Only You Can Make this Decision

Published March 5, 1981. 
QUESTION: A young man proposed to me (I am 20 years old), and I would like to marry him. The only problem is that my parents do not approve of him for reasons I will not mention. I find myself torn between my love for him and my desire to follow the advice of my parents. But we seem to be getting nowhere. To what degree should parents become involved in the mate selection process of their children?

ANSWER: This is a very sensitive question and one I have repeatedly confronted as a teacher and counselor. I think there remains a slight immaturity in a child who will not at least listen to a concerned parent. But ultimately, the child has to make the decision, not the parents.

It is often wise to seek advice from qualified sources when confronting a major decision in life. And choosing a marriage partner just happens to be one of, if not the most, important decisions you will ever make. Parents are one of several excellent sources to obtain information about mate selection. You are the one, however, who must abide by the consequences of your decision, so you must be the one to decide. You must be the one to live with or for that matter, without the young man in question.

As for the parents, I know of no greater way to throw or drive your child into the arms of someone than to absolutely forbid them to see or marry each other. You are not only questioning the integrity of the person under consideration, but you are also challenging your own child’s wisdom in choosing a marriage partner.

And it finally becomes a matter of push and shove and your child will eventually win out because in most states a person may legally marry who they desire after the age of 18, with or without the consent of their parents. To marry without this consent is an uncomfortable situation for both parent and child, but such is the reality in favor of the child.

If you do give the ultimatum that he or she not marry the person, think of the hardships and heartaches you create for them if and when they a decide to marry against your will. And as a parent, do you really have the right to decide who your child will or will not marry? Would you have liked your parents to have made that decision for you?

When I was teaching in Wisconsin a few years ago, I had a student who was failing one of my classes. I called this to her attention one afternoon in my office, and she began to cry. She then told me she was failing all of her classes and related the following to me.

She was in love with a guy, a campus radical of whom her father, an administrator on campus, did not approve. Her father had told her that if she married the young man he would (1) withdraw all future financial support for her education, (2) refuse to attend the wedding, and (3) legally disown her. The student told me she was going ahead with the wedding plans in just a few months, but her father’s edict and attitude literally had made her ill. And we wonder sometimes why students do not do well in school.

I advised the young woman not to judge her father and to proceed with her wedding plans if that was her decision, with or without him. In other similar situations, I have observed that the bark is always worse than the bite. Parents usually mellow once they realized that the child is serious about the person and the marriage.

A wise man was once asked how he led people. He replied, in essence, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” I believe this is an excellent model for parent-child relationships including the choosing of a marriage partner.

Parents should decide on correct principles for choosing a husband or wife, and teach them to their children early in life. But when the actual time arises for the maturing child to make the decision, it is in the best interest of all for him or her to be self-governing.

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