QUESTION: How do you deal with an estranged daughter that I feel may have a “fragile sense of self.” She is also married to someone who has issues with his parents and has trouble tolerating any problems. She has been in and out of my life for the past 10 years. It started when she was dating her husband and then married. Up to that time we were a very close family. She comes back for a while and then something sets her off. I try to have her open up to me but she refuses to talk about it. The only contact she allows is a picture of my 5 year-old twin grandchildren at Christmas and handmade thank you notes from them for their gifts which I treasure.
When we are together I have a wonderful relationship with my grandchildren (miss them dearly) and get along with my daughter and husband even though I feel I am walking on eggshells. The estrangement has been 7 months so far but can last up to 2 years.
ANSWER: There are several issues here: your daughter’s fragile sense of self and your SIL who has issues with his parents and is conflict avoidant.
- The fragile sense of self limits how much you can push her since she’s already demonstrated a willingness to play the nuclear card, which is estrangement.
- Since she won’t talk about what bothers her, you may have to provide some leadership around that the next time it comes up, after she lets you back in. If you sense that something went poorly, you could ask her before it becomes an issue: “I noticed when I was over when I asked about the kids watching tv you looked upset. Was I right about that? Maybe you thought I was criticizing you.”
- Also if she’s fragile, she likely needs a lot of praise and reassurance from you and no criticism or guilt trips
- Since the SIL has conflicts with his family, he’s a little more prone to cast you in the same light, so I would treat him in the same way as your daughter.