Ask a Therapist: My Daughter Takes Advantage of My Generosity, What Can I Do?

Ask a therapist

Verywell / Catherine Song 

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every Thursday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

Our Reader Asks

My adult daughter thinks my husband and I are obligated to help her because she is a single mom. But, no matter how much money we give her or how much time we spend watching the kids for free, she insists that we don’t do enough for her. We think she takes advantage of our generosity, but we are afraid of what will happen to her if we don’t pitch in. What should we do?

—Marion, 64

Amy’s Answer

You’re in a tough spot. Clearly, you want to be helpful to your daughter and your grandkids. But, it sounds like you don’t feel as though your help is being well-received. The fact that you are feeling taken advantage of is a surefire sign that it’s time to establish healthy boundaries.

Redefine Your Sense of Obligation

It makes sense you may feel a sense of obligation to your daughter. She’s a single mother, and you certainly don’t want to see her or your grandkids struggle.

But you’re not obligated to help. She’s an adult, and it’s up to her to take care of herself and her children.

Of course, just because you aren’t legally or morally obligated to pitch in doesn’t mean you can’t. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to help.

The key is to recognize that your assistance is a choice. You can help her because you want to—not because you have to.

Decide Together What You Want to Offer

It’s important that you and your husband are on the same page regarding how much time and money you’re going to give your daughter.

How many hours a week do you want to provide free childcare? How much money do you want to give her every month? Are there other things you want to offer?

If you aren’t both in agreement, don’t do it. Otherwise, your giving will create a serious rift in your relationship. And you won’t be doing anyone any favors.

Communicate Your Boundaries

Once you’ve decided what you’re willing to do, communicate those boundaries to your daughter. You might say something like, “We’ve been feeling really tired lately, and we decided we are going to scale back how much childcare we’re able to offer. We’re happy to watch the kids two afternoons a week,” or “We are happy to cover the cost of your internet bill every month if that would be helpful to you.”

Your daughter is likely to push back to get you to change your mind. For example, she might insist that you’re unfair, or she might tell you not to bother with anything if you can’t do everything for her.

But it’s important to stick to the limits you set. Otherwise, you’ll continue to overextend yourselves and feel resentful of her in the process.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can set boundaries to reclaim your power.

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Offer Resources and Alternatives

If you’re concerned about your daughter needing more support than you want to give (and it sounds like you are), provide her with information on additional resources.

You might give her a list of childcare options. Or, you might offer to pay for her to speak with a financial advisor who can assist her with establishing a budget.

This might reassure her that you are willing to provide support—even if that means referring her to someone who can help rather than doing the work yourself.

Practice Effective Communication

When your daughter insists you aren’t doing enough to help, take a minute and validate what she’s likely feeling. Say something like, “This must feel really frustrating to you.” Just make sure you say it with a sincere tone that doesn’t sound sarcastic.

She’s expressing her pain to you. And she may get a little relief when she realizes that you hear what she’s trying to say.

While it may be tempting to respond to her with things like, “We do a lot for you!” or “You have more support than most people,” comments like that are likely to put her into defense mode.

The conversation will go better if you listen and reflect back what you hear about how she’s feeling, regardless of whether you agree.

If she says things that are out of line, you’re not obligated to keep talking to her. End the conversation for now and tell her you’ll discuss things when she’s calmer.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.