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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Grown Daughter Makes Me Feel Like a Prisoner in My Own Home”

I have a lovely daughter, “Laura,” age 26. I spent over $30,000 helping her to get a degree in dental hygiene. She has always struggled with anxiety, but when the pandemic hit, it became much, much worse. She quit her job and stayed home to homeschool her youngest sister and niece. She has been extremely controlling as she sees my husband and me as incompetent idiots. We do grocery pick-ups and I am not allowed in stores or even to go to the end of the road to get my mail. We are basically prisoners.

I have had a very difficult relationship with my two oldest children, which resulted in my having no contact with them, because I am a pushover and they used me until I blew up and then they walked. I am falling into that same pattern again; if I don’t allow Laura to live off us and let her set all these unreasonable rules, she will walk and I will lose yet another daughter. She knows I am afraid of that, so she dictates all, she spends my husband’s paycheck, we sit at home, she controls everything, and we are too afraid to go against her because losing another child is too painful. My husband and I are trapped. Is there a way to help her to get an independent life and thereby free ourselves without losing her, or is it too late? HELP PLEASE! — Afraid of Losing Another Daughter

Laura is not lovely. She is manipulative and unloving and taking advantage of you. What would you really miss about your relationship with her right now if she were to “walk”? Would it be feeling like an incompetent idiot? Being a prisoner in your own home? Having no money after she spends all of your husband’s paycheck? Let Laura walk. Where is she going to walk to? My guess is in a big circle right back to your front door where she’ll try to guilt and manipulate you into giving her money to live on. Maybe she’ll stop at her sisters’ homes first and try to manipulate them into taking care of her. A 30-year-old grown ass woman. Let her.

I know you’re afraid of losing her – of living through the pain you’ve already felt losing your other two kids. But how is the pain you’re experiencing in the relationship you currently have with her any better? How is living like a prisoner in your own home better than setting some long-overdue boundaries with a daughter who shows you zero appreciation and love? It sounds like you’ve already lost her and hope that enabling her to continue using you will somehow protect you from feeling the pain of that loss, but it doesn’t protect you from that, does it?

I don’t know what happened in your home/family life that you have such damaged relationships with all three of your grown kids, but I urge you to explore this with the help of a good therapist. I don’t know if there’s a family thread of mental illness that hasn’t been adequately treated or if there was trauma in your family’s past, but there is something that is standing in the way of your daughters — or at least, your youngest daughter – living a fulfilling, independent life. There is something standing in the way of mutually-satisfying relationships between you and all your kids. I don’t know if these relationships can be repaired or whether reparation is even in your control. But what I do know is that even – especially – if these relationships are damaged beyond repair, you need the guidance of someone trained in these kinds of family dynamics to help you process your grief in a healthy way. If the relationships can be repaired, you need guidance in how to get there and how to set appropriate boundaries.

To love someone sometimes means letting them fall so that they might harness their own strength to get back up. To love yourself sometimes means letting go of relationships that no longer serve you – that cause you more pain and grief than joy (even when these relationships are with your own grown children). I believe that, in the case of your daughter, you’ve reached the level of letting go for both of your sakes. The relationship you’re so desperate to hang on to doesn’t exist. If it did exist at one point, think about when it changed and what, if any, inciting incident precipitated its shift (this would be good to walk through with a therapist). It may be too late to repair what broke, but it’s not too late to avoid further damage to your well-being, to your marriage, to your health, and to your financial security. It’s time to let Laura walk. In fact, it’s time not to just let her go, but also to show her the door.

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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.

7 comments… add one
  • LisforLeslie November 2, 2021, 7:59 am

    Something else is going on here. It’s very easy to tell someone that they are treating you poorly and they are not allowed to talk to you like a child. It’s not difficult to restrict access to your own bank account and not hand over the money.

    If your daughter is so mentally fragile that telling her “no” is going to cause a meltdown or other extreme reaction, then she and you need more help than an advice column can provide. Maybe she’s taking her frustration about not having her own life, because of her own mental health issues out on you. At 30 she should be on her own, experiencing some career progression, maybe finding a partner or some sort of relationship(s). She’s hiding from the world and taking all of her frustrations out on you.

    Time to put your foot down and honestly, kicking her out would probably be the best thing you could do for her.

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    • Dear Wendy November 2, 2021, 8:11 am

      I agree with all of this, and still: this is the third time this is happening to the LW. This is the third kids she has such a damaged relationship with, she’s at risk of losing forever. There’s definitely something going on here, and it isn’t something that can effectively be addressed in an advice column beyond: 1) kick her out; 2) seek therapy to get at the root cause of these broken relationships.

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      • LisforLeslie November 2, 2021, 10:15 am

        My completely unfounded assumptions is that the LW has been a snowplow mom her whole life. “Helping” her children avoid all bad things in life and thereby emotionally crippling them so they have absolutely no coping skills. And in parallel LW is playing the eternal martyr, giving everything to her kids, drowning them in guilt “I give you everything you ask for” “I do without so you can have everything” and giving them nowhere to put their own feelings of resentment and frustration because to voice those feelings would just add to the pyre on which mommy has built and thrown herself on.

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      • NatalieB November 2, 2021, 12:05 pm

        I was thinking the same thing as Lis stated. My mother is a classic narcissist, and I had to go no contact for my own sanity. She paints a very similar dramatic picture of me when talking to friends. For example, once when I was a teenager (14) I made a comment that I thought Christmas trees with flocking (where they spray it with fake snow) looked dumb. 35 years later she is still telling her friends that her rotten daughter has ruined Christmas for her forever due to my negativity and not letting her enjoy the holidays. So, I’m just wondering how accurate the LWs statements are.

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  • Prognosti-gator November 2, 2021, 12:46 pm

    Trying to figure this out.

    Two older kids – no contact.
    Laura – the “controlling” child.
    A younger, school-age, sister – being homeschooled.
    A school-age niece – also homeschooled (presumably from yet another sibling? as the oldest two are “no-contact.”)

    I could be wrong, but whenever I hear:
    – lots of kids,
    – large age gap,
    – and homeschooling
    all together, I think “religious fundamentalist.”

    I realize COVID has messed this up a bit forcing homeschooling on a lot of people, though. Could religion have anything to do with the estrangement?

    Re: being told to stay home. Are you vaccinated? Are you taking masking seriously?

    I have to ask, because fundamentalists are some of the biggest offenders in that regard, and if I’m reading the first part right, it may lean that way. Sure, she’s being obnoxious, but maybe she wants you home to keep you from getting sick, and dying, leaving care of at least one school age child up in the air.

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  • anonymousse November 2, 2021, 2:20 pm

    Is your daughter Laura, lovely? You say she is, but also say she’s keeping you hostage. She’s apparently taking care of your other kid and other relatives and you kind of do seem incompetent, otherwise why aren’t you taking care of your own child, kick Laura out or take her off your bank account? It’s really hard to say what’s going on here but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that your other children don’t speak to you. There’s some missing information.

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    • Black November 2, 2021, 3:39 pm

      The old adage of “the constant in every faild relationship is you” applies here.

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