Monday, March 3, 2008

Advice on In-Law Kids

Cool! Somebody remembered my advice column!

I got this email the other day:

Dear M,
Our daughter is in love. We don't feel good about the guy she wants to marry, but the more we try to advise her, the more she seems to defy us. Should we just stand by while she makes a big mistake? Did you ever have this problem?
Worried Mom

I didn't have this problem; I was this problem!

Last year I wrote a series of blogs about my own experience with love at first sight. (I was just nineteen and my parents were not at all happy about it.) This old post might be a response to Worried Mom:
Losing Control, 1969

After That Tuesday Dee and I both sent letters home describing each other and how we had fallen in love. I was sure my parents would be thrilled that I had found my soul mate. I was very mistaken.

The first letters back arrived March 13th. My dad was extremely upset. He listed every stupid thing I'd ever done, and told me I was incapable of making a decision as important as this one at such a young age. I was crazy to think I knew what love was, and naive and inexperienced to think Dee really loved me. He wanted me to come home.

I was devastated!

My mother's letter was a little softer in tone. She thought I was dazzled by my surroundings, unable to think straight, and I didn't know enough about this boy to make any commitments. She felt it just wouldn't work out in the real world.

Their lack of trust undermined my relationship with them at a very crucial time in my life.
They put me in a position where I had to make a choice: Them, or Dee. I loved my parents, and had always felt close to them, so it was heartbreaking to me. I chose Dee.

Eventually it worked out, but there was a lot of damage done. Dee was fully aware of their pre-judgments and reservations about him. It was not a good way to start a friendship.

I was the oldest, and it was the first time my folks had lost complete control of a child; they didn't like it. I wanted approval and respect, but I didn't feel any. It had a negative impact on me. I felt guilty that I had to make my parents unhappy to choose what would make me happy.

In March, 1970, before we had kids, I wrote this Mission Statement in my journal. I don't know how well we've followed it, but I still think it's sound.
I feel each child should be encouraged and expected to do their best, and then allowed to do it, without criticism, either expressed or implied.

I hope to build my children's self worth by allowing them to be self-sufficient and independent in carrying out assignments and responsibilities. It would rob them of satisfaction if I re-did things or implied that I could have done it better myself.

When they make poor choices, they will learn to accept the consequences, and know they are loved and accepted in spite of their mistakes.

Each child will have gifts and talents, and they will be better able to recognize them than we will be. We need to trust them to receive their own inspiration.

Our children will not be OURS. They will have their own lives and their own mission and purpose, just as we have ours. We will try not to impose our unmet goals on them. They will each be unique individuals. We have no right to take that away from them.

(See how important it is to blog? How would I remember all this if I hadn't written it down? Letters, journals, blogs, advice columns...whatever, record your thoughts!)

Parenting is a lot easier before you're a parent. But it's valuable to back away and remember what we felt, and what we were actually capable of doing when we were young.

So, back to Worried Mom. I think she should trust herself. She's already taught her daughter skills to make choices about her life. And what adult child actually takes their parent's unsolicited advice anyway? If she marries the guy, she'll need her mom's support. If it's a mistake, she'll need to know she still has her mom's support.

I took the easier road. I just fell in love with my in-law kids at the same time my kids did!

(There are some comments from the first time I posted parts of this blog last year. I don't know how to take them off. But you're welcome to comment again!)


Stie said...

That is so you...I love it. You had such clarity as a young mother. You guys are the best.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow...this is incredible. Love this this blog!

Gramafolly said...

I am so grateful you paved the way. I think I had it just maybe a tiny bit better than you..not much, but I remember telling mom and dad that they didn't have much faith in the way they raised me if they didn't think I could make this disicion. (Borrowed from something Jessie Benton Fremont said to her dad) I was reading the book at the time. It helped. Also makes me feel like I'm not a crazy person when I worry about my kids.

Annie said...

Yes! I love this! It's a good reminder for me on days like today (this is a petty little for instance) when my 13-y-o daughter tweezed her eyebrows to nothingness. I had to remind myself that they are *her* eyebrows and I have to let her make her own decisions (and mistakes) just like I did! Plus offer to help if she needs it next time :)

gab said...

You were really good at letting us be ourselves! I am always amazed that you thought I was so great...I guess I wanted to live up to it!

anna jo said...

amen, sistah friend!

Nimmy said...

Do you mind if I steal your mission statement for the next generation? You have had great success and I'd love to do the same.

MissKris said...

It's kind of like the relationship Dear Hubby and I have where we say we're "independently dependent" upon each other. That's the way we've been with our kids, too, thru the years. A solid foundation, a sanctuary at home, an easy place to fall and bounce back when life gets overwhelming. And yet the freedom to spread their wings and form their own flight plans along the way. At ages 28 and 30, they're two of our best friends.

Ashlee said...

Awesome advice. I hope I remember it twenty years down the road when my daughter gets married. :0)

Sheri said...

My mother used to say that before she had children she had four distinct principles of child-rearing. After having her kids, she said, "Now I have four distinct children and no princples."

Jenibelle said...

As I go next week to meet my potential son-in-law who is courting my 19 1/2 year old were inspired to repost this.
Thanks, I'll think this one was for me.

I have to say, no one ever questioned me...they asked him...why HER? Seriously.

Nimmy said...

This is Sco, just posting under Nim's account. I've had siblings make spouse choices and moral choices that were totally different than their previous moral choices and beliefs. They'd lived and believed in certain values and morals as adults. They'd even spent 1-2 years of their own lives (as adults) teaching others about these values and morals. They lived one way, and then became a completely different person upon meeting, courting and marrying their spouses. Do I love them and their spouse? Of course! Did my parents express any concerns to them? I wasn't around for any of those conversations, but I'd be shocked if they didn't express any concerns. Do my parents love my siblings and their spouses? Yes!

I'm not trying to belittle the way you've done things - as your son-in-law, I felt accepted and loved right away!

I'm just saying that I've personally seen situations where I can understand parents expressing concerns regarding potential spouses. If my children made choices, including potential spouse choices, that were totally different than what you'd seen them choose before, don't you think you'd express some concerns? Now, if your children decided to not listen to you, of course you need to love and accept that spouse.

And I don't pretend to understand your whole experience - my inlaws completely accepted me!

I just hope that my children are wise when choosing a spouse. And if I think they're getting serious with someone who's dishonest, or who appears to lack their same level of morals, or who lacks incentive to provide for a family, or who exhibits only selfishness toward my child, or who doesn't exhibit the right signs of love toward my child, or who I believe will hurt my child, you better believe that I'll be expressing my concerns to my child. And I'll do my best to do so with the utmost tact and love.

Can you tell I need to lighten up? If my children choose someone that's honest and a good person, has the same morals, that loves my child, that wants to provide for a family and seems like they'll work hard to make that happen, and wants to make my child (and my grandchildren) happy, then what more could I ask for?

♥Maren said...

Totally understand this - I am the oldest too. I pray that I am accepting. I know that you are a wonderful MIL. On Sunday, Christie was SO sad that you had to leave. She always talks about how much she loves you and Opa. I have never heard her say anything negative about you... and THAT is the sign of good in laws.