge the validity of your daughter’s experience, apologize, ask for forgiveness and try to start fresh — as two adults who share a complicated history.
Your daughter is a medical resident, and so she is probably not going to have the extra emotional bandwidth to work on your relationship. During a very high stress situation (headed to a new place with an extremely challenging job), she said something harsh and unkind. I think you should try to let this incident go, give your daughter space to succeed and heal, and emphasize to her that you are working hard to become the mother she deserves to have. (c) Ask Amy
Huh. While I agree about Ask Amy about the mean comment being stress-related, because moving and being a medical resident are major stressors, I don’t agree with much else. But offhand, going on the road with your mother can be a recipe for disaster. The last time I did that with my mom, she wound up holding me hostage once we got back to her house.
I think, from reading this, that the letter writer and her daughter don’t “click”. This has been an issue their whole lives. The mother has never intentionally neglected or blown off her middle daughter. Geez, Ask Amy. Rather, the girl was harder to raise, and/or there was no natural connection there. Should the letter writer have been more aware of this and tried harder while her kids were growing up? Yes, in an ideal world. But parents aren’t perfect.
But her daughter just needs to accept that not all familial relationships are like beds of roses. She and her mom don’t connect. They can try to find new common ground (albeit not during a road trip), and/or the daughter can try to have more solid connections with her other family members.
Honestly, as someone who had a rather rough childhood myself, I think the letter writer’s daughter is a whiner. There’s dysfunction and then there’s dysfunction. You didn’t click with your mom? Either get over it, or fix it today. No time like the present. Geez.
But it’s possible that she’s processing her childhood and finding what went wrong. We all do that at some point. I can understand that. As a young adult of post-college age, that might be a typical time to reflect on what went wrong when you were growing up. And of course there’s going to be a certain reactiveness to it. When I was that age, and I looked back, I was horrified and stunned. It was eye-opening. For that reason, I sort of understand the letter writer’s daughter, but I also sort of want to shake some perspective into her.
In other advice-giving news, Annie Lane’s column has become a barf-fest. Well, even more of a barf-fest. In the past week or so…
- She told a husband to get on board with his wife’s veganism (and to join her in it) instead of answering his question about how to cook meat without her “flipping out”.
- She’s posted countless letters from people who are giving the advice for her instead of asking for advice. In other words, she’s letter her readers write her column for her again.
- She devoted a column to people’s fond memories of their dads’ and grandfathers’ handkerchiefs. Um. As one commentor aptly pointed out, “The picture of Kermit is the best thing about this column.” Other comments included, “I guess Annie is going to take an extra day off…” and “Yawn.”
- She had a list of manipulative write-in suggestions about how to deal with not being overcharged when you eat out as a group and evenly split the bill. All of the suggestions were passive-aggressive (order two meals, or buy expensive beverages), and none of them were basic (ask for a separate check, anyone? No?).
- There was poetry. Granted, one poem was by Yeats, and I suspect Annie Lane’s realizing that she’s going to get slammed by publishing bad poetry sent in by her readers. But there was also a… free verse?… about how we take everything for granted until it’s gone. It was written by an octogenarian who came across as having led a self-absorbed life, because he/she assumed we’re all ingrates who never appreciate anyone.
It’s been a train wreck, as per usual.