11 February 2005

Help! I don’t like my child’s partner

Your darling daughter has brought home the man she’s been talking about in glowing terms for the last three months – and you hated him.

Your darling daughter has brought home the man she’s been talking about in glowing terms for the last three months – and you hated him. He seemed somewhat rough around the edges and his table manners left something to be desired.

What’s more, you could never really figure out what he does for a living, where his parents are, and what his living arrangements are. And you didn’t like your daughter’s deferential attitude to him – as if everything he said was simply accepted without question.

And now your every waking moment is filled with anguished thoughts about the possibility of their marrying, her falling pregnant and leaving her studies, or simply her being very unhappy. What on earth can you do?

“Your child and her/his welfare will always be of paramount importance to any parent. That’s just the way we’re put together”, says Cape Town psychologist, Ilse Terblanche. “We will always want our children to be happy and successful and will resent anything or anyone that we perceive to be standing in the way of that.”

So what should parents do if they really loathe their child’s partner?

There are obviously things like the age of the child, the seriousness of the relationship and the family’s social background that should be considered.

Terblanche suggests the following plan of action:

  • By all means voice your concerns, but in a calm and non-accusatory manner
  • Say what you think, but not before you have carefully considered whether you might be biased or be making unfair assumptions on religious, financial or racial grounds.
  • It is also important to not turn it into a mudslinging match in which you list all your grievances – rather it should be an expression of concern for the welfare of your child.
  • Never forget that in a roundabout way, complaining too much about someone’s partner might make them all the more attractive and irresistible to your child.
  • Make it clear that you will always be there for your child, whatever happens.
  • Never set ultimatums. Many a parent who has forced a child to choose between the parent and the partner has come off second best.
  • If you suspect abusive behaviour, make sure of your facts before you go in with guns blazing.
  • Remember that you cannot make decisions for your child. What makes them happy could be very different from your idea of an ideal partner for them.
  • Be civil and friendly. If you alienate the partner, you could alienate your child, but don’t let your friendliness be abused.
  • Go for counselling and rely on your support structure to get you through these difficult times.
  • Focus on your own life and happiness – worrying constantly about your child will do nothing to improve their situation. Use your own energy for yourself. In this way, if your child were to turn to you for help, you would not be too exhausted to give it. –(Susan Erasmus, Health24)

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