Note: I use the word “child” throughout this piece, but I’m talking about full grown adults here. No child marriage on my watch.)
Let’s face it. Young Couples have their work cut out for them. Not only are they young (i.e., inexperienced, possibly naive, possibly uninformed) but they live in a society that says youth is for everything but marriage. Aint nobody supposed to be getting married before the age of 30. You should be out kicking it, dating, experimenting, living it up, painting the town red. That’s what they tell us, isn’t it?
Well, to that, I say… nothing. The newlywed me would have crafted a jazzy little retort, but I’m beyond that now. I couldn’t care less about what society suggests. It’s responsible for the promotion of a bunch of other ideas I choose not to adopt, so I won’t even waste my breath. I will say this though: To each his own. If you don’t like the idea of getting married in your 20’s (or ever), fine by me. Do your thing. But do understand that other people (your children included) will also do their thing, which could involve making decisions you wouldn’t. Don’t fault them. Don’t question them. Don’t attempt to dissuade them.
This is not to say that every starry-eyed young couple who wants to get married immediately should, but it is to say that young marriage can work and can be a very good decision, particularly for people who have a rockin’ support system.
What young couples need is support, someone to help them stay focused and positive. Following are 5 things you can do to show your love and support for them and their decisions.
1. Always see the good, even when they don’t
It can take time to learn how to be calm and how to quiet emotions in times of stress and discord. That means your child may call you in distress, claiming that things are in a horrible state of disrepair. This isn’t the time to say “Told ya so.” This is not the time to agree with them and suggest they come on back home. It’s the time where you calm them down and help them to see things more clearly, without the filter of raging emotion. You don’t have to become Dr. Phil or Iyanla Vanzant. It’s not even that deep. (Well, actually, it is, but you know what I’m saying.) All it takes is a sympathetic ear and the resolve to be positive. Something as simple as, “Calm down. It’s not that bad,” can be a big help. Let them know that marriage has its ups and downs and that you’ll help them get through it. Even if you’ve had a bad experience with marriage, don’t assume your child’s will be the same. Help her to do things differently than you did.
2. Don’t make sarcastic remarks
You say its just a joke, but she knows better. Sarcastic remarks about her decision to marry are not funny, and they do nothing to nurture your relationship with your child. If anything, they drive a wedge between you two make her much less likely to come to you when she really needs you. Take your own advice: if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.
3. Respect the spouse
So the spouse may not be who you would have chosen; he’s still her husband. You have to respect that. When you say mean things about her husband, not only are you disrespecting him but you are disrespecting your child, the one who has made a commitment to this man. If you love her (and I’m certain you do), why would you put her in a position where she feels forced to choose between her parent and her spouse? Surely, you know there’s no outcome in that situation she’d truly be happy with, so its bound to be a stressful experience. Is that what you want for your child? Do you mean to make her so unhappy?
Accept that she has chosen a husband, not a replacement for you. You are still her parent. The parent-child bond is still there, still strong. Her getting married hasn’t changed any of that. Some parents are intimidated by the idea of their child marrying because they feel they’ll be left out, no longer necessary. (This can be especially true for single parents who have poured themselves into their children in the absence of a lasting romantic relationship.) The truth, though, is that your married child needs you more. Perhaps not on a physical, daily basis, but she needs her parents to help her cope gracefully with the normal stresses of married life. She needs to know that you’ve got her back and that you trust her to pilot her own life.
The point of being a parent is not to control your children. It is to raise them into productive citizens who can conduct themselves with sense and contribute to society. You’ve done that. So, let go of the reigns and allow them to make their own decisions. And should things go terribly wrong, you can be there with open arms, waiting to be a parent in the most meaningful way.
4. Be open to alternative choices that may not seem ideal to you
As times change, so does the appearance and function of marriage. What seems appropriate to you may not work for them, and what works for them may seem wrong and unorthodox to you. For example, if one or both are still in school, they may need to live apart for a short period of time. That’s ok. Or perhaps she’s paying the bills because her husband, who is still in school, is working an unpaid internship and she has a steady job. Or maybe your super independent, career-driven daughter has decided to stay home with her young children. She may have decided this because the cost of day care is too high or because she’s simply had a change of heart. Either way, young couples need the space to construct their marriages in ways that benefit them. Give them that space. It’s fine to voice concerns and offer a different perspective on the possible issues that may arise, but allow her to be an adult and stand on her own two feet. I know it’s hard, but its part of your job.
5. Be on the side of the marriage
As natural as it may feel to automatically take your child’s side, don’t. You’re not doing them a service by always agreeing with them. Don’t simply say what will make them happy. Say what needs to be said to reinstate the peace. Sometimes, a lot of times, you should push back a little, offer a different perspective, perhaps the one their spouse has. Other times, when your child is feeling particularly frustrated and full of negativity, you may need to take the spouse’s side outright. You might have to remind her that her husband always deserves respect and that she should guard his reputation by monitoring how she speaks about him. She may not want to hear that in the moment, but she’ll thank you after it settles in.