Mother knows best—right? When you’re dating, moms, dads, and unofficial parental figures are wont to pepper you with unsolicited advice and questions that border on nosey. Sometimes, it can feel like they disapprove of your relationship entirely, leaving you feeling judged and unsupported. Other times, your parents’ standards just feel irrelevant or antiquated. Are there ever times when you should listen to your parents’ concerns about love?
Independence Means Disagreement
Somewhere between defying your parents at every turn for the sake of contradiction and tracing their exact footsteps is a genuine, heartfelt path. But if you’re living true to yourself, chances are you’ll do something that doesn’t meet your parents’ ideal. Perhaps you take a job that’s less stable or lower paying than they wanted, or you move far from home. Ultimately, you’re the only one who has to wake up and live your life each morning, and basing all your decisions on optimizing your mom’s bragging rights is bound to leave you unfulfilled.
When it comes to relationships, your parents’ opinions about romance are informed by their past experiences—including baggage from broken hearts and messages they internalized from their upbringing. Even relatively progressive parents can struggle to wrap their heads around certain lifestyles, while in other families, coming out in a non-traditional relationship, like polyamory, or as anything but straight, is less shocking than deciding to be a stay-at-home mom.
When Approval Is Hard to Find
In cases in which your parents don’t get your lifestyle—whether it’s your sexuality or relationship preferences—waiting for their approval could mean putting the desire on hold for years. There are plenty of strategies to deal with folks who either can’t or willfully won’t understand your choices. You can talk honestly and patiently about your choices with them. You can keep your romantic life a secret. Or, you can choose not to consider your parents’ opinions. How you deal with it is up to you and will depend on your family dynamic. The important thing to keep sight of is that your natural inclinations aren’t going anywhere, so be sure you can live with whatever boundaries you’ve set.
Sometimes, the problem isn’t lifestyle, but your choice of partner. Maybe your parents think he’s an unstoppable workaholic, or he’s not going anywhere with that job at the bookstore. Perhaps they like her a lot, but it’s just that raising kids with her will be hard on account of your mismatched faiths. Trying to explain that you’ve only been dating a month and don’t have children or finances on the brain yet is met with a non-apology: “I’m just looking out for you! I don’t want you to get hurt down the line.” Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t make you feel any better.
Should You Listen?
If your parents are constantly harping on your partner, you have two choices: think about their quibbles, or don’t. Consider where your parents are coming from when making this decision. If faith (or the lack of it) is a core value for your family, it’s no wonder they’ll be concerned about their grandchildren’s upbringing. So if you share their value, then their nosiness about the subject is annoying but perhaps worth considering. You know you want to raise your children Pagan, or Jewish, or non-religious, so discussing it with your partner before things get too serious is probably a good idea. But if you renounced your parents’ ideas about religion long ago, it may be best to let their questions roll off like water on a duck’s back. Answering them honestly, but asserting your differences, can help. You can even turn the dynamic around by challenging them with, “Why do you keep asking me about this?” if the interrogation persists.
Other times, your parents will give a lukewarm approval that hurts just as much as an outright dismissal: “Oh, he’s nice, but I’m not sure he’s the one for you!” Before you get too caught up in your mom’s Mr. Right Radar, ask yourself how well your mom knows you. Does she have a conception of your personality and interests that’s a few years (or decades) behind? If you’re confused, asking her for more information—“What do you think feels off?”—can clue you into her exact worries. Then, you can decide whether she’s in the ballpark or five miles outside the stadium.
When your parents have a concern about your physical safety or your partner’s tendency toward abuse (emotional or otherwise), though, that’s a major red flag. You should stop and listen if they’re accusing your partner of isolating you, restricting your movements, or verbally attacking you. Unless your parents have a truly low bar for outrage, it’s not normal to hear this variety of complaints.
Accepting Your Parents and Yourself
Even if you’re an exquisite listener with saintly patience, it’s possible your family won’t understand your relationship entirely. When total comprehension of your lifestyle and your attraction to your partner isn’t on the horizon, sometimes acceptance is good enough. Understand that they may never be totally sure why you like what you like, and cherish the ways they’ve learned to support you nonetheless.
Do you struggle with parental approval of your relationship? Advisors at KEEN.com can help you cope and find peace.