What happens if your adolescent or grown child starts dating someone you don't like? As a parent, do you take the risk and say something? Or do you say nothing, hoping that the relationship will end?
If your child is in the throes of adolescence, it's best to keep your negative remarks to a minimum. No matter how well-founded or well-meaning your comments are, they definitely will bring results that are directly opposite to what you want.
This is known as the "Romeo and Juliet effect." The harder parents try to keep their teenager from getting involved with a particular person, the more determined the child will be to get involved.
If your daughter is 17 and her newfound love is 22 and a loser, you certainly have every right and responsibility as a parent to discourage your daughter's involvement. The best way to do this is to limit the time she spends with her boyfriend rather than repeatedly pointing out his flaws.
If your child is over 20, he or she may listen more to your objections. But it's still risky business to lay out too many negatives. If the child proceeds with the relationship and winds up walking down the aisle, you can bet all those negatives will come back to haunt you.
I had one couple come to my office heartbroken. Their son was marrying a girl they were sure wasn't good for him. In their eyes she was demanding, critical, and controlling. They had warned their son of this woman's flaws, but he was refusing to listen. What were they to do?
The advice I gave was to start recognizing this woman's good qualities. I also advised that they start building a relationship with her if they wanted to continue to see their son.
They didn't like my advice. Unfortunately, these parents continued to air their displeasure. The son married and moved away, the daughter-in-law is openly hostile, and the parents rarely see their son.
Another couple I saw for counseling faced a similar problem. Their 27-year-old son had fallen for a divorced woman of 34 who had three small children.
This certainly wasn't their idea of happiness for their son. They worried about how he would be able to support the children and if he had what it took to step into a ready-made family. They were concerned that this woman was an opportunist who saw their son as a meal ticket. They also wondered if they would be able to accept her children as their grandchildren.
On the plus side, they liked the woman and the children and from what they had seen, they thought she was a good mother. So they decided to support their son and keep their objections to themselves.
I ran into this couple a few years later and learned that the marriage was working well. The factor that no one could have predicted: The son was sterile and couldn't have children. So a built-in family was a gift to everyone.
It's painful for parents when their child chooses someone that they wouldn't choose. And it's difficult to keep objections to oneself. At the same time, it's a good idea for parents to soft-pedal their disapproval, switch the focus, and figure out what their child sees in the other person.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,” and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: http://www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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