My 18 year old literally makes a fight out of everything I say.

A couple days ago she says I miss being close I don’t know what changed but I want to be close again- I say tonight- I think this new environment/boyfriend and college setting have changed you- not bad I just don’t feel like you’re you and I either need to get to know the new you or know what I really want to know why these people and settings have changed you in 6 weeks- you dress differently- you talk differently- you’re smoking weed, you’re cussing, you are fighting with everyone in the family on a daily basis, you are rude and cold and hard - none of which you were before so—— yes…. I want to be close but you are not being you!
Asked by Paloma


Thank you for reaching out with your question about a legally adult child and the change in your relationship.  The good news is that your daughter wants a good relationship with you.  That says a lot about your parenting.  It seems that the two of you have not gone through some of those normal mother-daughter blow-ups that begin to happen as a girl becomes a woman in her teenaged years.  They are delayed for her and are most likely stemming from the new experiences she is having in her six weeks of college.  She is not aware of how much college has changed her already.  She wants the connection to her family that has given her a sense of self, but she is not aware of how much she is being influenced by her new friends.

When it comes to our adult children, it is a whole new way of experiencing them and being with them.  They demand freedom but they are still very dependent.  They are dependent financially and whether they like to admit it or not they are dependent emotionally. You are growing in your understanding of how to connect with her too.  It is not the same in teaching her how not to cuss, fight and smoke weed.  It seems that you have taught her not to do these things, but she is experimenting with them in her new freedom.  What you must realize is that you cannot control her decision to cuss, fight and smoke weed, but you can control what you can control.  You can control the boundaries you will accept when she is in your home.  You want her to come home, but you still have boundaries.  You can ask her not to cuss, fight, or smoke weed when she is in your home. 

One of the best ways you can reconnect with her is to ask her questions and really listen to her answers and help her think through the person she wants to be.  She has told you that she wants a relationship with you.  Tell her that you would like a relationship with her too.  You have noticed that she is changing in many ways.  You can ask her: “Why do you find your siblings so irritating?”  Tell her that you want to help the family to get along better and ask for her ideas of how to stop the fighting and to help grow in self-respect and respect of others different points of view. 

Did you ever cuss because your friends did and found the use of language as a fast way to communicate or shock others?  Maybe you could share your experiences with cussing and how it made you feel.  Ask her about the change in her use of language these days.  Is it something that makes her feel less anxious and helps her fit in with her new friends?  Since you know that she is smoking weed, ask her how it improves her life and whether it interferes or helps her in her college goals.

It is hard to be the bigger person right now, but she does need your input and she really wants it.  She wants to be close to you, and she recognizes that.  It is the foundation of the relationship that you have built over the years.  She will always be connected to you, but in her unfamiliar environment she is learning how to be separate from you as well.

Mother-daughter relationships evolve over time.  What is most impressive to me is that she wants to feel connected to you.  Maybe you have been so in shock over the way she is behaving that you have backed away from her without noticing it as well.  You can tell her that you want to stay close to her too.  You want to be there for her no matter what happens in her life.  You can be honest that you do not like this cussing, weed smoking, fighting woman but you know that she is growing and changing over time and that she can count on the fact that your love for her will not change even if you do not agree with her behaviors and cannot support them. 

Even adult children are always asking two questions: one. Do you love me? And two. Can I get my own way?  The answers are different with an adult child.  The answer to the first is always yes but the second is you can smoke weed, cuss and fight if that is what you want but I will not tolerate it in these ways (control what you can control).  You have done a wonderful job in raising her and she will get through these changes with your love and support.  

(D., Phil., LPC, LMFT)