Differing Opinions on a Dependent Adult Daughter

Q: I have heard only too often about the idea of parents presenting a “united front” to their children, even if the parents’ opinions actually differ. Sometimes my husband and I have been successful at this and other times we have not. Now we are faced with quite a serious matter on which our opinions vary greatly, and I’d like your help in figuring this out.

We have a 32-year-old daughter who has long suffered from a problematic medical condition and, due to this, some periodic psychological problems as well. At one point we were told that she had OCD and mood swings. She currently spends a good part of her day doing artwork; happily, her artistic talents enable her to get sporadic work. Her expenses are relatively low as she shares an apartment with other girls, and we usually pay for part — or all — of her rent every month.

She has expressed a desire to lead a more “productive” life, but has a lot of concerns about finding the “right” job, and that stops her from taking the leap to do so. She speaks about “eventually” getting married, but I don’t see that happening in the near future.

My husband’s approach towards her is more of the “tough love” kind. He thinks we should just stop supporting her and that somehow “she will rise to the occasion” and get a regular nine-to-five job somewhere and be able to support herself.

I, however, see that his approach just exacerbates the situation: When my husband mentions this idea of cutting off our daughter financially, her general state of anxiety just increases. My husband feels that I coddle her too much and have too much sympathy for her.

She seems to be somewhat afraid of my husband’s tough approach and usually avoids dealing with him — and comes to me for support, financial and otherwise.

Am I wrong in not taking my husband’s approach?

A: It is extremely difficult to assist an adult child who has suffered both physically and psychologically. The society around us has certain expectations, commensurate with each of life’s developmental stages. Thus, every “aberration” (so to speak) causes great discomfort to those individuals who are somewhat different and, to a certain degree, to those close to them. When everyone else is basically doing the same thing, that only serves to reinforce the idea that they are doing what is most appropriate and sound. So a 32-year-old single woman who does not have a definite job and suffers from some psychological limitations will surely struggle to preserve her self-esteem. And to obtain — and maintain — employment, one needs to have self-esteem and shoulder responsibility. From your letter, it is hard to ascertain how much of either your daughter possesses at this point in her life.

Your daughter is afraid of failing, and putting her in a circumstance where her psychological defenses might easily crumble is not a wise suggestion. “Tough love” is not for those who severely lack coping mechanisms in their daily functioning.

You do not mention what your daughter has done to help herself until now. Actual suggestions to help adult children — psychological treatment and psychotropic medications — can be very helpful. However, it seems likely that you have already attempted these avenues.

Is your daughter open to ideas that you and your husband could offer her? Does she claim to be happy with her life as it is now? Are those around her of a similar bent?

If your husband feels that the financial help that you give her is a “free lunch,” perhaps you can attach certain conditions to your financial allotments. Though all children need to feel unconditional love (at any age), giving responsibilities along with financial assistance is not necessarily a contradiction to unconditional parental love. Visiting an ailing grandmother a certain number of times a month, babysitting siblings’ children or helping with a family business or other family matters (on a non-stressful level) can be a good trade-off for financial help. It can be couched in terms of being paid-for volunteer work and/or that you don’t have enough time to do these things yourself (which is probably accurate).This is clearly not a long-term solution, but a way to deal with the issue of having a more united front with your husband, so that she is not, in your husband’s eyes, being “spoiled.”

Hatzlachah rabbah in this most frustrating endeavor. Again, there are areas in life where tefillah alone is the direction to take.