44

The son is someone that every parent would love to have. He never gave the parents cause for concern in his childhood until today. He is going to marry someone who looks gorgeous but the parents are pretty sure she has a defective character (no further details on this). Of course, the parents could be wrong in their judgement of character and they pray they are wrong.

What would you do if you were in the parents' shoes?

  • 29
    Just pray that they are wrong. I doubt that they can talk him out of marrying someone he loves. (Assuming of course, that he does) – learner101 May 22 '17 at 9:42
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    Insist on prenuptual agreement that's ironclad and specifies typical worst case scenarios (cheating, initiating divorce, etc...) – user3143 May 22 '17 at 13:53
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    The parents should ask the son why he desires this woman besides her beauty. In other words, what makes her so special, so "must have" that he wants her forever. And, the reverse - why does he think she needs him? If he cannot answer the question, parents can suggest that marriage be delayed until he can. – user20514 May 22 '17 at 14:56
  • 28
    Anecdote time -- May or may not apply (not knowing why you find the possible inlaw lacking in character) -- I was an individual of Highly defective character (according to my mother in law). Ironically, according to her mother (my wife's grandmother), my father-in-law also had a highly defective character (I'm told this goes back a few generations). I would advise you (beyond the actual answers) to not make your estimation of the woman's character (very) public. If your son does marry her and winds up happy, it will just drive a wedge between you and your son. – Sidney May 22 '17 at 16:20
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    I will be celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary next month married to a woman whose parents thought I was of "defective character." A couple of other girlfriends' parents had similar opinions of me. So much for parental assessments. – Carey Gregory May 22 '17 at 18:14

10 Answers 10

81

If my daughter came home with a nice person or clearly the wrong guy:

  1. I'd ask her conversationally what she sees in him and I'd listen.
  2. I'd have him over to our home as often as possible -- dinner, a movie night, and invite him on some family outings. Our daughter loves to go to the botanical garden and the museum.
  3. I'd subtly reinforce that we are always on our daughter's side. She can always trust us to be there 24/7 for her.
  4. I'd discuss the issues of the day and most especially those things that matter to her. I'd make sure she knew where he stood on those issues.

So, I'd give any potential mate all the rope I could without judgement. We would shine a bright light on him. I'd allow him to show me how great he is or show her what sort of mistake he would be -- all while supporting her. I personally believe that rebellion* is a part of maturing and I do not want her to rebel to her own detriment.

*In our house there will be no tattoos or piercings until she is 18 and can pay for them. However currently, her hair is shaved on about a third of her head and is dyed green and purple. I really dislike it and I tell her so. It gives her something to rebel over without doing her/us any permanent harm.

  • 4
    Lovely answer! We all know we can't make the horse drink, but we surely can lead it to the water, or as you said, "shine a bright light on him". So that your child can clearly see what she's getting into. I was in a disastrous relationship once, where our stands on important issues were completely opposite to each other and irreconcilable. It ended very badly because those topics/situations came up too late. Also because he was a douche, but mainly this ;-) – learner101 May 22 '17 at 12:45
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    @T.E.D. The 18 thing is because she'll be a legal adult. I actually liked her navy hair and even the pink -- but the shaving is ugly (IMO)... but hair is a great thing to rebel over, nyet? :wink: – WRX May 22 '17 at 14:16
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    @T.E.D. Ah but that research just shows that the brain continues to develop from 18 until 25 and especially the part about planning ahead and making good choices - who knows, maybe you actually need the stimulus of making your own choices in order to develop these brain areas properly, so setting adulthood to 25 might actually be counterproductive. – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica May 22 '17 at 16:03
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    Re the tatoo thing: My brother really wanted a tattoo when he was 16 and she said that if he still wanted it when he was 25, he could go ahead. He's 26 now, with no tattoos. – user19750 May 22 '17 at 16:49
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    I've heard a story about Barack Obama keeping his daughters in line w.r.t. to tattoos: "any tattoo you get, I'll get as well, and I'll put mine on Facebook". Probably untrue, but still a good story ;) – MSalters May 23 '17 at 0:40
28

Pre-marital counseling for ANYONE entering into a marriage or long-term cohabitation seems like a really good idea. Even in healthy relationships, that counseling is designed to prompt conversation about expectations for household duties, budgets, sex, alone-time, together-time, desire for kids, religion, and many other aspects of marriage.

