I have a beautiful daughter who I think is marvellous.

She’s in her late 30s and has just completed a master’s degree and bought her first home … on her own. She has lived overseas by herself and is very focused and capable. I’m very proud of her.

I know I will probably incur the wrath of some readers for my question but my daughter does not do herself any favours with the way she dresses or the way she lives.

She is a little overweight and the clothes she wears are not flattering. That’s her mother’s verdict too, not just mine. She doesn’t wear sleazy clothes, just clothing that is not suitable for a slightly plus-sized woman.

At home, she is quite sloppy. Dishes stack up in the sink, clothes are strewn from room to room and the worst thing is her cat. She keeps it inside and it urinates everywhere. And I mean everywhere. When you walk into the apartment you cannot avoid the strong pungent stench of cat urine. She is either oblivious to it or simply ignores it.

While I regularly admonish her for this, I am very careful about saying anything about the way she dresses. Her mother (my ex-wife) is similarly cautious. My daughter can be very defensive.

My question is this. Is there an appropriate, subtle way to raise this issue or should I just be a supportive father and ignore her lack of dress sense?

Well done for writing in and asking for guidance, and for raising such an independently minded and successful young woman. One who has bought her own home, such a hard thing to do these days. And who has travelled and studied.

But I wonder who gets to decide what’s stylish or “suitable” to wear if not the person actually wearing the clothes and living the life? Outside school, or the armed forces, surely that’s up to the individual?

I went to psychotherapist Chris Mills. He was intrigued by your line acknowledging you’d “incur the wrath” of readers. “So probably a way forward [for you] would be to think why this might be,” he added.

Mills also pointed out that you start with “saying how marvellous your daughter is but then deconstruct that. Your daughter’s marvellousness seems to be very conditional. If your daughter is beautiful, as you say she is, why would she need to present herself in a way that’s flattering?”

I would add, flattering to whom?

Mills also felt you couldn’t decide whether your daughter was “a successful and motivated mature woman, or a child. Given that you regularly admonish her, it’s extraordinary that she lets you into her apartment.”

You asked if you should “just” be a supportive father and so I asked Mills what that looked like: “It’s about learning to imagine how we are received by the other,” he said. “Someone else insisting that they know us better than we know ourselves is going to be heard as patronising rather than supportive.”

It’s challenging at times, I grant you, not to think we know what’s best for our children, even when they are adults. But children, to become successful adults, need to learn for themselves in age-appropriate ways. If they blindly acquiesce, they only grow up to then listen to the next bossy adult who comes along rather than learn to know their own minds.

Has your daughter come to you with any problems? Has she asked you for cat or fashion advice? If not, hard as this may be for you, I think your way forward is not to raise issues and just love her as she is. Because if she doesn’t see any of this as a problem, it’s not her problem at all, but yours.

“It’s good that your daughter is defensive,” said Mills, “because it means she can stand up for herself. She sounds like someone who has achieved an enormous amount. She doesn’t sound like someone who is, for example, depressed.”

I got stuck for a long time on the cat pee. That’s quite the picture you paint. But I wondered what the reality of this was? Does the cat really pee where it wants to? Cats tend to be clean animals and indoor cats like to wee in a litter box – which can certainly smell if not regularly cleaned. Unless the cat is ill, old, extremely anxious or an intact tom cat marking its territory, cats tend not to just wee everywhere. But stinky though this is, if it’s not bothering your daughter, there’s really not much you can do about it. Meet her elsewhere? She does seem to want to meet up with you and have a relationship with you. And that is, surely, something to celebrate.

Every week, Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.

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