We're not always happy with our child's choice of their future spouse or significant other. Our reservations about them may not be centered on the old standby, "No one is good enough." We may have valid concerns about the future mate's values, behavior or distressing cultural differences. Unless there are signs of physical or emotional abuse, we're usually stuck with swallowing hard and trusting our child knows what they're doing.
Sometimes other family members chime in--not necessarily to support our point of view but to let us know we should stand back and not be too judgmental. And that makes us feel, well, as a reader wrote to Ask Amy, blackmailed.
The reader/mother's objections: Her daughter's fiance is a heavy pot user (so is the daughter), a felon for selling narcotics, an unemployed college dropout who has psychiatric and physical health problems. In the mother's telling, the daughter is beautiful and has lived a privileged, upper-middle-class life. The parents are paying their daughter's living expenses and tuition as she attends graduate school. The other children--the daughter's siblings--have told the mom to support their sister's choice of a partner; moreover, if she doesn't she (the mom) could lose contact with all of them. The dad is retiring soon and feels they should support the relationship but let the daughter know she's on her own financially.
"If I cut off my daughter financially, she’ll hate me," the mom writes. "If I don't support her relationship with her boyfriend, they'll all hate me."
Amy's advice finds a middle way by leaning on a distinction between “support” and “accept.” That is, the mom should accept her daughter's choice in a partner "because she is an adult and she has the right to make terrible choices."
What does accept mean? Amy expands on that notion:
Invite them over for dinner, include them in family events, and yes — you may be forced to face and tolerate your disappointment in your pot-using daughter and her choice in partner, but until she is forced to face her own choices and disappointments, she will never be inspired to perhaps choose differently.
The support part is also a compromise. If the parents don't want to continue to pay rent and other living expenses for their daughter and her fiance, they could limit financial support to the cost of the daughter's education. Here's Amy with an additional twist:
If she continues with her graduate program and you can afford it, you might choose to pay only her school bills (directly to the school).
We love our children. We want the best for them and count ourselves fortunate when we can afford to help them achieve their goals. But sometimes, we have to pull back. The trick is to do so without permanently damaging our relationship and by making sure our children always feel the love of family. We also need to cover ourselves in case we failed to see the positive side of their choice.
painting: Harlequin by Picasso