Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Mother Must Let Daughter Be an Independent Adult

DEAR HARRIETTE: Our family has tried both family meetings and professional family counseling, but my adult daughter has moved out, and now she says she doesn't want to speak to either my husband or her sister for the next 10 years! I can have conversations with her, but it's not easy. If I ask too many questions, she accuses me of trying to control her life or insinuating she can't choose good things for herself. But really, I am just concerned and trying to make friendly suggestions that she may or may not decide to follow. She has lost jobs because she rubs people the wrong way and is very accusatory and judgmental. She cannot take any type of criticism, no matter how well-intentioned. She is constantly asserting her independence as if we don't understand she is an adult. Mutual friends have told me she acts well below her age, and they are concerned about her, too. If I were to suggest a mental health evaluation, I know she would refuse. What can I do to help my daughter understand herself and others better? -- Concerned Mom, Atlanta

DEAR CONCERNED MOM: As you already know, you cannot live your daughter's life for her. For her to say she does not want to speak to her family for 10 years means she must feel suffocated in some way. She wants to be independent. You say she is an adult. It is probably time for her to go out on her own and figure out how to live independently. Will she make mistakes? Of course. Everyone does, even people who seem to be well-adjusted.

For now, give her space. Let her make choices and live with them. If you know people who are close to her who she will allow to check in with her, rely on them to keep you posted on how she is doing. When she does come around, resist the temptation to give her advice. Become a good listener. If she asks you for input, give it in as loving a manner as possible. The only way she is going to gain maturity is to grow up.

You may want to seek some mental health counseling during this period. Learn how you can become independent of your daughter. When you both can live your lives separately, you may end up better able to coexist.

DEAR HARRIETTE: [In response to the woman who was impatiently waiting for her beau to ask her to get married.] Listen to my voice of experience. Wait for him to ask.

Famous last words, "Either fish or cut bait." Huge mistake. I've never measured up to his ex, even though he married me. -- Number Two, Memphis, Tenn.

DEAR NUMBER TWO: I can hear your sadness through your letter. In some instances, it is true that women push their boyfriends into marriage. That is not smart. I do think that talking about marriage is fair game, though. Learning how both of you think about the institution is wise. You also do need to be sure that your partner chooses you above others.