Dear Sahaj: My daughter has set boundaries, now what?
Of course, I didn’t do that. I started to text more than ever, telling myself “it’s not talking.” She lives four hours away and I had her and her fiance’s Christmas gifts shipped to my home. It was an obvious ploy to force her to see me. It backfired; imagine that!
We have not spoken since October and she hasn’t replied to a text since the beginning of January.
I want to leave her be, but I also want to apologize to her. I miss her! What should I do??
— Missing My Daughter
Missing My Daughter: When the people we love need space, it can feel unfair or make us feel misunderstood. This can drive us to want to explain ourselves: I do love you! Just let me show you! But the instinct to squeeze even tighter when your daughter has already said that she needs space may cause you to lose her altogether.
Unburdening yourself of what you want to say — no matter how kind or loving your message — is actually self-serving. Instead of focusing on how you can respect what your daughter needs, you are still preoccupied with what you need. Sure, you may feel temporarily relieved but you’d actually be continuing to push your daughter further away.
You already are seeing this happen as your recent attempts to connect have backfired. When someone asks for something they need, it doesn’t matter how kind or generous or friendly you are if you ignore what they asked for. Instead, it only reinforces their belief that you don’t care.
Right now — and no matter how difficult it is — what your daughter needs is for you to stop contacting her. You’ll have to find ways to manage your discomfort. You can be sad, frustrated or confused, but you are accountable for how you handle these emotions. This may look like writing a letter of everything you want to say and not sending it or finding a trusted loved one — your partner, friend or professional — to vent to and seek support from.
Instead of seeing this as your daughter’s attempt to cut you out of her life, I encourage you to see it as a bid to feel understood and respected by you. Your daughter said she wanted to “cut back” on talking to you, which indicates to me that she doesn’t want to lose you altogether. I also imagine the decision to do this isn’t easy for her, and what I hear from her is: I need space from this relationship to figure things out. It doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t want to be in it, but something isn’t working for me and I need to take care of myself right now.
While I don’t doubt you love and miss your daughter, I do wonder if her need for space truly blindsided you. I can feel your urgency to maintain the relationship with your daughter, but I don’t hear that you’re surprised by her decision. Let this serve as a moment to reevaluate your role in your relationship dynamic. By reflecting on your behaviors, you can identify patterns you want to change for the future. How is this current cycle, in which your daughter asked for something and you ignored it, a symptom of a larger issue in your relationship? What, if anything, do you want to do differently?
This may also require processing the grief for how your relationship has changed. In my work, adult children often crave being seen as individuals who are separate from their parents. In most cases, they want to have a relationship with their parents; it often just requires a new dynamic.
Boundaries are an example of how both people in a relationship can feel respected, heard, and ultimately loved the way they want to be. Instead of seeing this as your daughter’s way of cutting you out, try to reframe it as her way of inviting you in to love her the way she needs right now.
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