Dear Dr. Respler,
I am at my wits end and do not know what to do. I am a single mother of two daughters. The oldest one is turning 18 in three months and will be graduating high school at the end of this coming school year. My younger daughter is 14. After my second child was born my husband left us for his secretary and has had nothing to do with the girls. (He pays the court ordered child support but nothing else.)
In the last six months my older daughter has become incredibly chutzpadik. I blame everything on coronavirus but even still this has gone beyond anything we have ever experienced. She sits in her room and listens to some sort of music all day and if I ask her to do anything she gives me a snappy answer. When she is going out if I ask her where she is going she says that she is almost 18 and can go wherever she wants. She does not follow any curfew that I set. And she says that she could easily move into her best friend’s house if I get upset that she is not home at a decent time or not listening to me. Her room is a mess and when I ask her to clean it up she says that she likes it this way and it’s her room. She was never this way before. I don’t recognize this child.
I am afraid to get tough with her because I don’t want her to run away. But I cannot take this horrible behavior and I am very worried that it will begin to affect my younger daughter. How does one handle this?
A Devastated Mother
Dear Devastated Mother,
I read your letter and my heart goes out to you. Covid-19 has tested us all in very different ways. It sounds like something is going on with your daughter to make her behave so differently than what you are used to. It is important to try to figure out why your daughter is behaving this way. Most of the time, children and young adults do not act out unless they are hurting in some way. Perhaps you can plan a night out with your daughter (just you and her) and try to establish your connection once again. If you are able to plan something fun and your daughter agrees to join you, it is important to keep the interactions between you positive. Try to maintain the peace and stay calm and positive. After you guys have your fun night together (perhaps on your way home?), maybe you can tell your daughter that you hate fighting with her and feel so bad that your relationship has deteriorated. Explain to your daughter that you want to do whatever it takes to rebuild your relationship. Ask her what you can do differently to repair your relationship.
At this point, your daughter will either share with you what you are doing to upset her (perhaps there is something you are doing that is indeed upsetting her) or she will share with you what is going on. If she does not do either of these things and just says you aren’t doing anything wrong then maybe you can continue the conversation with something like this, “I love you so much and will do anything for you. I hope you know that. Lately, I feel that you are upset with me or that I am always annoying you. We never had this in our relationship before, so if I’m not doing anything to upset you, then I am worried that something else may be going on.”
If your daughter continues to insist that nothing is going on, then you can use an “I feel” message such as, “I feel terrible when you don’t follow your curfew and talk back to me. I know you have always been an excellent daughter, but I feel very hurt by the way I feel you are treating me.” Perhaps this will open up a discussion as to what’s going on. Even if your daughter doesn’t respond the way you want her to, she will have heard your feelings in a non-threatening way, which will hopefully help her be more aware of how she is treating you and begin to change.
The second thing that may need to be addressed is that your daughter does not seem to have a goal or structure in her life. What is her life plan? What is her current schedule? Does she have a schedule? Is she going to attend high school, seminary, or college? Perhaps she is missing the structure she needs and will thrive in a protected setting with some structure, such as a seminary or program away from home. If this isn’t feasible for your family, does your daughter have hobbies or interests? Is there anything you can do to help her grow in a positive manner?
Unfortunately I do not know many factors in this situation, but it sounds like she may need a structured environment to help her get into a better schedule and stay out of trouble. If your conversations are not productive and you cannot seem to get to the bottom of why your daughter has changed so drastically, please speak to a frum professional to figure out how to proceed before things get out of hand. Hatzlacha.