Do as I do

Do as I do

Set an example for the child you believe is underachieving

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 09/11/2013

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Dear Patti,
My daughter, Audrey, is 26. I’ve been putting off writing to you about her because nothing is wrong and yet nothing is really right. She graduated from college, but instead of trying to advance a career she’s still working full time at the same job she’s had since high school. She still lives at home with us, is about 30 pounds overweight, doesn’t date, has only a few close friends, and spends most of her time in her room with her little dog or outdoors gardening. While she admits she’s lonely and would love to have a family of her own, she doesn’t seem sad or depressed. I’m afraid she’s comfortable enough that she’ll settle for a mediocre life. I offered to pay for counseling but she refuses, keeps saying everything’s fine and that she doesn’t want to talk about it.  

Audrey thinks I nag and worry too much and am always trying to change her. Contrary to her belief, I’m not pushing her because I want to vicariously live through her; I just want her to be happy and live a full life. I don’t want her to wake up regretful someday and feel she’s wasted her life or shortchanged herself. She’s educated, nice looking and very sweet but living an ordinary, limited life. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get through to her without turning her off or being too invasive?  
— Judy

Dear Judy,
If your assessment of Audrey is correct — that she is closed off to her potential, avoidant and an underachiever due to low self-esteem — she’ll be very defensive if she feels criticized by you. Even if it’s out of heartfelt love and concern, it will be difficult for her to hear. She will be more able to listen if she feels respected, inspired and heard.

Respect Audrey by treating her as an adult and taking her complaints about your behavior seriously. Stop any nagging and intrusive behavior. I realize that’s difficult to change when you’re worried about her, but the changes you want her to make are difficult as well. Decide together how often you’ll sit down and go over serious issues; if it’s once every two weeks, so be it. Try very hard not to mention your concerns at other times.

Inspire Audrey by modeling self-growth. Show her that you’re not requesting anything of her that you’re not willing to do yourself. Do you have regrets of your own about things you wanted to do but never did or never could or chances that somehow slipped away? It’s essential to face up to motivations compelling you to over-push Audrey or transfer your own sense of lack of fulfillment onto her. If there are obvious personal regrets, start asking yourself who you want to be now. It’s not too late for you to live a fuller life as well. Tell Audrey that you want to make serious changes in your relationship with her. Share your personal journey with her about your own life’s choices and that you’re determined to face your own needs so there’s never any need to vicariously live through her.

Listen to what Audrey thinks her problems are; inevitably, she’ll have a different take. She may be fine with her weight, for instance, but dislikes her job or vice versa. She may be comfortable with her job and her weight but feels she’s outgrown her girlfriends and wants new ones. Let her tell you how her life is limited or incomplete rather than you telling her.

Don’t delineate what problems she needs to address or how to fix them. Ask her how you can help and support the changes she wants to make. Let her guide you on how to help her and be quick to follow. Be supportive by going at her pace. If she admits she’s unhappy, she needs to know you won’t throw that back at her and reproach her for not changing. Let her know you’ll completely accept her life; you just want her to deeply self-reflect and eventually acknowledge with honesty whether she’s living the life she wants.

Hopefully these changes will enable her to open up to you more and be less defensive. You’re not wrong in wanting her to dream, to keep reaching for what she wants and not giving up. Support and respect her life choices and let her know she’s extraordinary even if at times living an ordinary life. n

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site,


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