Pre-marital counseling is meant to find and address conflicts before the couple ties the knot. It is meant to equip the couple with skills and forethought to expect some problems but be able to work through them.

Even in very healthy, long-term relationships, it's still valuable. Encourage your boy and your future daughter-in-law to do this.

  • 5
    And by them doing it with a neutral third party it's no longer the parent that is the one focusing on the problematic aspects of the relationship. – curiousdannii May 23 '17 at 13:01
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    My only problem with this is actually convincing them that this is a good thing. People see counseling as a "problem fixer". They may not see this as a need and could object to it quite strongly whilst thinking that the parent believes their relationship is problematic. That being said, if they do agree to it then it would work wonders. – Bugs May 23 '17 at 15:07
  • @Bugs I agree. I'm open to suggestions and edits for how to help OP convey that to the couple. – Freiheit May 25 '17 at 19:00
  • @Freiheit I don't think an edit is required. It's a popular answer and still getting votes. It's a good concept and if they can do it, would be worth while. – Bugs May 25 '17 at 19:12
25

What would you do if you were in the parents' shoes?

As a parent myself with a young child I can't actually provide any solid thoughts on what I would in this exact situation do but based on my experience I already know there probably isn't a lot I can do.

What I would do, is my very best to advise my son and ensure they are fully supported. I would be there every step of the way and should it fail I will be there to pick up the pieces. I can't force their way and I wouldn't want to but I can certainly be there to lend a helping hand when they need it most. This as parents is all we can ask for. They are after all their own person.


As a man who was in a disastrous relationship when I was very young and naive I know that whatever the parents do say, there is a good chance their son won't listen. I never did, even when I knew they were right. This went on for fours years before finally the relationship ended.

I've actually discussed this recently with my Mother and she took the approach to let me get on with it. She knew that the relationship was doomed but she also knew that there was nothing she could say or do that would make me realise that. She just had to leave me to get on with it and make the mistake.

  • 9
    This is the one I upvoted. Having seen this happen with multiple families. I had an Aunt whose dying wish for her daughter, recorded in video, was that she not make her mistakes; finish college, and don't marry a guy who didn't love her. 6 years later the daughter dropped out of college to marry a guy she's now divorced from. No matter how hard you want it otherwise, sometimes kids just have to make their own mistakes. – T.E.D. May 22 '17 at 13:27
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    Yes—advise them, persuade if you can, don't just stay silent, but also support them and respect their decisions. +1. – Wildcard May 24 '17 at 2:34
13

My experience is the child's reaction is based on their personality.

My younger brother always did what my parents suggested. If they disliked his friends or girlfriend, he would listen and obey. He is now successful and has a stable marriage.

Every time my parents told me my friends/dates weren't good it just made me rebel more and make (in hindsight) worse life decisions. I am not successful and am divorced.

The same family, same parents, same advice, but opposite results. I am just a strong-willed person. There is really nothing anyone could do/say to change my mind on anything. The only silver-lining is even now my parents still love me and respect me. We still argue about 'life' but we have a good relationship otherwise.

My personal conclusion is parents should give their opinions and then accept their child might NOT follow the advice. After the kid fails, never point it out. They know they failed. Just love them and accept it. Maybe I got lucky to have such good parents. The point I'm making is they were the best parents and I still made stupid choices. Independent personality type children can't be controlled and will make mistakes, but at least those children tend to be strong enough to accept the consequences afterwards. Sometimes, the mistakes can actually push the child to succeed in some other area of life. For example, once I gave up on my failed marriage, I went back to school.

