Daddy's little angel brings home a new boyfriend, this one covered in tattoos and riding a motorcycle. Daddy and mommy are horrified. Sound familiar? Sure. But there's actually a reason why parents react the way they do to their kids' choice of mates -- and it has little to do with the idea of not wanting their little sweetheart to grow up.
A new study has uncovered an evolutionary explanation for why some parents try to control who their children pair up with.
The study, involving a University of Bristol researcher and published this week in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior, shows that negative reactions to mate choice may be rooted in an evolutionary conflict over resources.
Dr. Tim Fawcett and a team of scientists examined how parents and children view mate preference and the conflicts that often creep up when those views don't align.
The team built a computer model to simulate the evolution of parental behavior when their daughter is searching for a partner. The model shows that, typically, parents should prefer a son-in-law who is more caring and supportive than their daughter would otherwise choose.
The model predicts that, when parents distribute resources equally among their children, their mate preferences should coincide exactly. But when parents contribute more to children whose partners invest less, a conflict occurs.
After all, each family has only one financial pie and they want to give equal pieces to each offspring. But if one child is married to a deadbeat partner, then parents often need to come to the rescue. And that causes anger.
"Parents are equally related to all of their children, whereas children value themselves more than their siblings -- so each child wants to get more than their fair share of parental resources," Fawcett said in a press release. This means that the children are willing to settle for a mate who is less caring than their parents would ideally like.
The scientists say their investigation is far from over.
"Surveys show that children tend to place more importance on physical attractiveness, smell and sense of humor, whereas parents care more about social class and family background," said Piet van den Berg, lead author on the study, in a press release. "We don't yet understand the reason for this difference, but it probably has something to do with our evolutionary history."
There are some ways parents can help their adult children find love that will be appreciated. Check them out here.
Have you ever clashed with your kid over a mate choice? Let us know in comments.
Earlier on HuffPost50:
Are You A Couple?
Nothing wrong with being cautious and slow. Before you tell your adult children that you are dating again (or make a big deal about someone specific), make sure that the two of you are a couple. Ask yourself whether you feel serious about this person. You don't want to get your adult children involved, attached, or concerned when it's not necessary.
This Person Makes Me Happy
If you want to win over your adult children, just tell them that this new partner makes you happy. How can your children have a problem with that? Remember that your kids want to make sure it's someone who cares about you and is trustworthy, because children of all ages don't want their parents to get hurt. Also, many adult children are concerned that a new partner will "financially" and "emotionally" take advantage of their parent. Keep these two concerns in mind when you talk to your adult children. <em>Flickr photo via: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kunnikun/6066495374/" target="_hplink">Kunni Kun</a>.</em>
Give Your New Partner The "Scoop" On Everyone
The more information your new partner has before they meet your adult children, the better. Don't fear telling your partner too much. The more information they have about your adult children the easier it will be for them to ask questions, seem interested, and join the conversation. <em>Flickr photo via: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/primejunta/177183202/" target="_hplink">Petteri Sulonen</a>.</em>
Act Like A Couple When You Do Meet
It is important that your adult children observe the two of you sharing responsibilities and enjoying each other's company. A great idea: getting together for a meal - have the partner and adult children meet over dinner or lunch! At the dinner, if you cook the turkey, have your partner make the mashed potatoes. If he doesn't cook, have him set the table. Work together as a team. <em>Flickr photo by: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/hurtubia/6111823941/" target="_hplink">rhurtubia</a>.</em>
Talk To Adult Children With An Open Mind
No matter their age, explain why you're dating again, that no one will ever replace their other parent, and now that they are older - you too need companionship. Don't dismiss their concerns - instead, if you validate their concerns, they won't get defensive. If you say instead: "I understand that you are worried about me and you're not sure this is right for me. I hear you. I promise you, I will come and let you know if anything doesn't feel right to me about this person. I won't hesitate to let you know. But, right now - he makes me happy. I enjoy his company and I am being cautious, slow and safe."