Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Siblings Think I’m a Bad Mother”

I am 57 years old with three adult children. I was divorced four years ago, which was not my choice. My siblings seem to think they have all the “right answers” for my adult kids. I have not asked them for advice. My older sister, who is well-meaning but also aggressive and controlling, has had a relationship with my kids since they were small. She was a great aunt and would take them out to places as she didn’t have any kids of her own and still does not. That’s OK with me; she was a career person, got married at 40, and she and her husband are a happy couple. She also has a lot of money and uses this to control us. She rented a huge cabin for us and we had a great time last summer. However, later, she started questioning me about why my daughter wasn’t “doing anything with her life.” My daughter is 23, lives with her boyfriend, and does odd jobs for my ex-husband and his construction business. My sister has offered to pay for her college or trade school, but Megan doesn’t know what she wants to do and seems quite content as she is. Her boyfriend, however, is a “functional alcoholic.” He has a very good job and pays most of the bills, but he comes home every night and drinks himself into a stupor. He does not hit or strike her, but instead he falls asleep. I have told her that it would be best if she would be able to stand on her own feet and earn a regular living, but I don’t see this happening as it’s all very convenient for her right now. I can only say so much and she will shut me down, so I have stopped. The other day, my brother, who also has a lot of money, texted my daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in ten years and has no relationship with, and asked if she wanted to come out there for a couple weeks without her “other half.” My daughter was surprised and not interested because she doesn’t even know him or have a relationship with him at all. She told him “thanks, but no thanks.”

I called him and said that was nice of him to invite her and to try to develop a relationship with her. It turns out he has “heard things about her boyfriend” and said, “She should come here to clear her head and get away from that dude.” Although I don’t approve of alcoholism, my daughter’s boyfriend is a very good person and I like him. He would help anyone in a minute if they needed something. I find it very offensive that my siblings think they know better than my daughter. She may not have a straight-line career path, but she is trying in her own right to live her life as she sees fit. I was very angry that they are talking about my daughter behind her back and comparing her to my son, who has a stable job and just bought a home at age 26.

My sister has made comments, in a veiled way, that she thinks my ex husband is “enabling her” by giving her jobs and that I have not done my proper job as a mother! I really do not wish to talk to my siblings anymore about my daughter, as it’s none of their business.

Is there a better way I can handle this so that they mind their own business? Even though they mean well, I do not want to discuss my “problem daughter” with them, and I feel disrespected! — Disrespected Mom

Well, I doubt you’ll hear from your brother again about your daughter. He hasn’t seen your daughter in ten years and has no relationship with her; he was most likely doing a favor for your sister by reaching out to your daughter and, now that that favor is fulfilled, he’s off the hook… unless your sister continues bugging him to “do something” (although I don’t know what that something could possibly be). At any rate, the person you need to speak with is your sister. She’s the one with the relationship and vested interest in your daughter. I believe — and I think you believe — she genuinely loves your daughter and is concerned — probably rightfully so — for her well-being. She’s just trying to be a good aunt, but she’s stepping on your toes and most of all, on your daughter’s toes. Your daughter is 23, not 13, and you’re right that she needs to live her life. Your sister is probably also right that it’s time for your daughter to make some decisions about her future, but I’m not sure it’s her place to say so. It’s certainly not if you have a problem with it, and it’s unkind of her to judge you and your mothering of her for the choices she’s making right now.

You need to tell your sister in no uncertain terms that she is hurting your feelings by judging your parenting — that you raised both your children to be independent and that means letting them make mistakes, even if those mistakes might break your heart (or their hearts!). Tell her that her offer to pay for college or trade school is incredibly generous and that she should speak to your daughter some more about that. If your daughter isn’t ready for a four-year college or a trade school, maybe she’d be open to pursuing community college to see what interests her. You might talk to your sister about the possibility of setting up a trust for your daughter to be used only for education. Maybe knowing that that money is available — but only for a specific purpose — would be an incentive for your daughter to make some choices she might not otherwise make, especially if she gets to a point where the “convenience” of her current lifestyle is no longer fulfilling enough for her.

