Q. I am married with two children, a daughter who is 15 and a younger kiddo who is 5.
I am sometimes a mean mom. I am impatient and I yell — often during fights or when my big kid is challenging me or not listening. This results in her crying.
This happens almost daily, and has happened for years.
I am not proud of my actions. I am filled with shame and sadness over the way I have handled things and the emotional damage I have caused. I worry that this has caused her to be insecure and not as outgoing or happy as she could’ve been with a nicer mom.
I feel like once she goes to college I will have missed my chance to heal my relationship and help her feel more confident and have better self-esteem.
I think if I had not been so mean, she would’ve blossomed into a more confident young woman. I also think that she is suffering from depression.
Every time I make her cry, I feel awful. What should I do?
BAD MOM IN THE MIDWEST
A. The first step toward change is to recognize your negative pattern. Then you need to do something about it.
Yelling isn’t necessarily the core problem. What you say has a greater impact than the volume with which you say it. A personal put-down will be etched onto your daughter’s heart, and if you do this, you need to stop immediately.
When you’re frustrated, use “I” statements: “I get so frustrated when it seems like you’re not listening,” versus: “You never listen. That’s why your grades are so poor.”
Your daughter is crying because she is overwhelmed and lacks the language — or doesn’t feel safe — to describe her feelings. She should be screened for depression.
I shared your question with Kimberly Kopko, PhD, director of The Parenting Project at Cornell University.
She responded: “It is not too late to try and make amends and navigate a new way of relating. Knowing that you are sorry and committed to making changes will likely be the most powerful message you can give her.
”I highly recommend a parent education class for parenting teens. These classes are typically offered at community service organizations or local schools.
”The benefits of parenting education are well documented and include improvements in parents’ confidence, competence, and parental satisfaction and increases in positive language and discipline practices. Your daughter will benefit from improved interactions with you which will help to regulate her behavior.
”You may not feel like you have much influence on your daughter, but her behavior is highly correlated with the bond she has with you. You may also wish to talk with a family therapist about your situation and include your daughter in the sessions.
“Finally, do not give up hope! Your commitment to change is commendable.”
Q. Last month our only child, my 32-year-old daughter, suffered a traumatic brain injury from a congenital birth defect. She was in a coma and is now a walking miracle.
Her work family has been so helpful and supportive. Her boss started a GoFundMe account for her and also arranged emergency funds for her.
How do we go about properly thanking everyone? Some donors are anonymous as well.
A. GoFundMe.com has a helpful guide for how to thank each donor. You should do this quickly and personally through the site, acknowledging the donation, expressing your deep gratitude, and letting the donor know how their donation was used: “Because of your generosity, we were able to pay her rent and medical expenses. An enormous weight has been lifted from our family, and we’re so grateful. We know that Madeline loves her work family, and she looks forward to thanking you in person.”
Also, post updates on the site, so donors can track your daughter’s progress.
You should also send a handwritten note to her boss, expressing your deep gratitude for his compassion and kindness, and asking him to share this with others in the office. Let them know that they all share in the joy of your daughter’s miracle.
Q. “Wife Looking for Answers” has a husband who is passive-aggressive and controlling and doesn’t care about his wife except insofar as she tolerates his nonsense.
Personally, I’d tell him that we’re getting therapy or we’re getting separated. Then follow through.
Anyone can change and grow if they’re willing to do the work.
A BETTER ANSWER
A. Amen. I agree!
Amy Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com.