Question

Our fifth child is in her early thirties and living with us at home for the past several years. She’s divorced with no children. When she was a baby, she seemed to suffer with brain fog. Life is difficult for her. She eats out A LOT and doesn’t prepare food very much. It was a problem when she was married and they both broke down. She has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression (and her ex-husband was diagnosed with more serious mental health issues). I want to help her with health things I’ve learned so her mind and emotions will function better. However, she is resistant to anything I recommend or suggest. It makes life hard for her and our relationship occasionally becomes strained. It seems she is doomed to difficulty and disappointment. I find it frustrating and sad! My judgement, true. I have a hard time dealing with my feelings since I want her to be happy, right? Maybe that’s it. I want to be right. And, maybe everything is perfectly progressing. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Answer

I’m sure it’s been heartbreaking watching your daughter suffer her entire life from both organic and self-imposed conditions. And, when we know something that will help them, it’s even more challenging to see someone you love completely ignore something that can help improve their life. Yet, as you noted, it’s hard to know what her true trajectory might be for her life. Let’s talk about how you can stay supportive under these challenging conditions.

First of all, please know that you’re not alone in watching helplessly as your loved ones make life harder for themselves than it needs to be. In the opening of the Book of Mormon, we see Lehi and Nephi struggle with the stubbornness of Laman and Lemuel and “[grieve] because of the hardness of their hearts.”[i] Moses held up the brazen serpent on his staff as an obvious solution to the deadly bites from the “flying fiery serpents”[ii], yet some of children of Israel wouldn’t make a simple turn to look and be healed.[iii] Throughout the scriptures, we read of prophets and even God Himself teaching, pleading, and persuading all of us to remember and act on healing truths. Yet, we sometimes go our own way.

I’m sure you have wonderful health advice for your daughter. And, no doubt there is plenty of science and timeless wisdom to back up your suggestions for improving her health. Yet, it’s just as true that she gets to decide how to best care for her body, emotions, and spirit. Your feelings of frustration are understandable and legitimate. However, I agree with you that managing your feelings and deciding how to best honor her agency are going to give you the peace you’re seeking.

Please remember that even though she’s your daughter, she’s not you. I don’t say this to insult you, but to keep the focus on accepting your true sphere of responsibility. Unless you have legal guardianship of her, she has to make the decisions for her well-being. You might be right about the types of things that would help her feel better, but you’d be wrong if you expected to force those things on her.

I know nothing of her physical or emotional condition, but it might be possible that she’s not reached a point of personal suffering severe enough to consider a different way. Unfortunately, many of us delay improving our well-being until the consequences are severe enough to interrupt our functioning.

If she has debilitating mental or physical illnesses that threaten her safety, then it’s important for you to put aside the relational concerns and press her to get competent medical help. This would be no different than pressing someone with a serious wound to get to the emergency room. If she continues to show a pattern of self-neglect that threatens her physical safety, then you’ll want to seriously explore other care-giving options that involve legal guardianship. If her situation isn’t that severe and she’s mostly under functioning for someone her age, then you have to decide how much you can emotionally, physically, and financially support.

If you believe you’re contributing to her decline by enabling her to stay dependent and passive, then you have some important decisions to make about setting up conditions to promote independence. You don’t have to lecture or explain any of this until you’re blue in the face. You can begin changing the ways you support her financially and emotionally.

You can make a personal boundary not to make recommendations or ask questions about how she’s caring for herself. If she impacts your immediate surroundings, you can create rules and expectations for how she needs to share space in your home. And, ultimately, may even consider creating an exit date for her so she can begin preparing herself to live independently. While you can offer to provide her with safe and clean conditions where she can grow, if she doesn’t use these to her benefit, you have to determine how long you can personally sustain these conditions.

Remember that God’s plan of salvation moved forward only when Adam and Eve left the comfort of their garden home where very little effort to sustain life was required of them. They entered a new sphere where they had to sweat and toil to survive. Yet, they had heavenly help and support all along the way. You can still be a presence and support in her life, but she needs to care enough to do the work. Again, you’ll have to determine what’s she’s truly capable of, depending on her physical and mental conditions. Just remember that even mentally and physically ill people can live independently and thrive. You’ll have to carefully decide what kind of support makes the most sense.

You might feel guilty or anxious as you watch her struggle. Please don’t manage your emotions by managing her. Allow her to make decisions for her life, even when she goes in a direction you know is going to bring more suffering. Allow her to feel the weight of it so she can commit to healthier choices now or later. This is agonizing, but it’s the only way both of you will have peace and have hope of a healthy relationship. If you’re managing her, you’ll both resent each other. If you stand by to offer assistance, she can accept or decline, but you’ll still be accessible and responsive as her loving parent. This presence is respectful and allows her to maintain her dignity and strength as a grown woman. Hopefully you can find the right balance of boundaries and support as you move forward with her.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. You can receive 15% off by entering the code MERIDIAN at checkout. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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[i] 1 Nephi 2:18

[ii] 1 Nephi 17:41

[iii] Alma 33:19