The good news: Your child is coming home from college or uni. The not-so-good news: They’re not alone. Here’s how to deal with having “Mr./Miss Right” in your home, and how to maintain your rules and values in the process. By Cory Cambridge
“I’m coming home for reading week!” Carolyn Brooks, a journalism student at Toronto’s Centennial College, told her mother, Kate. The Winnipeg-based mom hadn’t seen her daughter for months and was looking forward to having her home. Then she found out Carolyn was bringing company — her new boyfriend.
“It was weird for me,” admits Kate. “She had never brought anyone home before, but I was happy she was coming so I didn’t say anything about her boyfriend.” That was, until she couldn’t keep quiet any longer.
Just days after arriving, Kate saw what Carolyn didn’t — that her boyfriend was more dud than stud.
“The first thing I noticed was how he changed her personality,” says Kate. “She went from being outgoing, bubbly and happy to someone who was very quiet and not laughing. Being with him had changed her whole demeanour. On top of that, the way he talked to her was very controlling and that didn’t sit well with me.”
The week was met with polite conversation, and though Kate admits it made her uncomfortable to have the boyfriend in her house, she did her best to make him feel welcome. A day before the visit was over, however, Kate’s silence came to an end. She sat Carolyn down and told her she needed to dump the boy. “I couldn’t stay out of it anymore. Sometimes when you’re in this kind of relationship you can’t see it, and an outsider has to be the one to show or tell you.”
Months later, Kate’s daughter dumped the boy, and thankfully, the honest tête-à-tête didn’t put a strain on their mother/daughter relationship. But that’s not always the case, which is why knowing when it’s appropriate to voice your concerns is integral, says Kimberly Moffit, Toronto-based psychotherapist and relationship expert.
Speak up or shut up?
For many parents, having their son or daughter bring home a significant other is a rite of passage they would rather not experience. Sure, they might be in their early 20s, but to parents they’re still their “child”. So when you don’t like the new boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s an especially difficult time. You either speak up and risk damaging the relationship with your son or daughter, or keep quiet and suffer in silence.
“It’s very important to talk to your child if you see signs of abuse, control or manipulation,” says Moffit. “Have an educated discussion with your child and tell them, ‘Whatever it is you need, we are here for you. We can’t tell you how to handle your relationship, but we notice this and we’re worried about you.’ For some parents it’s gut-wrenching, but ultimately your child has to make their own choices. It’s important to remember that everyone has their own life lessons.”
If it’s a matter of simply thinking Mr. Right is Mr. Wrong, Moffit suggests a lesson in humility. Take a trip down
memory lane and remember the frogs you went through before finding your prince.
“It’s important for parents to remember the silly dating mistakes they made and not be too judgemental.”
Living with the enemy
If there’s one area to pull no punches, it’s your standards and expectations of behaviour surrounding romantic relationships — especially when in your home. Since every family has different views on what is and isn’t acceptable, your rules should be clear.
“It’s very necessary for parents to discuss expectations in advance. If, for example, you clearly state that your child will be in their room while their guest is in another, stand firm. Don’t allow any matters to be misunderstood,” says Paul Plant, a child and youth counsellor at Kinark Child and Family Services in Peterborough, Ont. “The time to talk with your chid about ground rules is before the rules are needed, and not as issues arise. That’s when fights begin.”
Tempers can also flare if you lose yours, he says, which is why it’s paramount to remain neutral, even if you feel anything but. “As your child matures and invites a significant other to stay over at your home, it’s key for a parent to be respectful whether you like your child’s partner or not.”
Moffit agrees, and adds that interactions with your child’s new love interest can be awkward due to an oldfashioned
case of the nerves.
“Take the high road, be polite and treat them the same way you would treat anyone else in your home,” she says. “Give them a chance to come around. They’re young and might be nervous if this is the first time they are meeting you.”
Dealing with your child’s teen romance
For Debbie Zuk, a mom of two from Montreal, having her 16-year-old daughter bring her first boyfriend home was a shock. “They showed up and wanted to watch TV in the basement, and my husband and I said yes, but were upstairs having a fit! We didn’t want to be too obviously overbearing, so we paid my son to go downstairs and watch TV with them to be sure all was well. It was our on-the-fly solution,” she says.
In situations like this, it’s best to take some deep breaths and try to relax, says Plant. “Once a child reaches their teen and early adult years, the parenting you’ve done has laid the foundation for his or her morals and values,” he says. “Continue to gently guide them, encourage good decisions and be prepared for a bit of boundary testing.”
If you haven’t already, have ‘the talk’
Seeing your child with a significant other may be surprising, but it’s the reality of what’s looming that really strikes fear in the heart of parents. After all, hormones are revving up and s-e-x may be on the horizon, making the importance of ‘the talk’ paramount. “By age 11 or 12, hormones have already kicked in, so if you haven’t already had an open conversation about sex with your child, it’s time,” says Plant, adding that it’s essential for parents to be clear that kids can and should come to them any time with relationship questions.
“Between the entertainment industry, peer pressure and their raging hormones, it’s important that parents be a source of accurate and honest information. Otherwise they rely on information from other sources, such as their friends or the Internet, which we know have a tendency to be misinformed.” It may be one of life’s most awkward conversations, but the results can make or break a teen in love.