10

You must know how far you're are going to push your concerns and what outcome you are willing to accept.

Let my tell you my own story from the perspective of the child.

I met a woman who was the manager of a hotel I was staying at long term. This was a higher end hotel and they would host a manager's reception at least once a week where dinner and drinks would be provided. Now, as I was staying there for month, I used this opportunity to cut my grocery bill down and get a few free beers. In course the manager would be there and we would chat, this grew over the course of my time there as we would see each other at least twice a day in passing and eventually a friendship formed. As time went on I realized that there might be more to this a friendship and tried slyly to get her out on a date, which to no avail as hotel staff are not allowed to date guests. After about 6 months it was time for me to check out and return home. I had resigned myself that I would never see this woman again as I we would separated by a good distance and I would have no further business in the area. Upon leaving I gave her my number as a last effort. I was happily shocked a week later when she called me and asked if she could still take me up on all those dates I had asked her on before. And so our courtship began.

To try and keep this story a bit shorter I will fast forward two years of wonderful experiences. She had met my family early on and we all had a great relationship. My parents, siblings, and extended family all seemed to love her and accept her as part of the family. I was quite enamored myself and decided that she was the one and it was to pop the question. And of course she said yes.

Fast forward a few months later, after my parents hosted an extravagant engagement party, save-the-dates had been, and wedding planning was well under way. This is when I am practically blind sided by the fact that my parents and siblings were concerned with the choice I was making, (like yourself has reservations about her character, that I was confusing lust for love, etc.). They had an "intervention" one weekend, where I come to find out that they went as far as hiring a private investigator to dig into my fiance's background! I was mortified, and once I told my fiance she was even more devastated, we broke off our engagement.

After a few months, I reconciled with my fiance as we be both realized we loved each other and the concerns of the outsiders were unwarranted. So, we kept the wedding and still invited my family to try to maintain our relationship with them. It did not go well.

My family made the wedding day absolutely awkward as they still felt I was making the wrong decision. It was so awful that after the wedding I ceased all contact with them!

A bit of context, my wife is 10 years my senior and when we married I was 24 and she was 34. She was previously married, and was a foreigner (but living here in the US as permanent resident.). However, I still have no idea as to why my family thought I was making a bad decision; sure they gave reasons and thought she was a gold digger and misleading me.

Still after six years of blissful marriage and two beautiful children my wife's and my own relationship with my parents is not the same as it once was. We only reconciled after the birth of my first child (and their first grandchild), and it look a lot to even get on speaking terms. There is always a tinge of awkwardness that lingers at all family functions.

TL;DR My family had similar misgivings about my potential wife, they pushed too far and nearly never heard from me again.

You must be willing to accept a similar outcome even if your relationship with your son has been stellar up to this point. You may not go as far as my parents did, but you are still calling into question a huge decision of your son. Look at it from his perspective, you are questioning what is right now one of the "great truth's" in his life, "He loves this woman, he knows it, and you are not going to tell him any different".

  • 1
    I'm a bit confused, is it your marital relationship that was reconciled after the birth of your first child? Or was it your and/or your wife's relationship with your family? – stannius May 22 '17 at 19:41
  • 4
    @stannius The latter, clearly, from the mention of a grandchild. Grandchildren are the reason for a huge percentage of familial reconciliations. – Jeffiekins May 22 '17 at 22:12
  • @Jeffiekins that does seem like the obvious interpretation, but it doesn't reconcile with "never heard from me again." – stannius May 23 '17 at 21:00
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    @stannius Nearly never... – Jeffiekins May 24 '17 at 1:32
  • 2
    Wow, reading comprehension failure! – stannius May 24 '17 at 15:16
4

First you have to understand that your son is an adult and is going to make mistakes. All you can really do is be there for him.