Finally, reiterate to your sister that for twenty-three years you have mothered your daughter and, while you’re sure you’ve made mistakes, you don’t consider your daughter’s current lifestyle a reflection of your job as a parent. More important than how your daughter makes money or whom she lives with is how she treats people, what your relationship with her is like, how kind and compassionate she is, and whether she feels confident in who she is. These are values that are instilled early. Finding direction doesn’t always happen by 23, but even a child should treat people kindly and with respect if she is raised well and taught to do so. Tell your sister that you are confident in the foundation you provided your daughter and that even if it takes her a few years to figure out what she wants to build on that foundation, you know she’s going to be ok because she has family who loves her (and, potentially with the generosity of your sister, she also has the promise of an education should she decide to pursue that course).

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

22 comments… add one
  • avatar

    moe December 4, 2017, 10:52 am

    Usually I am supportive of a parent who feels others are trying to be controlling and give advice about parenting, but in this situation, not only does nothing of this sounds particularly controlling, she seems more concerned about the daughter than the mother’s parenting. The mother seems to have a lack of concern for her daughter who really seems to need someone to express to her that they are concerned and provide a listening ear.

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    TheRascal December 4, 2017, 11:08 am

    Who cares if your siblings think you are a bad mother? Your daughter is an adult and should manage her own adult relationships, including those she has with her aunt and uncle.

    And WTF — the biggest glaring issue that I see is the alcoholic boyfriend. Your daughter is primed to be codependent and should be encouraged to attend Al-Anon. I see you’ve already said that you’ve tried to talk to her and yes, she is going to make mistakes as she grows, but she’s setting herself up for misery if her bf doesn’t become sober.

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    • avatar

      Anon from LA December 4, 2017, 12:39 pm

      “Your daughter is an adult and should manage her own adult relationships, including those she has with her aunt and uncle.” –> this x 1000

      I wonder what would happen if LW said, “Daughter is 23 , so I’ve decided to back off and let her make her own life choices. But hey, if you feel BF is bad news, you’re welcome to bring it up with Daughter directly.”

      FWIW, I agree with the aunt and uncle about the BF, but if the LW doesn’t want to do the work of having these tough conversations with her daughter, then maybe it’s better for everyone if the aunt takes the reins.

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    • avatar

      Anonymous December 4, 2017, 1:29 pm

      Agreed.

      OP – I feel like you are making this about you and your mothering, and it’s not about you at all. Your sister loves your daughter, and is concerned about her and the choices she’s making. And rightly or wrongly, she’s trying to step in and help her niece.

      I doubt she’s thinking “Well if my sister had been a better mother, this wouldn’t be happening.” I think she’s just concerned about her niece.

      And frankly, she shouldn’t be stepping on your toes – because you really shouldn’t be “mothering” her any more. She’s 23, her relationship with her Aunt isn’t really your problem to manage anymore. If your daughter asks you to step in and tell your sister to back-off, that’s one thing. But if she’s not asking you to intervene, don’t worry about this anymore.

      I do think there’s something to be said (as demonstrated in the previous post were the OP confronted and then was assaulted by her boyfriend’s alcoholic behavior) for saying something, but seems like you’ve done that in your way and your sister in hers, and now let your daughter handle her own life and relationships.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant December 4, 2017, 2:32 pm

      Yep – OP, I think you’re making something about you that’s not about you.

      Your Aunt loves your daughter, and she is concerned about the choices she is making. Rightly or wrongly, she is trying to help.

      Unless she’s said something to you, I doubt she’s thinking “Jeez – if my sister had been a better mother, this wouldn’t have happened.” She’s probably thinking “My niece needs to get her ass in gear”.

      And if you think your sister is making a judgement about your mothering *now*, well you shouldn’t be mothering her anymore. She’s an adult.

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      • avatar

        ele4phant December 4, 2017, 2:32 pm

        Oh sorry, I realized I double posted as anonymous. I thought my first attempt had failed.

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  • avatar

    Artsygirl December 4, 2017, 11:53 am

    LW – Based on the age of your daughter, it sounds like your marriage ended right about the time she was an upperclassman in high school – the time when she would have been deciding what career she wanted. It is possible that her unwillingness to take charge of her life might stem from some unresolved issues regarding the breakup of the family. It is possible that she will continue to passively float through life unless she works out some personal stuff – I might be off base, just an observation.

