I was a single mother to my 33-year-old daughter for half her life, yet she still shows no interest in knowing me.  And while she doesn’t know who I am or what I’ve become, she seems very clear on what I need to do to be there for her on her terms all the time.

Let me explain a little about the details.  We live across the country from each other, me in a small community near Burnsville, NC and her in San Diego, CA and there is a 9 month-old grandson involved.  The rules are simple really.  I get to see my daughter and new grandson if I travel the 3000 miles to CA.  Those are the rules.  I either live by them or I don’t get to see her or my grandson.  Period.

My daughter has turned out well in the parental checklist sort of way.  Education, check; she has her masters degree in speech language pathology. Good Job, check; she works at a San Diego school and is an excellent Speech Pathologist. Married, check; she is married to an easy-going engineer with a good job. Mother, check; she has a son and seems to be mothering him well.  She is also a world traveler, a reader, and sometimes a critical thinker.

What she lacks is any sort of empathy or feeling for the woman who raised her.  She is, in short, a very cold adult child.

So who am I?  I am a published poet, a non-fiction writer, a college teacher and a vital part of my community.  I study Zen Buddhism and belong to critical thinking groups that enrich the community I live in.  I am married to a man who is not my daughter’s father and I am very happy.  I have a home and a dog and am well adjusted.  I am also a vegan and a member of jazzercise and my local gym.  I am active physically and mentally.

So what does my daughter know about me?  She knows a little about my diet and knows I study Zen (though I have to keep reminding her of the latter).  She  and knows I am a college teacher but rarely asks me any questions about how I am doing beyond “when do fall classes start?”  She never wants details even though in the dearth of times I have seen her in two years I attempt to tell her.  Vigorously.  To no avail.  She smiles and asks me the incidental teacher’s question but that is all and then starts talking about herself.  I could never go to her with a problem (as she comes to me) and I am never asked to reveal my feelings about anything. It is clear she does not care about my feelings the way she expects me to care about hers.

Our communication is on her terms.  I get a call or text about once every two months, sometimes more often but rarely.  I can text her but can’t expect a speedy reply (2-3 days is the average) and then the texts are all about her. I am positive she doesn’t text her friends that way and I know for a fact she keeps her phone very close by.  All the time.  It is just how she keeps me at arm’s length.

So this is what I am figuring out.  My daughter only cares about me in “how I make or do not make her life more interesting” or in other words “how I relate to her.”  There is no “me” in the equation except as an ancillary thing or person.

Yes, I would like her to notice my writing, I would like her to ask me questions about my spiritual studies and attempt to see who I really am other than the mom she seems to have frozen in time when she was 13-years-old. I would like all that but that level of understanding is not in my control.

So how do I handle this predicament?  By living my life.  By not waiting for the phone to ring.  By loving my husband, my friends, and my dog and by staying active in the community I have built for myself.  That is the self-loving way to handle a cold adult child.

I have, in short, learned to let my daughter go.  It is possible I need to set more boundaries but there is little I can control in “our” relationship so I control my own life.

I would advise you, if you don’t have the perfect mother/adult-child relationship, to do the same if you want well being and peace.

I have found it is the only way.


Clover Mahoney

A published poet several times over in magazines such as Southern Poetry Review and Alabama Literary Review.  I am originally from the Midwest, but have ended up in a small community in NC and I love the people and the mountains. I am currently working on a non-fiction book about how to emotionally deal with challenging adult children.




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  1. I do not possess your accolades or accomplishments, but I do have a daughter who is dismissive and cold. To be fair, she is ill, and has a great number of challenges that she should not have to be facing at such a young adult age. But………… that is me, excusing her.
    I, also, have had to cut invisible emotional ties and get on with what remains of my own life. After all, it’s the only one I have. If she regrets not knowing/being with me later on – and she very well may NOT – well, that’s not my path, it’s hers.

    Sending you validation and understanding. And love. Because we all need love. 🙂

  2. Are you familiar with the song Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin? Your daughter learned how to interact from you.

    I have grown children, and early on I showed an interest in their lives and shared mine. Now as adults we share in each other’s lives. They come to me for advice and help.

    It’s never too late. Open up to your daughter and open up about your mistakes and regrets. Ask for what you want moving forward. Good Luck…

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