Intergenerational Strife

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You are torn. Of course you want your family’s approval. You hear such platitudes as “Blood is thicker than water” or “You get only one mother.” You listen to your family’s concerns, weigh their arguments fairly (unless you are still in the throes of limerence, in which case you are deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid and should refer to this article in another year or so), and reassess your new partner’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Eventually, you make a choice. Regardless, you continue to massage and foster the interaction between the family you love and the mate you’ve chosen.

In most cases, when parents see that their children are truly content, they relax whatever objections they had. Hearts soften and observations of a happy relationship override prejudicial hostilities. Time heals rifts that previously looked unbridgeable. But what if that is not the case?

What if your family pulls the loyalty card and demands your allegiance? What if they label your mate as the cause of their unhappiness? What do you do if you’re caught between your family of origin and your family of choice? No one envies this position, but for many it is a painful reality. Now we must muster our best negotiating skills, foster all parties’ best behaviour, and forgive what we may view as petty complaints.

However, when your family refuses to honour your choice of life mate, you are the only one who can decide what to do. Each of us knows deep in our hearts if we are truly happy in our relationship. Good partnerships are rare, built with attention to detail, openheartedness, and honest communication. If you are wise and lucky enough to have landed a good one, take stock of what is on the line. If your family of origin demands you choose between your mate or them, you might have to do just that.

This is sometimes an unfortunate and unfair cost of attaining adulthood. If you cannot redirect the control issues inherent in this sort of argument, you may have to pay the enormous toll of losing an original family home to establish a chosen one. Try to maintain some cordial contact so that either side has the option of backing down while saving face. It is a tightrope dance, and one we hope never to have to perform. Still, parents normally do not reject their children unless they really believe they are doomed, and children do not rebuff their original families until every other alternative has been exhausted. Assess your situation critically and fearlessly, and, if you are sure your mate choice best suits your needs, defend it valiantly. Keep your primary relationship unassailable. Your mate, your children, and hopefully even your disapproving parents will admire your conviction and devotion. Build as many bridges as possible, but refuse to sacrifice your adult love for parental approval. Hopefully, this will be the most difficult decision you ever have to make. Optimistically, both you and your parents will eventually accept that you made the correct one.

This column would be incomplete without a word to the parents caught in this struggle. It is important for you to remember that you ultimately have no choice in the matter of your children’s choice of mates. If you raised your kids to think for themselves, you must support their decisions and not burden them with your negative thoughts. Holding your tongue may well be the best choice, unless you have evidence of real harm. Remember, the time you have for turning your children into the people you want them to be ends when they leave home. That’s all the time you get. After that, your job is to accept, support, and nourish your adult children’s choices.

Intergenerational difficulties are heartbreaking. Do all you can to mend, heal, and foster a supportive environment. If you believe that the relationship is toxic, you may have to choose. Everyone can’t win all the time. Sometimes cutting your losses is the only way to save yourself.