Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Mother Feels Abandoned by Grown Daughter

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I’m not sure if I should be upset, or even if there is anything I can do. My daughter has become seriously involved with a young man who is very close to his family.

By “very close” I mean he still lives at home with his parents, grandparents, and siblings. They are all living together in the same house. His cousins, second cousins and sundry other family live nearby and they all are in multigenerational housing. The young man told me yesterday that his cousin married and had a child and his parents built an extra bathroom onto his childhood bedroom and that’s where they live. He seemed to think this was an ideal situation.

Since my daughter and he started dating, they have become quite serious and she has moved into his parents’ house with him. I’m freaking out!  I rarely see her because she is so busy with his family. I pointed out that she is my family and that I miss her. She promised to visit more often but hasn’t. And when I do see her she ALWAYS has the boyfriend with her and they mostly talk about his family.

I don’t blame him or his parents. I think she has made a choice and I’m just sick about it but don’t know what to do. I am divorced and have no other children. On the holidays I am alone. She will squeeze in a couple of hours, but it always feels like a guilt visit. I’ve begun to try to plan trips and things on those days so I don’t feel as badly, but it doesn’t work.

My daughter and I were always very close and this is such a surprising turn of events!  I’ve been very gracious and friendly to his family and invited them here but they never invite me to visit with them. I feel totally shut out and am watching her disappear. What can I do?

I want to suggest that although you are feeling abandoned by your daughter, if she had truly abandoned you, you would be describing your situation differently. You would be saying that you never see you daughter anymore. Rather, you are dealing with changes in your relationship with your daughter – changes initiated by her – the outcome being she has reprioritized where she currently wants to put her time and energy. As a single mom with an only child and a very close relationship heretofore, you are experiencing the relationship shift between the two of you more intensely than perhaps a mom with multiple children might feel it.

One thing I urge you not to do is give your daughter the idea that the relationship between you is an either-or situation: either the two of you reinstitute your previous relationship in terms of time spent together, or you don’t have a relationship at all. Love is not a zero sum game, meaning your daughter has only so much love and the more she gives to her boyfriend the less she has for you. Fortunately, love feeds on itself and keeps on expanding. You will always enjoy the relationship status of being your daughter’s mother, and you want to preserve and enhance this unique and special place you hold in her life.

To help you do so, here are my dos and don’ts in light of choices your daughter has made.

  • Do acknowledge to yourself the hurt and resentment you feel and the yearning you have for things to be as they used to be between you and your daughter. However, keep reminding yourself that “that was then” but you have a new now to accept and work on.
  • Don’t let your daughter know you’re hurt and feeling left out. Rather, push those negative feelings to a back burner, and instead, try to take delight in your daughter’s recent happiness.
  • Do be someone your daughter and boyfriend like being with. For example, ask them about the various members of his family so that when you’re together, you can have ongoing dialogue: “How’s your uncle’s bronchitis?” “Did your mother ever try that new dessert recipe?” “Did you two enjoy that new movie you went to?”

At first you might have to force interest, but over time you may find that your interest becomes genuine as your daughter and boyfriend share more about his family members.

  • Do accept that the family is not ready to include you in their gatherings. The family members are probably focused right now on what it means to have your daughter brought into the family fold.
  • Do be patient and let the new relationships unfold and grow in their own time. For example, don’t ask to be included in the boyfriend’s family’s activities. Rather, be gracious and thoughtful – if there is a birthday party for one of the family members, send him/her a card with your good wishes; if you go apple picking, ask your daughter and her boyfriend to deliver a basket of apples to his family with a note saying you hope they enjoy them.

In these ways, you remain in the background, yet you are establishing an accepting and non-threatening presence, and over time your daughter’s boyfriend may become an advocate of you spending more time with his family.

On your behalf I consulted with social psychologist, parenting and family relationships expert, and author of 15 books, Susan Newman, Ph.D., about your situation. I close by sharing Dr. Newman’s comments and advice for you.

“It is never easy on parents when their adult children meld into another family. It feels as if you have been abandoned and often that the new person or family in your child’s life is more important than you are.

“In any family, when a child falls in love, her focus turns away from a parent. She is not rejecting you, but rather adding another family to her life. As the novelty of her current situation wears off, she will most likely find more time for you and be in a position to ask that you be included in the other family’s functions.

“The fact that she brings her boyfriend whenever she visits is a sure sign that she is including, rather than excluding you. She wants you to be part of both of their lives. If she were truly abandoning you, she would not bring him with her to visit. She would drop by for a quick hello and leave.

“For your daughter, the newness of the arrangement feels very attractive to her and, you are wise to keep yourself busy and make plans for those times and special days when you feel your daughter’s absence most acutely.

“It is a good idea to express how glad you are that your daughter is happy and so welcomed in her boyfriend’s family.”

Dr. Newman and I hope our comments and suggestions help you find joy and happiness in the new relationships that are changing and emerging for both you and your daughter.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.

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Visit www.AskDrGrammaKaren.com to learn about Dr. Gramma Karen’s new book,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen, Volume II: Savvy Advice to Soothe Parent-Grandparent Conflicts

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