Relating to adult children — 09 December 2014
How to Embrace Your New Child-in-Law

Parents usually wish for their adult children to pair with a mate worthy of them. They also hope that the future son or daughter-in-law would not only be a loving match for their adult child but also be someone who would easily blend into the family.  How can parents overcome their personal preferences and concerns and embrace the new child-in-law with grace and dignity?

The psychological intricacies of welcoming a child’s spouse into the family are complex. It is not only about including a formerly unknown individual into the fold, but also evokes concerns about welcoming an individual who will yield great influence on your adult child and be entrusted with a primary role in the upbringing the next generation of the “clan”. These major responsibilities prompt parents to closely scrutinize their adult child’s future spouse.

The future parents-in-law consciously hope that the new spouse will be a loving mate, parent and have respect for them as well. These hopes are often tinged with some fear, mistrust, resistance and even unwarranted dislike of their adult child’s future spouse.

The techniques employed in resisting the new spouse-in-law may be manifested in disapproving of his/her faith, family of origin, occupation, lifestyle, appearance, intellect, social standing, age or personality even prior to getting to know him or her well. Other parents claim that their son’s or daughter’s mate choice is unwise since they view the intended as not worthy enough or the best match for their adult child.

Interestingly enough, mate selection has been theorized, studied and shown to be multifaceted and primarily based on intuitive factors rather than on practical ones which are predominantly used in parental assessments. In the “Evolution of Human Mate Choice” David C. Geary stated, “The basic principles in mate selection of both women and men have evolved to focus on the reproductive potential and reproductive investment of members of the opposite sex.”

While parents and family members may consider appearance as a major gene-based advantage in mate choice, researcher David Buss of the University of Texas found that “Men rated intelligence, kindness, and understanding of a prospective mate as important attributes even more important than her physical attractiveness.”

Dr. Helen Fisher who has been titled The Love Researcher wrote, “We are built to instantly size up a potential partner, an intuitive skill that likely developed millions of years ago as our forebears struggled to rapidly sort friends from enemies. Indeed, it takes less than one second to decide whether you find someone physically attractive.

Psychologists say that the more you interact with a person you like (even slightly), the more you come to regard him as good-looking, smart, and similar to you—unless you discover something that breaks the spell.”

Parents of adult children:

  • Accept that attraction is innately programmed and mate selection is the individual choice of your adult child.
  • Trust that your concerns are likely to be dispelled by embracing your future child-in-law with love and appreciation.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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