My 16-year-old daughter has recently gone to live with my Mum. We have always had a difficult relationship, but recently the arguments have become more vicious and violent. I really don’t know how we can resolve the last one. I live with my partner of 15 years and our two other children. I understand she will be jealous of the younger children, especially because my partner isn’t her biological father. We have never given her any reason to be jealous, she has never been left out of anything. But the violence and venom are very hard to take. I am devastated by the situation. My middle child has a few health problems including, growth hormone deficiency, and dyspraxia. The most recent episode started with my eldest daughter calling her a ‘retarded cunt’. I am ashamed to say I completely lost it and threw her out of the house. She stayed at a friend’s house that first night and I took her to my Mums the next day. As I was leaving the last thing she said to me was she hopes the children get taken into care. We have a happy home and don’t know what to do.
Thanks for writing. It’s come to my attention recently, taking a look at some of the blog-posts following my weekly column that there are misguided people out there who I’ve set myself up as a qualified expert, dishing out orders to the meek and feeble. Nothing could be further from the truth. The dynamic you’ve put on the table is one of the hardest to resolve and so emotionally complex that I must reconfirm that I am as human, flawed and prone to mistakes as the rest of my species, Nobody is compelled to write to me and my advice is meant to precipitate a discussion, rather than be prescriptive.
So let’s talk. The often-fractious relationship between mothers and daughters is a regular source of woe and if I had a snap solution I’d be on a world tour dispensing my wisdom for the global benefit of mankind. Instead I’m holed up at home desperately hoping that my daughter and I, also often at loggerheads, won’t go on to repeat the tragedy of my own dysfunctional past in this area. Your situation is exacerbated by the fact that your girl feels out on a limb and may have nursed her grievances secretly since at a year old her first half-sibling arrived. You don’t mention her biological father and I wonder if they have any form of ongoing relationship, if so now is probably the time to call him up for parental duty.
Judging by your description your daughter feels isolated and angry and sentences like “we are a happy home” which so obviously set’s her outside that unit are not helpful. Your middle child obviously needs extra care and attention but that doesn’t make it any easier for the child who feels shortchanged to abide. It will certainly be a contributing factor to your eldest sense of aggrieved injustice. We tend to imagine that it’s in their early years that children need the maximum care but as mine grow up it’s becoming clear that the real challenges begin when the hormones start raging, and vulnerable as baby turtles trying to make it to the sea, they head toward independence. As if your job as a parent wasn’t challenging enough, this most vulnerable stage in their development usually coincides with a period when they are at their most aggressive, mean-spirited, myopic and downright unpleasant. If you can get through the teens as a team it will be plain sailing further on but it’s no easy job to negotiate that turbulent tsunami. Every child has to learn how to detach from their parents and no matter how hard they make it, it’s our job to prepare them to stand on their own two feet while leaving the door ajar for future support.
Having left home myself at 16, I know how bloody minded a precocious, damaged teenager can be but also how much of the ensuing bluster and rage is really a desperate cry for help. I suggest you take this moment of respite, while your girl is at your mum’s to organise the help of a third party who can help you to negotiate and mend your relationship. Any other adult she trusts, whether godparent, friend or relation could help or better still perhaps your GP can recommend a suitable counsellor? Much as you feel the aggrieved party, there’s likely to be an avalanche of historical baggage contributing to her behavior. Taking the time now to throw aside preconceptions and judgments to talk your way through the past will pay you both huge dividends in the future.
No child wants to be set adrift by their parents but many end up similarly isolated and estranged as they struggle to articulate their feelings making sympathy hard to muster. Possibly you and your partner have done everything right, though that would mark you out as totally unique. More likely a series of misunderstandings and miscommunication over the years have led to the impasse you now face. The going will be tough but despite appearances right now your girl needs you more than ever. Try to rise to the tough challenge of keeping communication between you ongoing and open. What’s left to fester will shadow your relationship forever.