17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

From the Tales Inbox: On Being a Daughter

This post takes a slightly different approach to motherhood issues in that I’d like people’s opinions on what role/responsibility we as daughters (and sons) have, if any, in the personal lives of our parents.

For years, my mother has come to me as a confidant and expressed difficulties she has with her relationship with my father. She’s very open and honest about some fairly personal and intimate things, because, as far as I can tell, she has no one else to talk to. And she very obviously needs to talk. Unfortunately, she’s in a lot of emotional pain from years of an unhealthy relationship—I wouldn’t call it abusive in any way, just unhealthy and unhappy (for both of them, I think).

Now she’s starting to ask me to get involved, to help her approach my father about certain issues, to help her talk to him about things that are difficult for her, things that will upset him to hear, which will cause her to back down. Obviously, this need alone is indicative of some of the problems they have—she doesn’t even feel like she can talk to him and needs me to be a mediator.

But my question is: is it appropriate for me to get involved as a daughter? Is it appropriate for my mother to confide these things in me? Is it betraying my father in any way to be my mother’s listening ear? Is it betraying my father if I confront him with my mother in an effort to support her? Is that just a really bad idea? What are the boundaries and limits in our adult relationships with our parents? Or are there none? Can we interact with them as we would with any other adult? Have any of you had experiences like this with your parents?

Thank you,
An Anonymous Daughter


  • First of all I am having an image of talking with my 4 and 1 year old daughters about marital issues and it is so ridiculous it makes me smile.

    On a more serious note, I feel I have been my own mother's confidant at certain times over the years, and as a daughter I am priveleged that she confides in me and that I know so much about her. I am glad that I have been there for her when no one else was (if that was the case).

    I think it is ok for you to be a listening ear, but I also think you deserve to have your own unique relationship with your father that shouldn't be tainted by any knowledge that you acquire about his relationship with your mother, especially if it puts him in a bad light OR if it is one-sided and thus a tainted perspective.

    I am no therapist, but I would say that it is appropriate to be your mother or father's listening ear as long as you are not in the middle. And I would avoid confronting your dad WITH your mother, but try to support each of them in your own way. It is THEIR marriage, not yours...you were not there when it began (I hope), and you should not be involved in ending it (if that is where it is going). It is INappropriate for you to be inolved in intimate, sacred conversation about their relationship, even if you know "everything."

    Right now I think you are walking a fine line that could result in you alienating yourself from one side or the other, so you should back down. It will also be good for your mother to FINALLY stand on her OWN two feet in this obviously painful and possibly tumultuous relationship.

    Encourage and support her with a little distance, and don't YOU ask for every detail anymore (IF that was what it was turning into).

    Dr. Kage has left the building. ; )
    posted by Blogger Kage at 6/29/2006 03:49:00 AM  

  • I have actually seen this play out in my husbands family and it can get really ugly. like Kage I do advise that you should back down a bit. The middle is an easy place to find yourself and it has heavy consequences for you. Remember that it is YOU that you are ultimately responsible for. You have to set up boundaries. Know what you will and will not listen to. Your parents are adults and should be expected to act like it.

    If you can look at each side objectively and be a listening ear for only concrete, general marital things, (not a he said, she said, and personal attacks) then I think you can be productive for both parties. But it should be for BOTH parties. What you cant do is take sides and you cant let this affect how you view and treat your father.

    Also remember that usually it takes a professional to help through major issues and unless you are one, i think you should be suggesting counceling to them so they can get the proper help and that takes you out of the middle.

    Good Luck.
    posted by Blogger ksl at 6/29/2006 06:53:00 AM  

  • It is difficult to read this without tearing up. I have a similar story/relationship with my mother. (In fact, I could have written the entire post.) I am priveleged to be the confident, but if I am not careful it gets out of control. Right now it is tettering on out of control and I know I have to reign it in.

    There is nothing wrong with being a "cheerleader" for your mother... to encourage her to stick up for herself. Many of our mothers repressed their own needs for many years in order to fit the Mormon social norm and they need our help (or anyone's for that matter) to find strength to break out of that role. However, if you put yourself in the middle, you will probably get burned on at least one end and maybe two. (For instance, what happens when they fight, your mom backs down and reconciles to your dad's position... then you look like the bad guy to both.)

    For many years, I tried extra hard to build a simlar relationship with Dad in order to compensate. That doesn't work either. BUT, it isn't a bad idea to actively try and nuture a relationship with the other party on its own merits, away from the rest of the family.
    posted by Anonymous Annonforthis at 6/29/2006 07:15:00 AM  

  • I have been in your shoes, too. Perhaps the situation was not identical, but similar enough to make me squirm.

    I love my mother, but our relationship has never recovered from her putting me in the middle of she and my dad. My parents ended up divorced (not saying yours will at all) and while my relationship with my dad is fine (he understands she put me in the middle) the trust issues with mom will likely never be resolved.

