I have been making a mess out of my daughter’s relationship. My daughter is 31 and lives on her own with a great job. She is very headstrong and usually doesn’t date, however, she has started dating a man seven years older than her (I’m good with that). He has three children and she seems to be serious about marriage. The children are nine, seven and 14 months old. One big issue for me is that he felt like his ex-wife got pregnant because she didn’t want a divorce, so he left her while pregnant.
My daughter is not very tolerant of children. She sleeps in late every morning and when she finally gets up, she goes to the sofa to relax before starting her day.
Please advise me on how to let this be and not cry every time I’m in a room with them. She and I have always been so close and I don’t want to see this end up as a disaster for her.
I agree that you’re making a mess out of something that has absolutely nothing to do with you. You are creating a burden of unnecessary suffering for not only yourself, but also for your daughter and her new relationship. Let’s talk about how you can free yourself so you can be supportive to your daughter and her fiancé.
The first thing you can do is recognize the difference between managing your daughter and influencing your daughter. Your internal drama is caused by your drive to manage her life and relationships. Managing your children isn’t a bad thing when they’re infants. They’re completely dependent and count on you to manage everything in their lives. As children grow up, they should begin managing their own decisions at an early age.
When children are small, parents are actively involved in helping them understand their choices as they balance managing certain aspects of the child’s life while they actively influence them with their presence and support. Think of this as scaffolding around a building. This scaffolding doesn’t hold up the structure, but allows the worker direct access to influence and shape the outcome. Eventually, the scaffolding needs to come down completely.
While there isn’t a magical age when the parenting scaffolding should come down in the life of a child, I think it’s safe to say that your 31 year-old headstrong adult daughter doesn’t need you managing anything in her life. In fact, your influence should be limited as well. Parents can continue to influence their children and families through the lifespan, as long as there is a good relationship where the adult child welcomes that influence.
It appears you don’t trust in the principle of agency. Sometimes parents set themselves up as false saviors to their children by managing and controlling every possible consequence in the child’s life so they don’t suffer. In reality, this only creates more suffering for everyone involved. The actual Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, doesn’t even operate this way. He and our Heavenly Father champion individual agency and allow us to learn and grow from our mistakes.
Sharon G. Larson taught that “agency is the power to think, choose, and act for ourselves. It comes with endless opportunities, accompanied by responsibility and consequences. It is a blessing and a burden.”[i]
Let your daughter figure out how to navigate taking on three children. Let her figure out how to deal with a future husband who left his pregnant ex-wife. Let her deal with having to change her morning routine. These are normal adjustments and challenges that come with marriage.
Why are you terrified that your daughter will have a challenge she has to work out? There is nothing you need to manage here. You can be a supportive influence in her life as you step back, take control of your worry, and give her room to figure out this new direction in her life.
If your happiness depends on your adult daughter’s life going smoothly, then you will become a huge liability for her new relationship. There is nothing wrong with getting help from a counselor who can help you figure out where you stop and she begins. Your clarity and commitment with keeping personal boundaries and learning how to stop managing her life will be the best wedding gift you could give to this couple.
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 on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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