My 16-year-old daughter has suddenly stopped caring about anyone but
herself and her friends. She has never acted like this before. She was
involved in a car accident, which killed her father. I feel like she's
punishing me for being the parent who is alive. I have recently remarried.
I am heartbroken and wish to have a close relationship with my only
child. Is her behavior a reaction to my marriage or is this just a normal
ANSWER: You and your daughter
have been through a tremendous amount of change precipitated by tragedy
over the past 4 years! This is the third family formation you have experienced
together. Your first intact family unit suffered the loss of your husband,
resulting in a single parent family for several years, before forming
a stepfamily with your new spouse. Your daughter's behavior is no doubt
triggered by this last wave of family upheaval.
Your daughter's apathy towards you may indeed be
an expression of suppressed anger at your ability to "replace" her
father. Your remarriage no doubt triggered her attachment to her father
as well as delayed grief for the loss of the intact family unit that
was once represented by the three of you. Perhaps your daughter needs
a safe way to say "good-bye" to the past before welcoming her new
family constellation. It must be very difficult to sense your daughter's
resistance to what is for you a happy turn of events in your life.
Do not take her anger personally. Your remarriage
could be one more event in your daughter's life that is out of her
control. Do not let the differences in your present experiences divide
you or diminish the importance of your bond. It is your job to go
on with your life. Do not interpret your daughter's anger as your
guilt. Work to accept her feelings. She may feel angry or even abandoned
by you to your new husband. After all, your grief forged a deep closeness
between you, as did your nursing her to recovery. It could be very
difficult for her to invite not only another man into her life, but
to relinquish a part of your attention after the deep and profound
togetherness the two of you shared over the last several years.
It is also likely that your remarriage is causing
adjustments which have triggered her loyalty to her father and renewed
grief. But this time she may feel somewhat alone with it. Consider
taking special time with her to review the past and trace your journey
to the present together. Revisit picture albums of the first family
constellation with her father, your first husband. Invite your daughter
to express her anger or her grief openly to you. It is likely you
will cry and maybe even laugh together before you are through.
Find out how she feels about driving and be sensitive
to the possibility that this could be an activity that may also be
charged with her father's death. It is possible that post traumatic
stress from the accident could be triggered by this new responsibility,
adding difficulty to her present emotional adjustment.
Your daughter may indeed be expressing her anger
by passively withholding affection from you because she senses your
guilt. Your interpretation that she is "punishing" you only complicates
the process. She is likely to pick up the message from you that you
cannot tolerate her feelings. This leaves her no avenue for direct
expression. The passive withholding you experience in her gift giving
may reflect the fact that it has been her only safe avenue to express
It will take your daughter time to forge a relationship
with her new stepfather. Take it slow. Spend special mother-daughter
time together. Remember, your daughter is not adding a new love to
her life. Instead, she is losing her intimacy with her mother who
she has been extremely close to these past few years. Of course she
is angry with you! Make the room to process the very normal feelings
your daughter may be experiencing.
Do not be fooled by her "aloofness". It is normal
for teenagers to pursue their social lives in a quite self centered
fashion. Creating a safe atmosphere for "negative" as well as "positive"
feelings and maintaining contact through shared activities is a good
idea for adolescence in general. Yet in your daughter's case, the
loss of her father and adjustment to your recent marriage increase
the intensity of her adolescence, making these suggestions not just
"good ideas" but imperatives!
Express your love by making room for her "negative"
feelings. Reflect them back to her. Let her know that you understand
what she must be going through. Do not lose touch with her now, after
all you have been through together. Your emotional availability will
result in an easier adjustment and perhaps an increased ability to
enjoy what this new family has to offer her!
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