DD is 17 1/2. Some days, I swear she is still 3. She won't say please, thank you, or (especially) I'm sorry, at least not to her family (she will be polite to people outside the family, although she still needs to be prompted on occasion). She won't admit to mistakes. If we ask her to do something important, she often says she can't do it, even though there is an obvious way in which she can, and she won't apologize or show any respect for our request or needs. Example from today: she was carrying an expensive camera (mine) very precariously in one hand while trying to juggle too many other things; I asked her to carry it more carefully so she didn't drop it and break it, she said she couldn't, when clearly the obvious solution was to simply put down her other bags and hang the camera around her neck with the neckstrap; a half hour later, she was still arguing with me as to why it was impossible to be more careful. She will argue beyond all reason why she can't do the thing we ask and won't apologize or admit error or make any effort to do the thing we ask.
She also doesn't listen to or take advice given by dh or me (advice given in a friendly, non-threatening manner), and then when we ask her if she has done the particular thing in question, she claims she didn't know she had to , and when we remind her of the advice we gave her, she says something rather nonsensical like she thought it was just a suggestion and didn't really think she needed to follow it, and when we say, no I think we were pretty clear that it wasn't just a suggestion, she says "well I didn't know." If I express frustration that she doesn't seem to process or take my suggestions, she often screams that she doesn't remember us saying anything so she must be stupid. So, as an example: her looseleaf course materials for a community college course came in shrink wrap and were punched with three holes. She claimed she didn't know it needed to go in a three-ring binder! even though one could see the three-hole punches thru the shrink wrap, and even though, when we bought the materials a week ago, I said, "okay, you'll want to put those materials in a three-ring binder; do you have one or do we need to go buy one?" This was especially frustrating to me because the materials were expensive and she hadn't taken any steps to take care of them.
This kind of thing happens a lot -- something we say goes in one ear and out the other, but if I try to tell her how frustrating it is for her not to pay attention or take advice, it usually ends up with her screaming about how she must be stupid because she doesn't remember these things. This ignoring/failing to process or remember things we say manifests itself in other ways, too -- e.g., if we say she can't go to a friend's later in the week because we aren't available to provide transportation, then on the day she originally had planned to go to a friend's, she'll pack a bag anyway and proceed as though we hadn't talked about it. And when we ask her about, she'll claim she doesn't remember the conversation and just assumed that one of us would be available to provide transportation.
Generally, when it's clear she has made a mistake, she either tries to blame someone else (well, she tries to blame me) or she rewrites the reality of what just happened so she doesn't look like she's done anything wrong.
If she doesn't know how to do something, rather than trying to figure it out or asking for help, she tends to throw up her hands and act helpless and blame me for not telling her how to do it (or not doing it for her). Case in point: she recently locked herself out of her email account (at the community college) by entering the wrong password too many times (of course, she had to make it clear to me first that she was actually entering her password correctly, so there must be something wrong with the college's computer system). She came to me for help, but I told her she'd need to call IT at the college, that I couldn't help her. Well, she blew up. First, she claimed she didn't know what "IT" meant and how unreasonable of me to use a word she didn't understand (clearly an absurd point, as her Dad works in IT -- it is a word in common usage in our house, and she's written it down many times whenever she's been asked for her dad's occupation). Then she said that she didn't know how to call them and couldn't believe I wouldn't help her figure it out. Well, I said, number one, I don't know how to call them, either, but there are ways to figure that out, and number two, why do you think I won't help you figure that out? Her answer: because I said "I couldn't help her." Well, I tried to explain, I said I can't help you unlock your account -- that can only be done in the IT department -- but if you want to ask me nicely to help you find their contact info, we can do that (although, I added, I was sure she could get on the college's website and find that info herself). She continued to argue about what I had said or hadn't said and to rewrite the conversation so that, in her version of reality, she didn't sound unreasonable and so that I had clearly been unreasonable and had refused to help her.
She doesn't have these problems outside of our family. She is meticulous about oral instructions given by others -- almost to a fault. She clearly isn't "stupid" and she isn't suffering from any sort of information processing disorder -- she has great grades and high test scores and has successfully held several part-time jobs. She gets along beautifully with other people, and when I confide in others about how difficult she is with us, they can't believe I'm talking about the same kid. She has a busy schedule and I do think that sometimes things slip her mind because she is trying to do too much (we have tried to encourage her to ease off and I've even cut back on her required school work -- we homeschool -- so that she isn't trying to juggle so many things). I just wish that she could admit when she's wrong or at least say "I'm sorry." Or please. Or thank you. Or at least fix her mistakes without saying a word. But if you ask her to be polite, she looks at you with a deer-in-the-headlights look, as if she's never heard the words "please" or "thank you" before (these are the times when I really feel like I'm parenting a 3 year old). If she could make a better effort to accommodate our simple, reasonable requests instead of making excuses for why she can't -- to the point of absurdity -- I'd be okay with that.
