If you’re a parent, your son or daughter will probably fall in love with someone sooner or later - but what if you completely disapprove of their choice?
This is very tricky territory, as we know from the story of Romeo and Juliet, and is something we hear about a lot at Relate. So although you may feel very alone, try to take some reassurance in the fact that you aren’t.
So what can you do?
First of all, try to be clear about your reservations and why you have them. What is it about this person you don’t like? Do you have evidence to back up your opinion or is it just a feeling? Could it be that you are being prejudiced because they went to the wrong sort of school or because they have numerous piercings? Or is it because you don’t think they offer your child enough emotional support?
You might well feel no one is good enough for your daughter or son and that’s entirely understandable. But this is one of those moments in parenting where you have to start letting go. If you raised your child to be independent you have to accept this is what they want.
But it can be painful. Realising that you’re no longer the first person they turn to when they’re upset or need a shoulder to cry on can be hard after being that person for so long. Someone else has come along and is now taking their affection - and it seems taking that affection away from you. It can feel a bit dismissive.
You may feel guilty about your disapproval, but try not to get too hung up on this. One study by British and Dutch scientists suggests that disapproval of children’s partners may come down to evolution. It seems that parents may be pre-programmed to make sure their children end up with love, and support. After all, it’s only natural to want what you think is best for your child. The problem is that sometimes what we think is in their best interests really isn’t.
If you have a really strong reservation about the person and feel it’s important to express it, then it can help to tell your son or daughter - but think first about how they might take it. Choose a calm moment to say it rather than in the middle of an argument. Raise it as a concern rather than a criticism and don’t then bring it up every time you see them.
There’s also no need to make your disapproval obvious to your child’s partner. This person may become your son or daughter in law, or a long term partner. Accept them as your child’s choice. Also be aware that openly expressing or demonstrating disapproval could shore up their relationship and have the opposite effect from the one you want - they may stay together just to spite you! Whereas if you keep your distance and don't say how you feel it might just fizzle out of its own accord.
It is important to remember that if you are concerned about your child's safety then you do need to intervene.
But if you just can’t see the appeal, try to see the person they’ve fallen in love with through your child’s eyes. What is it about this person that they find so compelling and attractive?
Perhaps they’re shy or not showing themselves in the best light with you? It can be very daunting from their point of view to meet you.
Try your hardest to find something you like about your child’s partner and develop a relationship with them if you can. If you allow yourself to get to know this person a bit by listening to them and taking an interest in them, you may feel differently towards them.
Also remember that you risk pushing your child away if you are constantly hostile.
Maybe you’re worried your daughter or son is going to get their heart broken? Perhaps you married too young and went through a tough divorce and you want to save them from this. While this is perfectly understandable you can’t stop your son or daughter from having their heart broken. They have to make their own decisions and learn by their mistakes, not yours.
All you can do in this situation is be there for them and be supportive. If it does break up and they’re devastated never say "I told you so" or "I never liked them anyway". They just want to be heard and feel cared for. Also there’s always a chance they may get back together with them, but knowing that you disapprove.
If your child has fallen in love this is something for you as a parent to celebrate and feel very proud about because it means you’ve raised your child to grow away from you, separate and forge their own identity. And that is the most important job a parent has.
Arabella Russell is a Relate counsellor. Relate Relate provides impartial and non-judgmental support for people of all ages, at all stages of couple, family and social relationships. For more information visit www.relate.org.uk.
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