Should Parents Have Say When Child Picks Mate?
Published March 29, 1990. During the past few weeks several parents have called and asked what to do when they do not approve of a son or daughter’s choice of marriage partner. It is one of the most sensitive questions I have ever been asked. Where does parental agency end and the child’s agency begin in choosing a husband or wife?
Most parents are rightfully concerned about a child’s choice of a spouse. The person will be an integral part of the family from that point and will also be the father or mother of the grandchildren likely to be born. With the apparent marital disruption so evident today, it is little wonder that parents are concerned. In addition, if substantial amounts of money are in the family estate, the chosen person will share in that wealth in the advent of marriage.
Perhaps even more significant, however, is the parental concern that their child be happy once he or she has left home. And who the child chooses to marry will play a large part in their future happiness. Obviously parents will be concerned and will likely try to participate in the selection of marriage partners of grown children.
From the child’s perspective, however, he or she usually desires parental approval in choosing a spouse but wants to have the last say in the choice. After all, the child is the one who ultimately will have to abide the consequences of the decision. Mom and Dad will likely give timely advice as they have done all through the teen years. But what happens when the child chooses not to follow the advice and decides to marry someone of his or her own liking or choosing? That is the sensitive question.
I have known situations when parents forbade their son or daughter to marry a certain individual. That tends to question not only the future spouse but also the child’s discretion in choosing. My observations from such experiences are that forbidding only makes the child retaliate and work harder to make the feelings even more real.
Humorist Erma Bombeck has an interesting solution. If your son or daughter is planning to marry someone of whom you do not approve, Bombeck suggests you invite him or her over for pizza and start talking grandchildren. Though stated tongue-in-cheek, the popular writer and columnist makes a valid point. Take the pressure off the decision, and perhaps a son or daughter can more clearly determine the consequences of the decision.
Now that Susan and I have sons and daughters in their late teens and early 20s, we have thought a great deal about who our children choose to marry. Here is what we have decided. We believe we have every right, even an obligation, to teach our children our beliefs and ideals about who would make an appropriate marriage partner for them. All this, we believe, should be done before the maturing son or daughter has to make a decision
But once a son or daughter has given adequate thought and attention to choosing a marriage partner, we believe it is our duty, even an obligation, to support our child’s choice - even if we do not necessarily agree. We have so stated this philosophy to them often and now do so in print.
What do you think? How much say-so should parents have when their children choose marriage partners? I’d like to hear from you on this topic. Perhaps some young people about to marry would also like to respond.