My friend Lee doesn't understand what is was about her son-in-law that made him attractive to her daughter--even though the marriage is now 15 years old. From the start, Lee didn't see what they would have to talk about--the daughter grew up in an intellectually demanding home; the husband in one where mechanical abilities were prized. She loves to read; he doesn't. She's become a professor of English; he fixes computers. She's slim and attractive; he's pudgy and sloppy. Lee would never have chosen him or anyone like him--for her daughter. He's totally unlike her daughter's dad--Lee's husband. And maybe that's the irritation and, for her daughter, the attraction.
We may not understand our children's choices for romantic partners and life long mates. Their choices may run counter to what we find appealing, important and interesting. But the best thing we can do is what Lee, despite her misgivings, has done: Kept her mouth shut and learned to appreciate what she can about her son in law.
I was reminded of my conversations with Lee on this subject--it's one I've had with several other friends as well, friends whose children have hooked up with people the parents consider "beneath" their child or inappropriate in terms of earning power--by a recent Carolyn Hax column.A mom complained about her daughter's boyfriend--under-educated, unable to keep a steady job, a lay-about. Her 25-year-old daughter, who owns her own home, has a master's degree and a good job, doesn't seem to have a problem with her boyfriend's lax ways. In fact, she has invited him to move in with her. The mother writes Hax to express her dismay. The boyfriend, she writes, "drives me crazy to the point where I don't speak to him anymore." The issues the mother finds so negative don't seem to faze the daughter. "She doesn't see the problems I see ahead, always being the main breadwinner, the lack of financial security, etc."
Carolyn's answer is a universal one for those who are unhappy with a grown child's choice of mates--especially when it comes to financial potential or other social issues. Unless the boyfriend or girlfriend is abusive (that's a whole other issue), Hax points out that "you squander any right to protest your daughter's choices when you bring such clear biases to the table. ...If you value your relationship with your daughter, then I strongly suggest you throw away your visions of the "right" mate for her and start looking harder for what she sees in this one -- and specifically what he brings to the relationship that isn't in paycheck form....Good partners come in more than one shape and size."This is not necessarily an easy pill to swallow. It means relying on our grown child's good sense. We can point out "issues" in a neutral kind of way. One couple kept inviting the daughter and the boyfriend they found inappropriate to join them for a lot of family outings--so the daughter would see how poorly he fit in with the family . [The strategy worked.] But expressing contempt, dislike and cutting off communication with the significant other--well, it's not worth the diminished relationship we'll have with our grown child, even if he or she eventually sees the light.