I have a daughter who is a sophomore in college and in a demanding program. She is very much an over-achiever. She is very involved in community service and is well-loved by her friends and college instructors. I think we have raised her and her younger brother with love and respect. We are quite close and she has always shared her life willingly. We are not wealthy, but she has wanted for nothing materially. She went abroad for spring semester of her freshman year although initially we thought it was too soon. She convinced us she was ready. I say this to illustrate that we do listen, but perhaps we give too much as this semester was very expensive for us. During this semester we could not speak very often, and it was tough for everyone, but a great experience for her.

This semester she calls me nearly every day. She rarely asks about anyone here or about me. I feel like I have to ask a million questions to keep the conversation going. She often doesn’t like what I ask, the way I ask, or my replies to her questions. She seems to be defensive about everything and speaks to me so disrespectfully at times that I feel physically sick. She might swear or just yesterday say something like, “stop whining” when I began to tell her that I would not tolerate what seems to me to be verbal abuse. Her tone with me is most offensive and hurtful. Her boyfriend goes to school nearby and spend lots of time at her place, but he is having a tough time at school.

I don’t know if there is something there that is causing her to behave this way, and when I ask, she tells me that I am making something of nothing, or that I ask too many questions about her boyfriend when she “has it just as tough”. There is much more to this, but I need some advice about how to handle the situation. I love her so much, but I am not really looking forward to her coming home for Thanksgiving which makes me sad. I feel all tied up, like I just don’t know how or what to talk about because she gets so angry and defensive. She is not always this way, but one never knows. Any advice on what to do, say, think? Thank you.

A: Sometimes it is the kids who have been easiest and with whom we have been the closest who pull away the hardest. It’s as if they have to find a reason to be angry in order to leave all the comforts of home. You’ve provided your daughter with a tremendous amount of emotional support and love as well as everything she materially needs. It’s very hard for a kid to separate from a home that is so comfortable and loving. It’s not that unusual for kids in her situation to use anger as the fuel to push herself to separate and become more her own adult person.

Ironically, she hardly looks very adult when she is acting like a self-centered teen. It’s striking to me that she calls every day and then makes the calls so unpleasant. It’s a metaphor for the push-pull that is going on inside. She wants to stay connected but she wants to leave. Of course, the eventual goal is that she will be secure enough in her own selfhood that she’ll be able to come and go without all the drama.

I’m afraid this is one of those times when the best thing for us moms to do is grin and bear it. This isn’t about you. It’s about her. Arguments, debates, or efforts to set her straight will get you nowhere. She needs to find fault. Coat yourself with some Teflon. Tell her you are just sorry she feels the way she does but that you love her anyway. And keep the visits short!

You and your husband have done a good job with your daughter. Trust that she will come back to you in a year or two. In the meantime, run interference for each other when you can and give each other a hug now and then. Remind yourselves that this is a stage and, like all stages, it will eventually be over.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Nov 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). College age daughter is verbally abusive to Mom.. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/11/10/college-age-daughter-is-verbally-abusive-to-mom/