The previous article in this series looked at keeping the peace with your children when they leave home. This can be particularly difficult when problems arise in their marriage. As a parent, however, it is your responsibility to keep the peace whilst granting your children the dignity of dealing with their own issues. Let’s look at this, next.
Choosing a Partner
When your children leave home, it will often be to get married. And that means choosing a partner, hopefully, for life. Here’s another dose of reality. Your child’s partner will seldom be good enough for your child. At least, that is how many parents will see it. However, your child is not asking you to live with this person. (This assumes that they are not going to share your home, of course.) All your child is asking is for you to accept and respect their use of the judgement skills that you taught them. (This assumes that they used the judgement skills you taught them!)
Even so, it does not mean turning a blind eye to your children’s mistakes. If you have serious concerns about a prospective partner, you should raise these concerns. How many abused women could have been saved a lot of harm if their parents had spoken up. It does not mean that your child will listen to you. But if you have raised your concerns, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried your best to protect your child.
One word of caution, though: If your daughter goes ahead and marries “the obnoxious moron,” despite your best advice, don’t say, “I told you so,” when she comes home battered and bruised. That’s not what she wants at that time. Her pride and the thought that you might react self-righteously may be the reason why it has taken her so long to come and tell you. Right now, she will need comfort and support. And, if she subsequently decides to go back to the abuser, at least you will have strengthened your relationship with your daughter and you will be able to be supportive during future incidents. We will look at the matter of abusive partners, later.
Raising concerns may even involve suggesting that the prospective partner have specific blood tests. Some countries have prescribed tests that are legal requirements in order to try to avoid mismatched blood types causing unnecessary harm to babies. This may seem like a good idea, but, realistically, the test is only mandatory if you are planning to get married. If you intend to live with each other, the test doesn’t become an issue, which makes a mockery of the concept, regardless of the fine intentions.
However, let’s say that you discover that the love of your son’s life use to do drugs, possibly including injecting various substances. Or maybe your daughter’s latest flame had a reputation for sleeping with anyone and everyone. Might you want to suggest an AIDS test? Would that not be an appropriate level of concern? After all, your child could be putting his or her life at risk. Also, what would be the risk to any future grandchildren? Maybe it’s something to consider.
A Parent’s Dilemma
This leads to a serious question. Let’s look at a serious situation that creates an emotional dilemma for parents.
Suppose you discover that your son-in-law is abusing your daughter. What can you do? How far do you intrude into their lives?
I cannot tell you what to do. What I can say is that you still need to be careful. Your child’s pride is involved and so is their dignity. Grant them as much dignity as you would want them to grant you, even in the circumstances. Your daughter is being hurt; she is going to need your support. Let’s look at some questions that you can ask yourself to help you to mindfully consider your options.
Before proceeding, I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I am not, in any way, suggesting that any abused woman is lying, or that she is “asking for it,” as some have suggested. If ever someone alleges that they are being abused, the allegation must be taken seriously and it must be investigated. Here, I want to consider all possibilities. As we all know, whilst there is only one truth, our perspective can give us a warped sense of reality. We do not want that perspective to lead us into errors of judgement.
Both Sides of the Story
You see bruises on your daughter’s arms and you ask her how they happened. She becomes defensive and you suspect that your son-in-law is harming her. What can you do? Let’s look at the possibilities and how you might be able to get a more complete view of the situation.
The most obvious alternative explanation, of course, is that your daughter had an accident of some sort. You may be surprised that she didn’t mention it, but accidents are, by nature, embarrassing. So for your daughter to fail to mention it is not unusual.
Is it possible that your daughter is self-harming? This has to be considered. There may be other signs, such as cuts or scars. Maybe she has cut her beloved hair into a self-deprecating style. Or maybe she is not taking care of her hygiene as well as she used to. The style and colour of her clothes may have become dowdy and dishevelled. She will need help and you can and should be there for her. It may be that your son-in-law is at a loss as to how to deal with your daughter’s issues, and he may need your support, too. Intrusive questioning is only going to alienate your daughter and son-in-law.
