Relating to adult children — 06 October 2004
How to be the best parents for the groom and bride

Some newly married couples are blessed with pleased and supportive parents who welcome the new spouse with open arms and enthusiasm. These pairs are privileged to have a family that is also delighted with their new relatives and all is blissful. Regrettably, this is not universally so. For many starting couples their marriage is a happy and joyous eventfor them, but not for all of their family members.

Hardship begins for the young couple when their marriage is not fully endorsed by both families. Even during their most sacred wedding day, tension is in the air, whispers are heard, discomfort is felt and tears may not be those of joy. The difficulties may begin early as families express their discontent through capricious decisions and hurt feelings about the wedding plans, expense sharing, or practical help for the new couple. All these manifestations of the less than enthusiastic support of the marriage by some in laws sour the couple’s early start.

The blending of two families is a challenging task even in the best of circumstances. It requires widening “our” circle to include “them”. Since the choice of the expanded family is not made by family consensus, but by the new couple, some family members are reluctant to embrace their new relatives.

The reasons may be one of many such as “We don’t like the marriage choice”. “Their family and ours are too different”. “We are not sure that this marriage will last”. “They rushed into it too quickly.” “Our son or daughter is too young/immature/impressionable/naïve/ to get married.” “We don’t like the new “in laws”. Whether the objection is based on the marital choice, process, intentions, style, faith or personalities, the negative stance interferes with a harmonious new beginning for the young pair.

It is also hard for some parents to feel that the chosen groom or bride is worthy enough to mate with their precious adult child. Parents may feel that if their “creation”(their adult child) is not matched by an equally deserving partner, it poorly reflects on them. Young people often express their parents’ attitude by saying: “whoever I bring around is not good enough for me”.

It is akin to an owner of a home who may be overvaluing his residence to reward his taste and wisdom of acquiring it. For parents, having raised such a fine young person is viewed as deserving appropriate public acknowledgement of their success.

What parents of marrying children need to be clear about is that all their concerns, fears, hesitations and disapproval must end once their children reach the altar. They may still harbor their fears -but must do it in silence. Once the choice has been made and sanctified, parents must become the success advocates for the new couple. It takes two supportive families to assist in the creation of a third.

Marriage is a difficult undertaking even for those who are deeply in love, enthusiastic and sure of their forever union. All couples need to feel the backing of their parents and siblings to start their life voyage together.

Parents need to avoid testing their children’s allegiance. When parents compete for evidence of which set of adults are preferred by the couple, the young married individuals become bewildered and unhappy.

Parents must honor the new unit of their children’s marriage by focusing not on what they receive from their children, but on the love they need to give in facilitating the couple’s connection to both families.

The newlyweds must also continue to have a respectful and inclusive attitude toward both families and thus honor each other. In cases where one side of the new extended family is not treated with equal warmth and love, the bride or groom of that family may also feel diminished. This may lead to a rift within the new couple and painful feelings for both.

It must also be said that the nature of the relationship between each adult child and his or her parents prior to the marriage is also a factor in the post- nuptial relationship. However, the advent of creating a new nuclear family may be just the right impetus for restructuring a new, better connection between the adult children and their parents.

Suggestions for parents of marriage bound adult children:

  • While your children date, help them assess their partners by providing
  • criteria for their consideration.
    Your good parenting pride may obstruct your objective judgement about your adult child’s marital choice.
  • If you disapprove of your adult child’s choice of a boyfriend or girlfriend, discuss it with him or her through a series of questions rather than through stating your opinions. (The negative ones will come to haunt you if this person becomes your son or daughter’s mate).
  • Once you are told that they decided to marry contain your fears and accept the reality. They chose each other, not the best “in laws” for
    you.
  • Develop a positive, hopeful, supportive stance toward the marriage andthe extended family, even if your enthusiasm was initially guarded.
  • Learning to appreciate your son or daughter’s spouse and family is your job as a loving parent of your child.
  • Avoid competing for attention with the in laws, it harms your son or daughter’s marriage.
  • Extend yourself to your new family members, you are likely to dispel some of your preexisting negative views.
  • A good relationship between in laws enriches the young couple’s marriage and creates an extended loving family.

 

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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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