Dear Dr. Norquist:
I would like some advice regarding my relationship with my grown daughter. I’m 62 now, and have three grown children – two sons and a daughter. Of all my children I’ve always had the most difficulty with my daughter. She is the middle one. I had all 3 of them in just over 4 years. It was quite overwhelming and she seems to have suffered the most. The teenage years with her were extremely trying. She was angry and defiant and even left home to live with my sister for a while. She is in her mid-30’s now, and still not happy with herself or her life. Her boyfriend has cheated on her, and yet she stays in the relationship. Her job in a retail store is nowhere near her ability level. She seems to have no motivation to complete her college studies so that she can get a better job. I’m looking at retirement soon and am still preoccupied with her well being. I don’t know what her future holds. I just wish she could have a happy life. I’ve spent countless hours and sleepless nights worrying about her future and feeling sad that her life is not what I thought it would be. Do you have any advice for me?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Our children have their own paths to traverse. It is not up to us to determine what their path will be. You cause yourself much pain because of the expectations that you hold. Her life does not reflect the vision you had of who she would be and what her life would look like. It is natural to want our children to be happy. It is painful to have a child who is suffering and experiencing a difficult life. Worrying about it and wishing things were different are natural responses. However, these responses do not help you or your daughter.
You must start by accepting what is. Letting go of the expectations and the vision of what you thought your daughter’s life would look like may trigger feelings of grief. This kind of grieving is an emotional process enroute to a healthier you. Mourning the loss of what you hoped life would be for your daughter cleans the slate. It frees you to accept what is. Your daughter is who she is. She is living her life. She is making decisions that you may not agree with, but they are decisions that only she can make. You are not the one living her life. You have no control over the decisions she makes.
What you can best offer her is your love and acceptance of who she is. This will support her on her journey, and give her a safe harbor to return to when she needs nurturance and a listening ear. When you find yourself worrying about her future, focus instead on feeling your love for her. This moves you from a state of helplessness (since you have no control over her future) to one that you do have control over – the capacity to love. When your heart is filled with love for her – imagine a golden cord connecting your heart with hers, and see your love flowing into her heart. This will be a much more beneficial use of the time and energy and emotions you expend on your daughter.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services