Nancy, I’m worried about my daughter. She met a guy a few months ago, says she’s in love, and is already planning a wedding. I think it’s too soon. Aside from the timing, my husband and I have some real concerns about her choice in a mate. They come from very different backgrounds and seem to have some significant differences in beliefs.
We’ve just met him a couple of times and he seems nice, but we sense he is pushing a bit. She seems caught up in the romance and when I ask questions, she just tells me they’re in love and everything is going to be fine. I want to talk to her and share our concerns, but I don’t want her to get mad and pull away from us. I don’t want to cause problems but things are moving so fast. What can I do?
My friend’s concerns echo the fears I’ve heard from other parents who are concerned about their adult children’s marriage plans. We may be concerned about their choice in a mate, the timing of their marriage, or perhaps adjustment challenges we may foresee as they begin life as husband and wife.
I’ve counseled parents who struggled when their children opted to marry someone of a different culture, background, or faith. Some have watched with concern, perhaps even fear, as their children compromise values and beliefs. Others have had to come to terms with their child’s choice to share life with a live-in partner without marrying.
When our children make choices that concern us, we may struggle through shock, confusion, disagreement, disappointment, hurt, even feelings of failure and shame as we try to find a place of acceptance. We know—in theory—our children are adults and will make up their own minds about their beliefs and choices. And they have to deal with the consequences of those choices.
Still, it’s hard when we as parents believe they are making choices that may bring about some difficulties; when they make decisions about a life partner that clash with the values and beliefs we tried to instill in them as young children.
We don’t want to seem controlling; we don’t want to slam the door on our relationship with them either. So, what can we do if we find ourselves in this place?
Perhaps the place to start is to ask ourselves if we’re upset because they’re not making the choice we want them to or if they are stepping into problem areas that could be harmful or difficult as they try to build a marriage. Sometimes, we need to accept they have different opinions and desires; that they are in charge of their choices and the consequences that result. We may need to keep our preferences to ourselves unless asked.
If we do have concerns we feel we must share, particularly in the areas of physical, emotional or financial safety or well-being, we need to ask God’s guidance in determining if, when, and how to talk with our children. There are situations when we do need to step in and help our child leave an unsafe situation.
Here are some questions you might consider asking your child, if you find yourself struggling with these concerns. The questions may prompt him/her to consider choices without feeling lectured, pressured, or judged.
• You come from different life experiences, so I’m wondering if you’re finding some common ground, and how you’ll manage conflicts that may come up as a result.
• You seem to have strong opinions about—. Do you share the same beliefs?
• Have you discussed how you will handle—(finances, children, religion, sex, careers, household responsibilities, holidays, celebrations)?
• Are you comfortable with the way you work through conflicts and disappointments?
• Honesty, safety, respect and trust are vital to a healthy relationship. Are you confident these things are in place and do you see them in action?
As we struggle to know how to manage concerns like these, I have learned a valuable lesson that I’ve shared with clients, included in my book, and applied in my own life: Ultimately, we need to ask God to grant us wisdom and grace to know how to respond to our children’s choices, those we applaud and those that concern us.
To handle those concerns in the best way possible for all of us and to help us keep our concerns from becoming roadblocks to building a healthy relationship with our children.
You’ll find these suggestions and additional comments in Chapter Six of my book, Secrets to Parenting Your Adult Child (Bethany House, 2011).