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CaptainHarley's avatar

What do you do as a parent when one of your [ grown ] children becomes hostile?

Asked by CaptainHarley (22414points) March 21st, 2010

My youngest daughter ( and my only biological daughter ) has recently, within the last few months, concluded that all of her “problems” are the result of my not having been a good father. She has stopped talking to me and won’t answer my emails. This from a girl with whom I thought I had a really great relationship, especially when we lived relatively close to one another. I SUSPECT that her mother ( my ex-wife ) has somehow managed to convince her that I am the source of all that is evil.

Any ideas about what I can do would be greatly appreciated. I love my children ( ages 37 – 47 ) very much, and this is causing me a great deal of anquish.

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43 Answers

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Ouch. I’m so sorry. Sometimes this happens not because of your ex-wife but because of comparing your parents to other people’s parents (37 is a little old to be influenced by her mother, unless she has other issues going on.) I’ve gone through periods like this, and it generally stems from having co-workers or neighbors who have different relationships with their parents than I had with mine; you do feel short-changed and that your life would be different if your family was different.

Perhaps you felt that you had a good relationship with her, and it worked for you, but it wasn’t really that way for her. My husband’s relationship with our oldest daughter is that he’s convinced that he is the perfect father; she, on the other hand, has been seeing a counselor for 3 years about his relationship with her, and he’s one of the reasons she lives in another city. Daughters often make compromises to make relationships with fathers work.

Does she live very far away? Can you go talk to her in person about it? This is a difficult conversation to have over e-mail and the phone, and really needs to happen in person. About all you can do is apologize for whatever you did that you didn’t know you were doing, tell her how much you love her and that you do the best you can. Ask her if there’s one thing that you could do for her, what would it be, and use that as a talking point. It may not be that you actually do anything different, but acknowledge that her perspective on her family is different than your view of the family.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Thank you for the very thougtful answer. I will be the first to admit that I was not the perfect parent ( assuming there IS such a thing ), but when we all lived in NC things seemed to go much more smoothly. Now I live in Texas, but I’ll be going back to NC in May. I want to confont this with her, but don’t want to further alienate her. I’m a rather direct person, and usually speak what’s on my mind, but the thought of alienating one of my children terrifies me.

birdland33's avatar

Personally, I would concentrate on my other children to ensure they were not prone to the same instance. My expectation would be that you would open a greater communication with them and they in turn could work as an intermediary between you and your daughter.

It would also (hopefully) stop her from infecting their minds against you.

I cannot speak from experience with grown children, but I have a 17 year old and a 9 year old son. My older son barely speaks to me (or his mother for that matter). I have told him that even if he wants nothing to do with me that he is not welcome to poison his younger brothers mind and if it ever seems to either of us (parents) we will remove him from our lives until he comes to his senses. He will be 18 in just about a month.

I attribute a lot of it to teen angst, but I also think that is a cop out, but that is my issue, not an answer to your question.

Good luck!

CaptainHarley's avatar


Thank you. You make a good point about the other children.

talljasperman's avatar

I’ve left my family for my own health…I don’t know anything that mMy family can do at this point to bring me back… short of making a full 180 degrees and apologizing and undoing the pain they caused….most of it is too little too late…but they haven’t even tried…So I stay away from most of them.

galileogirl's avatar

There could be number of things but your 37 yo daughter is not likely being unduly influenced by her mother unless she is very immature. Sometimes people in their 30’s go through an “is that all there is” and look for causes for their unhappiness. Has she hinted about financial problems?

I don’t think confrontation is the answer. Maybe a phone call asking if everything is ok because you haven’t heard from her in a while.

partyparty's avatar

Has she said outright that you weren’t a good father? How did you react to this?

Perhaps send her a letter, asking if she will meet up with you when you are in NC in May.

Arrange to meet up in a public place such as a restaurant or something like that, then emotions won’t get out of hand.

There are always two sides to a story, and perhaps you have done something you are not aware of. Being able to speak openly and honestly with your daughter will, I am sure, bring something out in her that you didn’t know about, and which you could perhaps rectify. Good luck.

