On the outside we’re a normal family, with a boy and a girl at university, and an older daughter. But recently our eldest came home and started a violent row with me, shouting abuse, breaking a glass over me, and storming out. As I come from a violent family, I found this really upsetting. I apologised, and she’s now apologised to my husband but says she finds me “really annoying”. I feel such a failure. Most mothers are so close to their girls. My husband and I have learned a lot through counselling but this episode has destroyed me. What can I do?
I’m always baffled by violent outbursts such as this. Not to mention incredibly upset. But other people I’ve talked to find such explosions nothing but amusing or, at least, they let them wash over them.
I think it all depends on how you’ve experienced these kinds of outbreaks in the past. If you’re from an emotional and passionate family, one in which people are always having meltdowns and then making up with warm expressions of affection, these rows may not be a sign of distance but, rather, of closeness. They are all part of loving. If you never experienced such things in your childhood – as I never did – they are incredibly frightening.
If, however, you come from a violent background, as you’ve done, and you associate these outburst with real hatred and malevolence, they can be absolutely terrifying. No matter that some rational bit of you knows that your daughter loves you, however annoying she finds you; no matter that she’s never behaved this way before; no matter that she’s apologised – though admittedly not to you. The very act of screaming and throwing sends you right back to being a terrified child in the middle of a horrible chaotic home life.
Most children can find their parents annoying at times. If that’s all she's complaining about as far you’re concerned, you’re getting off lightly. She doesn’t think you’re hateful or cruel. Just irritating at times. And there is always the other truth, which is that people often only let off steam in this way to people they feel closest to. I know it seems unfair – I wish people close to me who feel angry with life would let off steam at strangers rather than at me, but there we are.
My advice to you would be to keep away for a while. I suspect that her behaviour had very little to do with you and was just an expression of stress and frustration with life in general. I don’t think you should have it out – you risk another outbreak. If you’ve had help from counselling before, can you go back to the same counsellor and just ask for a little more help to get you through this difficult time? And I’d try, next, to meet your daughter with other people around and slowly get back to a normal relationship with no recriminations or apologies. Keep loving her. And remember it wasn’t, I’m sure, personal.
Don’t blame yourself
Those of us like you who have had difficult childhoods tend to take too much responsibility for others. It’s easy to end up believing the abuse of others as it taps into our old “stuff” of unworthiness. I went through hell with both my daughters and was blamed, humiliated and judged by social services and the justice system for everything they did. In fact I’d done my best like most parents, and they had to learn to be accountable for their actions. I had good support from the police, and called them many times when I didn’t feel safe at home. I too wondered if I’d ever have a good relationship with them again.
Kicking out one daughter was the best thing I did. She came to her senses swiftly and now lives a productive useful life and we have a close, happy relationship. The other daughter ended up in care (which was where her troubles really started) but we are gradually feeling our way towards mutual civility. I’ve never found out why she went off the rails, why she hated me and what I did that upset her so much. It may be that you and your daughter need to put your relationship on hold for a while. Things may get worse before they get better. I wish you strength, determination and the courage of your convictions.
Name and address withheld
Next week’s dilemma
Six months ago I was banned from driving for a year – I got too many points on my licence. Somehow I’ve managed to prevent my husband from finding out and whenever he suggests I drive somewhere I’ve said I’ve felt sick, or that I’ve got the wrong glasses or I’ve made some excuse. But this summer we’re driving from the South to Scotland and he wants me to share the driving. I know I should tell him the truth, but he’s the sort of person who would never let this drop. How can I get out of driving just for another six months?
What would you advise Adele to do?
Virginia Ironside’s new novel is ‘No! I Don’t Need Reading Glasses’ (Quercus, £14.99)