‘She’s such a bitch.’
‘Everything I say annoys her.’
‘Nothing I do is right.’
‘She’s only nice to me when she needs money.’
‘What happened to my sweet little girl?’
Do these laments sound familiar? They do to me because at some point since my daughter, Britt, went to college, graduated and moved to New York City I have uttered each one. But over the past twelve years I have found myself lamenting less and enjoying her more. Why? Did she change? Or did I? A bit of both but weighted much more heavily on me.
I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision but I think this complaining about my adult daughter diminished when I started to view her for what she is in that order: ADULT then DAUGHTER. Once I changed my perspective to treat her as an adult first, my daughter second, our relationship became much less strained and tenuous.
I’ve written before about her drastic career change in 2017 when she gave up a fairly lucrative finance career to become a Soul Cycle instructor. My first instinct when she told me was WTF but having never been given support by my own parents to take risks and regretting it later, I decided to trust her, to let her choose a new path and see how she landed. More importantly, eighteen months later, I kept my mouth shut when she didn’t like Seattle and returned to New York and eventually to the finance world. There was no I told you so because I’d never told her so. And that shifted our dynamic.
Here are some lessons I learned along the sometimes-bumpy evolution to the mother/daughter relationship we both feel pretty good about today. (A caveat: she never had addiction/risky behaviors/mental or emotional fragility issues to deal with. Any of these could have led us down a much different path.)
Do not give unsolicited advice. IF she asks ‘what do you think’, then yes, say what you think. Remember your advice is about HER, not you so maybe what may have worked forty years ago is not relevant to her circumstance in 2023. If she does ask for advice, give it. If she doesn’t heed it and fails, keep your mouth shut. (see I told you so above)
Do not ask about partners: not new ones, old ones, potential ones. If on Wednesday she tells you she has a date on Saturday do not bombard her with questions on Sunday like ‘how’d it go?’, ‘did you like him?’ ‘why didn’t you like him?’ or the kiss-of-death ‘are you going to see him again?’ Let her offer as much information as she wants when she wants. You do NOT need to know everything about her dating life.
Do not whine if she decides to miss a holiday/family gathering/birthday party…’ ‘BUT I THOUGHT YOU WERE COMING HOME..’ She’s got a life, a job, maybe a different plan. Okay, no lie. This is a difficult one for me but I’ve learned the hard way not to guilt her into doing something she doesn’t want. When the guilt has worked ‘successfully’ it’s been such a miserable weekend that by Sunday I’m thinking I can’t wait until she’s gone.’
You do not need to hear from her every day. When Britt first moved to Manhattan I worried constantly about her safety. What if someone pushes her off the subway, what if she gets mugged, what if a Bumble date goes bad. A few years ago I asked if I could add her to my ‘Life 360/Find my Friends’ tracker on my phone. ‘Absolutely not’ was her immediate response. We compromised that I would be her ‘in case of emergency’ contact. Guess what: most days I do hear from her as she walks to the subway or gym.
I’ll stop now. There is so much more I could say, so many stories of our then vs now in getting to this pretty good place. Instead..
Last weekend I stayed with her two nights. In spite of a splint on my sprained left ankle I was determined our Funny Girl tickets purchased months ago were not going to go unused. We went out to eat of course, but mostly we hung out at her minimalist studio. I caught up on The Last of Us while she scrolled through TikTok. We drank wine and chatted or sat in content silence. As she walked me to my train at Grand Central (and made sure I got on safely) we hugged like the best of friends, the way I’d always dreamed we’d grow up together when I was a young mother and she was my little girl.