A worrying new theme has developed in our family and it’s threatening my role of mother and wife. My husband and teenage daughter have joined forces and I seem to be their target. Until she hit puberty, my 15-year-old and I were inseparable, but around the time she turned 12, suddenly Dad could do no wrong.
Instead of wanting my advice, his opinion became gospel, whether it be a friendship dilemma or which brand of jeans to buy. That hurt – after all, those were my areas of expertise.
Her father and I are opposites, though perhaps we complement each other, but as our daughter has grown up she’s become a mini version of him, albeit a more glamorous one. As well as his quick wit, attention to detail and no-nonsense approach to life, she’s also inherited the biting sarcasm, the ruthless streak and a coldness that astounds me.
When just one member of the family possesses those qualities, it’s manageable for a sensitive soul like me, but with two of them, the effects are harder to handle. Thank goodness I have two younger daughters on my side, so I can form a little defence system of my own.
Much as I love him, her dad tends to criticise me and sometimes I feel like a permanent work in progress. I wish I could just be accepted for the warm, scatty, creative person I am, but instead he seems to be on a long-term “improvement” drive.
“Don’t you want to work on yourself?” he asks, suggesting ways I could get up earlier, be more organised and be less stressed. Of course, I’m willing to fine-tune the less appealing aspects of myself to a certain degree, but there comes a point where you want to say, “I’m 49, frankly, this is as good as it gets.”
Alarmingly, my daughter is so devoted to her dad, she’s decided to adopt his approach and even uses the same phrases, “Mum, you’re never going to change…”, “Mum, don’t you want to improve…?”
Hearing the daughter who once adored me now parroting her dad is as disturbing as it is infuriating. Sometimes I lose my temper, snapping: “Oh, the evil twins are off again,” but that just sparks eye-rolls between the two of them. One day, when they’d been particularly brutal, I branded her “Daddy’s little puppet” which just alienated her further.
I know we can’t go on like this, so I did sit my husband down for a few home truths. I told him he needed to be aware that she was learning from him every day and that if he wasn’t careful, she’d grow up thinking a normal relationship was one of unequal power, where a man constantly criticises a woman.
My daughter once admitted her dad often spoke about me behind my back, sharing his little frustrations, looking for a sympathetic ear. Knowing this was not only unfair, but also unhealthy, I told him through using her as a confidante, he is giving her more and more reasons to turn against me.
I decided I need to work on my own separate bond with my daughter, so last week I took her out for dinner by myself. To my amazement, she told me since I’ve started my new job, my husband has been speaking highly of me, saying I’ve changed in ways he never thought possible, springing out of bed early, exercising at 7am, with a renewed focus in life. Best of all, there was a different tone to her voice – something I didn’t recognise. Then it struck me – that new note was pride. I think we’re turning a corner.