So your darling daughter loves the town thug or your sweet son loves a foul-mouthed little gold digger. What to do? Shakespeare knew what not to do. The man was a wise one.
So were my parents. My first love was Lee. He was a high school drop out. After we had been dating for a year, he was arrested for being part of a ring of kids recruited to steal tires. What did my parents do? Held their breaths or at least never let on. Well, they did ask us to delay getting married until I had done two years of college. He joined the Army. I went to college. The love died.
Now my parents had eloped. And I would have, had they tried to force me to leave this first love. I’m grateful, they were so wise. It would not have been a good marriage. Nothing would have convinced me of that at the time though. I am also grateful that I had such a first love.
So the sad truth is that as Shakespeare knew, trying to separate your child from his or her chosen love doesn’t work. When one set of young hormones finds a matching set, trying to separate the pair is like trying to open eyes that have been sealed with super glue.
One of our foster children was a fifteen year old boy whose love was a twenty-four year old woman. The court tried to separate them. He was sent to detention, ended up with us. He did his time, stayed away from her as demanded, but only because she would have been arrested had they tried to get together after his parents went to court. We saw him briefly when he was eighteen. She drove him by for a visit. They were married and for all I know still are. The relationship that was destroyed was the one with the boy’s parents.
WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO? Hold their breath, bite their tongues, pray to the universe or the God of their choice, hold their beloved child to reasonable house rules and wait. It is also useful to include the other in familiy events and treat him or her as if they had your 100% approval. You have to do this in the spirit of hoping for the best. No one can predict the future and love can change the loved one’s behavior and often for the best.
Now you may feel entitled to state your concerns. Don’t. Love protects love.
I feel free to criticize all I love, but bristle like an angry porcupine if another dares say a bad word about any one I love. Moreover, my ire intensifies when I know there is some truth in the criticism. I don’t even like it if someone agrees too strongly with me when I voice a complaint about someone I love.
I will repeat myself, “Love protects love.” Moreover, young love protects ferociously. Every time you criticize you force your child to defend.
And yes this is hard to do. Some of what helps are the non-verbal gestures I suggest in the Gottcha Wars chapter of my book (free on Amazon from May 29-31). A lot of uh-huhs, some raised eyebrows, a bit of an eye roll and an occasional shoulder shrug.
One can also recall one’s own experience with young love. You acknowledge the strength of the feelings. Now that works best if you didn’t marry your young love and s/he ended up divorcing three times and abandoning children; and, of course, your love-smitten child had to hear all that long before their hearts attached to their current love object.
The one place parents can and should do more involves the issue of violence. If your child’s love is known to inflict bruises on others, has set fires, tortured animals, been arrested for assault, then you must acknowledge your fears. Must, must, must, but your best chance of being heard is to defend the loved one, but say you do worry about your child’s safety.
Here are two sugggested scripts:
“I heard some disturbing stuff about your love. I didn’t believe it and said so, but it has me worried, stay safe. Someone can love you deeply and still hurt you if overcome with anger or jealousy. I just don’t what you hurt.”
“Someone brought up your current love’s past behavior. I said ‘That was then, this is now.’ Still I worry, love can go astray, so stay safe.”
One final thought, there are some who will suggest a tougher approach. Moreover sometimes that works, but usually only when your child already has reservations and love is fading. That said, if there is a danger issue, get tougher, but if it seems to be driving the two closer together, retreat. Say something like:
“I see how much you care, I will stop trying to interfere, but remember it is your safety I am worried about. Always know I am here to help you.”
Following my suggestions will require lots and lots of emotional fitness on your part, which is why I wrote my second book Parents Are People Too. It is subtitled, an Emotional Fitness Program for Parents. Good luck and stay strong.