Some of us, ahem, are at the stage in our lives when we're now closer in age to being grandparents than young parents. I'm excited for the next chapter, but one thing has to happen first: my boys need to meet their future mates. Funny to think there are young women wandering the Earth right now who will be their partners and the mothers of my grandchildren.
Most of us have ideas and ideals when it comes to who we'd like our kids to partner with. It's really not PC to say we'd like that person to be, you know, kinda like us. Same religion, same values, same hometown, same eye color, same college... whatever. Name it. We have that wish list tucked away somewhere.
Recently, I read that we take pride in making different choices than our own parents but we want our kids to make similar choices to ours. Well said. Brilliantly said, in fact. Because, won't our kids feel the same? Just saying.
Beyond the disappointment that your child's choice of mate may not be all you desired -- tall, blonde, dark-skinned, light-skinned, petite, Jewish, American, wealthy, deaf, hearing, Baptist, college-educated, bilingual, white collar, blue collar, vegan, this side of the tracks, member of that country club -- what happens when you really, truly believe in your heart of hearts this person is not good for your child? What do you do?
You need to be sure -- beyond sure -- that your child is getting himself into some serious hot water if he moves ahead with this relationship. Because then, and only then, can you think about broaching this most sensitive of subjects.
It helps if you're starting with a good, healthy relationship with your son or daughter. One that has a history of warmth and trust. Then, hopefully, your child will know you're coming from a place of concern and love. Of course, if there are obvious safety issues in their relationship, you'd be remiss and irresponsible if you didn't speak up. Even then, there's no guarantee your child will respond with your level of alarm.
If it's imperative you make your feelings known to your child, ask yourself these questions first:
1. Am I expressing my own disappointment with this union or am I truly concerned for my child's well-being?
2. Can I present explicit examples as to why this partnership may prove problematic, or are my reasons vague?
3. Are there examples I'm willing to present from my own experience that will illustrate that I'm not being rashly judgmental?
4. Can I formulate an "escape route" from this conversation if it goes horribly sideways?
5. What positive things can I say about the partner/union to mitigate other concerns which may seem harsh or critical?
6. Am I willing to accept any outcome from this conversation, including alienation from my child and his/her partner?
Let's take an example like financial concerns. You think your son's fiancée is a spendthrift. She has a long history of overspending and getting herself into debt.
You might approach your son with something like this:
"You know, John, I really like Dana. I see how special she is to you. Although it's hard, I hope we can have an honest conversation here. It's just that Dana's spending history is concerning. My father's spending issues had huge repercussions for our family. We lost our home because of it. Have you thought about how the two of you will manage your finances going forward? Dana is already in debt. It's tough for a young couple to start out like that and I'm worried. Is this something you've discussed with Dana?"
But John might not think so. John might think you're meddling. That Dana is nothing like your father. Why would you even suggest something like that? Of course, you may have just tapped into John's deepest fears about Dana. And he may be uncomfortable with those fears being exposed in broad daylight.
In that case, you need an escape route. Because you don't want to lose John over this issue, right? So you'll want to reiterate Dana's positive attributes or offer to help them work on this issue if they decide they need to. And then you let it go and hope John does, too.
We can't control with whom our children choose to partner. But we're their parents and we want the best for them. We've lived long enough to recognize relationship red flags. But we've also lived long enough to know that we don't always get what we think we want. And we know, sometimes, that can be the best thing, too.