Some helpful tips to guide you through the emotional struggles of watching your child grow up.
Out of my four children I have two who are at dating age — thankfully my 17-year-old is more interested in singing and WWII so I have a reprieve there for a while. But my 23 and 22-year-olds have both dated a couple of people (that I’m aware of!) and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them.
And I say “the pleasure of meeting them” in the sense that I was pleased that my children felt they were able to introduce their first loves to me. That is already a big step. After all, I’ve seen among my friends that more and more kids don’t bother with introducing love interests to the family — or even visiting the parents themselves. It’s heartbreaking.
For meeting the new people in my kids’ lives I drew up sort of a rule book, and it has helped me when I found myself a little anxious about my children’s choices. After all, before their children get married, a parent does have a responsibility to guide them along the right path. And with a few years of navigating this situation, hopefully my experiences can help you.
Keep expectations in check
This was particularly the case with my daughter when she met her boyfriend, who was studying drum playing at a university in Australia. Yes, Australia, just a mere thousands of miles between them. What could go wrong? She was in love with his curls, his music abilities, and his green eyes.
However, I wasn’t particularly keen on the fact that his future was uncertain, he had zero ambition, and that he didn’t look me in the eye when he spoke.
But, I had to remind myself that they were young, and that not everyone is going to live up to my expectations. What I consider to be the perfect person for my daughter is perhaps not what she needs, or wants.
Raise concerns with diplomacy
The one thing you never know about relationships is where they’ll head. Now, I was pretty sure that drummer-boy wouldn’t last forever. Sadly for my daughter, I was right. But what if they had stayed the course? If I had told my daughter what I really thought and they’d stayed together, our relationship would have been ruined. Therefore, if there are concerns there are ways of dealing with them with delicacy and wisdom.
Being English, we do have a reputation for not saying exactly what we mean. I think it stems from not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. But, I think it’s also helped in dealing with unworthy suitors. For example, I never said to my daughter (who was already planning their entire future together) that I wasn’t overly impressed by her beau.
Instead, I pointed out a few concrete things; like he only rarely came to see her family, and that was a shame as family is so important. (He didn’t get on with his own mom and dad.) I emphasized how fortunate I have been that I’m so close with my family and there’s nothing like big family get-togethers, and I would love that for her.
It wasn’t a question of trying to manipulate her, as I’ve seen some parents try and do. It was more a question of getting her to question what she really wants. And I think fundamentally that is the best way to deal with your concerns. Raise them in a way that gets your child to also question them. Raise them with kindness, and not criticism, because if you go too far, you may risk pushing your child closer to the person you want them to leave.
Be there to pick up the pieces
When the musician not-very-gently dumped my daughter she was in agony. Her heart was completely broken. She howled at night in pain. As a mother you never want to see your child suffer, and I must admit, I wasn’t feeling very charitable to her green-eyed ex those days.
When this has happened to other parent friends of mine, I’ve seen them say things like, “well, I never liked XYZ about him.” I hate that approach, because it makes your child feel foolish for loving them. After they’ve been dumped, do you really want to break them even further?
Instead it’s important to be a loving ear. Don’t go down the road of “oh, there are plenty more fish in the sea.” Remember, for your child, this was their wonderful, glorious fish with whom they wanted to swim the oceans. In my daughter’s case, all the way to Australia.
Let them explain what they loved about that person. Then, when you’re feeling brave, ask them what they didn’t like about them. Over time, that pros and cons list will soon favor the “cons” side. But again, be kind. Just help your child realize that when we love someone we generally only see the positives, and that’s normal. However, encourage your child to learn from this experience what they really want.
And if they stay together …
If your child ends up sticking with or even marrying the person you’re not overly keen on, then you have to embrace all the positives about the individual. You have to pray that they will be a good and loving partner to your child and you can be an integral part of facilitating that by being kind to them. Remember, that may be the mother or father of your future grandchildren, and there’s nothing quite like family.
Of course, this is easy for me to say as I’m not at that stage yet. However, I hope and pray that I can find the virtues in any husband or wife my child picks, and love them both.