( conditions for mothers of estranged daughters)
You’ve cut Mom off…and now she wants a second chance.
Should you let her back in or stick to your guns and stay no contact? You don’t want to be heartless or unforgiving, but at the same time, you don’t want to fall for her guilt trips, get sucked back in .. only to realize nothing has changed.
OR -you are the Mom, and your daughter is estranged.
You don’t really know exactly what you have done wrong. You know you aren’t perfect… but you’re afraid one slip, and down you go. Unfortunately, you don’t have another lifetime for a do-over in the child-rearing department, so you’re hoping to get it right with the daughter/s you do have.
Whether you are the estranged daughter or the mother of the estranged daughter, you need some guidance to navigate this tricky territory- some do’s and don’ts.
Why should you listen to me?
I’ve counseled daughters for over 30 years, and I know what your daughter says to her therapist.
I know how much she wants to feel love from you, how desperate she has to be to cut you out of her life, and what you have to do to get convince her you deserve a second chance.
There isn’t anything I recommend here that I haven’t done myself- as a mother or a daughter.
I’ll warn you; however, I’m hardest on Moms. For a read about that –go here. My reasoning goes like this; Mothers have had a developmental advantage. When your daughter was small, there was a power differential, and there still is.
But now, it’s a new day. Now your daughter gets to decide how much access she will give you. Yep, like it or not, that’s her call. If you guilt and shame her into spending time with you, that’s no win at all.
Both parties lose. And deep down, you don’t want that anyway.
Let’s begin with the truth…
Most daughters (even estranged daughters) long for a Mom who loves and supports them.
Even when they are furious, that anger springs from a place of deep longing. If your daughter just simply didn’t care, she wouldn’t get so worked up and upset about a relationship gone wrong. Remember that as we go along.
Rules for Mothers of Estranged Daughters
1-) Don’t make blanket apologies.
” I’m so sorry for anything I ever did to hurt you” is next to useless. While you may mean it, there is no individual responsibility or accountability in that statement. A genuine apology is specific. For example, “I regret the hurt I caused you when I called you names/mocked you/ intruded upon your privacy by reading your text messages/ flew into an alcoholic rage and embarrassed you in front of your in-laws/ ruined your wedding by making a scene/. You get the picture. A real apology reflects that you understand and take ownership of the hurt you caused.
Any shortcut is a cop-out.
2) Don’t send your husband, family members, or close friends to plead your case or put pressure on your daughter.
She will feel ganged up on…. because she is ganged up on. You are spending relationship currency you didn’t earn. It is unfair… and both cowardly and bullying.
It will backfire spectacularly as it should.
3) Don’t shower her with unending declarations of your love or platitudes of how much a mother loves her daughter.
In case you hadn’t noticed, love isn’t what she is feeling from you now. Insisting she feel loved when she feels upset and hurt will only demonstrate your unwillingness to take her seriously and it will alienate her even further.
Instead, demonstrate your love by your willingness to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and self-examination.
4) Do take responsibility for your own healing and self-care.
If you’ve had a rough childhood and some resulting trauma, take yourself to therapy, AA, Alanon, or for a run. Complain all you need to to your peers and fill up that journal with the gruesome gnarly details. – no holds barred.
Log some real-time in therapy. Go when you don’t feel like it. Dig down deep. Don’t plead your case and report back that the therapist thinks you aren’t the problem or use therapy as a mediation tool.
Go to therapy on your own and own up to the work.
5) Don’t use your terrible childhood, “I had it so much worse,” as an excuse for your current behavior.
All your daughter knows is how you are acting currently. For her, that’s all that matters. For better or worse, you don’t start with chips to cash in just because you endured worse than you are giving your daughter. It doesn’t work that way. She can’t make the past up to you.
Life isn’t fair, and that isn’t her job.
6) Don’t make your daughter your therapist or your sounding board. She can’t be that for you.
Again, this goes back to the power differential. Your daughter can’t challenge you or give you constructive feedback the way a therapist or friend can. She is not your equal and never will be.
It is unfair to put her in the position of a peer or a professional.
7) Do listen to your daughter’s feelings about you without defending yourself.
If she has mustered up the courage to tell you what bothers her about what you have done… listen without defense. Defending yourself immediately negates all the good getting it off her chest has just accomplished. At this point, she needs you to take in what she has to say.
If, at some later time, you want to give her your side of the story, ask her if she could listen to how you experienced the interaction. Short of that, just listen.
8) Don’t follow an apology with a “yes but, you…”
Do make a genuine apology if you feel one is merited. But, don’t cast blame on your daughter or play the victim. It won’t bring your estranged daughter back into a relationship with you.
If you disagree an apology is merited, simply say, I hear you.
9) Don’t comment on your daughter’s weight, hair, sexuality, or romantic relationships.
As an adult, your daughter’s body is her own. She isn’t your baby doll, nor is she a reflection of you. And her sexuality, yep, that’s off-limits- end of story.
One word, momma, boundaries.
Her choice of romantic partners is one way she grows up and differentiates from you. Even if the relationship fails or seems to you that it is on the wrong track…
It is not your place to pass judgment.
10) Do let your daughter’s successes be hers to enjoy and her failures be learning opportunities rather than indictments of her character.
No matter how fiercely you can want to “save” your daughter from making the mistakes, you think you can see coming a mile away, the truth is… she may need to run that experiment herself and fail.
But, on the other hand, she may succeed.
Either way, it’s her life and her success to celebrate or her mistake to learn from.
11) Don’t say, “I told you so.”
Life’s lessons are brutal enough without someone gloating with a smirk on their face.
If you want to be close, don’t be that person.
12) Do love her through whatever life throws at her.
Your job is to love her through whatever comes… not bail her out or loan her money… but stand by and listen, believe in her, and trust that she can learn from it all.
If you want to be the person she calls when she gets the promotion AND the person she calls when her boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse dumps her, say, ” I’m here for you. I believe in you. Everything will be all right. ” because it will… eventually, it will.
The little girl in her needs to hear that from her mother.
Because what you say in those moments will stay with her forever whether or not you are estranged.
Jobs come and go. Lovers that were once shiny, exciting, and new… fade; even small children grow up and leave. But, even after you are gone, the first words she will hear (inside her own head) when life brings wonderful news ( congratulations, it’s a girl) or deals a heavy blow (the biopsy is cancerous) …. might well be yours.
It will be your legacy. Guard it carefully.
If you are lucky enough to get a second chance with your estranged daughter, you need to go the extra mile.
Just doing what comes naturally isn’t going to cut it. It will only get you cut out.
If I could distill all the advice into one sentence, it would be this;
You have to want to repair what has gone wrong more than you want to be right.
I am rooting for you and your daughter. Estrangement stops the abuse but leaves an open wound. Be the heroine in her life, the one who broke the cycle.
I know of no better calling.