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Dear Carolyn: Is it so crazy to give your child the ultimatum that, indeed, she may marry at any time but we, as her parents, will not pay for the event until she is 25? I think she is entirely too young (21). She believes she is adult enough to marry, so I say, go ahead, but you are going to have to pay for it.
No, the irony of my childish response is not lost of me.
Carolyn says: It's crazy only if you want a close and mutually respectful relationship with your daughter.
First of all, your logic is flawed; if she's adult enough to pay for a wedding at 21, then she's adult enough to pay for one at 25-plus. I hope you'll expect accountability at any age.
Second, your methods are punitive enough to corrupt your message -- and it's a good message, one you want delivered intact. You're worried about her, right? You know how much growing people do throughout young adulthood, in ways they can't anticipate? And you're afraid her going through this with a husband, even the best husband and even as the most mature 21-year-old, will inhibit her ability to find out who she really is, right? (Not to put words in your mouth or anything.)
Third, bungling this message can haunt you both for years. Let's say she does marry, and it, egad, lasts. Thrives, even. Your visits might always remind her of your lack of faith in her, your certainty that you knew better, your willingness to use money to control her.
Maybe she'll see some good parental intentions through your misguided methods, or forgive you just because she loves you and you raised her, but I doubt you want your chance at dandling your grandchildren to hang on a "maybe."
So. Tell her you love her. Tell her what worries you, as long as your reasoning is neither patronizing nor critical of her ability to make up her own mind and live with her own decisions.
If you had always planned to help pay for her wedding, tell her you'll give her X dollars as a wedding gift, which she can spend on the wedding, spend on a home, use to pay student loans, stash in the bank or light on fire. Whenever you hesitate to support the choice, concentrate on supporting the child.
And, most important: Tell her your support isn't contingent on her doing what you want her to do; assure her that as long as her intentions are good, you'll stand by her, no matter what path she takes -- on any issue, not just marriage. (Translation: possibly premature nuptials, yes; crime spree, no.)
Seriously. How would you have felt if your parents had given you the "Good luck with that" treatment every time you chose a path they wouldn't necessarily have chosen for you? I find it hard to believe that you'd have raced back home for Thanksgiving.
You've been a parent for 21 years, and now it's time for her to road-test your hard work -- and hers. Whether she marries young, marries older, eventually divorces or never marries, will not on its own have the last word on whether hers is a loving and purposeful life.