Just_Justine's avatar

A lot of “adult children” go through this at various intensities. For various reasons and and at different stages. It may have been ongoing issues she never discussed before, or a particular issue, it could simply the divorce that it was never handled (in her eyes) correctly. Of course many fall short of being “good” fathers and mothers. We often realise that when we have our own kids. And realize our parents are just people, muddling along as best they can. Like the others said, arrange to meet up with her. It’s the only way you will know and get to the bottom of it, which you will, as you care.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Here’s an excerpt from an email she wrote me. This stunned me so badly that I was unable to respond to it for days!

“Ya know, dad, I am not really sure that you do love me. To tell you the truth, I am completely surprised to hear that you do love me, considering that you have done nothing my whole life but berate me, and make me feel like a huge, fat, ugly, good-for-nothing, GIRL that would never amount to anything other than a you-know-what for some guy who might want to take me in because I don’t deserve any better! GOD, I should actually be thankful…thankful that I don’t have a daughter to rub my shit off on!! ”

Just for clarification, I told her repeatedly when she was in high school that she needed to bring her grades up so that she could go to college. I would have worked three jobs in order to help put her through, if need be, but she preferred to spend her time socializing instead of studying. : (

chamelopotamus's avatar

You know, my 53 year old mom still holds resentments toward her mother from her teenage years, for not being there for her. In turn, that’s where she learned from, so her “bar” of normal treatment is skewed just a tad, and I have a minor version of that with her…althought its just a slight annoyance, comparatively.

But I would never blame my parents because they didn’t buy me a car, and encourage me to sign up for the SATs, or have money when I needed it, etc. I think that is an immature conclusion to resort to because we each make our lives what they are by our own doing, by working hard, doing what we love, taking advantage of opportunities, and meeting the right people.

I’m going to do my best to attain that regardless of how innattentive and wasteful of time and resources my parents can be. It’s up to me and no one else.

Also, I think bad thoughts in someone are triggered by bad thoughts in someone else. You can bring out the bad in someone just by telling them a bad thought. Now, if you didn’t do that, you’re right to think someone else did.

When someone complains about something, and they’re complaining to you about it, what they really want to do is retrace their current experience back to it’s cause. That means they believe you can provide them some insight on the cause, since they believe you to be partially responsible. If that is at all true in any conceivable way, or even if it isn’t, then it looks like your daughter is looking for a solution and is hoping you will help her fix it.

She will always see you as her parent, and therefore the source of all solutions, afterall. ;) It’s a lifetime job and it staggers me.

Just_Justine's avatar

@CaptainHarley well she has given you the answer there really. In her mail. Kids don’t appreciate sacrifices we make, it is something we need to just accept and not expect. Perhaps look back and see where you did (in her eyes) berate her, tell her she needed to do better etc., maybe she never felt good enough for you?

j0ey's avatar

hmmm when I was 15 – 20 I blamed all my problems on my father.

This was due to my mother continually telling me it was his fault as soon as my problems arose.

When I turned 20 I felt so bad for being such a little bitch to him just because of the poisonous garbage my mother had put in my head…I kind of “woke up” and realized if I should blame ANYONE (not that I do), I should blame her. She was trying to deflect my attentions from her mistakes onto his.

I have apologized to him…his reply was “its all under the bridge kid, its all under the bridge”

I love my Dad.

mammal's avatar

that is sad :( i don’t speak to my parents as we differ on too many issues politically, however, try to see her point of view even if it means adjusting your own.

Cruiser's avatar

Gee @CaptainHarley tough jam to be in. Sounds like a lot of water under the bridge. I would just confirm to her that you do love and care about her always have and always will. Also convey to her you were not the perfect parent or best possible dad…nobody is sir. You are her parent always have been always will be. Parents make mistakes but good parents acknowledge them.

My advice, is it is time to just be open to what she has to say. Allow her the time to speak her peace and listen. Accept her words as they are especially to painful ones. Neither of you can change the past. She is now a grown adult and time to let her know you accept her and love her for who she is and especially the decisions she has made in her life. Just be there for her and listen to what she has to say and build new bonds with her with what you both have to share in your lives as they are now not as they might have been long ago. Good luck sir!

dpworkin's avatar

My 28-year-old daughter was angry with me for quite some time. When I acknowledged my prior bad behavior and apologized the rift was quickly healed.