Is this an illness? Bruising can be a symptom of serious illnesses. Maybe your daughter is embarrassed to talk about it. Maybe she has been diagnosed and she doesn’t want you to know, yet. Maybe your son-in-law is struggling to deal with the possibility of losing his young wife. Again, they will need your support.
Finally, there is the possibility that your son-in-law is abusing your daughter. If this is the case, then there may be other signs. Maybe you have noticed a tendency to violent words or actions. Maybe his behaviour or attitude has always been a cause for concern. Maybe their children always seem to be grizzly. The possibilities are endless. However, bear in mind that your daughter may, for reasons best known to herself, be willing to live with this situation and not want you to get involved. After all, have you not heard of abused women leaving their abusive husbands, only to go back to them at some later point in time? And you ask yourself, “How can they keep going back, over and over again?” This is their decision, and you do not want to alienate your daughter by adding to her worries.
Remember, this does not in any way condone or excuse abusive marriage mates. These people must be stopped. But the feelings of the abused person must be considered. Your daughter’s dignity must be respected, and that will mean allowing her to make any final decisions about any action to be taken.
Raising Your Concerns
This does not mean that you must ignore the issue, but that you need be gentle in your enquiries. Comment, by all means, but in a non-accusatory manner. You may want to mention the bruises, demonstrating that you have seen them and showing that you are concerned for her welfare. You may want to ask if she is okay. But do not suggest that you suspect anything untoward. That can lead to allegations of slander.
If your daughter is reluctant to talk about it, don’t force her. At least you have demonstrated your concern, and this will make it easier for her to confide in you in the future. If she finally decides that she wants to talk about it, she will know that you are there for her.
Should you call the police? If necessary. Yet, what are you going to tell them? Do you have conclusive evidence? Or is this, in police terms, a domestic matter? Of course, if you were to observe your son-in-law hitting your daughter, you may want to find a peaceful way to defend her. Peaceful? Yes. After all, the last thing she needs, right now, is for you to be prosecuted for assaulting her husband. If anything, that could actually cause a rift between you and your daughter. Still, if you are unable to stop him harming her, then threatening to call the police, or actually calling them, may be what is needed to bring him to his senses.
Once again, though, be sure that you really are helping. Have you ever noted that when two children quarrel, and their parents get involved, the children are back on good terms with each other within hours, or even minutes; the rift between the parents takes weeks to resolve. Getting too involved in your daughter’s marriage situation too early could result in driving your daughter and son-in-law closer together, even in an abusive relationship, while they join in turning on you for what they see as interfering. It’s the, “I’m a big girl, now, and I can sort out my own problems,” mentality. She has her pride and she is entitled to it. If you have warned her of your concerns, then you have done your best, and she is big enough to choose her own consequences, as sad as they may be.
This may not be an ideal situation; but you may have to learn to live with it for the time being. Mindfulness can help you to come to terms with your own feelings in this regard.
Keeping the Peace
The important thing to remember is that your child’s interests are best served by your keeping the peace between you and your child, and, potentially, between you and your child’s mate. You have to be the stabilising influence. Although you may have strong feelings about how your child is being treated, remember that your child has made his or her own decisions and is old enough to deal with the consequences.
This may sound harsh. However, you will see why this stance is essential when we come on to the subject of protecting your grandchildren. Remember, this series is not, primarily, about caring for your children; it is about caring for your grandchildren when your children fail to do so. That means you may have to make some very hard decisions. Getting the relationship right when your child leaves home, and before your child leaves home, will help you to deal with this very difficult dilemma in a calm, peaceful manner; which will help your grandchildren to cope, should the need ever arise.
Before we move on to your grandchildren, though, let’s look at how mindful meditation can help you to deal with your own children and the issues that their actions might raise. This will be the subject of the next article.