Dear Amy: I have two children in their 40s. I divorced their dad several years ago. My daughter does not want me in her life. I think she holds me entirely responsible for the divorce, but I don’t really know. I have never had the opportunity to tell my side of the story, and part of me feels that dirty laundry just needs to be “kept in a corner” because at the end of the day, my ex is still their father.
My children were grown before I decided that I needed a life. I did not leave for another person. I left because the marriage was just not healthy. I left for my own mental health.
I send my daughter cards, money and gifts for holidays. She never thanks me. I get nothing for my birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day – not even a text.
I am not looking for gifts, I just want some contact.
I have a great relationship with my son. We have talked honestly about the past, and he seems to understand.
For my daughter, I cannot fix what I don’t know is broken.
I am torn between trying to keep the lines of communication open and simply shutting this door. While I am getting some emotional support via therapy, it still hurts and it always will.
What do you suggest? While I would never shut the door on my child, the continual silent treatment keeps me in a spin.
Do I continue with the gifts/cards, or just let it all go, in hopes that someday, maybe before I die, she will come around?
Sleepless and Hopeless
Dear Sleepless: Cards, money and gifts are not really effective bids for connection, certainly when an honest statement is due. It is surprising that you are so forthright in your question to me, when you won’t be so with your daughter.
So stop with the cards and gifts. Send a letter or email. Pour it all out. Read it several times, share it with your therapist and wait a few days before sending. Offer to have a dialogue. Leave it open-ended. Encourage her to do as you have done and state how she feels. Her problems with you might not be related solely to the divorce, but to other issues stemming from her childhood, or your relationship. She might be depressed and isolating herself for other reasons entirely or she may have unconsciously absorbed the lesson from you that it is better to sweep things under the rug than state her own truth.
After that, you should continue to contact her if you want to, but don’t do so expecting her to respond in any particular way, and especially on holidays, which are emotionally loaded, and which challenged family members tend to avoid.
Dear Amy: When I was young (I’m 57), my mom taught me if I was in line at the grocery with a week’s worth of shopping and someone got in behind me with just a few times, the polite thing was to offer to let them go first.
I still adhere to this. I offer, but very rarely does anyone take me up on it. They usually seem to be older and they’ll respond something like, “Oh no, that’s fine. I don’t have anything better to do today.” (Even if I wasn’t busy, I can’t imagine standing in a grocery line for fun).
Have the rules of etiquette changed? Or was this never a “social rule,” and more my mother’s?
Wondering in Walmart
Dear Wondering: You are kind to make this offer. I routinely do this, too, and others extend it to me (and yes, I usually refuse). It is an everyday courtesy offered to a stranger, and the courtesy itself makes the world a little bit better.
What you don’t seem to realize is that many of us use our time in line to daydream and/or catch up on the tabloids. While waiting in line, I can usually manage to read an entire article about Brad Pitt’slatest romance without having to pay for the periodical. That’s a win, in my book.
Dear Amy: “Wondering” reported a strained relationship with a niece and nephew because whenever the kids achieved something or were awarded an honor, Wondering would respond by saying, “Wow, you take after me!”
Thank you for slapping this down. Honestly, I thought my family members were the only people who did this. I hate it.
Dear Grateful: Rest assured no one’s family members are unique.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.