How Can I Mend My Relationship With My Daughter?

Dear Melissa,

I was spending some time with my sister (from the land of oz) and she suggested I contact you. I need some help with my relationship with my daughter. I found out after 15 years of being together my husband was having an affair. We had an awesome relationship, never fought, enjoyed many of the same things, but our physical relationship had vanished. I was devastated at this discovery. I was willing to try and work out our issues, but he wanted no part of it. He moved to another city 250 mile away and he filed for divorce. I was in counseling for months. My spouse had a great relationship with my daughter, her husband and 9 year old grandson prior to these events. We used to go to all our grandsons sporting events, had frequent overnights at our house, and they were fishing buddies. My counselor said it was important for the relationship between my X husband and grandson should be allowed to continue. Over time, my daughter stopped giving her son the letters that my x sent. Although my x and I didn’t talk much in the beginning of our separation, we have reconnected in the last 8 months. Last October my x was in town for the weekend. My daughter had asked me to pick my grandson up after work and take him to soccer practice. As it turned out my grandson also spent the night. The 3 of us had an awesome time together, just like times spent together in the past. My daughter is furious that I allowed my grandson to see his papa without her knowledge. I told her I was sorry she was upset with my decision. She chooses not to forgive me because I am not sorry for what I did. My daughter is very controlling and is allowing her hurt and anger at my x husband to affect the relationship between my grandson and his papa. She wants to hash out what happened 4 1/2 months ago. My feeling is that there are times you have to agree to disagree. Regardless of what happens between me and my x, it is important that my grandson understand both of us continue to love him. My x and I may live in different cities, but we talk daily and are trying work out our differences. Since my daughter and I are now not speaking, she has asked that I stop going to my grandsons activities. I view this as her way of punishing me for my actions since we don’t agree on this issue.

I am interested in your thoughts.

Oz’s Sister

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Dear Oz’s Sister,

Thank you for sharing your story with me–I’m honored that your sister sent you here, and that you chose to reach out.

When I read through your email, it made me want to take a big, deep breath and just let it out. I’m going to invite you to do that with me right now. Just take a couple of deep breaths, and let them go.

There are all kinds of emotions flying high here, yours, your daughter’s and your ex-husband’s, and it’s really easy for each of you to get too much in each other’s business and try to control what is out of your control. One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Byron Katie, says in her book Loving What Is:

I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours and God’s. Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our business. When I think, “You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself,” I am in your business. When I’m worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God’s business. If I am mentally in your business or in God’s business, the effect is separation.

Telling your daughter what she should do, and judging her for her reactions is getting out of your business and into hers, and it is clearly creating hurt, frustration and separation. You say that she is controlling. I want you to turn that around, dear one, and say to yourself, “I am being controlling. In what ways is that true?” You went ahead and decided what is best for your daughter and her child without her consent. (I get that you felt justified in your actions, yet still, withholding information is controlling, no?) You’re creating all kinds of suffering for yourself by trying to convince her that you are right and she is wrong. You are trying to mend a relationship between father and daughter that is out of your control. I would be feeling pretty crappy in that space too!

Every judgement that we hash out and every bit of advice we give to others is always meant for ourselves–look at your judgements of her and your advice to her and than turn them around. What is it that you are needing to look at and not owning within yourself? You advise her to agree to disagree with the choices you made 4.5 months ago. Let’s turn your advice around: Can you agree to disagree with her choices in parenting your grandson? It sounds like agreeing to disagree…or even better, meeting each other with compassionate understanding, is good medicine for you both. Even your interpretation that she is “punishing” you is a reaction to her behavior based on your own feelings of guilt. I realize that it can be painful to turn the lens around and take responsibility for your part in this, but as soon as you can truly own how you are contributing to this situation and making it more painful for yourself than it has to be, you can free yourself and your relationship with her from this pain and suffering.

I’m seeing that there is a great need for you all to step back and give this situation, and the people involved (including yourself) the time and space to process and heal. I’m sorry to hear that your grandson has been pulled into this, and yet, chances are that it is the grown-ups and not your grandson who are suffering greatly in response to this time–most kids only suffer over grown-up problems when grown-ups convince them that they have a reason to be upset. If he doesn’t know that it’s a problem, then it isn’t a problem. There is no need to project your grown-up problems onto him–the truth is, he will be just fine when this all blows over as long as he’s allowed to think and feel on his own about it. I’m not saying that he is not missing you and his papa, but even the experience of missing someone only becomes truly painful when we are taught that our happiness is somehow dependent on those people. The truth is that your grandson does not NEED you in order to be happy. That hurts a little, I know. And yet, isn’t it so much better to realize that he can be ok, no matter what, with or without you in his life?! You all have done a good job of making this about your grandson, and yet, the chances of him being just fine are pretty good.

It’s the grown-ups who have gotten all up in each other’s business and are creating the suffering here. Everybody wants everyone else to listen and understand. Everybody wants everybody else’s love and forgiveness, and no one is willing to own his/her part. Your daughter’s estrangement is likely triggering feelings of guilt and remorse in your ex-husband, and so he’s looking to her (and it sounds like to you, as well) to solve that for him, and he is the only one who can actually heal that wound that he is carrying–whether or not he made the right choice to have the affair and leave is not the point, if some part of him feels ashamed about his choices (most people do harbor guilt when they have affairs), he needs to own that and give himself some love and understanding. The less he seeks it from her and lets her heal in her own time, the more likely she will re-engage with him in a way that works for both of them when she is good and ready. It’s not her job to forgive him. It’s his job. It’s also not her job to forgive you, sister. That’s your job.

You’ve been so focused on feeling responsible for mending this situation and being “right” that you are discounting your daughter’s feelings. Let your daughter have her hurt and anger. Even better, seek to understand it! She doesn’t need your judgement and advice. She wants your love and understanding. Listen to her. Ask her what SHE needs in order to heal, and really listen. Own your part in this situation. Surrender your need to be right–it only takes one person in a relationship to end this kind of power struggle. Why not have it be you? We all want to feel loved, understood and validated–give that to her, and you’ll get it back 10-fold.

I want to leave you with a song that I wrote after having a painful misunderstanding with someone important to me. May these words be healing for you as they were for me when I wrote them.

Much Love to you.

:)Melissa A.K.A. The JoyDiva

©2012 Melissa Simonson

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