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  • avatar

    brise December 4, 2017, 12:16 pm

    They seem to be pretty right about your daughter and especially her boyfriend. I find it sad for young people, and there isn’t anything “very good” in an alcoholic boyfriend, it pulls your daughter down. Your sister’s offer to pay for her studies is very generous, and a great opportunity. You could definitely say that to your daughter: even if she isn’t interested now, she could be later in her life, she can keep that idea in her mind and thank the aunt. Then it is her life, as she is an adult. As for your parenthood: well, the auntie doesn’t have any child, so it is easy for her to criticise. Again, she is really generous and that is an asset in life to have some support in your family. Take the positive and ignore the rest.

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  • avatar

    Ron December 4, 2017, 12:35 pm

    Daughter is old enough to make her own decisions, but she is in crash and burn mode with this guy. How much can she be enjoying his company if he drinks himself into a stupor every night? Daughters lack of independence is concerning.

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  • Miss MJ

    Miss MJ December 4, 2017, 12:42 pm

    I don’t know that your sister thinks that you’re a bad mother, so much as your sister is worried about your daughter, has apparently expressed her worries to your daughter and your daughter has listened to her about as much as she’s listened to you, which is to say not really at all (because she’s an adult and her mistakes are her choices and she has to learn them the hard way), so your sister is trying to lean on you to try to push your daughter into doing what your sister believes is best for her, which, of course, isn’t going to work.

    I think you need to just tell your sister that your daughter’s choices are her own, that she knows you and your sister are here for her when she decides to make some changes and to back the eff off already before she blows up her relationships with both you and your daughter. The hardest part of being a parent (or wonderful auntie) is accepting that children grow up and make their own choices and, barring very few exceptions, your only option as a parent (or auntie) is to accept that her current lifestyle choices are her own and live with it.

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  • avatar

    Smalls December 4, 2017, 12:46 pm

    I agree that you need to be clear with your sister that your feelings are hurt, and you feel judged by her. But it sounds to me, just from reading your letter, that your sister is concerned more about your daughter’s well-being and not so much about your parenting. I obviously don’t know what the “veiled comments” were, but it seems like your sister is just really worried about your daughter.

    The mention of money when you describe both of your siblings–and the claim that your sister uses her money to control you, even though I don’t see evidence of that in what you describe here — makes me wonder if that fact really bothers you, and if you are primed for feeling judged by them because you’re judging yourself.

    One last thought, for whatever it is worth – it’s definitely your daughter’s life, and she will do with it whatever she deems fit, but a functioning alcoholic in his early 20’s is not a good omen of things to come later in life. He needs help for whatever he is trying to cope with, and even though I have no doubt he is a good person, I can fully understand a relative’s concern for a family member being in a relationship like that.

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  • avatar

    csp December 4, 2017, 1:02 pm

    LW – I think you have two issues here. I think you need to deal with your feelings about wealth and then your daughters choices. There is so much unnecessary detail about the wealth of your siblings. These things seem to really bother you. I think you need to examine that.

    With your daughter, this seems like a train wreck. You can’t look away. You are right that you cannot control her choices but I think you can guide her and ask questions about what she wants out of life. I know a few young people who are so overwhelmed with the “find your passion” narrative. You can help her realized that you don’t need to know that when you start and that is what college can help clarify. Help her find her aptitude and get in a place where she can take care of herself if she needs to. Help her dream bigger than her boyfriend.

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  • avatar

    Northern Star December 4, 2017, 2:01 pm

    Right now, your daughter is WITH a loser–but a few years from now, with no job and no skills and no future, she will BE a loser.

    Your sister is rightfully concerned. Your son is a responsible adult, so it’s not like you’re a terrible mother (probably). Your sister has money—maybe she would help with a trade school fund or something. Brainstorm with her to find solutions rather than nurse your sad, hurt feelings—for your daughter’s sake.

