#parent | #kids | Dear Therapist: My Daughter Lives Too Far From Me

I want to be supportive, but at what point can I say what I really feel, both about her living abroad and our feelings being discounted? We devoted 20-plus years to her, and do not feel that she values our efforts, or that she truly understands the impact that seeing her only once or twice a year is having on us. She is very independent and I am afraid of making this into an irreparably bad situation.

Am I being reasonable, or am I just not able to let go?

Anonymous


Dear Anonymous,

One of the hardest aspects of being a parent is the reality that if you raise your child well, that child becomes an adult who will go on to make her own life decisions. If we love our children, we must ultimately let them go.

It’s absolutely reasonable to miss your daughter when she’s far away and you see her so infrequently. That’s a profound loss. It’s also reasonable to be concerned about your daughter’s career when she seems unhappy with her job prospects abroad. Where you get stuck, though, is in your expectation that your daughter will alleviate your grief by moving closer to you, or allay your anxiety by going back to her formerly successful career in the States. The job of an adult child isn’t to manage a parent’s worry, nor is it the job of a parent to manage that child’s choices.

This is why thinking about the job description of a parent might be helpful. You say that your daughter doesn’t value the 20-plus years you’ve invested, but the thing about investing in our kids is that the investment is in them, not us. Sure, there’s great satisfaction in raising a human being to adulthood, and at times great joy, but all the challenge and effort that also go into raising a child are simply part of being a parent. In other words, the energy you’ve invested is an item in the job description, not a quid pro quo that goes like this: I will invest in you, and you will fulfill my needs when my job is done.

That’s not to say that you can’t share your point of view as a parent, as long as you do so in the service of helping her, not furthering your agenda. Your job is to guide but not control: Ask wise questions and make observations that will help illuminate your daughter’s world to herself, not steer her decisions to meet your wishes.

What might that sound like? When your daughter talks to you about her issues with her job, you can help her shift from complaining to reflecting and taking action: I hear your dissatisfaction, and I’m sorry you’re so frustrated with how things are going. Tell me more about your hopes for your career. What are you thinking might help you find a more rewarding path?

Notice that you aren’t asking her to come home, weighing in on her decision to work abroad, or projecting your worries onto her. You’re simply doing the work of a parent, which is to help her hear herself more clearly—and then allowing her the space to figure out her next steps. Eventually, when there’s more trust between you—meaning, you’ve had enough dialogue of this kind so that she’s gotten over any suspicions she had of your intentions—you might help her reflect on the bigger picture by asking: What does you fiancé say when you talk about your struggles with the language barrier, your boss, and the kind of job you have? Is he willing to make changes that could improve your situation?


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