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Our daughter is going through a divorce, which has been brought about by the choices both she and her husband made. Before the divorce, we strived to help her to understand the importance of choices she could make that would help her marriage, but she didn’t take our advice until it was too late. Now she is trying to pick up the broken pieces of her life and move forward and we are very proud of the determination she has to improve her life and to live by some of the principles we had suggested to her earlier.
My question is, how much support do we give her? She tends to have a personality that leans toward not being self-reliant, and yet she will often refuse the suggestions given that we believe would help her the most. She has a child and we want to be there to help her and our grandchild, but we don’t want her to turn us into her missing “husband.” We’re afraid if we give too much that she won’t feel the need for fulfillment enough to actively seek out a new husband, and to be self-reliant. And yet, I often feel guilty, as her mother, that I’m not doing enough to help her out.
Do you have a suggestion as to how best to draw boundaries in this situation?
There is nothing straightforward about situations like this. It’s one thing to set boundaries with an adult daughter who needs to learn responsibility, but it’s another when there is an innocent grandchild involved. It tugs at your heartstrings and can make it difficult to follow through with tough decisions to help your daughter learn responsibility.
Unless you want to raise your grandchild (and your daughter, for that matter), it’s critical that you allow her to learn what it takes to be a responsible mother, single or married. Even though you know what worked for you, the same may not be the path your daughter chooses. I have no doubt that your guidance is well informed and would make a positive difference for your daughter.
Visit with your husband to determine the limits that work best for your marriage and home. You need to be clear on what you can emotionally, financially, and physically handle. Caring for a small child and an emotionally overwhelmed adult daughter is draining. Perhaps you have a certain dollar amount you feel you can give her. You might feel more comfortable loaning it to her rather than giving it to her. You may have a limit on how long she can stay in your home. You might only be available certain days or hours to help babysit your grandchild.
You obviously can’t direct her to a stable marriage, job, or living situation. You can provide conditions that offer support and send a clear message that you are confident she can rebuild her life and care for her child. It might be hard for you to see her utilizing resources you never would have used in your own life. Linking her to professionals who can counsel and guide her can help take you out of the parent role so it doesn’t complicate your relationship with her. Don’t hesitate to ask to be involved with her counseling, especially if she will be depending on you and asking you to be involved in her life.
The line between helping and enabling is different for each situation. You’ll want to watch for patterns of unhealthy dependency and entitlement that keep her stuck in her same situation. This will help inform you where the levels of involvement need to be adjusted. Feelings of resentment may surface if you aren’t clear and honest about your limits. Let those feelings be an indicator that adjustments need to be made.
Even though you need to wise and make sure you preserve your resources and relationship with her, this is also a wonderful opportunity to show her compassion and support. In our most recent General Conference, several talks addressed the refugee situation. Your daughter is a refugee in many ways and is leaving her war-torn environment for a new experience. Your willingness to help her in certain ways while she improves her situation could be life-changing for her. If she takes advantage of your support and builds a better life, then you won’t hold any resentment or fear that you enabled her. I hope she will embrace your goodness and this opportunity to build a new life.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.