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  • avatar

    Ange December 4, 2017, 3:58 pm

    Eh, the mum has tried to talk to her daughter but the daughter doesn’t want to hear it. At least they have the kind of relationship now where they can talk, it sounds like pushing any sort of path on the daughter will lead to issues. I say everyone should just butt out and leave her alone. It can’t be nice having a whole family group standing around openly tutting at you and it’s certainly not going to lead to anything changing. Mum is right to just let it go and let daughter figure it out.

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    • avatar

      csp December 4, 2017, 4:12 pm

      I think there is a difference between saying “Your boyfriend is a bum and you are a bum for staying with him” and saying, “When you are thinking about the life you want to build, what does it look like?”

      Questions get you further than lectures.

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      • avatar

        Ange December 4, 2017, 10:41 pm

        She’s 23, not a baby. Sometimes we just need to let people sort themselves out. It might take landing with a thud to do so but when someone has repeatedly made it known they don’t appreciate interference let them figure it out on their own. She’s not homeless, not in any immediate danger so give her the hard lesson.

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      • avatar

        dinoceros December 4, 2017, 10:55 pm

        She’s not really figuring it out on her own because she’s only employed because her dad gives her jobs to do. She might be more likely to make that thud if she was forced to get a real job with someone who expects things out of her.

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        csp December 5, 2017, 8:17 am

        I don’t think she is a baby but all of us need to evaluate our lives and choices. If you don’t live your life with intention, you could be in a place that is very dark. What if she gets pregnant or gets in a car with him and it crashes. What if she wakes up at 30 and has alienated everyone around her and has no support. Your 20s should not be wasted because they are the most formative decade of your life.

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  • juliecatharine

    Juliecatharine December 4, 2017, 8:40 pm

    A 23 year old living off her alcoholic boyfriend with no education or job history is headed off a cliff. Your sister offered her a free education—that’s tens of thousands of dollars if not hundreds of thousands of dollars— your daughter isn’t bothering to take her up on it and you’re pissed at your *sister*?And she paid for you to enjoy vacation house?! What a bitch.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros December 4, 2017, 10:13 pm

    I was surprised when you said the reason you’re mad is that she thinks she knows better than your daughter. Your daughter currently has no future or plan to support herself, and she’s mooching off an alcoholic. Your sister has a career, can support herself, and seemingly a healthy relationship — OF COURSE she knows better than your daughter.

    Honestly, your tone here makes it sound like you don’t really care that much about your daughter’s situation. If you sound like that in person, then maybe that’s why your sister is so concerned. Regardless, if someone were trying to get through to my kid who was in that situation, then I’d be happy and hope that maybe something finally would.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark December 5, 2017, 12:13 pm

    This thread has me baffled. Even Wendy is slightly off base here.
    .
    NEWSFLASH: anybody who drinks themself into oblivion night after night is not somebody who will “help anybody in a minute.” How many minutes of the week now is he in a passed out stupor? 1000? Hell, he won’t even help himself. Much less the LW’s daughter who is wasting her youth on a total loser. Then again, she may NOT deserve much better. Not when she is shamelessly the user of a loser.
    .
    No wonder the LW’s sibblings are plotting to get the dimwitted lass the FUCK out of Dodge City.
    .
    NEWSFLASH; LW, anybody who is already a “functional” alcoholic in their twenties won’t remains one for very long. Meaning — soon they will be a nonfuctional one. I know this from experience as it seems most of my good friends have one other thing in common besides me — a real penchant for dating addicts. Watching several of these train wrecks from the sidelines, I can assure you of only one thing. Long drawn out “special love” affairs with addicts always either end badly — or worse — linger on and on somehow NEVER ending. Your daughters BF will never get better with your daughter enabling him.
    .
    PS — If THIS is really what you want for your daughter, you are NOT just a bad mother — but instead a HORRIBLY FUCKED UP ONE.

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    • avatar

      Debbie December 5, 2017, 10:16 pm

      where did you get the idea that this is what she wants for her daughter? She states she’s talked to the 23 year old daughter. And the daughter is not developmentally delayed. She’s making her own choices. Really crappy choices, in our collective opinion, but her choices.

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