Give adult daughter clear expectations

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 11, 2011 06:00 AM

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Recently, my daughter and her husband moved in with us, along with their dog (her hubby is deploying to Afghanistan for 9 months). We aren't super excited about the dog (cute and good as he is) because he's large and tears up the yard even when he's not trying, by shear size, but we understand that dirt can mend the yard later, so we're willing to allow this. My daughter and I have had a stressed relationship for years, which appeared to be getting better with the distance between us. I feel she displaces her anger/frustration of things in her life against me. Now that she's moved back in, she's starting to act like her old self again. I think it has a lot to do with hormones, but even so, I am prepared to give her walking papers the second she calls me anything but mom or a valid respectful variation. Should I inform her of this rule or should I just give her the "boot" if/when she uses her fowl mouth to call me whatever she feels like calling me at the moment?

From: Vanessa, Buckley

Hi Vanessa,

It's your home, so you have ever right to expect a degree of civility, decorum and respect which, by the way, you need to model. On the other hand, she's old enough to be married with a husband in the service so she deserves to be treated like an adult. That means for you to be open, honest and above-board with her, as you would with any other adult.

Since it sounds like there have been issues between you in the past, consider doing this with a contract, similar to a lease between a landlord and tenant. For instance, you agree to give her x, y and z -- room & board, run of the yard for the dog, respect for her privacy, space in 'fridge, storage in the basement etc. In return, you expect a, b, and c. This is your opportunity to set out your expectations, rules about the dog, perhaps; how much, if anything, she's contributing to costs; about cleaning up after herself in the kitchen & bathroom; about her language.

What I like about a contract is that it's clean and objective, set down in paper in black and white, with signatures to show that you both agree to its clauses. If this feels artificial, I still would urge you to be clear about your expectations. Otherwise, it could feel to her as if you are being arbitrary.

There's a book you might find helpful called, "Don't bite your tongue, How to foster rewarding relationships with your adult children," by Dr. Ruth Nemzoff.

For all sorts of reasons these days, especially economic ones, lots of other families have adult children moving back home. I hope we hear from some of you about how you're making this work.

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2 comments so far...
  1. Thank you for mentioning Don't Bite Your Tongue.I am glad you find it useful. I couldn't agree with you more. The terms of engagement must be made clear. If both Mother and Daughter create the contract together it might be very effective in stopping trouble before it starts. That way the women have a chance to each express their needs and negotiate.
    Vanessa might also tell her daughter why she feels so strongly about being called Mom. She may see it as a title of honor or respect or both. It may hold memories for her of marvelous times together, snuggling or playing. Her daughter, on the other hand, might think that by calling her mother "Mom" she is acting like a child. I cannot know what each person thinks, but having the discussion might be a way that both mother and daughter could better understand each other.

    Posted by Ruth Nemzoff September 11, 11 10:17 PM
  1. 1. I don't understand why daughter was allowed to move in in the first place.

    2. I don't understand the comment about hormones -- is the daughter pregnant?

    3. LW, you have the right to be treated respectfully in your own home. If your daughter wants to stay there -- and you are doing her a favor by allowing it -- she needs to treat you with respect. I agree that the two of you need to sit down and discuss this as adults or she could find someplace else to live.

    Posted by fgh September 14, 11 01:00 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. Thank you for mentioning Don't Bite Your Tongue.I am glad you find it useful. I couldn't agree with you more. The terms of engagement must be made clear. If both Mother and Daughter create the contract together it might be very effective in stopping trouble before it starts. That way the women have a chance to each express their needs and negotiate.
    Vanessa might also tell her daughter why she feels so strongly about being called Mom. She may see it as a title of honor or respect or both. It may hold memories for her of marvelous times together, snuggling or playing. Her daughter, on the other hand, might think that by calling her mother "Mom" she is acting like a child. I cannot know what each person thinks, but having the discussion might be a way that both mother and daughter could better understand each other.

    Posted by Ruth Nemzoff September 11, 11 10:17 PM
  1. 1. I don't understand why daughter was allowed to move in in the first place.

    2. I don't understand the comment about hormones -- is the daughter pregnant?

    3. LW, you have the right to be treated respectfully in your own home. If your daughter wants to stay there -- and you are doing her a favor by allowing it -- she needs to treat you with respect. I agree that the two of you need to sit down and discuss this as adults or she could find someplace else to live.

    Posted by fgh September 14, 11 01:00 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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