That’s a tough situation to be in. And that’s our Reader Question this week! Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Here’s this week’s from a woman who is not pleased with who her daughter is dating:
I am concerned about my daughter’s current boyfriend. It seems to me and my son that he doesn’t respect my daughter and he is getting her involved with odd things – role-playing games, songs with bad lyrics, etc. She is 18, so I have limited power, but any advice would be great. Her dad doesn’t really see it, but he is gone a lot for work.
This is a difficult one, isn’t it? Personally, I’m really blessed, because I love my daughter’s boyfriend, but I’ve often thought about what I would do if one of my daughters decided to date someone I didn’t approve of.
And the truth is that once they’re a certain age there really isn’t a whole lot you can do. You can’t forbid them; they’re an adult. Nevertheless, you do have influence, so here are some thoughts I have on how to tackle this problem.
Keep Your Daughter’s Boyfriend Close
You know the saying, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?” I think this applies doubly for a situation like this!
Here’s the thing: if you tell your daughter that he is an awful person, and you tell her that you don’t like him, what’s she going to do? She’ll hang out with him anyway, but she’ll do it away from you! You’ll end up driving her away from the family.
Teenage love is a strange thing. People feel all these intense things, and believe that this is real love, and we’re alone in the world, and no one else understands us. Pretty much all teenage couples feel this way to some extent. Add in a slightly controlling or “dangerous” boyfriend, and you’ve already got those feelings doubled.
Then, if you start reinforcing this by telling her how awful her boyfriend is, she’ll take that as a sign that this is true love, and that only her boyfriend does understand her.
Instead, have him over a lot. Engage him in conversation. Ask him to help with things around the house, like fixing some plumbing or changing the oil on your car or something. Treat him like he’s part of the family.
Won’t this tell your daughter that you like him? Not necessarily, especially if you follow the next few steps. But what it will do is show your daughter how he sticks out like a sore thumb. If he is really different from your family, and your daughter is comfortable in the family, and then she finds that he just doesn’t fit, it could easily make him look more pathetic. If she only spends time with him away from the family, he can look better than he really is.
Here’s another benefit: even if you don’t like this boy for your daughter, he is a child of God. And right now, you have influence over him. I can think of two moms that I know who didn’t like their sons’ girlfriends. But they embraced those girls, they mentored those girls, they interacted with them on Facebook and tried to make them feel like they were valued, and when those destructive relationships did end, those girls had seen what Jesus’ love looks like.
If you bring that boy into the fold, you’re not blessing the relationship. You’re simply exerting influence, and showing your daughter that you trust that she will eventually make the right decision. And then you’ll know more what’s going on in their relationship, because they’re living it under your eyes.
Ask Your Daughter What She Wants in a Relationship
Talk to your daughter about the future. Where does she want to be in five years? In ten years? What kind of job does she want? How does she picture herself living? Does she want children? Then ask her in the abstract: what kind of man would make a good father? What are your non-negotiables for a husband? Eventually you may ask her how she sees her boyfriend fitting into this.
The main point: Don’t volunteer your own opinion. Simply keep asking questions. It’s better for her to come to the conclusion herself about whether he’s marriage material than for you to tell her repeatedly.
Share Your Specific Concerns to Your Daughter about her Boyfriend
In this case, the mom is worried about the role playing games and the songs she’s listening to. Again, start with questions. “What do you think of that song?” Share with her that this isn’t a song that you thought that she would like. And ask her, “have things changed? Do you feel differently now?”
If she no longer feels the same convictions that you do, you can’t make her suddenly have those convictions. But you can make her confront her own hypocrisy. Ask her, “how does this connect with your faith?” If she can’t answer it, then at least she can start to see that her faith may be weak. You can’t have a real God experience without realizing that you truly need Him and you’ve messed up. It’s totally okay to help her see that.
One word of warning, though: It could be that she does still love God, but she’s going to express it in different ways than you would. I know some teenagers, for instance, who the parents have told me have “rebelled” and have “turned their backs on God.” However, from my perspective they haven’t done that at all. They’ve gotten tattoos, and they’ve got different views of some social and political issues, and they’ve started going to different churches. But they still love God, they’re still in ministry, and they still pray and identify as Christians. They just do it in a different way from their parents.
I’m not saying that’s what happening here; I’m just saying that sometimes we react to what we perceive is a child leaving the faith, when really they’re choosing to express faith in a new way. I know that’s hard, because it means that your child is rejecting your family culture. But please, in those times, remember that God is bigger than your family culture, and see the faith that is still in your child. Approve of it. Bless it as he or she goes on a different journey, and don’t make him or her feel guilty for choosing something other than what you would do, as long as the essentials of the faith are still there.
What if the Relationship is Dangerous?
But what if it’s not a question of just disapproving of the guy, but a question of the relationship honestly being dangerous? Maybe she’s at risk of pregnancy because you’ve found that your daughter is sleeping with her boyfriend, or you fear he’s violent or controlling. That doesn’t look like the case for our letter writer, but some of you may be facing a more dire situation. Here are some thoughts in that case:
Do Not Let Your Daughter Sleep with Her Boyfriend in Your House
You can make sure she doesn’t do it at your house by not letting them in the house alone, and by never letting them be in a room with the door completely closed.
If he still lives with his parents, you can talk to those parents and ask that they not leave the two of them alone, though you have no guarantee that the parents will follow this advice.
If the car is an issue, you can stop letting her borrow your car.
Here’s a more detailed post on this issue:
Give Her a Taste of Reality
The quickest way to end a fantasy is with a little dose of reality. If your daughter is completely rebelling, and is involved with someone that you know is bad for her, and is openly sleeping with him or doing drugs/alcohol, etc., then sometimes the best thing to do is to issue a bit of tough love. Tell her that she cannot do these things while living in your house, and tell her that if she is going to make these choices, then she will have to support herself.
Will this be hard? Absolutely, and this is really only for the worst case scenarios. But sometimes a person needs to go through a year or two of horror to come back and realize that’s not the way she wants to live her life.
Maybe it’s not to that level, though. Let’s say your daughter is involved with a slightly older guy that has kids with another woman, and he has to pay child support. Have her make up a budget. Have her figure out how much money will actually be left over if her boyfriend pays the full child support. Have her talk to one of your friends who is always in court battling her ex about money or access (you likely have at least one friend that does this; I have several!). Let her see how hard life will be.
If Necessary, Call the Police
If you suspect your daughter is being physically or sexually abused, call the police. Will it make her mad? You betcha. But it’s difficult for the authorities to prosecute unless they have a paper trail showing a pattern. And it could be that this guy has already been charged with domestic violence with other women. Violence is violence; don’t keep it in the family.
Remember that She is in God’s Hands
Finally, and this is the hardest part, remember that she is in God’s hands. You’ve done all you can; you’ve raised her for eighteen years or so, and you’ve instilled all the values in her that you can. Now it’s time for her to make her own decisions–even if you don’t like those decisions.
So pray hard, and lean on God, and learn to trust Him. He really does love your child, and He will protect her wherever she goes. Sometimes it takes a few years in the wilderness for her to figure out what she wants. Those are going to be tough years for you. But God can carry her, and He can carry you, too.
Now’s the time to learn to trust. It’s not an easy lesson, but it’s an important one. And He will be enough for you.
Now I’d love to hear from you: has your child ever dated someone you didn’t approve of? How did you handle it? Or if you ever dated someone your parents didn’t like, what made you eventually see the light? Let me know in the comments!