DEAR CAROLYN: Quick background: I wrote to you before about my daughter’s on-again/off-again relationship with her boyfriend whom we didn’t like, and you wisely advised us that it was none of our business unless abuse or drug use or something was involved.
We stepped down on the situation and they finally broke up for good.
About a year later, I discovered he had a serious drug addiction and that was leading to all of their ups and downs. So, it turns out that our instincts were correct when we thought he was not good for her.
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Fast-forward to now. She still hasn’t looked for a relationship with anyone else and she doesn’t trust her instincts, even though it’s been almost two years since the breakup. That is her business, but her resentment toward us is ongoing. She still is angry at the way we wouldn’t accept him.
We feel there are very few people who would be in favor of such a relationship and we stand by our opinion that the relationship was bad for her. She says if we truly loved her and accepted her, we would accept her choices. We say, as parents, we can’t help but be protective of our child, even one who is a young adult.
How can we all get past this disaster of a relationship and the cracked pieces of our relationship with her?
— We Were Right About the Boyfriend
DEAR WE WERE RIGHT: Being right is an addictive substance of its own.
With this guy, you called it, yes — good eye. But, the ex-boyfriend’s failings and what your daughter is upset about are two different things. When she says, “You should have accepted my choices,” your “But we were right!” response is an emotional non sequitur. She isn’t talking about the guy, she’s talking about herself, and you keep coming back with responses about the guy.
Accordingly, if you want this impasse behind you, then you’ll need to stop defaulting to your rightness about the ex-boyfriend, and admit you were wrong about your daughter.
What she’s asking you to provide, rightly, is acceptance that her choices are hers to make.
What you owe her, given her current distrust of her instincts, is reinforcement that she doesn’t need Mommy and Daddy to step in if one of those choices goes bad. As she proved with this guy, she’s capable of figuring things out for herself.
She did, after all, realize “the relationship was bad for her” — not only that, but she also got out of it, which is harder than it looks. So many of these breakups don’t stick, and the Unsuitable One is an unwelcome dish at your every holiday meal.
Yes, the path she took to enlightenment on this guy was a lot longer than yours, but isn’t that usually the case for the people closest to a situation, most intimately involved? Your being right about the boyfriend was largely a victory of emotional distance; what you need now is a victory of intimacy and humility, by admitting to your daughter how very right she has been to stick up for herself — with the ex-boyfriend and now with you.