Over-Protective Adult Child During the Pandemic

Is anyone else having trouble with adult children trying to tell them what to do re. the pandemic? Relations with our 30-year-old daughter, who lives overseas with her children, have been affectionate and close for the last several years; she calls most weeks, seems to enjoy talking to us and receiving visits, and confides in me without being asked about her children, relationships and career. However, we haven't communicated for almost two weeks now.

Initially, she was bothered by my going out twice a week to walk or have coffee with her father, or with a friend. (We stay outdoors, away from other people, and the friend and I keep well apart.) My daughter had accused me of "going out to play with your friends; how is this essential?" and so forth. My husband and I finally e-mailed her about our safety precautions, along with City of Berkeley guidelines, etc., reminding her that we need fresh air and sunshine, that we were trying to understand her fears, and that we love her. Her response, sent just to me, was cold and downright nasty: among other things, she accused me of endangering her father's health, claimed that the e-mail was patronizing ('all your little factoids") and that I was ignoring the pandemic's seriousness, ending with the request that I not contact her for a while, which I have honored. (I expect that she'll call sooner rather than later, but it might well be later.)

I understand, or think I understand, the fear behind her words. I was also responding to her emotions with facts and science, which probably struck the wrong chord. And, as my husband pointed out, she can't/won't accept that we understand my health and his, and take good care of both; she appears to believe that anyone over 64 is not only automatically vulnerable, but should stay indoors 24/7.

I know that she's working toward a job certification, and feeling stressed. Our daughter is a perfectionist, hard on herself and others, and has always tended to take out her stress on me, her "safe" person, but hadn't done so in several years; I hoped she was growing out of it.
I remain angry, and hurt, although coping pretty well with my feelings. Any similar experience to share? I don't need fixing, per se--and, please, no lectures about social distancing; I'm well aware that not everyone agrees with me--but could do with a little consolation and insight. Best wishes to all the parents out there, whatever age your kids.

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I think I understand your daughter's fear and anger. You really aren't suppose to be going out for walks and coffee with anyone except people you live with. I know it's hard and it sucks, but that's what the health order has stated. Luckily, things are starting to open up and many restrictions are being lifted. I think you are somewhat in denial about your risk. You said you don't want lectures, and that's fine. But if you are going to interpret the guidelines your own way, don't be surprised when people, especially people who love you, get upset and scared.

So sorry to hear that your daughter became "over-protective." My 30-year-old son, who lives on the East Coast, also became very directive (although he never became nasty). Some of the information and advice he gave me was useful but some seemed over the top. It was the first time our roles had reversed, with him worrying about me and giving advice (sometimes too intensely) rather than the other way around. I kept telling myself that this was his "stepping up to the plate" to be the protector and that it was a good development. He has since described himself as having "overdone" his own self-protection at the beginning (and perhaps your daughter will come to that realization eventually). I hope your daughter eventually re-contacts you. Or you might, after what is a long enough break, contact her again about non-threatening subjects (asking about her children, you and her father are well, Spring is lovely, you've been doing more cooking, etc.) Hang in there!

I feel for you and your daughter. As you point out she is afraid and we are not our best selves when we act from fear. If she is a perfectionist maybe name for her how scary these times are and how anxious it must make her feel. I try to remember that nothing is perfect, personal or permanent and that this and all situations are complex and changing and that you want a connection with her. You are right to need sunshine etc. Do you have to tell her? Maybe say you are staying safe and following the health dept recs. And then shower her with love.

Dear Friend,

I am horribly sorry about this stressful situation. I don't have any direct personal experience to share with you, but I do want to express that I think you are handling this just right. You demonstrated a great deal of insight into your daughter's behavior and underlying nature which are really at the heart of this painful matter. Yes, your attempt to use reason may, just possibly, not have been the "best" approach here, but truthfully, what would have been? I don't think there was any response you could have given which would have addressed her fear and anger. I think that the fact that your daughter is 1. abroad 2. in a training program 3. a single parent and most of all 4. a perfectionist, speak volumes. Perfectionism, in my observation, is often linked to a desire, rooted in fear, to control the situation. Her fear over your safety has triggered a desire to control you and your husband, and anger that she can't control you. She's taken a self-administered time-out; good. While she may be using it to "punish" you, she also really needs the time-out. Eventually, you will work through it, and hopefully, in time, she will develop self-insight. Best wishes to you - you are doing an amazing adult parenting job!

