They don’t like the person. They don’t like their family background. They don’t like where you met. They don’t like how fast your relationship is moving. They don’t like the person’s cultural or spiritual background…
The list of possible versions of this is endless. It’s a really touchy one. On one end, there are many people who don’t care at all what parents think and that’s okay. They have their reasons and many are valid. Not all parents are saints.
However, there are many young adults out there who are facing the prospect of GOOD parents who might disagree with their relationship or marriage choice.
How do you handle this situation? How do you navigate between following your heart and losing your parents’ blessings?
How do you ensure that you don’t miss out on the timeless wisdom that your parents may actually have to offer without giving up the right to make decisions about your own life?
To make matters sometimes worse, culture can be very thorny here. For example, where I am from, African parents can be sometimes…let’s just say “not too worried about HOW things are said,” and can be very blunt in their disapproval. In many ways they have earned it….the things they have been through…the sacrifices they have made. But man…I tell you.
So how do you do this?
Well let me start by reminding us all that not too long ago, we were getting our diapers changed by them. We were being spoon-fed our breakfast and getting help brushing our teeth….and when it comes to self-knowledge, sometimes the best source is from the outside looking in and, certainly, before marriage (and sometimes for a little while after that) no one may have better perspectives about who we really are than our parents.
Before I continue, it’s important I say this:
This is not necessarily about how to MAKE your parents agree with your relationship or marriage choice (because your stubborn self could actually be wrong. Yes. Let that sink in. Your parents might just be right about this one)…it’s more about how to understand them and how to be understood by them.
So here are a few suggestions that may help make that process or discussion a bit smoother.
TRULY LISTEN. Just because many parents lack the communication skills and just because they make conversations like this awkward that doesn’t mean that they don’t have timeless wisdom to offer. Sometimes you almost have to ignore the messenger and focus on the message.
I am not saying that you should always do exactly what your parents say when it comes to marriage. After all, you are an adult. What I AM saying is that you shouldn’t start the process of “bringing someone home” by doing the “I’m an adult so you can’t tell me what to do” thing.
You’ll be surprised. Sometimes parents just want to feel (and they have a right to feel this way) like they have a say or at least want to be heard when it comes to this very important decision of your life. For most of your life, you have depended on them to help make (and sustain) the important decisions of your life. Your schooling, your faith, your passionate hobbies and they have supported you in a many of those areas…areas not half as important as your marriage. It’s almost rude to shut them out of this important area. My suggestion? Step back and truly listen…and act like it too….BUT:
This is one area of your life where you have earned the right to want more than those “catch all” parent answers like “Because I said so” “Because It’s the best for you” “Because I just don’t like him/her” “Because it’s the right thing to do” and all that. In this area of your life, they should give you more….so ask them to go deeper than cliché and not treat you like a 4 year old. If you have chosen to really listen to them, you have earned the right to ask for more depth of explanation to why they feel the way they do.
2) Initiate a conversation:
This is sooooooo hard …but soooooooo good. So even if they don’t know of your serious relationship, or they know and don’t approve, or they disapprove but haven’t said anything, initiate a conversation.
Here is how to do that:
Tell them that you want to take time to learn from them and their experiences in marriage and ask questions like these:
a) In general, what is the best part of being married (aside from the children)?
b) Specific to your marriage, what is the best part of being married to each other (aside from the children)?
c) There is no perfect marriage. In your case, what was one thing you wished you had done better?
d) What are your fears and concerns for my marriage (what they don’t want to happen to you, what mistakes they don’t want you to make, etc)?
e) Why do you have those fears or concerns?
f) Then TELL THEM what you want in your future marriage. Share YOUR OWN vision for your marriage and tell them to keep you in prayers and in their thoughts about it.
(The conversation doesn’t have to go further than you are ready to take it at that time. So if they are pressing you about whether you are seeing someone or all that, you can politely tell mama and papa to hold their horses…you’re just asking questions)
These questions are very strategic.
(i)They give your parents the space to make their case…to lay they fears and concerns on the table.
(ii)They tell your parents that you are mature, not afraid of the topic of marriage and are able to engage them about it.
(iii)They prepare you for the conversation when you actually ARE ready to introduce them to the love of your life. You will be better informed about their biggest concerns and will know how to navigate that.
(iv) If you ask these BEFORE you bring someone home, these questions give you the opportunity to work out and discuss differences with them before bringing someone into the picture (Because if you are clashing with your parents when you introduce someone, it may look like they are rejecting that person when they might just be rejecting the process).
3) Understand the waters they are trying to navigate:
Before you even get into any verbal or emotional battle with your parents, before you start seeing who can strong-arm the other into submission about your marital future, you need to sit back, and fundamentally understand what they are trying to resolve in their mind that is causing their disagreement:
Here it is. They are trying navigate between:
– Who they think you have been all along
– Who they envisioned you to be in the future, and
– Who you say you want to be
Your job is to help them see where you are with each of these and help your parents process them.
