I have two adult daughters and after my estranged husband died three years ago, the elder one has simply stopped talking to me. She says I was always a lousy mother, and she never wants to speak to me again. I've tried sending presents, cards, letters, apologies, but nothing works. Her teenage children still speak to me, thank goodness, but I'm at my wits end. I'm thinking of making a will that means she doesn't get anything, but might she be able to contest it? I'm so upset and angry.
It must extremely difficult not to take your daughter's fury personally, particularly as it's directed at you! But I suspect that, like many people after a death, your daughter simply has uncontrollable feelings of irrational anger, which she has turned on you. Though they may be feelings that aren't totally irrational – who knows, she might feel you weren't too hot as a mum – I imagine the intensity is entirely informed by your ex's death.
You don't say how old she was when you and her father broke up, but she may have a lot of unresolved feelings about the separation as well, and, who knows, may have been led by her father to believe that it was all entirely your fault. Remember that fathers and daughters can have peculiarly intense emotional relationships. Again, I don't know who looked after your children after you broke up, but perhaps she blamed you, at some level, for driving her beloved father away.
I would continue to send cards, apologies, flowers, birthday greetings and so on. There may come a time when she has a change of heart, and it's worth keeping the channels open so she's got a way back to you. Also, it's no bad thing to keep up the squeaky-clean good mum image. Try to be a loving, forgiving mum now, if only to confuse her about whether you were actually good or "lousy" as she claims.
As far as the will goes, I can quite understand why you don't want her to receive a penny. But I think that you ought to divide your estate equally between the two girls. But I've never been in this situation, so it's easy for me to say. I think that to differentiate between the two could cause terrible problems for the siblings' relationship in the future and you don't want to leave a legacy of hatred and jealousy behind you. Nor do you want your daughter to be able to say, after you've died: "You see, I was right! She was a lousy mother! She cut me out of her will."
If you can't bear to do this, you could leave half your estate divided between her children, of course. Or what about leaving the half for her in trust for the children so she has to leave it to her children when she dies and can't squander it – only use the income from it? If you wrote a witnessed letter to accompany the will, explaining your reasons, it'd be very difficult for her to contest it.
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Stop the presents, apologies, etc to Hostile Daughter; they clearly don't work and only confirm to her that she has been right all along. Try to maintain the best possible relationship with her children without ever referring to your poor relationship with their mother; they know it anyway. Who knows, maybe their mother will come along in their wake one day. As for the will, either share everything between Loving Daughter and the children of Hostile Daughter, or if LD also has children, leave everything to your grandchildren. It is unlikely to be contested.
Stephen Breuer, by email
What have you done?
There's a missing part of your story and that's what your daughter's dispute with you is about. You tell us you've done all you feel you need to do to put things right and now you've moved on to punishment. The only question you ask is will your punishment be water-tight.
It's still a puzzle what has caused your daughter to stop talking to you, but one suspects that she is probably right. I wish her well.
Sally Eva, by email
Next week's dilemma
We've been married 10 years now, but after my husband was unfaithful five years ago I've never wanted sex with him again. We've settled down to quite a happy modus vivendi – we have a seven-year-old son – and we're very companionable and happy in a way. The problem is that I've started to wonder if I wasn't a bit hard on him – and I do rather long to start our sex life again. But I'm terrified that if I suggest it it'll rock the happy balance we've got now. Should I risk broaching the subject?
What would you advise Briony to do?