I guess if you have never behaved badly, even for a moment, in your entire relationship with everyone in your family, then maybe your daughter is psychotic and is just making it all up. In that case, get her some treatment. Otherwise you may wish to examine your responsibility here.

janbb's avatar

I’m so sorry for your pain; this must really be hurting a lot. It’s terrible when people we love cut us off. She may be in therapy right now and re-examining her life; this often causes a break for a time with parents or siblings. I would just write to her, explain that you love her and that you know you weren’t always a perfect parent. Tell her you will be open to talking to her about any of her issues whenever she is ready to. After making that invitation, there is not much you can do but sit and wait. It’s very tough.

laureth's avatar

I’m in your daughter’s position here. Late 30s, hostile to Mom for doing some of the same things that it sounds like your daughter perceived you as doing (only my mom actually said crap like that almost word for word). Because, no matter how you meant what you said at the time, perceptions are reality and your daughter must really feel that that’s how you acted toward her. And I’m trying to think here about what my mom could possibly do to win me back, as it were.

An apology is a start, but without backup action it wouldn’t mean very much. If I were willing to hear the rest of what she had to say, I would want to hear how life was for her back then, and what made her behave the way she did. Was it outside influences (like the stress of raising a kid on not enough money, other stresses, a bad relationship with her own parents, etc.) or did she really think I was a slut? At the time, all you hear (as a daughter) is “you suck.” As an adult, she might be able to reason and understand what you went through as a parent.

As for when to approach her, the only time I approach mom anymore is when I feel like I have to. (Today is her birthday, actually, and I will have to make the obligatory phone call later today.) If she sounds like she’s about to go on her usual b*tchy tirade, I will hang up. And I will not talk to her again until probably Christmas. so the key might not be to keep criticizing her in ways that make her feel like the criticism never stopped. Perhaps the best way is to listen, hear her out, understand that her feelings are genuine and that’s the way she perceives having been raised, acknowledge that, and hope that she will understand more with a 37yo perspective than a teenage one.

Good luck. It sounds like you do actually love your daughter. I wish my mom would ask a question like this somewhere, but that relationship is broken. Would that yours is not.

CMaz's avatar

It’s called tough love. You do your best to be educated. The decisions you make have to be for the well being of your family member, not you own personal desires or gain. No matter how tough those decisions might be.

As adults, it becomes a whole other game. You have a life too, what you think will “help” (save) that other individual. Most likely is doing nothing more then throwing all of you in front of the train.

escapedone7's avatar

My dad always was and still is a little hard on me. If he came over for a surprise visit right now, I imagine he’d say “Put some goddamn clothes on you look like a streetwalker.”

I know that he kicked me in the pants because sometimes I needed a kick in the pants. However, sometimes the things he said were and are hurtful even though his intentions are to make me be a better person.

I love him but he still does it. LOL. Well, I don’t know what is going on with her. If she is in some deep emotional pain, depression, she might just be trying to lash out at anyone she can blame her pain on. She might have a lot of issues she needs counseling or something for. For example if she’s having low self esteem. She might pout and cast blame but eventually hopefully will grow past that and get some counseling or something.

In the mean time, listen to what she said. She feels put down. She feels you didn’t love her for who she is, that she was never good enough. Show her the opposite. Go right now, find some pictures of her at various stages from when she was a little girl. Write to her that you think she’s a beautiful and competent person, she IS good enough. Tell her the memories that made you especially proud of her, from the time she won a spelling bee or learned to ride a horse or whatever pertains to your personal history. With that in her face and pictures of her little girl pictures and you telling her “I am and always was proud of you” will at least make her cry and eat her socks.

love you. Are you my daddy? Wanna be? Kidding. giggles

Silhouette's avatar

She’s 37 years old and you are still criticizing her “she preferred to spend her time socializing instead of studying.” If you can’t let her be who she is at this late date without reminding her of her failures from the past (as you see them) she probably won’t be able to put your failures (as she sees them) in the past.

CaptainHarley's avatar


No, she made her own decision to socialize rather than study. I mentioned that simply by way of pointing out that I never even hinted that she “would never amount to anything.” Quite the contrary, as with all my children, I pointed out her strong points and tried to help her decide how best to take full advantage of them.. I don’t bring up the past to any of my family unless it involves something funny we can laugh at.

Silhouette's avatar

@CaptainHarley All I can tell you is I see the same thing your daughter sees. It sounds like criticism to me and apparently it sounded like criticism to her too.

