Tell Me About It: My eldest daughter is leading her younger siblings astray

Posted on Posted in Tell Me About It

They have no problem using the foulest of language during yelling matches

PROBLEM: We are struggling badly with our mixed-aged family, who are all living at home.

Our eldest daughter dropped out of her college course earlier this year. We supported her in her choice but made it clear that we would not support her hanging around doing nothing. She managed to get a job and she makes a contribution for her keep from her earnings.

However, she is now demanding that she live at home on her own terms. This involves having her boyfriend stay regularly, which we object to.

We have two younger children, both at the later stages of primary school. They are beginning to copy their older sister and are behaving badly with me and their father. They are refusing to co-operate with basic household chores. Our evenings are descending into yelling matches, during which they have no problem using the foulest of language and have recently started calling me names during these fights.

I feel like my house has been taken over by a pack of aliens and I get so desperate that at times I find myself getting very upset. I seem to be at the receiving end of most of the abuse, as my husband tends to stay out of conflict in the family and always has.

ADVICE: It sounds as though things are getting very tense in your house. Firstly, congratulations on supporting your daughter as she dropped out of college; this must have been difficult for you and for her. Also, well done on having the difficult conversation where you asked your daughter to contribute to the household finances.

It seems that your daughter feels she has a right to adult choices in your home, and this clashes with your idea of family and boundaries. There is a need for all the demands of the people living in the house to be heard and acknowledged before any rules are created.

This ongoing conflict at home is unbearable, but it also offers an opportunity for change. It brings into sharp focus the relationships that need addressing: your relationship with your husband as heads of the household, your adult daughter’s relationship with her parents and her younger siblings, and your younger children’s relationship with authority.

You appear to feel unsupported by your husband, who avoids conflict and tries to keep the peace by staying in the background. No doubt this creates arguments and lack of trust in the relationship. I wonder if this could be tackled in a nonthreatening manner; could you flag the importance of an honest discussion with your husband?

Perhaps you could do this on a weekend away, where there is less strain and more possibility of reconnecting. Let him know of your need for him to support you, and ask for his advice.

If he is unable to respond to this, another option might be to go for some couple counselling with a family therapist, so that you can discuss your couple issues with someone who has expertise in family systems. You might then have the option of inviting your children in for a session so that family rules can be discussed. (For a start, check out familytherapyireland.com.)

This is an important time in your relationship with your daughter, who is struggling to find an adult voice in the household. Of course, shouting or name-calling is not something to allow, but there is a need to give her some say in this new arrangement.

Could you invite her out for dinner and tell her that you want to have an adult conversation with her? Ask her what she would like to talk about and ask her for her thoughts about the family at the moment. Every time you feel like telling her that she is wrong or that she is being insensitive, try instead to ask her what effect her suggestions would have on everyone.

She has had a difficult year and she might be struggling with the sudden transition from childhood and trying to forge a different identity in a short space of time. It might take a few meetings outside the house to listen to and to be heard by your daughter, but this might give you both an opportunity to start a new, more adult relationship.

Name-calling and foul language need to be stopped, but instead of punishment, perhaps you could instigate the cookie-jar idea, whereby everyone who uses bad language puts an amount of money into the jar (€1 for children, and €.50 for adults per curse, say) and the person with the least black marks gets to decide how the money is spent for the whole family at the end of each week. This offers a lighter, less damaging approach to behaviour modification in the household.