Don’t Give Your Daughter Any Advice


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 155 · Duration: 00:15:14

Don’t Give Your Daughter Any Advice

What do you do when your adult daughter calls you with the horrible details of her abusive relationship?

Today we’re hearing from Denise from South Carolina:

Don’t Give Your Daughter Any AdviceMy 35 yr old daughter is trying to extricate herself from an emotionally abusive relationship of 3.5 yrs. She sees a therapist but she also calls me with blow by blow details of her abuse, angst, loneliness. She has her own apartment. He is living out of state temporarily. They continue to communicate which leaves her in pain. She has used me as a sounding board for years and she has been in a cycle of negative relationships for most of her dating life. I'm being told that I am not supportive. I am one not to coddle. I too have experienced pain in my life and I can empathize with her yet I don’t seem to do anything but set her off. She claims PTSD from all of the abuse, has so many classic signs of emotional abuse but now she is blaming me for some childhood trauma. Her father and I divorced when she was 2 and her brother was 5. Father was nearby but not fully engaged in their lives even when he saw them. Anyway I am at a loss how to be supportive. I have begun to feel resentful about how she is treating me. She has never taken any advice and yet blames me mostly for what I perceive as poor choices. Hope you can offer some insight. My husband feels it is she who is being as narcissistic as the boyfriend. I can see his point. Thanks.

Denise, there are several things here for us to discuss, but the simple advice I have for you is to STOP GIVING YOUR DAUGHTER ADVICE! Change the pattern you’re in with your daughter. You write that you always offer advice that she never takes. So why continue to give advice that quite predictably, she isn’t going to follow, then blame you for her situation, and call you again with more drama? Why are you continuing in this profoundly dysfunctional pattern?

The Difference Between Advice and Support

Let's take a deeper look here. You say her father was not very engaged, even when he was with her, and that you are "not one to coddle." That leads me to believe that your daughter didn’t get the coddling she needed as a youngster. Then that begs the question of why you were not “one to coddle” and that is most likely because you are at least somewhat walled off from the pain you write that you’ve experienced, and being vulnerable and empathetic with your daughter means being vulnerable and empathetic period. Doing so would feel your own pain when opening up to hers.

Rather than offer empathy and emotional support, you offer advice, and you believe that offering advice is helpful and supportive. So let me clarify the distinction between advice and support.

Support is when someone makes it clear that they understand and care about what you’re saying, what you’re feeling, and what you’re thinking. They see things from your point of view, they can validate it and empathize with it. They offer empathy. They may not agree with what you’re thinking or feeling, but they are empathetic.

Support is when someone makes it clear that they understand and care about what you’re saying, what you’re feeling, and what you’re thinking.Click To Tweet

It sounds like this, "Oh, I see what you’re saying, that’s terrible." Or, "Oh my goodness, that’s so hurtful."

Advice is also an emotional need. It comes under that heading of personal challenge. If we only get support and no challenge, we don’t trust the validity of the support. But, we won’t accept advice or challenge from someone who doesn’t also support us, and we need far more support than challenge. The ratio could be 7:1. And challenge or advice should be offered constructively.

For instance, “Angie, each day you report being hurt by Ron. It’s terrible and I care about how hurtful it is and how hurt you are. You seem really stuck, somehow you can’t just tell him to shove off like many people would. There must be a reason you’re so stuck and struggles getting unstuck. I’m sure your therapist has good advice, and I strongly recommend that you follow it. If they aren’t offering good advice, then please find a therapist who is familiar with your kind of problem and get yourself out of this abusive relationship. You deserve better."

Providing Next Steps

So, Denise, the insight I can offer is that:

  • You care deeply about your daughter and her pattern of involvement in unhealthy relationships and you’ve been trying to help her for years.
  • You have suffered abuse and trauma and one way it’s impacted you is that you don’t coddle, you offer advice, not empathy.
  • It’s likely that your daughter has suffered abuse as well and she has abandonment issues with her father and is pathologically dependent on her mother, chronically searching for empathy and support and getting direct non-coddling advice instead.
  • Your daughter’s pattern of getting into and staying stuck in abusive relationships is related to her being stuck in her dependent relationship with you.

So much for the insight, so ironically after telling you not to offer advice, here is my advice:

  • Acknowledge that she’s stuck in her relationship with her boyfriend, not getting what she wants, needs, and deserves, and she’s getting hurtful things instead.
  • Let her know that you care very much about what she’s going through and that you know that you aren’t one to coddle and that she’s needed a more emotionally understanding parent, but that you’ve not been that kind of parent due to your own issues of trauma and abuse.
  • Encourage her to use her counseling to understand why she’s stuck and the best ways to deal with it.

Then Denise, NO MORE ADVICE. Listen, empathize, and care to the best of your ability. The urge to give advice will be powerful, but resist, and stick to phrases such as, "Wow, that must hurt," "How frustrating," or "I’m so sorry, that’s terrible."

Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in a discussion of what she should or shouldn’t do. Just keep directing her back to her therapist who would be able to offer unbiased professional advice. If she says her therapist doesn’t help her, once again empathize, and remind her that she can discuss her feelings about the therapy with her therapist or find a different therapist, but that’s entirely up to her.

Let’s all pay attention to Denise’s situation because there’s a profound lesson for all of us here. Simply put, that lesson is to listen, care, support, validate, and only offer advice after you’ve offered plenty of emotional support. That goes for everyone in our intimacy circles; our partners, siblings, adult children and children, even close friends. I need to follow that advice better myself.

Tip for giving advice: Listen, care, support, validate, and only offer advice after you’ve offered plenty of emotional support.Click To Tweet

When raising kids, it’s far more important to help them learn to trust their own judgment and decision-making than to offer our opinions. When they’re hurt by a social interaction, simply empathize and validate their feelings. When they say, “nobody likes me,” we say, “I’m so sorry that you’re feeling that way. I’ve felt that way at times myself.”

When they do something wrong, don’t tell them the obvious, simply ask them how they ended up making that decision and how they might correct it next time. When you see them procrastinating responsibilities, notice it, ask them if they notice it, and ask them if they have a strategy for addressing it. If they don’t, have them Google the problem and see if they can discover some solutions to procrastination. Then you’re teaching them that their feelings matter and that they are able to solve problems.

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to Denise for her inspiring question.

During this time of profound disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms, and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well.

If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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