Second, you need to always be clear about your feelings, while at the same time being supportive. Being honest is very important, but you still have to accept his decision. This is very hard for a lot of parents.

Third, you need to accept her as well. Your gaining a new member of your family. Never forget that. She is now your daughter. You have all the same responsibilities to accept and try to guide and support her as well.

Fourth, and this is the hardest and most important, you need to accept THEM together as a single "person". This is a big shift. Yes you care about your son. Yes you care about your new daughter. But more important then that you need to care about their marriage. You can no longer be on "His side". You MUST be on "their" side. If that means having a hard conversation with your son, about how he is treating her wrong, or how he could treat her better, then guess what.... Keep in mind that your external to this marriage, and some things just are none of your business. But that your "care" needs to focus on the union and not on any one person involved.

The best way I have herd it explained is "Marriage is like a house. And just like a house there are windows. Parents get to be outside the house and look in the windows. Husbands and Wives (and children) get to live in the house. Some times parents are allowed in parts of the house. But the husbands and wives are the only ones that get to see the whole house." It's a bit of an excerpt on boundaries from the marriage classes My wife and I had to take to get married. But it applies here. You are the parents, and you only get this tiny window to look into, but you can and should care if the house is going to collapse. You can and should care, if your son (or new daughter) is going to be crushed under the house. But at the same time, it's not your house.

In essence, there's not much you can do, if you think they are making a mistake, but you really need to start considering them together as a unit and not individually as single people. If your son likes going to the beach but your daughter doesn't, guess who's not going to the beach as much. If your new daughter likes opera but you son can't stand it. Guess who is going to be going to see a lot more opera. These changes are normal and good. It will take less time to adjust to them if your start thinking of them together and not individually.

3

If I were a parent, even before looking at the girl's character, I would look at the relationship. Even a "good girl" could lead the son into a bad relationship. For instance,

  1. The girl is "gorgeous." Is the son matter of fact about it, or is he "smitten?"
  2. Does the son have a realistic sense of the girl's limitations, or does he totally overlook them? If the son says, for instance, "I know that she is catty, but her bark is louder than her bite," that's a good sign.
  3. Is the son able to remain independent and stand up for himself in the relationship, or is he a total "slave?"
  4. Does the son articulate solid reasons for loving this woman, or is he "in love with love?" Anything he can say about how she "volunteers" or otherwise helps others would be reassuring.
  5. How does the son interact with the girl's parents and family? More to the point, how well do you get along with these people? If the marriage goes off, you and they will be "in-laws" and grandparents together.

Once you figure out what's right or wrong with the relationship, it's easier to work backward and figure out (and articulate) what's right or wrong about the girl.

2

The way I see it, this is the test for whether the parents did all the necessary groundwork over the years. This son is on the precipice of spreading his wings and entering a phase of his life where his parents have significantly less say and influence in his decisions. He is about to marry, either this girl, or if not then quite possibly another in the not too distant future. When that happens, his parents are no longer the most important people in his life. So in that regard, this is really the last chance they will ever have to influence this decision of his.

But, whether or not they can influence this decision won't be decided by anything they do now or any answers they get off of parenting discussion groups now. The relationship that they have built with their son over the preceding couple of decades will determine what role they will play in this decision of his.

If they were successful in building a strong and valuable relationship with him, he would value their views on this matter. Nothing should then prevent them from finding a private moment where they can directly address this matter and candidly express their concerns and explain why. Once he understands what their concerns are, he might be able to allay their fears or he might take it to heart. And that's probably about as much as they can do.

2

It's not really rational or practical for anyone to make decisions on the basis of another person having "a defective character (no further details on this)".

At one extreme, if "a defective character" means that the person making the judgement holds to some theological doctrine such as Original Sin, or just doesn't believe in perfection, they may believe that every character is defective. This is then a universal trait and provides no grounds to prefer one potential daughter-in-law over another. The parents should do nothing.