CaptainHarley's avatar


If it was criticism, such was not my intent, and it was many years ago ( 15? 20? ). I live over 1,200 miles from her now, and seldom talk with her, wither on the phone or online. So why now? Why the hostility toward me based on things that MIGHT have happened ( I obviously don’t remember them happening that way ) many years ago?

Silhouette's avatar

@CaptainHarley She is getting older and she is saying the things she needs to say. My suggestion is to listen, don’t rebut what she says, just listen. Love her unconditionally as you would have her love you. Don’t try to talk her out of “her” past by defending yours. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings as I’m sure you didn’t mean to hurt hers.

janbb's avatar

@CaptainHarley It is humbling to realize that what we thought we were doing as parents isn’t the way it came across. And your daughter’s perception of her reality is valid for her. The best thing you can do is be open to hearing her out and making amends by apologizing. Being defensive is the best way to lose her.

Exhausted's avatar

You know, sometimes when strife comes between us and someone we love, the pain we feel causes us to focus on ourselves and our loss of the other person’s affection instead of the pain they are feeling. It sounds as if your daughter is really struggling and needs help. We often lash out at others when we need them and they don’t see our struggle. It might be that your daughter just needs help and doesn’t know how to tell you that. You could tell her you love her and miss the closeness you once shared and want to know what you can do “today” to restore her respect for you, making it about her and not about you. Then listen to what she says without feeling the need to defend a possible attack from her. If she starts to tell you about her issues, just listen, until she is finished. Acknowledge her pain/anger/frustration/blame. Regardless of whether it makes sense to you or not, it is real for her. Then tell her you are sorry she is hurting and you are there for her and want to restore what has been lost. Hopefully she will respond favorably. If not on the first try, don’t give up, it may take several attempts to get past the pain and move into a safe place to open herself up to you again. Once you’ve established an open line of communcation, THEN you can deal with whatever issues she brought up. No matter whether this problem was caused by your ex or not, she should not be discussed, at all, because this is not between your ex and you, it is between you and your daughter. Good luck. I have been on the daughter side of this and had to take this approach to regain a relationship with my father. We ended up having three, really good, years before he died and I am so glad I was able to have this time with him. It was worth what I had to do to get there.

galileogirl's avatar

@Silhouette Parents can get a bum rap. If they try to get their teenager to shape up, they can be seen as overly critical. If they don’t motivate the teenager and just let her “be a kid”, the are not teaching her responsibility. Even if there is a good mix of childrearing, the adult child can develop selective memory.

The parents had her for 17 years and maybe Dad sometimes hurt her feelings trying to get her to focus on the future. It couldn’t be all “a huge, fat, ugly, good-for-nothing, GIRL” if she had an active social life. As far as telling not her how much he loved her, c’mon, he’s a MAN! She’s been an adult longer than she was a child. She needs to realize her father is a fallible human being who found her teen years as difficult as she did. She should get on with her life and remember unconditional love goes both ways

@CaptainHarley You can’t “raise” her anymore. You just have to let that part of parenthood go.Be the parent of an adult, don’t push, don’t give your opinion unless asked and be forgive, forget and be open when she comes back.

Silhouette's avatar

@galileogirl I know parents can get a bum rap and I know about selective memories, children aren’t the only ones who are prone to these. Unconditional love has to flow both ways, on that we agree.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I have to agree with @janbb that sometimes how we think we’re parenting and how it comes across are two different things. Sometimes you say things in an offhand manner that get taken to heart, and you don’t remember saying them at all. There are things that my daughters bring up all the time that I don’t even remember.

Chongalicious's avatar

Repeated criticism from your father is the worst. One little thing you say may feel like nothing to you; but she may never forget it.. For example: My dad used to obviously think I was the smartest little girl ever..I would see something nice and say “Oh! I like that!”, and he’d say “You better get a good job!” But now; pretty much since puberty, when I say something like that he’ll say “You better marry a rich husband!” He may feel like this is just a funny little comment but to me; it’s like he’s flat-out calling me an idiot. It sucks…

The point is, you should try to be a little more sensitive to her…at this point in her life, though, she could even be going through midlife crisis so you’ll be walking on eggshells for a while. Just try to understand where she’s coming from and I think the two of you will be okay…

chamelopotamus's avatar

It always helps me to remember that every person’s reality is valid, like what @janbb said. Everyone gets along a lot better when they stop denying the reality of each other’s experience; it’s a two way street. You will have to hear her out and accept what inner conflict she’s going through, without trying to change it. Then after she feels understood, she will be willing to hear you out, as long as you don’t criticize her, or deny her experience. I’ve been through that with loved ones.

