Pixabay As a college professor, it is amazing how often students sit in my office and tell me that they anticipate that their parents will not approve of whom they are dating or that they are already aware that their parents do not like who they are dating, often leaving them feeling increasingly isolated and torn between family and peers. She went on to say that she only had this one boyfriend and lost her virginity to him, but that her mother never wanted her to date him. So, she was hesitant to tell her mother anything and worried about needing health care and medication.
I sat and listened, held space for her, and then gave her many resources and contacts so she could get help; but all the while I knew that her shame was a direct result of her perceptions of maternal judgment and that that would remain a big obstacle for her. I have had numerous students come out to me as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans in conversations in my office and on papers, and virtually all of them perceive and worry that their parents will have extremely negative and hostile reactions.
My first boyfriend in junior high and high school was black. That man and I remain friends even to this day. In college, I dated a guy who had grown up on a dairy farm in Iowa, he joined the military, his mother lived in a trailer, and he was Lutheran. All of this was a far cry from the upper middle class suburb of Cleveland where I was raised. We stayed together for four years, and he joined me across the country when I pursued graduate school.
But I had to see it for myself. Later, we divorced, and the love of my life is a man who was raised Catholic, was an altar boy, and was raised in the south loving shrimp and grits and bluegrass. When we were each single before we met, my stepdad suggested I go to a synagogue and try to meet a nice Jewish guy, and his mother suggested he attend church services to meet a nice Catholic woman.
And then, should they choose to keep dating this person, they are much less likely to share with you if and when they encounter any problems and need your help and support.
You may have hoped your child would live nearby or at least an easy daytrip drive or plane trip away and not across the world. But, perhaps, your child craves a more unusual life in a faraway place or has always been interested in other languages, cultures, or healthcare and social policies in other places. They might need to live out these questions now and at least try this journey. They might decide to come backor you might get a fabulous new place to visit if you stay open to it.
This is especially likely to happen in college when kids come together from diverse class backgrounds; in college, there is much less to indicate and reveal the markings and trappings of social class.
Kids on both sides of the class divide often sense potential parental disapproval. For example, I met with a young woman in my office who had grown up poor and was involved with a young man, also a student of mine, who came from an extremely wealthy family; his parents owned multiple successful businesses, traveled internationally on a regular basis, and had several homes.
My female student was worried about what to wear to meet the parents, if she knew all the right table manners, and what she would do if they asked about her upbringing.
Later, the young man came to me also concerned that while he knows his family to be down to earth and unpretentious, his home might appear ostentatious to someone with so much less. He wanted to know how to mitigate that without being ashamed of who he is and where he came from. They were due to meet her family weeks later and she also conveyed shame, worried that she would come up short or feel judged, knowing her home could not compare and that her parents would not be able to afford to treat them in the ways she had just been treated.
Try to stay open-minded. Or, perhaps, you will see things that confirm your suspicions and worries but be sure to delineate how much of that is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy and how much is accurate. Observe how they behave in public together. Consider going for a ride since young people often share more when not looking at adults during challenging conversations and looking out at the long stretch of road. Or, suggest a walk. They are more likely to confide in you as a result. Open the space of your heart to truly listen and receive your child.
And the same goes for if your son or daughter breaks up with this person and then gets back together, as is often the case in abusive relationships. If abuse is suspected, consider trying to help in the following way: Try to stay in present moment awareness. Your kids need every opportunity to do this and to clarify their own needs, interests, values and priorities in intimate relationships.
And, remember, in the end, we were all once young and crazy in love, often unable and unwilling to listen to older people about love, sex and relationships. And, most of us found our way, however hard it was, however many times we fumbled and fell. So, try to let your children do the same, and listen and await with curiosity the interesting and loving selves they are continuing to become as young adults.