Friday, March 4, 2011

Please help me with my relationship with my daughters!

Knowledgeability Clarity of Response Politeness 
8                          10                          10
Comment: THANK YOU

Questioner: Jeff

Subject: Relationships with my daughters/ family

Question: Hello, please help:

I have 2 daughters (and a 7 year old son), aged 18 & 19. They are now both in college, visiting occasional weekends, holidays, & summer.

My problem is my relationship with my daughters - and my wife, but that's probably another discussion - seems to me to be very poor. It started when the girls were about 9 or 10. At this point, I initiate contact with them once in a while, but they usually rush me off the phone, or don't answer my emails, or walk away when I talk to them.

I've felt that, while some of this is normal teenage girl rebellious behavior, much of it is due to my wife's continuing behavior. In our family my wife has always been a "child-first" person: taking the child's side in "confrontations" and undermining me in front of them, and overprotective. When the girls treat me poorly, she never speaks out in support of me. For example, I've never in our life recall her saying "don't talk to your father that way".

We went to family counseling for years, and she has refused to do so any more. My wife's father was an alcoholic, and she was sexually abused. She received some counseling at one point, which helped a little. My wife has said I haven't or don't treat them with enough respect. I may not be perfect, but I disagree. I think I've done an excellent job as a caring supportive father - many have said so, and they can't believe they treat me this way - and been very patient, particularly given the circumstances.

I feel the girls have "taken sides" against me. It seems like the their behavior started as a joke, much to my objections, and it gradually grew and grew, to where it became ridiculous and at times very damaging. Some pretty bad things have happened in the last couple of years - now I hardly communicate at all with my older daughter because of something bad she did to me. I used to take my daughters to counseling - a couple of years ago, my older daughter said "I don't like you and I don't want anything to do with you", and that's where it's stayed with her. My younger daughter is a little more receptive, but treats me similarly. I've talked to my daughters about this subject many times, to no avail.

I feel my wife's child-first approach has caused our relationship and family to severely suffer. We've gone through all kinds of counseling, including me seeing a "marriage guru", who recommended not getting a divorce because he didn't think "enough bad things have happened", so I didn't. What really stopped me from getting a divorce was thinking about the consequences to my 7 year old son, whom I love dearly (a classic "the boy who saved the marriage" at this point).

I feel my daughters probably need me more than I need them, but I think everyone in our family suffers. I've talked and talked about this issue with my wife since they were 5 years old, and have made very little progress, if any. She still does not include me in discussions and plans, or rarely.

Some people say "leave it alone, maybe they'll come back to you", which is pretty much what I've done so far. Meanwhile my wife continues to pretty much do everything for them ("the helicopter mom"), they all talk between each other on their cellphones, and I am regularly excluded, like an outcast.

Is there anything you can suggest I do about this situation, that I haven't already tried? If so, what? Or is it hopeless, and things will just stay the way they are? Do I continue to accept having virtually no relationship with my daughters, and see if they will come back to me, if ever? If so how do I deal with my feelings other than vent to my wife, which doesn't seem get anywhere? Further, I often feel my wife has "stolen" my daughters from me, and now she is working on my son next, and that really scares me...

Thanks!

Jeff
Answer: Dear Jeff:

Whatever has happened in the past needs to be in the past. What you need are strategies for dealing with your relationships in the here and now.

As for your daughter's behavior. You will need to accept responsibility for teaching other people how they can treat you. If you do not stop coming up with excuses for why they do what they do and tell them how you do want to be treated it won't stop.

I would start by letting your daughters know how much they mean to you and that you know you have not put as much into the relationship as you wanted to in the past, however, you are here for them now and you want to build up the relationship with them now. (realize they get to decide if they want this as well)

Regardless of your relationship problems with your wife, you too played a role in how the family functioned.

While it is admirable you want to continue a relationship with your daughters if at anytime there behavior is harmful to you it is more important to put a stop to it as you are still teaching them how to treat you and also how they can treat others in their lives.

Your relationship issues with your wife are a separate issue regardless of how they affected your relationships with your daughters. You will need to separate these two issues and again take responsibility for how what role you play in this relationship and why?

Most people find alanon meetings and alanon meetings and alanon literature very helpful in learning how to establish healthy relationship boundaries with others and even themselves. You are the only person who will ever take care of your own needs, your own behavior and how you allow others to treat you.

The more you show respect for yourself, the more your daughters will learn to respect you as well. It is not lost there is always hope!

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller