My ex-wife and I don’t have a good relationship and I think her opinion of me is interfering with my relationship with my eldest daughter. She frequently doesn’t want to come to my house and when she does we argue.
I am certain that her mother is trashing me because the things my daughter says sound exactly like what her mother says — or used to say to me back when we were still talking. It is so frustrating to try to talk to my daughter and just hear my ex-wife.
How can I make my daughter think for herself so we can have a better relationship?
Sadly, the situation you describe exists in many families. It is hard for me to speak directly to your situation because I don’t have enough information — like the age of your daughter and the specific details of your arguments with her and the circumstances at your home.
As I read the details you provided I was reminded of the many older kids and teens I have worked with who have found themselves in similar situations and have decided to speak to your concerns from their collective perspective. I hope that you will find something useful and apologize if I miss the mark.
Kids in this situation almost always tell me they feel invisible. They think that their parent(s) can’t see them, that their parent(s) look at them, but only see the other parent. This is incredibly frustrating for kids.
When they try to address concerns or solve problems, they have a hard time getting a parent to acknowledge that the problem is real for them and not just a vicarious problem of the other parent.
Problems that can’t be acknowledged can’t be solved. This situation then exacerbates the rift between parent and child.
It may be true that your ex-wife is trashing you to your daughter, however, you need to have a relationship with your daughter that doesn’t involve your ex-wife. Assuming that your daughter is thinking and speaking for herself will help you to see her and not your ex-wife. You may not like the things your daughter is saying, but you will have a better chance of addressing her concerns and counteracting the poor relationship between you and her mother if you listen to her.
It is also important to remember that your daughter has a relationship with her mother and that her mother’s well-being has an impact on her. Kids can think for themselves and even if parents are not involving them directly in the parental conflict, kids live in it, make assessments and assumptions, and form their own opinions about what is going on.
Your daughter may have developed some of her ideas independent of her mother. Marginalizing your daughter’s ideas as those of her mother will surely undermine her relationship with you.
Despite your belief that she is merely parroting her mother, listening to her and asking her to tell you more about her thoughts and feelings and trying to see the situation from your daughter’s perspective will allow you to understand and then to work with your daughter to resolve issues and build a strong relationship.
Building a strong relationship with your daughter that neither involves nor diminishes her relationship with her mother would be an ideal outcome for both of you. It is apparent that you love your daughter and value your relationship with her.
If you or your daughter find it difficult to work through this issue, it may be useful to get assistance from a counsellor.
If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells and Andrew Lochhead. It appears every second Friday.