“Mom…you can ask a few questions, but don’t go ‘full Sarah Hiner’ on the poor guy.” That from my younger daughter when my husband and I were at long last meeting her boyfriend for the first time after they had been dating for six months. We had heard a lot about him and liked what we’d heard. She certainly seems smitten. So of course, when we were finally face to face, I had lots of questions.
It’s not like I wanted to check out his genetic pedigree or evaluate him as a “suitable mate,” as in those cultures and eras with arranged marriages. My daughter’s is a new relationship—I genuinely just wanted to get to know the guy, but I needed to be careful not to cross the line between being interested and unduly inquisitive. The same was true several years earlier when we met our older daughter’s beau for the first time. (“Mom, relax. I don’t know how serious we are…it’s just been a few months.”)
Parents walk a fine line when we meet our children’s love interests. In the end, it’s really not our business. It’s their relationship and their future. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want them to be happy and be with good people. Nor does it mean that we don’t secretly form opinions. The challenge is in figuring out what to do with those opinions, especially if they are less than favorable.
In the hour or so that we had over dinner with “new guy” on the first night he arrived, my husband and I carefully tempered our questions so that the conversation didn’t feel like an inquisition. Fortunately, the young man goes to a unique university, so rather than ask 1,000 personal questions about family and background, we were able to have a fascinating conversation about his school and its traditions.
You can learn a lot about a person just from the way that he/she interacts. It’s what I do when I interview job candidates as well. Rarely do I ask about specific job skills (I leave that to other team members). Rather, it’s a conversation so that I can see the person underneath the questions. Does he answer in single words or full sentences? How engaged is he in his life? Types of activities? Passions? Does he look you in the eye when he speaks? Does he smile or is it the oh-my-gosh-I’m-meeting-the-parents glaze? Does he seem comfortable having this conversation and easily fit into the family group?
Like it or not, parents really do judge every aspect of their children’s new love interests. But that doesn’t mean that we should necessarily share our opinions, unless we truly deeply believe that the guy or gal is dangerous. Short of that, the more we push, the harder they will hold on.
I learned this lesson when I was the young person with the boyfriend and my parents were the ones with the opinions…which they wisely kept to themselves. Whereas Ron and my first interactions with our daughters’ guys were over the course of several days, my parents had met Ron only briefly once or twice before I announced that I would be moving to Colorado with him. Even though I’m sure they were freaking out on the inside, to their credit, my parents did not try to change my mind or impose their judgment on my pronouncement. Instead? Typical to my father’s deferment to expert advice, they sent me to his good friend and renowned psychiatrist in the area of couples therapy, Cliff Sager, to check the soundness of my decision. Cliff was a lovely man who asked me three questions…
- What do you think of his driving?
- Have you had an argument?
- How did you resolve it?
Based on my answers, he pronounced that I was “sane” enough to make this decision and blessed my move. Good choice, given that we are in our 32nd year of marriage.
As crazy as it seemed to them at the time—and it was VERY crazy to them—I give my parents a lot of credit for biting their tongues. They understood that they had given me the tools of judgment and self-reliance…and that if they pressed me hard not to go, I would likely hold on that much tighter and leave that much sooner.
Sadly, there are those who don’t hold their tongues and choose instead to “grill” the new person, both figuratively and literally, marrying them off before they’ve spent the first holiday season together No one is ever good enough for daddy’s little girl or for mommy’s prince. Maybe…maybe not. But it’s not our place to choose it.
Like with so many parts of parenting, we teach the lessons and then let our children fly. Ideally, we are role models of what a quality relationship looks like—one that is filled with mutual respect, good communication and a healthy dose of fun.
At this first meeting with our daughter’s new boyfriend, our job was just to be welcoming. We want our daughters to want to bring their friends and partners home and to trust that we will make them feel comfortable. The more comfortable they are, the better we all can get to know one another over time and through the course of future moments and events.
So this past weekend when we met boyfriend of daughter #2, I texted boyfriend of daughter #1 to say that we missed him on the weekend and that the poor new guy had to get all of the “loving attention.” His response: “I like how your family gives ‘loving attention’ instead of ‘grilling.’”
I hope I never grill. But I do hope that I get a “well done” in creating a welcoming home.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.