Dear Mr. Dad: This isn’t strictly a parenting question, but here goes. My daughter, 26, met a man, left her husband, and is already moving in with her new boyfriend. She never gave us any indication that she was unhappy. It all happened very quickly, in a matter of a month. He’s a nice enough guy, but she kind of forced him on us and we’re not ready to bond with him yet. We’d feel disloyal toward our son-in-law if we welcome this new man into our family. What can we do?
A: Actually, this really IS a parenting question. Our kids are our kids—no matter how old they are—and we’re still going to worry about them when they’re all grown-up. The only difference is that since your daughter’s an adult, you can’t really tell her what to do or ask her to follow your house rules—unless of course, she’s living in your house. You basically have to accept her actions, even if they go against your own judgment.
The end of a marriage or long-term relationship is, in a way, like a death in the family. There’s a natural grieving process, mourning the loss of the relationship and of the people connected with it–especially if you were close to them, as you are with your former son-in-law. If your daughter’s marriage had been bad for a long time, her leaving her husband might not have been much of a surprise.(However, even the end of really horrible relationships involve some grief—the loss of hopes and dreams.) In your case, since this all happened so quickly, you haven’t had enough time to completely come to grips with it.
None of this means that you have any obligation to support—or even agree with—your daughter’s decisions. If you didn’t already, have a talk with her and tell her exactly what you wrote here: That you’re confused, that her actions took you by surprise, that you don’t understand the reasons behind what seems like completely irrational behavior, and that you’re going to need some time to adjust to the changes.
It’s not unreasonable to ask your daughter to explain what happened that led her to make such a sudden, drastic change. Has she really thought everything through? (Going by what you say, it doesn’t seem like she did.) Did she try counseling—with or without your son-in-law? Did she consider a trial separation, to decompress and think things through before plunging headlong into another relationship? Keep your expectations low, though. She may open up and give you a decent explanation, or she may refuse to talk at all, falling back on a favorite teenage refrain: “It’s my life and you can’t tell me what to do.”
Given enough time, you might end up agreeing with your daughter’s decision and loving her new partner. But it’s just as possible that you’ll never understand why she did what she did, and never warm to him. Either way, you’ll have to come to terms with the new cast of characters in her life. One of the most difficult things we have to do as parents is to just be there. So when you’re ready, invite them over for coffee.
Two more quick things. First, be thankful your daughter doesn’t have children—that would complicate things by a factor of 10. Second, given your close relationship with your former son-in-law, it’s fine for you to keep in touch with him. But be very careful not to do anything that your daughter could interpret as “taking sides.”