At the other extreme, if "a defective character" means that she's an habitual liar, repeatedly abuses your son's feelings, and furthermore is a career criminal who is trying to persuade your son not only to engage in a personal relationship but also to rob a bank with her, then the parents should procede not on the basis of the character judgement, but on the specifics of the behaviour and the crimes involved. The parents should probably call the police.

If "a defective character" means that the parents don't really get on with the person but the son does, then there is a genuine difference of opinion between parents and son. Then it's really a matter of who the parents believe is the proper person to decide who their son marries: the parents or the son himself. Of course, even if it's the son, the parents can try to help the son see why it is that whatever he's overlooking would, in their opinion, in time make the marriage "disastrous". But this will require discussing details with the son -- "I think your girlfriend has a defective character and you should share my opinion even though I won't say what the defect is" is pretty well a non-starter. You son may share your values, but cannot share all your instincts and cannot be expected simply to ignore all his own judgement in favour of yours.

If the parents themselves have no further details then their first action should be to take a very strong look at their own feelings about this person, and rigorously question what it is that makes them "pretty sure" there even is such a defect -- if not details, what is the real problem here? If my parents came to me and said of any of my friends, never mind my girlfriend, "oh, we don't like her, we think she has a defective character", then I'd absolutely demand details. If none followed then I'd dismiss their judgement (frankly I'd probably dismiss it anyway, since I doubt my parents have any information I don't, but it's at least possible they could provide something that would change my opinion of someone). That said, I last lived with my parents over 20 years ago, so it's not really something I expect them to have an opinion about...

-3

The two golden rules

1) Don't talk to your son about your feelings - they will not listen. Your children will always rebel against you. Just their nature.

2) Do not do nothing! Yeah I know people need to make their own mistakes but marrying wrong is a grave one - it could easily cost them decades of their life and bring unhappy children in the world. No you are their parent and you will always know what's best for them!

The answer, my friend, is sabotage!

The same thing happened to my son. He wanted to marry this girl who was just an utter crazy. Tattoos and piercings everywhere, loose cannon, party animal type.

We pretended to be supportive but behind the scenes, we plotted and waited for the right moment. A few months into the "engagement", I managed to get them into their first major fight and she stormed off back to her parents. I knew my son's Facebook password (a good way to keep tabs on them - I got this easily by installing a password logger on his laptop). Anyway, I knew my son had all these photos of her while she was drunk and high and generally a mess. I uploaded them to Facebook and tagged her parents, her boss and all her friends etc. and made some disparaging remarks.

She was furious! The brilliant thing was she thought that he did it out of spite. All her friends now hated him! He had no idea how it happened and couldn't explain his way out of it.

They didn't break up straight away - but the trust had been broken and eventually they broke off the engagement. My son was understandably very upset for a long time but he got over it and he never suspected it was me.

I know this is unconventional advice but if you love your kids then sometimes you need to do whatever is necessary for their own good even if it might hurt them in the short term.

I'm happy to report that my son is now 29, has a good job and has married a fine woman who goes to my church and they're expecting their first child in a few months.

  • 7
    -1 for advocating Evil. – T.E.D. May 24 '17 at 13:45
  • 4
    This suggestion is not particularly practical. Most people would never consider lying to, or sabotaging their own children. Dishonestly tells me that your decision isn't valid enough for honesty. If you were my mum and I ever discovered that you did this to me, we would have no relationship after this sort of betrayal. – WRX May 24 '17 at 14:06
  • @T.E.D. I think I know you from another site. I'm with you. -1 from me also. – Tom Au May 24 '17 at 15:24
  • 2
    You do know that lying is a sin, right? For someone who seems to place a large value on going to church, you seem awfully cavalier about sinning... – Martin Tournoij May 25 '17 at 17:12
  • @Carpetsmoker - As Jesus said, the healthy don't need a doctor. (Note: I'm there every Sunday as well) – T.E.D. May 26 '17 at 14:40

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