Our eldest daughter (soon to turn 40) started telling “stories” in high school. One story was that I had a little boy that died. She had a picture of herself holding a friend’s child she passed around. I passed it off that she needed more attention and that our frequent moves and relocations were stressful to her. She eventually married a guy that cheated on her and left her with an infant. She moved in with us, but then began making public Facebook postings that we have “abused” her for 20 years. She married a European man after an online courtship. She borrowed money to fly him over for a “meeting” and they got married immediately after he stepped off the plane. She never repaid the money we loaned her for the ticket. Instead, we received vicious emails to us and all of her siblings saying we never support her in her decisions. She had three more children with him and then he left her. We have bought her cars, paid her rent, bought groceries, and supported her financially through her divorces and remarriages. She has alienated all of her siblings with her lies. Our daughter has strained our marriage almost to the breaking point. I need for someone to let me know that I am okay to walk away.
Your marriage is more important than preserving a relationship with your forty year old daughter. She is an adult and can be responsible for the train of consequences she’s created over the past few decades. You and your husband need each other more than ever. Now is the time to turn toward each other and begin enforcing healthy limits with your daughter.
Unless your grandchildren are at risk of being abused or neglected, there isn’t much you can do to protect them from their dramatic mother. I can’t even imagine how sad and painful it must be for you guys to watch your daughter cut her children off from her family.
You may even wonder what she can be accountable for, as she has such a chronic and chaotic history. Elder Maxwell taught, “our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability.”[i]
You have generously opened your home, your wallet, and your heart to your daughter. While investing in the lives of our loved ones doesn’t always make good financial sense, it’s common to go against our better judgment and keep investing. This might happen a few times, and then we recognize it’s a black hole. It sounds like you’re way past that point. I don’t understand how financially supporting her makes any sense.
What does “walking away” look like for you? I assume it initially means closing your home and wallet. You might even need to set emotional and relational limits until she shows that she can be respectful and appropriate in a relationship with you. This may never happen.
She’s someone who needs professional help and support, but is unlikely to get it, as I’m sure she doesn’t believe she has a problem. Learning to live with someone who possibly has a mental illness is a strain to individual health, marriages, and families. I recommend you get support from a NAMI chapter (www.nami.org), who offer free classes and support for family members of the mentally ill. You can also attend the LDS Addiction Recovery Support Groups for family members. You can find a meeting in your area at https://arp.lds.org. Additionally, there are great books on boundaries that can help you learn to protect your own mental health. The two I often recommend are: “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud and “Pungent Boundaries” by Nancy Landrum.
We often struggle with knowing how to create distance between us and the crazy-making behaviors of a loved one plagued by addiction or mental illness. Our reflex to “walk away” doesn’t always feel right, as we see their struggle. You don’t have to abandon the relationship entirely, but you can abandon the pathological patterns between the two of you. This may end the relationship, but unless the patterns can change, there won’t even be a relationship. Respect yourself and love her enough to set and keep these limits to protect everyone.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[i] Neal A. Maxwell, “According to the Desire of [Our] hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 21.