"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 30, 2015
Helping a Drifting Daughter
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


Our daughter completed an honorable mission, although it was difficult for her. Since returning, she seems to be drifting and unable to concentrate on either a career or a social life. She has gained a lot of weight and become withdrawn. She is firmly against a medical check-up or visiting a counselor.

This has gone on for several years. What can we do to help her?


Letís put your question a little differently. Your daughter is in her middle twenties, and her life is not going as well as you had hoped it would. She has not chosen a clear career path, she does not socialize, her health is uncertain, and you are understandably worried that all of these factors will limit her opportunities for social and professional success, good health and marriage and children.

I think you are right to be concerned, especially as you have observed a change in her personality. It is not unreasonable of you to want for your daughter the accomplishments and experiences that bring a sense of satisfaction and happiness to many people.

The question, though, is not how you can get her back on track. That is completely beyond your control.

You have no power to make her choose a career, find a therapist or join Weight Watchers. I imagine you already know this: that you have discussed with her the state of her career, health, social life and physical appearance, with the best intentions. And that she has rebuffed your suggestions, including those regarding medical or mental health treatment.

So I suggest a different approach, in which your aim is to build an overwhelmingly positive relationship with her and to find ways to bless her life.

I have five suggestions.

One, donít assume she is sad or dissatisfied with her life. As odd as it may seem to you, she may not feel that her life is going poorly. She may feel obligated to acknowledge the negatives of her situation when she talks to you because she knows how you feel, but it is entirely possible that she is content with her situation despite those negatives.

It is also possible that she feels content even though her career, for example, is not fantastic. If this is the case, you should appreciate her positive attitude. You may worry that she has become complacent, but you should also feel pleased that she is able to live without comparing herself to others.

Two, make your interactions with her 100% positive. If your daughter is like most people, she is perfectly aware of her shortcomings and deficiencies. You donít need to remind her that sheís on her third job this year and that sheís overweight. She knows.

She also knows, without your telling her, that a good job pays more and is more interesting than a crummy job; that slim people look nicer in clothes; that it would be lovely if she met a nice man to date or marry; and which of her siblings, cousins, friends and former classmates are currently enjoying the benefits of a good job, slender figure and significant other.

She also knows that to achieve these things, she should find a mentor, eat less, exercise, go to parties and join LDS Singles.

So, to the extent that you have been looking for opportunities to have a serious talk with her about any or all of these topics, stop it. When you talk to her, donít try to bring your conversations around to the importance of a healthy diet or how much your friendís daughter has benefitted from seeing a counselor.

And unless she brings it up, donít ask whether she has applied for any new jobs or met any nice men. Instead, make your conversations nag-free. Show her that you and she can have a conversation that does not include a serious chat or unsolicited advice.

Three, invite her to do worthwhile things with you. Another way to have positive interactions with your daughter is to find enjoyable, productive things you can do together. Cooking, crafting, service, visiting teaching, temple sessions, painting the living room, family history, sightseeing, musical performances, antiquing, gardening ó there are hundreds of activities you could do together.

Whether she lives at home or far away, these activities will (1) have intrinsic value and therefore uplift everyone involved, (2) give you something to talk about and (3) be fun.

Make sure the activities are fun to her. And that they have no direct relation to any of the improvements she knows you wish sheíd make. In other words, make sure your invitation is clearly an invitation to get together for a good time, and not an attempt by you to improve her.

Four, listen to your daughter. You may discover that her life is more interesting than you thought. You might discover qualities and talents you didnít know she had. You might grow to understand her situation more thoroughly, and you may even discover ways you can offer to help that she will appreciate.

Further, your daughter is not just the girl you remember from her high school days. She has grown and experienced life since then, especially if her mission was difficult for her. Her goals and ideals are bound to be different now than when she was a teenager. Your goal should be to know her now, as she is today.

You will not get a sense of whether you should back off or lean in, offer to help or express confidence, give advice or hold back, unless you have spent many hours listening to her and learning what is important to her.

Five, be thoughtful. In February, send her a Valentine. If you see that her sneakers are falling apart, take her shoe shopping. If her apartment is freezing all winter because her roommate is cheap, send her some cozy slippers.

Write her notes from time to time, after youíve had a nice chat or a fun day, telling her what you appreciate about her. Give her a little money for a pedicure when sandal season starts. Attend her ward on the day she gives a talk or lesson, or be sure to ask how it went. Make the little gestures that tell her you know her and love her, and that you think she will receive with joy.

Finally, remember that your goal is a relationship with your daughter in which she feels your unconditional love. She must know that your acceptance and attention is not based on your hope that she will change her life and improve herself, but rather on the fact that you see her talents, that you enjoy her company and that you want to know her.

Then, if she decides to take her life in a different direction, you will be in a better position to provide encouragement, counsel and assistance. But whether or not she ever asks for your help, your love, understanding and acceptance will exert a positive influence on the choices she makes.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and sheíll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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