Mixed messages with adult depressed daughter

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    I am trying to find the right way to deal with this problem as it is in my head 24/7. I got divorced (husband left because of other woman) 15 years ago when my daughter was 13 and my son was 11. I felt so bad and so guilty for the kids that I tried to help them and but I think I enabled them more than helping. My son has found his way of dealing with the situation and is on a good track. My daughter (28) is in a bad place and stuck in her life. We have a very good connection and she told me that she is stuck because dad left the family and withdrew back then. She does not really talk to her dad. I want to help her so badly but I think now that I have been enabling her too much. Paid bills so she would not get in trouble, send her packages and gift cards, pushing her apply for jobs etc. She lives in another state with her long-time boyfriend. She has been unemployed for a 1 1/2 years now. But she has been telling me that she wants to leave and get her life in order. Either go back to school, move away, etc. About a year ago she had called me crying telling me that she needs help. I hired a life coach for 3 months but unfortunately, it was only by phone and definitely to short. They got a dog 2 years ago and she puts all her energy in this dog. I truly think she says things to please me but never follows through. I am pretty sure that I have to let go and let her deal with her life herself but it is so hard! I don’t want this fear and anxiety that I am feeling ruin my own life!


    Dear Moo:

    Your husband left you and your two children for another woman. Your daughter was then 13, now 28. She told you that she is stuck in life because her father left the family 15 years ago. During her struggles, at different times, you paid her bills, sent her packages and gift cards, pushed her to apply for jobs, hired a life coach for her .. but all that you did, failed to get her un-stuck, and caused you fear and anxiety.

    Most recently, your daughter, unemployed for 1.5 years and living in another state,  told you that she wants to leave her long time boyfriend and “get her life in order. Either go back to school, move away, etc.”. She has the habit of telling you what you want to hear, but “never follows through”.

    Here is what I suggest: remove your daughter from your focus and direct your focus at yourself. Your health and emotional well-being are not less important than hers; you are not a less important or valuable person than your daughter. Focusing on her did not help her and it hurt you. Focusing on you and helping yourself is therefore your only healthy option.

    Imagine the following: you are in a big, dark room. On one side of the room there is your daughter. On another side of the room, there is you. You are holding a big flashlight and you are directing its light at your daughter. Within that light, she behaves in certain ways, for example, telling you things so to please you but not following through.

    Turn the flashlight around and direct the light at your side of the room, so you can see where you are and what you need to do to make your life better, and then proceed to do that. On the other side of the room, your daughter will have to look  for a new source of light because your flashlight is no longer directed at her. A new source of light is just what she needs to find her way out of what keeps her stuck.

    Practically it means that you don’t pay her bills, you don’t take her and her dog back home, you don’t help her figure out what she wants to study at school, you don’t help her apply to schools, you don’t look for an apartment for her.. you do none of these things. Let her know that you will not be doing any of these things, just in case she moves out assuming you will be doing these things for her. Also, don’t give her your input about what you think she should do so that she does not proceed to tell you what you want to hear and then never follow through.

    What do you think/ feel about my input?




    Dear Anita, I think that you are right on it! I read a lot about enabling adult kids which is making me a kind of martyr. I read the tiny buddha post/article about the butterfly and immediately I felt guilty of not letting her make her own mistakes.

    Thank you for your insightful and very true answer!



    You are welcome, Moo. Post again anytime.



    I think sometimes we do enable our adult children too much. Part of this might be our own codependence, maybe our guilt, maybe our shame, maybe something else. That butterfly article meant a lot to me also. I am working on not trying to be the person who is overly helpful and takes away the initiative and the struggle. When we overly give or overly help, then we are actually saying to the person that they can’t handle their own problems. This creates low self esteem in them and anger (at themselves and at the world). I do sometimes help my adult kids when they absolutely need it but I wait and wait and make sure my motives are pure, helpful, and good for them. It is hard. You obviously love your daughter and son. Sometimes we parents have the myth that our kids have to be perfect and so when they struggle, we try to take away that struggle so they are still perfect. No one is perfect though. I have watched several of my adult kids go through mental health challenges and I have had to sit on my hands through much of it (except when they were talking suicide and then I jumped into action). Be kind to yourself and make the focus of your life on you now. You deserve to be focused on you. Hugs to you.


    This post has come at the perfect time for me. My daughter has suffered from depression since a teenager. She has recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and I don’t know how to support her. Over the years I have tried my best to support her but I don’t think I’ve enabled her just tried to support her emotionally.

    The part of your post that I could relate to was the bit about your daughter agreeing to your advice/guidance then not following through. That is exactly what my daughter is like.

    I have now decided to take a step back and not give advice/guidance. She is now under the care of a psychiatrist so I am leaving her in the hands of the professionals.

    It is reassuring to read another’s experience of trying to help someone when they have a mental health problem. It is so difficult. As I have had my own struggles in the past and also have a chronic health condition, I have realised that the best approach is for me to concentrate on my own well being first.


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