We were young once; we know how young love works. We also know intuitively, that if we interfere in something as private as a romantic relationship, we risk the possibility of alienating our child — pushing him or her more toward the person we don’t like in the first place!
So what is a parent to do? Consider the following tips:
Ask Yourself: Is this One Worth a Fight?
There are many reasons why a parent would not approve of a child’s romantic partner. The reasons can range from serious, to more superficial. Differences in values usually tops the “serious” list. For instance, maybe your child’s partner has a different belief system or seems irresponsible or untrustworthy. Sometimes you can’t point out a specific problem and you can’t explain your reaction rationally – it’s simply gut instinct. You have a sense from having seen the young man or woman that the partner is right for your child! You want the relationship to end.
Keep in mind that your gut instinct is a source of important information but it is not infallible. It is possible that the partner’s positive qualities have not yet been fully revealed. Maybe you need more time before passing judgment. Or, maybe the person you are judging is so young that maturity alone will help bring things around. Before you nix the relationship, slow down and try to think it through. What are the chances that your child is going to end up marrying this person? If your child is fifteen years-old, you probably have time for him or her to learn (the hard way) that not all partners are suitable. On the other hand, if your child is having his or her first serious relationship at age twenty-eight, you may have truly valid concerns. However, the older the child the more risks you may be taking with your own parent-child relationship. Even if you choose to share your thoughts and feelings, you will have to be very careful to leave conclusions up to the child. Coming down hard with dire warnings is likely to backfire and leave you out of the loop altogether.
The more positive your parent-child relationship is, the easier it will be to speak honestly about your concerns. The more negative you tend to be – the more critical, anxious or disapproving you are – the less likely it is the your child will trust your judgment about his or her partner. Therefore, try to maintain your parental power of influence by being careful to reduce criticism and complaints in general. Save negativity for the really big things. Your child will then give your words more weight.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Relationship education can often help a child make better choices in partners. Hopefully you are modelling a healthy romantic relationship for your kids (that is, between you and your spouse!). If you and your spouse fight a lot, your child may find an abusive partner to be “normal.” Or, if you or your spouse use abusive parenting strategies like yelling, swearing, insulting and criticizing, then your child may find such communication to be normal in a romantic partner. Therefore, do your best to demonstrate what healthy relationships look and feel like. In addition, talk to your teenagers about relationships and marriage – what should people look for in a partner, what should they be careful to avoid? There are some excellent relationship books out there – bring them home and discuss them at the dinner table or just leave them lying around the house for your kids to pick up and study on their own.
Talk to Your Child
If you do feel that you need to warn your child, then go ahead and do so. If you feel that the other person is a threat to your child’s physical and/or emotional well-being, then it’s indeed a matter worthy of an intervention. Possible reasons can include drug addiction, aggression, a history of questionable behavior, or even extreme age gaps. If this is the case, then talk to your child about your concerns — but don’t give a direct order to break up with the partner. If you deem your child as old enough to date, then you consider him or her as mature enough to make important decisions. Present your arguments in a respectful, calm and rational manner, and let your child be the one to make the conclusions. It’s fine to share your personal thoughts and feelings but don’t issue ultimatums: “It’s up to you what you do, but if I were the one with the decision, I would move on.” Ordering your child to break up can simply lead to “Romeo and Juliet style” rebellion. The kids may continue to meet behind your back or even run away together. Avoid extreme reactions by acknowledging that the decision is truly up to your child. Be prepared that your child may not agree with your assessment. Part of parenting is being respectful of individual boundaries.