We have a daughter who is getting serious with a very inactive man. She is a returned missionary and has always had a deep testimony, until recently when she has questioned various church policies and leadership. Naturally, she has found a fellow who agrees with her, and the relationship is becoming serious. We haven’t met him yet, but I need advice about how to navigate this tricky situation. I want to be loving and supportive of her, but I don’t want to endorse a marriage outside of the temple.
I want to be welcoming of this young man, to see his future potential, and to express confidence in her choices. But it feels phony to be excited about this relationship. I do know that if I express disapproval it will only drive her away. What I can do to preserve my relationship with her and still be honest? I’d love some suggested wording! She knows better, she has wonderful promises in her patriarchal blessing, she really shouldn’t settle. But, of course, she doesn’t think she’s settling. She thinks he’s “awesome.” And I know I can’t change her, only myself. She feels she’s more spiritual than ever, but doesn’t attend the temple anymore, and only attends church on occasion. Satan is working hard on her.
Even though we know our children have to chart their own courses, none of us can escape the fretting that sometimes arises when their choices don’t align with what we’ve hoped for them since they were little. Your question appears to be less about influencing your daughter’s choices and more about how to maintain an authentically supportive connection with her as you struggle with her unexpected direction. Let’s talk about how you can not only maintain your relationship with her, but also use this as an opportunity to grow closer to her.
You seem to be clear about your own internal reactions to this development, which is an important step toward building more connection with your daughter. There’s no need to pretend you feel something other than what you’re currently experiencing. Even though she is ultimately responsible for her own choices, there still needs to be room for both you and your daughter to have your individual experiences. You’ve invested in her well-being since before she was born, so naturally you’re going to have some reactions to her choices.
Of course, even though you’ll have your own opinions about her life, sharing them can’t come with an expectation of a certain outcome. The only goal here is to maintain a relationship with her, not establish contingencies. She needs to know that your connection to her is fixed regardless of who she chooses to date. She needs to know you can stand by her side as she takes her own steps into the unknown, regardless of the outcome.
I assume you have a close enough relationship with her which allows you to mutually share intimate thoughts and feelings. If this isn’t the case, then I don’t recommend you go further and share your own reactions. If she doesn’t trust your motives, she’ll likely experience your self-disclosure as a self-serving attempt at manipulating a specific outcome. However, if you have a close and secure relationship, then it’s important to share your feelings with her.
You can own your troubled energy with your daughter so she can understand what’s happening to you. You can make room for her journey and expect her to make room for your journey. Let her know that healthy relationships allow for two unique individuals to have separate experiences and still be connected to each other. Ask her if you can share what’s happening for you as you watch her going forward with this relationship. You don’t need to lecture her about her choices, but, rather, describe the worries and fears that have surfaced for you. She already knows what’s important to you won’t be surprised that you have reservations.
Affirm your love for her and show her confidence that no matter the outcome, you know she can make choices and stand by them with integrity. Ask her to be patient with you while you’re adjusting and making room for her process. Give her a place to share and talk about her experiences while allowing her the freedom to choose without anxiously directing her course. Father Lehi saw clearly what was coming for his children and posterity and was honest with them about his own reactions. However, he still expressed love and commitment to their individual agency.i
You can speak from your own experience and share how you’ve found joy and peace in your life. You can share your worries about her departing from this direction, but be careful to not make this entire conversation about your fears and worries. You may not have confidence in the choices she’s making, but you can have full confidence in the principle of moral agency. You can have complete confidence that, as President Harold B. Lee once shared, she has “a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help [her] when we do all we can.”ii Your peace isn’t going to come from her choices, but from the knowledge that honoring agency is God’s plan for all of us.
It’s also tempting to allow her choices to be a reflection on your performance as a mother. You may worry that her departing from the direction you desire for her means that you’ve failed her in some way. If she’s making her own choices and standing by them, you’ve taught her to think and feel for herself. She has to learn from her own experiences how to work with personal revelation and live with the outcomes. There is nothing comfortable or easy about this, especially when her choices make no sense to you.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell reminded us that God has designed for each of us “customized challenges”iii that are specific to our own personal development. It’s impossible for us to know the grand design for her life that may include potential detours, lessons, and growth experiences that will teach her in ways that only she can understand. You don’t need to redirect her or own the outcome of her choices. She will move forward with your commitment to a connection with her while you both allow mortality and her Heavenly Parents opportunities to bless her journey.
Sometimes we erroneously believe that if we disapprove of a choice our child is making, we simultaneously need to withdraw our love in order to send them a stronger and more effective message. Your commitment to love her, talk with her, listen to her, and provide presence will be a gift to her as she continues forward on her developmental path. You can own your reactions and energy, as she’ll most certainly detect your emotional movements as you share your lives with each other. You can also move forward in faith knowing that you’re both honoring the divine gift of agency that was so fiercely protected as the key element of this mortal classroom.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. You can receive 20% off by entering the code MERIDIAN at checkout. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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i See 2 Nephi 1-3