Yes! I have a similar experience to share. Although, my daughter is 17 years old and living in the house with me, and I'm in my mid-50's. When I read "a perfectionist, hard on herself and others, and has always tended to take out her stress on me, her "safe" person...", I immediately related, as that describes my daughter perfectly. I am not in a high risk age group, yet my daughter grills me every time I leave the house (once a day for a walk, once a week for groceries, fully compliant with my county's strict health orders) and asks, "Is this something you are willing to die for!?" In my head I say, well, yes, I am willing to take the very slight risk of contracting COVID-19 by taking a socially distanced walk in my neighborhood with my friend.

I take a deep breath and remind myself that she tends to be anxious, and these are anxiety producing times. It's just the two of us in the house, so we keep our distance for the most part, getting together over a brief dinner each evening and occasionally for an after dinner movie. My daughter is of the age when she needs to individuate from me, so I do my best to share just the information I feel essential she have - I'm sorry if you feel uncomfortable with me taking a walk with my friend. If you feel by doing this I am unduly risking my health or exposing you, I'd like to hear your concerns. I am following the county guidelines for exercising in the neighborhood while physically distancing from my friend. I wear a mask and wash my hands as soon as I get home. I don't bring up school related issues as that sends her over the edge. When she brings them up, I say something like: These are very uncertain times and we just don't know what next year (or the college application process or ...) will look like. I'm going to trust we'll all make the necessary adjustments to figure things out over time. She generally glares at me and sulks, or stomps to her room and slams the door. I do my best to ignore it. In the beginning, I was accused of being a horrible parent when I encouraged her to go for a walk with a friend, that "all my friends' parents actually care if they get sick and die!" She has now gone to a friend's house 3 times over the past 3 weeks, to sit outside 6ft apart with a total of 4 girls to celebrate birthdays. I keep my mouth shut as I watch it evolve (it helps that I trust the other parents to maintain protocol).

I can't say anything like: This must be hard (or frustrating or scary or ...) for you. She explodes. I can say: I think these times are particularly difficult for young people like you and elders like your grandpa (isolated in a skilled nursing facility).

Our interactions have generally not been pleasant, yet as the weeks go by, they are slowly becoming less unpleasant. I try to remember her burdens are not my burdens and work to keep my self emotionally level despite her moods. I'm glad we can "talk" about it. You're definitely not alone!

Yes, I do have an adult child, and in the past, I have had communication problems similar to yours. I believe that communicating via email is the problem. Communication via telephone is so much better. Email can be taken in so many different ways. With the telephone, people can react in real time and sense each other's emotions.

This is the original poster:  Thanks so much for your responses, especially those from parents who are having a similar experience or can imagine mine. After a few weeks of silence, our daughter e-mailed me with some family news, and suggested we might want to telephone. The three of us ended up having some longish, courteous conversations, talking about the grandkids, her course of study, work, politics, etc. I dodged her question about whether I was going to demonstrations, and she accepted this. 

The subject of our painful e-mails arose: I mostly listened to her, saying at last that I did understand how worried she was about us, that I used to worry about my own mother. Her original e-mail had been even angrier, she told me; I admitted that I had written a furious response, but not sent it. (That e-mail was more than furious; it would have devastated her. Fortunately, I learned the value of keeping my temper when she was a teenager.)

The other thing I volunteered was that the pandemic's course is quite unpredictable, and so we might not be able to see each other for a long time--it's been more than 7 months already--and therefore I intend to be all the more careful in my communications, since we've just seen how easy it is to misunderstand and hurt one another. Our daughter appeared to agree with this. 

WOW! Thanks so much for sharing this result. I am one who responded to your original post and am grateful for your share. I can learn from you and continue to work on improving my communication and relationship with my soon-to-be-adult daughter. I'm so proud of you and your daughter!

As an adult child I understand your daughter's worry and concern (and often share it) but strongly believe that my parents are adults and I have no right to tell them what to do or impose my will on them.  I do restrict their access to my kids since I do think it is risky for them to be around children who are not fully quarantined and I don't want my kids to live with the knowledge that they killed their grandparents if they turn out to give the virus to them.  But those are my children and my choice who they can see; otherwise I  don't tell my parents what to do the same way they don't tell me what to do anymore.  I think if your daughter feels strongly that she can tell you how to act and it ruins your relationship for you to choose to do the opposite, you will be totally justified in not telling her about your outings and maybe even going as far as lying and saying you never leave the house.  It is none of her business what you do, she is too far away to know, and retaining good relationship justifies the means of a few lies.  Just my opinion.