Linda Lewis Griffith

Don’t like your child’s partner? Here’s what to do

What can parents do when they disapprove of their adult children’s choice of partners? The answer: very little.
What can parents do when they disapprove of their adult children’s choice of partners? The answer: very little. The News & Observer/TNS

Your grown daughter has brought home her idea of Mr. Right. But your instincts tell you he’s nothing but trouble. What can parents do when they disapprove of their adult children’s choice of partners?

The answer: very little.

Since we don’t arrange marriages in this country, people are free to choose their own mates.

Ideally the selection process takes place with ample experience and forethought.

But too often this isn’t the case. Some young adults make chronically poor choices. They look for someone who is hot, drives a fast car or makes them laugh. Others are attracted to partners who abuse drugs or are habitually unemployed.

If your son or daughter is involved with someone you despise, consider taking these steps:

▪  Share your specific concerns. Have a heart-to-heart talk. Let your child know what troubles you: “Honey, I know you’re very fond of this man. But I’m worried that he’s 25 years older than you are. That may not seem like a big difference now. But it’s apt to be a problem when you’re 50 and he’s 75.”

▪  Avoid being confrontational. Never alienate your adult child because of a choice of mates. A statement such as “If you marry that woman you’re not welcome in our home!” may actually push them into an “us-against-them” alliance and lead to drastic consequences. Instead, stay low-key and neutral. The relationship may run its own course and eventually fizzle.

▪  Relate past experiences. While adult children generally loathe “When-I-Was-Your-Age” lectures, now might be the right time to share a similar story. Recall a time when you were attracted to a less-than-perfect beau. Remember how you felt at the time, and what you’ve learned as a result of the incident. Tell the story once, then drop it. The ball is in their court.

▪  Get to know the new partner. Explore his or her background, beliefs, goals and areas of interest. You might discover an enjoyable and perfectly acceptable individual.

▪  Exploit an area of strength. Still not thrilled with this potential partner? Then focus on one quality you approve of. For instance, you may struggle with the fact that your son’s fiancée was once in drug rehab. But you can applaud the fact that she is currently clean and diligently working on her 12-step program.

▪  Understand that this person meets a need for your child. View the situation from your son’s or daughter’s eyes. Perhaps your shy and insecure daughter feels valued by her minimum-wage-earning boyfriend. Or your disorganized son needs his brassy, take-charge girlfriend to keep him on track.

▪  Accept the partner completely. Your ultimate job as a parent is to gracefully accept your child’s choice of a mate. Even if you’re convinced he or she is making a mistake, you must be cordial and establish a workable relationship with your son- or daughter-in-law. Should the relationship turn sour, you can step in to pick up the pieces. Now your arms are wide open doing all you can to make it work.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.

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