Our fifth child is in her early 30s and living with us at home for the past several years. She’s divorced with no children. When she was a baby, she seemed to suffer with brain fog. Life is difficult for her.
She eats out a lot and doesn’t prepare food very much. It was a problem when she was married, and they both broke down. She has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression (and her ex-husband was diagnosed with more serious mental health issues).
I want to help her with health things I’ve learned so her mind and emotions will function better. However, she is resistant to anything I recommend or suggest. It makes life hard for her, and our relationship occasionally becomes strained.
It seems she is doomed to difficulty and disappointment. I find it frustrating and sad! I have a hard time dealing with my feelings since I want her to be happy, right? Maybe that’s it. I want to be right. And maybe everything is perfectly progressing. Any thoughts or suggestions?
I’m sure it’s been heartbreaking watching your daughter suffer her entire life from both organic and self-imposed conditions. And when we know something that will help them, it’s even more challenging to see someone you love completely ignore something that can help improve their life. Yet, as you noted, it’s hard to know what her true trajectory might be for her life. Let’s talk about how you can stay supportive under these challenging conditions.
First of all, please know that you’re not alone in watching helplessly as your loved ones make life harder for themselves than it needs to be. This is the challenge of living in close proximity to our loved ones who need to discover what path works best for them. Our influence, especially with our children, becomes less direct as they mature. Unless your daughter is asking directly for guidance and support, it’s important to respect her process.
I’m sure you have wonderful health advice for your daughter. And no doubt there is plenty of science and timeless wisdom to back up your suggestions for improving her health. Yet it’s just as true that she gets to decide how to best care for her body, emotions and spirit. Your feelings of frustration are understandable and legitimate. However, I agree with you that managing your feelings and deciding how to best honor her autonomy are going to give you the peace you’re seeking.
As I stated earlier, please remember that although she’s your daughter, she’s not you. I don’t say this to insult you but to keep the focus on accepting your true sphere of responsibility. Unless you have legal guardianship of her, she has to make the decisions for her well-being. You might be right about the types of things that would help her feel better, but you’d be wrong if you expected to force those things on her.
I know nothing of her physical or emotional condition, but it might be possible that she’s not reached a point of personal suffering severe enough to consider a different way. Unfortunately, many of us delay improving our well-being until the consequences are severe enough to interrupt our functioning.
If she has debilitating mental or physical illnesses that threaten her safety, it’s important for you to put aside the relational concerns and press her to get competent medical help. This would be no different than pressing someone with a serious wound to get to the emergency room.
If she continues to show a pattern of self-neglect that threatens her physical safety, you’ll want to seriously explore other caregiving options that involve legal guardianship. If her situation isn’t that severe and she’s mostly underfunctioning for someone her age, you have to decide how much you can emotionally, physically and financially support.
If you believe you’re contributing to her decline by enabling her to stay dependent and passive, you have some important decisions to make about setting up conditions to promote independence. You don’t have to lecture or explain any of this until you’re blue in the face. You can begin changing the ways you support her financially and emotionally.
You can make a personal boundary not to make recommendations or ask questions about how she’s caring for herself. If she impacts your immediate surroundings, you can create rules and expectations for how she needs to share space in your home.
Ultimately, you may even consider creating an exit date for her so she can begin preparing herself to live independently. While you can offer to provide her with safe and clean conditions where she can grow, if she doesn’t use these to her benefit, you have to determine how long you can personally sustain these conditions.
Healthy adult functioning depends on pushing through adverse conditions. Leaving home and struggling to take care of herself will give her a level of confidence she can’t gain any other way. Her well-being depends on experiencing, which includes failing. You can still be a presence and support in her life, but she needs to care enough to do the work.
Again, you’ll have to determine what’s she’s truly capable of, depending on her physical and mental conditions. Just remember that even mentally and physically ill people can live independently and thrive. You’ll have to carefully decide what kind of support makes the most sense to offer.
You might feel guilty or anxious as you watch her struggle. Please don’t manage your emotions by managing her. Allow her to make decisions for her life, even when she goes in a direction you know is going to bring more suffering. Allow her to feel the weight of it so she can commit to healthier choices now or later. This is agonizing, but it’s the only way both of you will have peace and have hope of a healthy relationship.
If you’re managing her, you’ll both resent each other. If you stand by to offer assistance, she can accept or decline, but you’ll still be accessible and responsive as her loving parent. This presence is respectful and allows her to maintain her dignity and strength as a grown woman. Hopefully, you can find the right balance of boundaries and support as you move forward with her.
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