Published On: Wed, Nov 8th, 2023

Feeling used since 20-year-old daughter moved home. Hax readers advise.

Feeling used since 20-year-old daughter moved home. Hax readers advise.
Feeling used since 20-year-old daughter moved home. Hax readers advise.


We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My daughter is taking a year off college and I offered to let her live in my home as long as she got a job and supported herself. She agreed partly because I live just a 20-minute drive from her best friend’s university. Prior to move-in, I stressed the need for us to be careful with each other. I asked her to treat me and my home with respect — not leaving a mess or treating me with disdain, as she did as a teen.

She promised to be “good,” but, after just a couple of weeks, I realized I was daily becoming more and more stressed and sad. I feel constantly rejected. When I suggest doing fun things together, she’s busy or just literally ignores me. I get excited when she approaches me, hoping for a moment of connection, but every time, it’s to ask for something. When I come through, I don’t feel any gratitude. I feel used and completely unloved.

I adore my daughter; she’s the only family I have. And as an introverted scientist, my friend base is also limited. Having her in my life is both a joy and excruciatingly painful. Are my feelings of unrequited love unwarranted? Is this a phase she’s going through that I should just do my best to tolerate? Or am I dealing with an entitled narcissist in the making who will continue to take advantage of me as long as I allow it?

Sad Parent: I am sorry for your sadness over your relationship with your daughter, but what I actually hear from you is a deep sense of loneliness. Assessing our own challenges can be quite daunting, but don’t let that sabotage a chance to have a good relationship with your daughter and for you to have more fulfillment in your own life.

For her part, it sounds like your daughter has her own life and friends and seems to be trying to figure out her future — all of this sounds appropriate and healthy for her age. Of course, asking her to have a job and contribute to the house, by, say, putting her dishes away and taking the garbage out, is setting realistic expectations and boundaries. On the other hand, expecting her to be there for you as your emotional and psychological support is too much to ask and if ongoing is likely have the opposite effect to what you want.

I think it would be helpful for you to take some steps to find your own people and interests. Perhaps join a club or attend some lectures or readings on topics that interest you, or take a class or pick up a hobby. Connect with old classmates or have lunch regularly with a co-worker you like. Find your own fulfillment outside your relationship with your daughter. This will unburden your daughter and give you a stronger foundation for a mutually agreeable relationship.

Also, talk to your daughter directly and explain that you’d love to be able to spend time together — but be realistic! — and then pick a time to do that. Maybe you can arrange a regular Sunday dinner or brunch or some activity you both enjoy once a week or even once a month. Give her time and space to spread her wings without clipping them, and, hopefully, you will be rewarded with watching her succeed.

Sad Parent: As a mom of two grown daughters, my personal experience is that the teen and college years were most definitely the “unrequited love” period. The kindest thing you can do for yourself is to lower your expectations of deep bonding and connection with your daughter at least for the near future.

The teen and young adult years are a perfect time to reach into your limited friend base (or be bolder and add a new friend) for some understanding and empathy. It’s such a relief to be able to laugh with a friend over situations you were crying about the day before; it puts things into perspective.

The worst thing you can do at this stage is to set up repeating scenarios of failure with your daughter. That kind of interaction will dig deep ruts that can shape your future relationship.

Sad Parent: You sound a lot like my dad. He wants to have a good adult relationship with me but doesn’t know how, and the result is always that I feel obligated to spend time with him but never enjoy the time spent. None of the issues you’re raising about your daughter seem to have anything to do with your original request — that she respect you and your home and act like a good roommate rather than a teenager.

Instead, you’re requesting her time and her emotional energy and are expecting her to give it to you just because you’re her parent. What are you giving back that isn’t a material item? Are you giving her your time for her benefit, and not just for yours? Are you listening to her when she tells you about her day without giving advice or turning the conversation toward yourself? Are you even asking her about her day? Or are you, perhaps, always approaching her with your needs in mind?

You mention having a limited friend base, and it sounds to me like that is actually the problem at hand. Could it be that you’re actually just lonely? Your daughter is not a substitute for your friends. If you can learn to be a better adult friend independently, your daughter is likely to want to be better friends with you.

Therapy isn’t only for large problems; it’s also and especially for problems like these. Find yourself a good therapist who can help you tease out what you really want from your daughter and from your own life, so that you don’t try to use your daughter as a substitute for being happy on your own.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself, and they are edited for length and clarity.


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