Especially the 2nd and 3rd. The questions from earlier will help this.
Sometimes they face an internal conflict between who they have always thought you were (She is such a gentle soul and needs a lot of hand holding—MEANWHILE you’ve gone on your fifth skydiving escapade and you went to LordKnowsWhere for spring break with people you met 2 days before) AND who they envisioned you to be.
Before you offload the “I want to get married” truck, help them understand who you have become. Who you are NOW. Spend quality time with them as an adult if you can. If you can’t, call more. Let them in …SO THAT your marriage choice will make more sense when you introduce him/her.
4) When you do introduce this person to your parents, don’t just focus on WHO…also focus on WHAT:
This is key. It’s not the WHO that will get your parent’s buy in. It’s the WHAT. What does this person represent? To you…to them. This is where that knowledge of what is important to them (for you) will come in handy and you will be better suited to articulate how this person represents those things they want for you and those things you want for yourself.
Once you’ve hit the WHAT well, then you can bring in the microscope and focus on the WHO.
Think of it this way: The WHAT is the logical part of this that shows them you have really thought this through. The WHO describes the character of the person…it says why him or her and nobody else.
The WHAT says you used your head,
The WHO says you used your heart.
Neither is more important than the other. Your parents just need to know you covered both angles.
5) Tell them HOW:
I’m not talking about how you met. I’m also not talking about how you knew you wanted to date that person. No. I am talking how you decided that you were going to marry this person. Big difference.
How did you arrive at the decision that this person is not just going to be your boyfriend or girlfriend, but is going to be your husband or wife?
Parents want to know (and rightfully so!) that you aren’t just going based on your feelings. (I know the love purists are cringing right now asking “what other reason is there to marry someone other than feelings?”)
Parents are concerned about your safety and always have been. Ever since you though it was fun to jump off the kitchen table to the tile floor from 10 feet….ever since you attempted to pick up that piece of paper on the floor and put it in your mouth when you were 15 months old. They can help to be objective. Tap into that resource.
6) Become a better decision maker:
Typically, it’s not HER or HIM they are fighting…it’s you and their impression of your decision making process.
How will you know if this is an issue with your parents? Simple. Just ask yourself:
What has been the result of your past decisions?
Did you change your major in college a million times, did you take forever to choose between vanilla and chocolate when you were younger? Did your fashion sense change every single summer when you were in high school? Did you switch best friends every time the weather changed? Did you depend on others for validation and decision making a lot? Were you easily influenced by people and fads? Did you cry to them that you wanted to take piano lessons and then quit 2 months in…only to declare swimming as your new fave hobby only to quit again?
So, for example, your parents may have a reference point of you as maybe as an INDECISIVE person and so they pull out the: “Just wait it out….don’t rush into it” card, and you would have earned it.
They are not being jerks or unsupportive…YOU have just given them a reference point to work with that is not working for you now.
One of the ways to change that is to begin by taking some responsibility for your past actions that didn’t work out well. At least that tells them that you are mature enough to own your decisions good or bad.
7) When it’s time to introduce your “special someone” to them, the person will follow your cue.
Do not expect your new boyfriend or girlfriend to totally respect your parents if YOU don’t. Don’t expect him or her to impress your parents when you act like you don’t care about their impression of you.
In fact…the more of an impression you give your boo that your parents’ opinion matters to you, the harder Le Boo will work (if they have their screws on right) to impress and win your parents over. If Romeo or Juliet doesn’t have that impression (that your parents’ opinions matter), then it is NOT your parents fault that they don’t agree…in that case, it’ll be your fault because you had the chance to change that…but blew it.
8) Know, recognize and follow your inner witness:
After all is said and done, your parents are not getting married. You are.
God does not hold them accountable for the marriage, he holds YOU accountable.
As a Christian and child of God, you have an inner witness within you that is a powerful tool to help you figure out if you are with the right person.
If you are convinced about this person, and your inner witness is too…and your spirit is in agreement, well… there’s your answer. You need to be able to OWN your decision in marriage. That way, you will take responsibility for solving the issues that will surely arise and you will take ownership for the relationship’s survival.
Your parents’ agreement comes second to the spirit’s agreement.
I’ll end with this:
There is a Nigerian proverb that says “What an elder can see sitting down, a child cannot see standing up.” Don’t miss out on their timeless wisdom…your parents are able to see many things clearer than you. Tap into their wisdom but remember YOU are ultimately accountable.
Good luck with it!
Tobi Atte is a certified Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner, motivational speaker and the writer behind IJustMetMe, a lifestyle website for young adults who need a good dose of daily inspiration to tackle tough life issues. Tobi is also the author of the new book How to Make Sure Your Values are Aligned: A Guide to Avoiding Relationship Frustration. For more on relationships, motivation, fresh perspectives on faith, personal improvement and more, read/learn more at www.ijustmetme.com, watch him on YouTube HERE and download his free e-book HERE.