Writer and broadcaster

Our daughter and grandchild live with us, but she treats me with contempt. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

My 20-year-old daughter got pregnant at university, while living with her boyfriend – they are no longer together. She had to come and live back at the family home until she could resume her studies. We encouraged this as it was best for her and the baby.

My grandchild is absolutely delightful and loved as much as I love my own children. I do a lot of the childcare and babysitting. I did not envisage doing this in my 50s, but feel strongly that support must be given and want to give it as I love them both. I have given up most of my spare time to do this.

My problem is that my daughter is very immature. She is rude and any attempt to discuss anything triggers a reaction. I am shouted down the moment I speak. My grandchild is often present so I usually walk away. I have repeatedly explained that she cannot behave like this in front of a child. I feel she has total contempt for me.

She doesn’t seem to recognise that her decision to get pregnant has affected the whole family and that it is her actions that are to blame for her ending up back at home. Had she been more mature, she might have been able to foresee what has happened.

We have a lovely home. We do not ask for rent, and she has no bills to pay apart from nursery fees, no shopping to do and no meals to plan. She hardly cooks for her child, so I end up organising baby meals. I have tried to discuss this, but get the usual reaction.

My husband says he has decided he won’t get involved any more, but he will tell me to “stop going on” in the presence of our daughter, which I believe is giving her the green light to continue with negative behaviour. 

Apart from counselling, can you offer any other advice?

Thank you for your longer letter, which explained things in more detail, such as the father of the child no longer being on the scene of his own volition.

My first piece of advice is to go on holiday, for at least a week, preferably more. You need to take yourself out of this situation for certain things to happen. You need to realise that the world won’t end without you, and your daughter and husband both need to take a bit of responsibility. But you need to let them take responsibility.

At the moment your daughter has you over a barrel because your weak spot (understandably) is your grandchild. Your husband is conveniently not getting involved because he knows he doesn’t have to.

Counselling would be brilliant for all of you (aft.org.uk), but especially for you and your daughter. I’d love to get her perspective on things. For all the things that are done for her, for all the trappings, she doesn’t seem happy or confident. I’d also like you to explore what’s going on with you and why you need to be so overly enmeshed in your daughter’s life. I sense fear beneath the fatigue: why are you so afraid of letting go? There’s a bit of you playing the martyr here and using your grandchild as the excuse – you need to recognise the part you play in this family scene.

What usually happens is that teenagers grow into young adults, are sick of living at home by that stage (and vice versa) and then they leave and realise how brilliant it was at mum and dad’s, and everyone has a renewed appreciation of each other.

This hasn’t happened here. Your daughter left home, went to study, got pregnant, the father of the child has in effect disappeared and she has had to move back home. Did she finish her studies? Is she working or looking for work? You don’t mention those things and yet I think they are key.

You say that you encouraged her to move back, but in another part of the letter you say that it was her actions that have resulted in her coming back home. Could you rewind a bit to the moment it was decided she would move back. Did you coerce her? Did she want to? Were there other options?

Some people might say that tough love is needed and you need to kick her out. But if you’re not capable of doing this, then this is pointless advice. But it is important to let our children mature and stand on their own two feet. If we don’t, we can’t really blame them for being immature.

Think about what boundaries you are comfortable with setting – even if they are only small to begin with – and stick to them.

And what has happened to your own life? Go out, see your friends, stop cooking for everyone and don’t be there all the time. Being constantly vigilant is making everyone – you most of all – exhausted.


First published in The Guardian Family on 28 March 2014.