Goodbye Girl or Slate on Parental Alienation
Q. Estranged Daughter: I have a 20-year-old daughter who is now away at college. Her mother and I divorced over 10 years ago. My daughter was not pleased that I remarried five years ago and would only associate with me and not even attend events if my new wife was there. My wife has been very patient and didn’t begrudge me time with my daughter. She even allowed my daughter to use an old car of hers to drive to school and around town and helped pay for some high level sports clinics that my daughter wished to attend. When my daughter left for college she wanted to take my wife’s car. I said no and my daughter stopped speaking to me. This has gone on for 18 months even though I pay her full college expenses. She snubs me and her grandparents after her games when the other players come out to see their families. I have continued to communicate one-sidedly, send emails, texts, and gifts, as have my parents. I had told her and her mother I would take care of tuition for her first two years and now I have fulfilled that promise. Any suggestions as to how to reconnect with her and how to gently remind her and her mother, who has encouraged my daughter in this behavior, that it is Mom’s turn to pay for college?
A: Parental alienation is a terrible and sometimes unfixable thing. Your ex-wife has poisoned your daughter against you. This has been going on since she was a little girl, and at that time she had no psychological choice but to side with your ex. The risk of losing a mother’s affections is a frightening thing to any child. But now she is a young woman—a spoiled, rude, and emotionally damaged one—and the way she treats you is indefensible. Before you make a plan, you must first completely separate out finances from behavior. Payment of college should have been something worked out in the divorce agreement, and if necessary you need to go back to a lawyer to figure out how you and your ex pay for the rest of your daughter’s education. It will simply be counterproductive for any chance at someday having a decent relationship with her to make her getting her degree contingent on how she treats you—even as that makes intuitive sense. As for her behavior, I think it’s time you addressed this with her directly. Before you do, have some sessions with a therapist who has expertise in parental alienation and reconciliation. Ideally, your daughter would agree to go to counseling with you to address your issues and heal this breach. You have to accept that this is what will happen in an ideal world, and that it may never happen for you. But with guidance you can figure out a plan for moving forward, which will include a way to let your daughter know you will always love her, but as you two deal with each other adult to adult, both of you need to treat each other with respect.