BTW, even though my examples mostly have to do with her starting community college, this isn't a new thing. This has been what life has been like with this kid, from her toddler years on. Sometimes it gets worse when she's under stress (which probably partially explains why this week has been so rough -- she's starting comm. college this week), but sometimes it comes out of nowhere, when she isn't under stress or going thru some sort of transition.
I understand that to some extent, this is normal teenage behavior, but we are quickly running out of teenage years, and she doesn't show any signs of improvement. This is our second child, and our ds didn't do any of this. I understand that each kid is unique, but I am afraid she is never going to grow up, and least not with respect to her relationship with her dad and I.
'Sorry this is so long. Help? Thoughts?
I think it's not about adolescence so much as it's about patterns of behaviour and roles that have been long-established and don't really fit any more, now that she's moving beyond adolescence. You say she's polite, competent and rational with others, away from home. But at home she's trapped in this role as child-struggling-for-autonomy-and-competence amongst those she loves. Anything that happens at home is played out against the backdrop of that emotional baggage, and you and her dad of course have your own baggage, your own assumptions and expectations and frustrations and attitudes and patterns of engaging with her.
I have a daughter, now 20, also homeschooled until well into her teen years, who had a lot of the same habits in her relationships at home: displacing blame to others, rationalizing things away, refusing to lose face by apologizing or admitting she'd been impolite, never using social niceties with her family, but universally adored by people outside the family for her competence and polite good nature.
She moved away from home at 17 (with our blessing and assistance, to pursue specialized training) and that's what it took: a clean break, a chance for her to form a secure self-concept that included adult-like competence living on her own, and then a return home the following summer to establish a better, more mature relationship with her family. It was like night and day. I finally got to see the polite, good-natured young adult that other people had been singing the praises of for years.
It's a real push-pull situation at this almost-adult age. When your dd is struggling she wants you to give her both support and autonomy -- and those two needs are in sharp conflict. She wants you to be there and make everything right and help her figure out what she doesn't know in the way you did when she was little, but at the same time she desperately wants and needs to be able to do things herself and prove herself both right and powerful. You can't win. If you support one set of needs, you're undermining the other set.
Because she's great with other people outside your home, your dd is likely maturing just fine. You're just not seeing it at home, because you and she are both mired down in outworn habits of emotional engagement. When the time comes, distance and time will help her integrate her maturity and self-concept with new improved family roles and relationships. I do think it can be helpful in the meantime to do whatever you can to break out of those outworn patterns of interaction. Treat her like the adult you wish she would become. Keep doing it, even when she clings to her immature ways of engaging. Express confidence that she'll figure things out. Disengage when the old patterns of negative emotional engagement resurface. Treat her with the respect and understanding that you'd give a dear adult friend who was going through a tough time. Keep reminding yourself that she's doing great out in the larger world, and that there are just these emotional vestiges of childhood stuck to her at-home relationships.
Mountain mama to one great kid and three great grown-ups
Miranda, Thank you so much! It is so helpful to know that someone else experienced the same sort of difficulties and came out on the other end okay (wow, your dd sounds so much like my daughter; it is almost uncanny!). The really heartening thing is your suggestion that moving away/a clean break was the fix in your dd's case; since I've posted this question, my dd has found out that she has been accepted into a student exchange program and will be spending the next school year in another country. She pushed very hard to be able to do it; I almost wonder if she knew subconsciously that she needed something like that to break out of old habits. Her dad and I are very supportive of the idea and think it will be a great experience. Whether she knew on some level that she needed it or the opportunity just came along at a very fortuitous time, it makes me very hopeful to know that a similar sort of thing was your solution. Yes, you are so correct that when we treat her like the adult she wants to be, we have a much better chance of getting pleasant, mature behavior in response. Some days she is more responsive to that treatment than other days, but perhaps as the time for her student exchange gets closer, she'll recognize more and more how much her Dad and I believe her in competence to do something like this, and she won't fight so hard to hang onto more childish ways.
Thank you again so much. I'm really glad that things worked out so well in your relationship with your dd.
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