Dear Tell All: I’ve always had a great relationship with my daughter and have liked all her boyfriends, from high school through her first three years at UW-Madison. That changed last spring when she met a guy I’ll call Jason. He’s a UW student from Waukesha and is, in my opinion, a jerk.
There’s a big cultural difference between Jason and our friends and family in Madison. We’re liberal and he’s conservative; we’re polite and he’s obnoxious. He’s charismatic and good-looking — I’ll give him that. But he doesn’t treat my daughter well, openly quarreling with her in front of my husband and me. He doesn’t treat me well, either. He’s often disrespectful, and I can see my daughter respecting me less as a result. It’s as if Jason considers our mother-daughter bond a threat and needs to undermine it.
I don’t want to intrude on my daughter’s love life and have kept quiet about my feelings. I also don’t want to risk alienating her and causing a serious break. Instead, I’ve simply waited for her to come to her senses, but it’s not happening. Just the opposite: She and Jason are talking about moving in together after graduation, and I fear they might even be considering marriage.
Keeping my distance clearly hasn’t worked. Are there any other strategies I could try, short of butting in with my own opinion?
Dear Non-Smothering: It sounds like you’ve exhausted the polite strategies. I suggest dropping your cautious approach and speaking your mind. Your daughter needs a reality check.
Caution was warranted in the early stages of her relationship with Jason. You didn’t know him well and honorably withheld judgment. You were also sensible to stay out of your daughter’s way and let her come to her own conclusions. That’s a textbook example of good parenting.
But now it’s go time. There’s no longer any reason to be coy or careful. You think your daughter is about to make a serious mistake, and you owe her your mature perspective.
It’s true that you might alienate her, but you might also enlighten her. Even if she rejects your comments, you can plant a seed that may take root weeks or months from now. In the best-case scenario, she’ll drop Jason before it’s too late and thank you for it.
A short-term break with your daughter is preferable to a long-term disaster for her and your whole family.
Do you have a question about life or love in Madison?
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