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Daughter's new romance tests her family's values

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • June 20, 2010 - 3:54 PM

Dear Carolyn: We have an unmarried 30-year-old daughter who is involved with an unmarried 30-year-old father of two children, ages 3 and 4 months. He and his ex decided to call it quits during her second pregnancy after going to therapy. Simultaneously our daughter started a long-distance relationship (going on a year) over the phone with him.

They work in the same industry, and now she will be relocating and moving in with him. We will be meeting him for the first time in a couple of weeks. We are trying to wrap our minds around this and lower our high expectations. My parents will not be part of her life over moral beliefs and also their high expectations for their smart, social, beautiful granddaughter. It has torn our family apart. Any advice?

Carolyn says: Your parents have made their choice, it seems; they believe that embracing a social order without blurry lines is more important than embracing an actual human being who blurs those lines. That is their right.

Your daughter has clearly made her choice -- she thinks the man justifies the means by which they came together.

I think it would help you to realize you've made your choice, too: not to agree with either your parents or your daughter, but instead to try to keep loving all of them.

Arguably it's the toughest choice of all, because at first glance it appears to leave you without the comfort of absolutes -- or even confidence in your choice, for that matter. Your parents have their righteousness; your daughter has her love and her optimism. You've got disappointment, dread, doubts.

At first glance, that is. If you look closely, though, you'll see that you have solid things to grab onto.

An open mind, for example, allows for optimism where righteousness doesn't allow it. You do know this man made some bad calls in his recent past, but you can't rule out that he's maturing fast or that he did his best all along. You don't know anything about the ex, or how much responsibility she bears for this unfortunate mess.

Faith in your daughter, too, can be grounding -- faith that you raised her well, faith that her judgment is good, faith that she'll recover if her judgment is off on this one.

It's also fair to call inclusion a bedrock belief. Your daughter is human; this man is human; the ex is human; and, of course, what's done is done.

Certainly, you also can't rule out that there's no foundation whatsoever for positive spin. And when you finally get to know him beyond his complicated emotional résumé, it's possible you'll have such an overwhelming negative reaction that you can't in good conscience welcome him into your life. It happens.

But unless and until that does happen, you can define decency as choosing to play a supporting but significant role in making sure the family-busting stops here. You can decide to embrace this man and his children for no more complicated a reason than that your daughter loves them. You can decide that even if the way they got together is wrong, their arrival in your lives as a couple presents you with more than one way to be right.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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