Pandora's avatar

Welcome to the lets blame the parent generation. Unsuccessful? Finding life too difficult? Relationship problems? Fired because your boss thought the 2 hours of work you put in wasn’t enough? No need to look any further or self evaluate.
It is All your parents fault.
You’re not responsible for any of your misery at any age. Even if you did have years to fix it. My son tried to lay down that bull with me.
I reminded him of everything good I ever did for him and told him I am not responsible for his perceptions. I will gladly accept them when he is young but not as an adult. And if he had this perception that parents, any, are perfect than that is his problem.
All parents have flaws and one of the most common is the inability to know exactly how to raise a responsible productive adults who can take care of themselves well after we are gone. Our methods are many times less than perfect but no one book will ever give you all the answers. Why? Because we are all different individuals and we each react differently to different situations. Told him he was blessed to have two parents who loved him and tried their best to raise him the best way possible. I never proclaimed to be God, (all knowing). I’m just human and yes I know my flaws but crying about it gets me know where. Trying to improve is all I can do. I told him life will be easier if he admits his failures and work on them instead of looking for a scape goat. He took it well and has become remarkably responsible and our relationship is stronger than ever. Wish you luck.

ChaosCross's avatar

I would apologize once, and then tell them that life is not always fair and the only real thing we can do is to talk about it and why they feel this way. If they continue to be ignorant and irritative I stay with them kindly until they leave and give them the “smile”, a specific facial gesture displaying warmness and invitation, it will be the last image of me they see for as long as they choose. Over time, because of my loving reactions to them, they will eventually forget the bad parts and desire to see me again. When they do, I will; and that is when we make amends.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

This is hard to answer, because there is no reason for us to just take what you say as truth – even if there is no ‘truth’ so to speak because there are two sides – I still would want to hear about it all from her and look her in the eye and make my own judgment. My father and I never had a good relationship and I told him he was no longer my father at 13 and never took it back, ever. He died last year and I was there for him through his cancer struggle and death but I will not say my life isn’t easier now, because it is and his criticism is gone and his close-mindedness is gone and though my mother still gives me plenty of anxiety, at least she’s capable of watching the kids (something he wouldn’t even try because he was a man, you see and to him that meant not doing such things as parenting, which he failed at).

YARNLADY's avatar

About the only thing you can do is try to live your life as if nothing was wrong, and wait for her to come around. It’s sad when there is such a failure to communicate, but she is an adult and has to make her own choices.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Seems you’re looking at me through the lense of your own relationship with your father.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Sadly, I tend to agree with you. I have struggled with this and cried over this for about a week now, but it’s time to get on with my own life and let her do some sorting on her own. Thanks, YL. : )

mattbrowne's avatar

Remind them of the fifth commandment.

liminal's avatar

@CaptainHarley I wonder if a healing way of moving forward would be to share some of the things you’ve told us with her. “I hear you are hurting. I am shocked by what I somehow missed. I have found myself crying over the pain you are obviously going through. I love you and want to be there for you. Yet, I also want to give you space to hurt and be angry.” In your own words of course.

While you wait decide how much of yourself you can but to the side to hear her and listen without judgement and defense. We all hurt the people we love. Prepare yourself to respond with repentance when appropriate. Note how you have changed over the years of knowing her and be ready to share that. I think one of the hardest things for family members to do is to perceive change in each other. It is very easy to get locked into ’stinking thinking’. Have patients with her and yourself in this regard.

Thank you for being transparent about a tender situation. I hope for peace with you and yours.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Very thoughtful. Thank you! As best I can understand all this, the ball is now in her court, since I have apologized for whatever I did to upset her. If you guys like, I can keep you posted on what happens with this.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@CaptainHarley Of course I am – that’s pretty obvious. It’s the only thing any of us can do – if you read any of the responses above, that’s what people were giving you as answers – their own experiences with their parents or as parents – no one can actually give you an answer because no one can be you or in the exact situation. You, in no way, can see her side as well as yours in any detached way.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Uh… I read ALL of the responses. And I agree with you that it’s virtually impossible to divorce yourself from your own perceptions. : )

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