We have a daughter who is getting serious with a man who doesn’t share the same beliefs she was raised with. She tells me that she’s started to question some of the ways she was raised and what she believes about God and our church. Naturally, she has found a fellow who agrees with her, and the relationship is becoming serious. We haven’t met him yet, but I need advice about how to navigate this tricky situation.
I want to be loving and supportive of her, but I don’t want to endorse a marriage that I don’t think will be good for her. I want to be welcoming of this young man, to see his future potential and to express confidence in her choices, but it feels phony to be excited about this relationship. I do know that if I express disapproval it will only drive her away.
What I can do to preserve my relationship with her and still be honest? I’d love some suggested wording! She knows better and she really shouldn’t settle. But of course, she doesn’t think she’s settling. She thinks he’s “awesome.” And I know I can’t change her, only myself. She feels she’s thinking more clearly than ever but doesn’t live the same life she was taught in our home.
Even though we know our children have to chart their own courses, none of us can escape the fretting that sometimes arises when their choices don’t align with what we’ve hoped for them since they were little.
Your question appears to be less about influencing your daughter’s choices and more about how to maintain an authentically supportive connection with her as you struggle with her unexpected direction. Let’s talk about how you can not only maintain your relationship with her but also use this as an opportunity to grow closer to her.
You seem to be clear about your own internal reactions to this development, which is an important step toward building more connection with your daughter. There’s no need to pretend you feel something other than what you’re currently experiencing. Even though she is ultimately responsible for her own choices, there still needs to be room for both you and your daughter to have your individual experiences. You’ve invested in her well-being since before she was born, so naturally, you’re going to have some reactions to her choices.
Of course, even though you’ll have your own opinions about her life, sharing them can’t come with an expectation of a certain outcome. The only goal here is to maintain a relationship with her, not establish contingencies. She needs to know that your connection to her is fixed regardless of who she chooses to date. She needs to know you can stand by her side as she takes her own steps into the unknown, regardless of the outcome.
I assume you have a close enough relationship with her that allows you to mutually share intimate thoughts and feelings. If this isn’t the case, I don’t recommend you go further and share your own reactions. If she doesn’t trust your motives, she’ll likely experience your self-disclosure as a self-serving attempt at manipulating a specific outcome. However, if you have a close and secure relationship, it’s important to share your feelings with her.
You can own your troubled energy with your daughter so she can understand what’s happening to you. You can make room for her journey and expect her to make room for your journey. Let her know that healthy relationships allow for two unique individuals to have separate experiences and still be connected to each other.
Ask her if you can share what’s happening for you as you watch her going forward with this relationship. You don’t need to lecture her about her choices but rather describe the worries and fears that have surfaced for you. She already knows what’s important to you and won’t be surprised that you have reservations.
Affirm your love for her and show her confidence that no matter the outcome, you know she can make choices and stand by them with integrity. Ask her to be patient with you while you’re adjusting and making room for her process. Give her a place to share and talk about her experiences while allowing her the freedom to choose without anxiously directing her course.
You can speak from your own experience and share how you’ve found joy and peace in your life. You can share your worries about her departing from this familiar direction, but be careful to not make this entire conversation about your fears and worries. You may not have confidence in the choices she’s making, but you can have full confidence that she can choose her course now and adjust it as needed. Your peace can’t depend on her choices.
It’s also tempting to allow her choices to be a reflection on your performance as a mother. You may worry that her departing from the direction you desire for her means that you’ve failed her in some way. If she’s making her own choices and standing by them, you’ve taught her to think and feel for herself. She has to learn from her own experiences what works best and then live with the outcomes. There is nothing comfortable or easy about this, especially when her choices make no sense to you.
She has a different journey from you. Even if she were to follow the exact path you prescribed for her, it still wouldn’t be your same journey. It’s impossible for you to know what’s best for her life, which may include potential detours, lessons and growth experiences that will teach her in ways that only she can understand. You don’t need to redirect her or own the outcome of her choices. She will move forward with your commitment to a connection with her while you both allow life and others to teach her.
Sometimes we erroneously believe that if we disapprove of a choice our child is making, we simultaneously need to withdraw our love in order to send them a stronger and more effective message. Your commitment to love her, talk with her, listen to her and provide presence will be a gift to her as she continues forward on her developmental path.
You can own your reactions and energy, as she’ll most certainly detect your emotional shifts as you share your lives with each other. You can also move forward knowing that you respect and honor her as a woman who can choose her path and stand by it.