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After my divorce nearly 19 years ago, I rented an apartment with my daughter and son. My daughter was 20; my son was 16.
My daughter was resentful of this change, and would constantly fight with me and my son. She would call him derogatory names and say things like “Your son is a f**” and bully him. He started to withdraw, gain weight and do badly in school. She lived with me and worked in Connecticut. Her daily commute was over the Tappan Zee Bridge as we lived in Rockland County.
After trying to talk to her, lovingly and sternly, requesting that she stop being nasty and rude, I asked her to move out. I gave her time to find a place. After refusing to move out, she continued her obnoxious behavior. I finally wrote her a letter in which I outlined that she had to be out of the house by a certain date. I also voiced my concern for her safety driving over the bridge in the winter.
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My daughter finally moved out, but would not tell me anything about her situation. She has been resentful of this for the past 18 years and, to this day, barely talks to me. On the rare occasions that we do speak, she tells me that I threw her out of the house. Now she is requesting therapy so we can mend our relationship and wants me to pay for this, which I’m doing.
During our therapy session we discussed her resentment. She wants me to apologize for “kicking” her out. She wants me to admit that I was wrong! The therapist wants me to go along with this as she says this is the only way I can mend my relationship. I disagree. I want my daughter to take ownership for her bad behavior. That is, after all, what caused this situation. My daughter says that I’m justifying my actions.
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Separately, I told the therapist that I’m fine with apologizing, but not discussing why I asked her to move out is unacceptable. In doing so, my therapist is letting my daughter off the hook. I think my therapist should be giving my daughter feedback to reflect on her bad behavior. The therapist says that I will lose her if I say anything beyond just apologizing.
My therapist now wants me to have a one-on-one session with her so we can “work” on my anger and she can “teach” me how to respond to my daughter. But all this will do is help my daughter not to be accountable for her actions. My therapist says I need to learn how to “communicate” with my daughter as I’m not reaching her, and this way I could lose her.
My therapist says that the fact that my daughter is willing to do therapy is a positive sign. Yes, but my daughter wants to do therapy on her terms. It’s always like that — I have to say and do things on her terms.
Lastly, I’m thinking of updating my will. Can I take her off? Previously, I had listed my assets to be distributed 50/50 with my son and daughter. Now I’m not so sure, mostly due to her lack of engagement in my life and her limited contact with me over the past 18 years.
I have said many times to my daughter that it also hurt me to ask her to leave, but I did so as a last resort. I needed to save my son from this bullying. I have asked for her forgiveness and also sent an email asking for forgiveness. She has not responded, nor has she accepted my apology during our session. What do you think?
I’ll deal with your relationship question first and the issue of your daughter’s inheritance second, but both of these issues may require some difficult self-reflection and humility.
The reason we make amends is to take responsibility for our own behavior. An apology is not conditional: “I’m sorry, not sorry. Now you say you’re sorry.” In every relationship, there are things we need to take accountability for. Your daughter may have been abusive and acted out, but unless you were the perfect mother, you will also have things to take ownership of too.
You don’t say what other problems, if any, your daughter has been dealing with. Everyone has physical, mental and emotional health. That includes you, me and, yes, your daughter. It falls on a scale, and often moves in one direction or another over the course of our lives.
My job here is not to question your abilities as a mother, but rather encourage you to search your own heart (before you look into your finances) and ask yourself the hard questions. It may be that your reluctance to acknowledge any wrongdoing and persistent anger toward your daughter has given your therapist some pause for thought. I agree that a one-on-one session would be helpful.
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That said, I agree that it’s important to have your voice heard in group therapy. You can’t proceed with a healthy relationship — or, for that matter, any kind of relationship — without believing you have both been heard. That is the point of a mother and daughter airing their feelings in an controlled environment like this. Yes, you are the parent. But you need to begin anew free of baggage.
However — you probably knew this was coming — there are ways to be heard that won’t scupper any future chance of having a relationship. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care. Your daughter wouldn’t give her time to these sessions if she didn’t care about the relationship. The ideal outcome: You renew your relationship with fresh understanding. Otherwise, I hope both you get some closure.
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I will give you some examples, and you can do the rest. Instead of saying, “You were a bully and an abusive person who made our lives a misery,” say, “It hurt me when you said bad things about your brother.” Or, “I didn’t like it when you said I was a bad mother. It hurt my feelings.” If she responds by mentioning something you said in anger, say, “I should not have said that. I apologize.”
In other words, tell her how certain events made you feel. Don’t tell her how you think she can be a better person or that she is or was a bad person. You can, however, agree to a covenant of how to deal with your differences going forward: no committing intemperate words to email or text, no name-calling. You may have to move foward without the apology you are hoping for.
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If this works, the question of your last will and testament may take care of itself. It’s not my job to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t cut your daughter out of your will. I can make suggestions, and ask you more questions. Would this give you satisfaction? If the roles were reversed, how would this make you feel? Is this the final lesson (and message) you would like to give your daughter? It may be that you put a certain amount in a trust to be spent on education, property and/or dished out in installments.
Almost every issue in life has some financial ramification or component, and vice versa. Let me know how this works out. I wish you and your daughter financial and personal success.
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