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How to tell your unkind daughter she's wrong

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

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Carolyn Hax

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Q My 27-year-old daughter recently broke up with her live-in boyfriend. Now she wants me to tell her I’m on her side of every dispute.

It’s her life, she’s an adult: Got it. But should I really be expected to tell her she acted well when she didn’t? She was needlessly cruel, and she doesn’t care at all that she insisted we welcome him as family for three years — no problem, we loved him — and now we’re supposed to forget him. I dread seeing her again. Help. — Mothering an Adult Who Wants to Be Told She’s Right

A I hope I can say without sounding like an utter twit that you’re about 26 years, give or take, past the ideal time to put up this emotional guardrail.

If you have indeed held to your principles all along against her emotional strong-arm tactics, then please accept my apologies — and my sympathy, too, for wanting a break from her. Some personalities just won’t be denied.

“Dread,” though, is so strong — devastating, really — that I suspect you haven’t kept a healthy cushion between yourself and her drama.

Either way, it doesn’t affect your path now, just your relationship’s prospects: Be loving, be principled, be firm. You can recognize and respect that she’s in pain and offer your support accordingly; you can also do this while acknowledging that her behavior was not above reproach. Yes, it’s her right to leave this relationship, and yes, he’s no doubt partly to blame for their unraveling — but there are still kind and unkind ways to get out. You are capable of loving and supporting your daughter with your whole heart while still retaining sufficient objectivity to know unkindness when you see it. Say this to her outright.

If she doesn’t like your assessment of the situation, then she can respectfully disagree like an adult, or lash out or go silent like a child. Up to her.

How she acts/reacts doesn’t affect your position; that’s the beauty of principled choices. Careful thought + loving action = the power to withstand pressure. It’s difficult, but it’s not chaotic the way a life submitting to an emotional blackmailer tends to be.

As for the closeness she “insisted” on and the forgetting you’re “supposed to” do, please see the who-demanded-what as outside the scope of your concern. You welcomed her boyfriend into your life because you chose to, when your daughter welcomed him into hers, and he won’t be a part of your life now because they’ve parted ways.

This is just the business of kids and their friends, and it isn’t appreciably different from when she was 6 and refused to play with little Dana anymore even though you thought Dana was a cutie and you and Dana’s parents had become friends. You respect her right to choose her people at any stage, for any reason, and you adapt your role accordingly.

Certainly some ties among exes and families can survive beyond the primary friendship or romance, but those are exceptions, not rules, anchored to a family’s core of trust and respect.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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