Thanksgiving Nightmare

November 21, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

Dear Kathy,

     My daughter and I had a lot of problems getting along when she was a teenager. I have always treated her like gold and bought her everything she ever wanted, even things I couldn’t really afford. The words “thank you” never crossed her lips and she berated me on a regular basis when I couldn’t give her a ride somewhere or I forgot to pick something up for her.

     She was rebellious and disrespectful, defying my husband and me regarding every issue imaginable. Her high school years were a nightmare and her behavior caused us to have significant marital problems. I think if the house were burning down and we told her to get out, she’d have stood in a corner and burned to death out of spite.

     Last year, she enrolled at a college in California because she said she “needed space away from us.”  Since the move, we no longer argue. We talk or text practically every day and I thought (wrongly, as it turns out) that we had both moved on to a more positive place.

     We bought her a plane ticket to come home for Thanksgiving and all of us have been eagerly awaiting her arrival as it has been almost a year since we’ve been together as a family. She called us late last night and told us that she’s planning to spend Thanksgiving Day with a friend of hers because she is too emotionally scarred to be with us on the holiday.

    Additionally, she stated that our family is not “a real family” because we have never shown her love or done anything for her as she had to raise herself, as far as she’s concerned. She has clearly not moved on at all as she’s spewing the same hateful, untrue rhetoric that she did throughout her last three years of high school.

     I am very wounded by her attitude and my eager anticipation has become a pervasive sense of dread as I count down the days to her arrival at our home. Part of me wants to tell her to just stay in California if that’s her attitude, but I am concerned that it will cause an even greater rift between us. She is almost 20 years old, why is she still acting like a defiant teenager?

Hurt and Confused,


Dear Janine,

     I am sad to say that a lot of parents are experiencing the same pain. They have dedicated themselves to giving their children the best possible childhoods and are saddened to receive recrimination instead of gratitude for all the personal sacrifices.

     My advice to you is to surround yourself with a good support system as you open your home to your daughter. Be kind and affirming in your attitude towards her. Do not engage in the same circular arguments that the two of you had when she was a teenager. In other words, don’t take the bait.

     Your daughter may be experiencing some anxiety at returning to the scene of the crime, so-to-speak (the home in which she caused so much emotional havoc). Her own fears and anxieties may be precipitating her outward coldness towards you, in which case your unconditional warmth towards her may positively affect the relational dynamic.

     Hopefully, she will open up to you at some point during the visit and provide the two of you with an opportunity to resolve these old issues. If that doesn’t happen, she’ll still only be home for a week. Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed. As she continues to mature, she will be better able to assess all that you have indeed done for her throughout her life. 

     I have a young adult daughter myself and I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult for people that age to truly understand how much we love them. Like you, I look forward to the day that she is a mother herself and can comprehend the depth of the maternal bond.

All my best,