What to do when your child chooses a partner you have concerns about

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD offers advice for parents who don't like their child's significant other
Parenting Advice | What to do when your child chooses a partner you have concerns about
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What to do when your child chooses a partner you have concerns about

It’s not uncommon that children choose spouses or boyfriends or girlfriends that the parents don’t like, that they’re worried about. There may be a kid who they think the kid has alcohol or drug problems or they’re financially irresponsible or they’re mean to the child - the child being the grandchild. So the question is: What should a parent do in that situation? One of the things that you should know is that you’re walking on very thin ice as soon as you start to weigh in about your adult child’s choice and partner. Who we choose as a romantic partner is one of the most important forms of our identity. It’s one of the biggest hallmarks of saying, “This is who I am. These are my values. This is what I like. This is who I love.” So if you’re a parent, you’re going to weigh in on that, you better be pretty darn careful because you could drive your child into the arms of somebody that they might just kind of have a short dalliance with or short-term relationship. But if you’re wrapping it up in terms of their own ability to choose - their individuality, their autonomy - then you’re kind of asking for trouble. Ideally, your child will complain to you about the spouse or the boyfriend or girlfriend and you can, in a very even tempered way, say something to that mostly by drawing them out. Mostly by saying, “What do you think about that? Do you think it’s going to get better? What are your concerns here?” I mean, your kid, may, in some cases, actually need you to take their side on that and say, “Yeah, that sounds ridiculous,” or, “Yeah, I wouldn't put up with that either,” but you just have to make sure you’re actually on the side of your child and not coming down in any kind of a judgemental or condemning way. So that they see you as their ally and behind them rather than you’re coming down as the big authority. Because if you do that, then they’re just going to get defensive and they’re going to shut down the conversation. Let the conversation be open so that they can use you as a sounding board more than anything else.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD offers advice for parents who don't like their child's significant other


Expert Bio

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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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