    Kage is right, as are the others. Set up appropriate boundaries with your mom, and stick to them- whatever those lines are for you. I do beleive it is INappropriate for a mother to confide intimate marital details to a daughter- there are just some things that a child should not know about her parents, even an adult child. And I speak from experience. Being a confidant and a listening ear is fine, but be very careful about that Line.
    posted by Anonymous tracy m at 6/29/2006 08:57:00 AM  

  • I feel that it is innapropriate for parents to involve their children in their marriage at any age. Although it is nice to have a good relationship with your mother-she needs to realize you must also have a relationship with your father.

    No one to talk to? Does she have a Bishop, visiting teachers, or marriage counselor?

    I have seen many unhealthy damaging relationships saved through the atonement and lots of couples counseling. (Although there are always marriages that should not be saved because of abuse etc.) If your mother needs a mediator let it be the therapist or her bishop.

    Set firm boundary lines!
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 6/29/2006 09:29:00 AM  

  • I, too, could have written this post, although my mother has not asked me to help her confront my dad. How sad that so many of our mothers are dealing with their marriages this way - I had no idea.

    What has worked for me is to be a listening ear for my mother, without bashing my dad, and to use the Gospel as a resource. I guess it depends on the issues they are dealing with as to what you might do. I put my parents names in the prayer box at the temple, and then involved the family in prayer & fasting on their behalf. It really has worked a miracle, in our situation. Ultimately though, it IS their marriage & therefore up to them to work through their problems.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 6/29/2006 12:50:00 PM  

  • I have to somewhat disagree with some of what other responders have said. I also feel that it's inappropriate for your mother to confide marital troubles to you. I don't think it's a "privelege" to be her confidant in this area, it's destructive. My advice would be that you put a stop to it. You're not the right person to be giving "gospel answers" to your mother or trying to otherwise counsel her. And if you need the help of a therapist to end this, then get it.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 6/29/2006 05:51:00 PM  

  • I too feel that a professional counselor or the Bishop would be a much better mediator than you. It could really damage your and your fathers relationship if you "gang up" on him with your mom. I am sure that is not what you or your mother wants. However, it sounds like their relationship really needs some help. If you abandon her, draw lines and put your foot down, will she just continue in the unhealthy relationship because she feels she has nowhere else to turn? I don't think you should let that happen either. Ask your Heavenly Father what you should do. We don't know the situation well enough to judge. You can feel confident about whatever answer you receive from Him. I would say to be encouraging and build her self esteem so that she feels comfortable and confident to rectify this situation.
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 6/29/2006 08:46:00 PM  

  • There was an excellent article in the Ensign in January about keeping good relationships with your parents as newlyweds. Though the advice was meant for the newly wed I think it's pertinent here as well. It said that one should never involve family members in martial grievances of any sort. A reason they named for this was that the couple may resolve their differences on their own, but because the rest of the family was not involved in the make-up part of it, they will still harbor resentment towards the offending spouse.
    My advice would be that they seek out someone who could be an unbiased third party. In other words, a person they would never have to see or hear from again once the conflict is resolved. You may have to live with your dad wondering just how much your mom told you, and never being comfortable around you again. You may have to live with both of your parents associating you, and your presence, with this tough time in their lives and disliking you for it. And you will always have to live with the knowledge that you are given, the tainted view of your parents, and the uncomfortable details you hear. I wouldn't do it.
    posted by Blogger Starfoxy at 6/30/2006 08:35:00 AM  

  • Short answer--they should see a marriage counselor/therapist. They don't have to be rock bottom to see a therapist and they should do so to prevent getting there. You should not be their counselor.
    posted by Blogger Katie at 6/30/2006 11:02:00 AM  

  • I think you need to do whatever it takes to stay out of the middle of the situation. While it's nice to have such a close relationship with your mother that she feels she can talk to you about intimate things, you might have to sacrifice a potion of that closeness in order to maintain a good relationship with both parents.

    I think you need to find her someone else to talk to about the specifics of her marriage relationship. What you can do on the sidelines is to encourage the building of your mother's self confidence.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 6/30/2006 11:13:00 AM  

  • I'm coming to this post rather late...sorry. I, like Tracy M, feel like this discussion hits a little too close to home. And I would like to state that I will try very, very hard not to put my own children in this position.

    I think it is great advice to set boundaries with your mom but I can't see how that would play out in my reality. When my mom or dad speak to me, I just listen. If I disagree or don't want to condone the criticism, I don't add to the conversation. I empathize and move on. If it were me, I would not intervene on her behalf with your dad. That's not your job.

    My only caution would be to remember that your parents are human. Everything your mom says is not hard and fast truth. It's the truth as she sees it. So, try not to judge (either her or your father) too harshly.

    I really think that, as children, our responisibility to our parents is fulfilled by loving them for who they are, not encouraging inappropriate behavior, and trying to become the productive people that they have worked so hard for us to be.

