Grownup Daughter, Toddler Parents

21 Jan

Dear LetterBalm: My boyfriend is 13 years older than me. He’s been amicably divorced for years, and he has shared custody of two terrific, well-adjusted children. I’m 28, and I’ve dated men my own age and had a loving relationship with two. So, I know a good man when I see one, and my boyfriend is the best. But my parents are behaving like I’m dating Jack the Ripper. When I told them about my new man several months ago, they went ballistic, saying crazy things like “He’ll drop dead of a heart attack, and then where will you be?” Or “Do you really want to be a stepmother? Can’t you get married and start a real family of your own?” They picked a fight and walked out of my apartment at a dinner I arranged for them to meet him. I’ve had to block nasty phone calls and, on one occasion, my father sent me an investigative report on my boyfriend (which found nothing) with a note that read, “I never had to do this for any other man you were dating, but I felt I had to for George.” My parents and I have always been on great terms; this is the first time they are acting this way. Please give me the words and the strength to handle this. We want their approval; not having it saddens my man and me.

–My Guy Is the Best

You laid it out very maturely. Your folks are in their own fugue-state version of “Mommie and Daddy Dearest.” You’re facing two rotten outcomes: You and your man end the relationship until Mom and Dad are on board, or you and your man break off the relationship entirely. But Ms. L.B. says there’s a third alternative, although painful: Announce to your folks that you are old enough to live your own life and that, with regret, you will end all contact with them until they understand and accept this. They don’t have to love your man and his kids, but they do have to be polite and kind, and you insist on it. You might ask them why they are behaving so uncharacteristically. After you are certain of your decision, invite them to dinner – just the three of you – on your turf and say this:

Mom and Dad, I’ve given my relationship with George a lot of thought, and I have something to say. I ask that you don’t interrupt. You’ve made it clear how you feel. I’ve been racking my brain to understand why you’ve behaved so badly about George. You’ve never acted this way before — your behavior is so out of character. To hound me, to pick a fight and walk out in his presence, to have him investigated, for God’s sake. I want an explanation. Please tell me, because this seems more than just dislike of him. What do you have to say? [Ideally, discussion ensues. Listen quietly and don’t react. Depending on what you hear, you can proceed.] I need to tell you this: George and I are moving forward and building a life together. We want your loving approval, you know that. But you must understand that I’m prepared to take a painful step and end all contact with you until you understand and accept this. You don’t have to adore my man and his kids, but you do have to be polite and kind, and I insist on it. Think carefully, because this is something fundamental that will affect all our lives.  

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