Relating to adult children — 15 May 2011
Embrace your adult child’s new spouse into the family

Parents spend years nurturing, caring, guiding and supporting their youngsters toward autonomy and self-sufficiency. How parents react when their vision of the “ideal” mate for their adult child does not match their perception of the chosen spouse can determine their future relationship with the child and the whole family for years to come.

Raising a child to maturity is a long arduous process fraught with many challenges. Parents mark the accomplishment of their child rearing when their youngster can exhibit the ability to fend for him/herself and is launched toward autonomous living.

Children, on the other hand, start their lives fully dependent and make gradual strides toward modified neediness. Through adolescence they rebel to attain separation from their parents, while still expecting the stable nurturing they got accustomed to at home. While embarking on their lives and attaining greater independence they still expect the unwavering support of their elders.

In Western culture today, mate selection is most commonly done by the young adult and not by his/her family. And in this choice he/she has to forego some of the protective hand holding by the parents.

Henry V. Hicks in “Marital Tensions: Clinical Studies Towards a Psychological Theory of Interaction,” states, “Lasting commitment in marriage requires an unprecedented overcoming of emotional dependence on the family of origin.”

Not only do young couples need to accept this trade, but also their parents must endorse it. Parents must realize that their youngster’s independence and self-sufficiency requires making major life decisions that the child has not had prior experience in making. As natural as it is for parents to try to prevent their offspring from making a presumed error, they may guide – but not decide about their adult child’s mate selection.

The time for parental advice and guidance is while their children are dating and open to feedback. Once the choice has been made, parents need to shift from resistance toward acceptance of the future spouse and trust that it is part of their loving role to do so.

In families where the senior generation continues to “know” that this marriage will not last, most often what does not last is their harmonious connection to their child, family and grandchildren.

If you do not wholeheartedly approve of your adult child’s spouse:

• Value yourself for having raised an adult who can make his/her decisions independently and without your input.
• Accept that mate choice comes from deep-seeded needs within your child that may serve him/her well even if you cannot foresee it.
• Withhold your objections to the chosen mate. It will only alienate you from your child, future spouse and family.
• Be clear that your child’s mate selection is not part of your parenting role.
• Abstain from reminding your child of your warnings if the relationship fails. He/she needs your full empathy and support.
• Welcome the new spouse. It will warm all hearts and may transform your earlier fears to ongoing pleasures.

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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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