    I realize that everyone's situation is different. With all this advice, it's easy to get confused. Follow your heart. It seems like you're hesistant about intervening with your father. If it feels wrong, don't do it. Good luck with the hard decisions ahead.
    posted by Blogger Maralise at 6/30/2006 01:43:00 PM  

  • I want to thank everyone for their thoughts and comments. It seems there's pretty solid consensus on the issue. And while I see the wisdom in not intervening or taking sides, I can't imagine actually saying to my mother, "I don't want to hear these things any more." It would crush her and, unfortunately, validate so many of her current insecurities. I like Maralise's approach: empathize and move on. Most of what my mother tells me about her relationship with my father I can see just in their public interaction with each other. So I feel like listening isn't a danger.

    But you all have confirmed my feeling that getting "involved" in any other way would be really unwise. I appreciate all your opinions.

    I think it's interesting that so many of us have had similar experiences. Can anyone do a post on the source/cause/influences of our mothers' generation's difficulties of this nature? Is it an LDS thing? Or a generational thing?
    posted by Anonymous Original Contributor at 6/30/2006 03:06:00 PM  

  • Sadly, I too am in this situation and all I can say is that it is messy messy messy! I pretty much second the opinions of those that are in similar situations. I think that I thought it was a privilege (and a responsibility) to be my mom's confidant too. But if I had it to do all over again I just wouldn't (on any level!). Anonforthis hit it dead on about being burned on both sides! I am now in the not so privileged position of being the bad guy to both of my parents...and all of my brothers and sisters too.

    The article that Starfoxy mentioned is a good one. And I agree with her completely! Don't get involved. You can't help--as much as you would like to, you can't help! Steer them to a counselor or bishop. I think the biggest mistake I made was thinking since she wouldn't talk to anyone else that it was up to me. Please don't be drawn in by that. If you can't help she will find someone else. Hopefully it will be the right kind.

    And lastly, pray, pray, pray! Heavenly Father wants to help!
    posted by Anonymous annontoo at 6/30/2006 03:28:00 PM  

  • I think it's a product of some generational ideas that were taught as gospel back in the day. Cultural norms have changed but those who were taught these norms as "doctrine" as they related to the priesthood are left in a hard place - both men and women.

    It's easier to break from cultural traditions that what you feel are traditions based in "doctrine" (meaning misinterpretation of doctrine) making working through marital problems very hard for our parents generation...I think.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 7/01/2006 03:41:00 PM  

  • Wow, I too am arriving to this post too late to make any huge difference... but I have to say it was quite comforting to see so many people who have gone through/are going through this experience.

    I did too, about 6 years ago.

    One point I haven't read too much about was the impact emotionally this is having on you.

    I was very disturbed to hear some of the things my mother told me about her marriage. I would reccommend a book that truly helped me by an LDS author called "How to Hug a Porcupine" by Dr. John Lund. It was extrememly beneficial! It is about learning how to have close relationships with others who have toxic behaviors, as well as teaching WHAT toxic behaviors are and how to avoid repeating them ourselves. One of the BEST books I have read.

    Therapy is essential, and while my parents went through this, I am happy to report that they are happier today than they have ever been!
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 7/01/2006 07:03:00 PM  

  • I too am late on this one, but I have been in this situation and took a different approach that worked for my family.

    As we have all seen our parents go thru hard times, I also listened to my mother and the concerns and frustrations she was having. To be more direct.. she went thru a mid life crisis, and seriously needed to have a mid life crisis after the many trials she had been dealing with over the last 15 years.

    I also listened to my father and knew where both were coming from. Neither was right or wrong, but their marrage was suffering from the many challenges that life can deal.

    This is where I have a different opinion. My parents did see great counselors in the church and some not affiliated with the church. Nothing seemed to "fix" the many situations and issues at hand.

    It was not until I did intervene and called a "family council" (at the age of 23.)My sister and I flew to my parents home and sat with each parent individually so they were free to discuss what ever they needed as long as it was daughter/parent appropriate; staying out of the "messy" details, (and yes there are bounderies.)

    The best thing that I did, AND IT WORKED... Was putting things in writing. They were able to write and focus on what was most important. They made promises with how the future needed to change in order to keep their marrage and the family together...happily together.

    Sounds silly, but both both my parents keep copies by their bed of what is most important to them and their childen.

    I would always advise counceling to any couple in need of help. But for my parents they needed to hear from their CHILDREN, what we expected of them, and what we knew our family was capible of. IT HIT HOME.

    Everyone's situation is different. My parents came close to a divorce and I almost lost my mother. It was not a small matter, but in the end I can call both my parents true survivors. 3 years later.. they have never been happier, and my mom still says it was the best thing I ever did for her.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 7/02/2006 03:27:00 PM  

  • I'm glad I'm not the only mom to talk to her daughter about her husband. Sarah hates it when I gripe about Bill.

    I say, "your dad drives me crazy. Look at him out there re-parking all the cars."

    My husband is very Monk-like. He really does go out and re-park all the cars so it looks better to him.

    And Sarah says, "mom, I don't want to hear it."

    So I blog about it.
    posted by Blogger annegb at 7/04/2006 08:51:00 AM  

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