My daughter has been going out with the same man for six years. I feel he’s sponging off her, as he hardly contributes to the expenses of her flat and does very little work. But because he’s amusing and good looking he gets away with it. She’s hoping he’ll ask her to marry him and she wants children, but he keeps saying he’s not ready. (He’s 30 and she’s 34.) I fear he’s one of nature’s ‘boys’ and it’s only a matter of time until he finds someone to mother him, at which point he’ll leave her high and dry. Should I interfere?
Yours sincerely, Martha
What do you want to achieve by such “interfering”, as you say? Do you honestly think that anything you do or say will make her reconsider this bloke or change her mind about how she feels about him?
Your daughter’s an adult so you can’t legally force her out of this man’s clutches. But do you really imagine that if you told her how you felt, your daughter would say: “Ah, thanks for revealing those wise thoughts to me, Mum. I shall now drop this sponge like a stone.” (If that’s not too much of a mixed metaphor!) Or do you feel that by saying something now, at least when your daughter had been bled dry by this chap and left just at the age she’s too old to have a baby, you will enjoy saying: “I told you so”?
You’re labouring under the delusion that anything you say will have any effect – except, of course, to make your daughter feel extremely uncomfortable. Indeed, it could possibly end up making you feel the same if this ne’er-do-well actually – and you never know – gets her pregnant and turns out to be a loving and responsible father and partner.
Can you cast your mind back to when you were your daughter’s age? I bet you hung out with some unsuitable blokes. Would your mother tut-tutting on the sidelines have made a blind bit of difference? No.
I think the only thing that you could say is something so vague as to be totally ineffective – along the lines of “I know he’s charming and fun, but I do hope he won’t hurt you in the end. I do wish he’d get some work”. And I bet she knows that already.
Sometimes people want to interfere, as you say, because they feel so strongly they can’t bear their feelings bubbling up inside them without letting them out. Well, let them out by all means – to your friends, relations and even strangers on a bus. But letting them out to your daughter, using phrases like him being one of “nature’s boys” or “sponging” off her won’t help her. They’ll just make her feel that you’re not on her side. Speaking your mind will only make you feel better temporarily, and make your daughter feel worse. Is this what you want?
Your daughter’s no fool. I imagine every night she tosses and turns and wonders if her boyfriend will ever get his act together. She knows your fears because they’re her fears, too. Let her work it out for herself and reassure her that, whatever her decision, you’ll be on her side. She’s old enough to live her life and make her own mistakes. And as the mother of an adult, you just have to sit on your hands and watch her life unfold, painful as it can often be.
Join the 21st century
Should you interfere? No. Have you ever heard tell of a wavering man convinced to settle down thanks to the shrill pleas of an interfering mother-in-law? I thought not.
I wonder if you, or any of your female contemporaries, ever found yourselves in such a distasteful situation as to be earning less than your partner, or contributing less to household expenses? Should your own mother-in-law have suggested you were sent to the workhouse? It’s the 21st century: gender roles are mixed-up. It’s simply not on to judge a man for not “manning-up”.
And if you really think your daughter isn’t smart enough to work things out for herself, or grown-up enough to make her own mistakes, you’re the one with the problems.
Don’t drive a wedge
Martha, consider this. Does this man make your daughter happy? Is he supportive of her work and her dreams? Are they having fun? True, fun and moral support don’t pay the water bills, but they are incredibly important to any relationship. Have you asked your daughter if, anticipated wedding band aside, she is content?
It may be incredibly frustrating for you to see your daughter spending her thirties with a “boy”, but other people’s relationships are one of the great mysteries of life and she may feel that, despite his flakiness, there’s no one she’d rather be spending her time with. Oh, and a note of caution: if she does really love this chap, criticism from you, however carefully couched, could drive a wedge in your relationship with her. Don’t become her enemy for the sake of venting.
Sow seeds of doubt
It is now unfashionable for parents to “interfere” in their offspring’s choices. But why not? If your daughter were about to set off in an uninsured car, you would certainly say something, whatever the reaction. The key is in the presentation. If you sound like you’re judging this oaf, your daughter may well dig her heels in. But if you are simply sharing a worry about how hard it is for families to cope these days – even with both parents driving themselves – you may be able to sow seeds of doubt. At least you will have unburdened yourself somewhat. And if the boyfriend does end up making your daughter miserable, you will have the grim satisfaction of thinking, “I knew I was right”. Probably best keep that one to yourself, though.
Next week's dilemma
For many years now I’ve been living something of a double life. I am very happily married but when I go to visit my other offices in Bristol, I see a young man there who I have grown very fond of. He is happy with the situation – I only see him once a fortnight or so. However, recently, I was walking down the street with this man – who’s very obviously gay – and my daughter saw us. She was in Bristol on a course - I had no idea she’d be there. I am sure she knew what was going on – she looked stunned – but I am at a loss to know what to do now.
What would you advise Alan to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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