Question

I am reaching out to you in concern of our daughter’s boyfriend. First, he does not talk to us and we feel he is just different. I understand not everyone is a talker and some people are just quiet, but when you come to our home you could at least try and engage in conversation. He will text me telling me that he is just a quiet guy and does not feel in his comfort zone and would like to meet with me and my husband so we can get to know him, why send a text when you can do that when you come over?

Secondly, he has a 6-year-old little boy who is non-verbal autistic. This makes it even harder. Our daughter is 28 years old and has moved back home with us while her boyfriend is going to school in another city and his parents are taking care of his child because he lives at home also.

Our daughter has never been married nor does she have any children. I have tried to lay out a foundation that raising a special needs child is a challenge. Even though I personally have not encountered this, I do know it is a challenge. She is not a motivator and I am not sure this is for her. She says she has no problem with it, and they will do just fine.

She is not allowed to have her boyfriend spend the night at our home, I feel this is out of respect, but his parents allow her to stay over there, so anytime he comes home she is over there. The parents do not speak English but are able to communicate with her.

My husband and I are devastated and just don’t know what to do, if anything. She knows that we feel he is not the right guy for her, we surely don’t want to lose a relationship with our daughter but also have a really hard time just being around this guy. My husband and son feel the same way. We can’t pinpoint what it is, but it is a gut feeling that something is just not right. When they do come over all our daughter is doing is chasing the little boy around to put food in his mouth or keep him out of stuff and let’s not forget changing his diaper while his dad just watchers her! This is tough for us as parents and I just want to scream with sadness and hurt seeing this all happen right before my eyes. Don’t know where to turn or what to do. Any suggestions are welcomed.

Answer

It’s overwhelming to see our loved ones live their lives in ways that don’t make sense to us. I believe you that your daughter and her boyfriend are headed toward significant challenges that would test any couple. You also recognize that they both still depend on their parents for financial and childcare support, so you’re not just a bystander. While there aren’t simple answers to their situation, I do believe you can get clear on how you personally respond to them. This clarity will give you more peace regardless of what they choose to do.

You want to preserve your relationship with your daughter, so it’s important to show interest and curiosity instead of judgement and criticism. You’ve listed out all of the reasons this guy isn’t right for her (his race, cultural differences, language barrier, special needs child, etc.), but she obviously sees something in this guy that keeps her in the relationship. I don’t think it’s wise for parents or extended family to talk their loved one out of a relationship unless there are dangerous conditions, such as abuse, addiction, abandonment, or an affair.

You haven’t identified any of these conditions, but only identified that you don’t think this is the life she would want. However, what if this is the life she wants? Perhaps there is something she’s experiencing with him and his family that is meeting her needs. Perhaps she’s perfectly happy with the arrangement she has with her boyfriend, his family, and his child. You’re telling yourself that you are certain this won’t work for her, but what would you do if you learned that this is truly what she wants for her life?

It’s difficult for many parents to accept the lives their children live, especially when they look completely different from the life they imagined for their children. When you judge her life as unacceptable, you run the risk of alienating her and creating more disconnection between you.

Since you aren’t in charge of her life anymore, you are freed up to love her, her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s son, and his family. If she someday chooses to be done with him, then you can continue to love her as she figures out her next move. You know nothing about this young man and his family. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to put aside your fears and prejudices and learn as much as you can about him and his life. Don’t make him do all the work to connect with you. Take every opportunity you can to welcome him into your family culture. Your daughter has chosen him and now it’s your turn to get to know him.

Ask him about what he loves about being a father. Find out what challenges he faces having a special needs child. Ask him about his family. See what he loves about your daughter. See what she loves about him. They are both committing to each other and trying to build a life together. She is the one who has to decide if she wants to share her life with him. You only have to decide how you will treat him.

If you’re concerned about her living with you, then get clear about what you can afford and what you’re willing to financially contribute. Please don’t make your financial support contingent on who she chooses to date. Obviously, if she’s taking advantage of your generosity, then set the appropriate limits. These arrangements are between you and her, not between you and her and her boyfriend.

You’ve identified some obvious struggles they’re both experiencing with his son and other challenges. You can extend mercy and compassion to them, as they will be the ones who have to do the hard work. Your daughter may have to speak up about how she can’t be the primary caregiver for his child. He may feel inadequate and overwhelmed caring for this child. They will have things to figure out if they go forward, but they will have more success with the compassionate support of loving family.

In the scriptures, compassion means literally “to suffer with.” It also means to show sympathy, pity, and mercy for another.[i] You feel great concern for your daughter and her future. You don’t have to rescue her from a situation she feels perfectly comfortable with right now. It may require that you suffer with her as she figures out what she wants and what will work best for her. She needs to know that your love for her is bigger than the choices she makes.

Wally Goddard once taught me the principle that we don’t have permission to correct anyone we don’t love. And, he says, once we truly love them, we generally don’t feel like correcting them anymore. While you may have some concerns and observations to share with your daughter, I encourage you to first spend time getting to know more about her and how she feels about this direction for her life. Spend more time getting to know her boyfriend. Deepen your love and interest. Engage with them when they’re in your home so they know of your love. You have nothing to lose by opening your hearts to them.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

I’m offering 50% off all of my online relationship product during the month of April! This includes my 12-week Trust Building Bootcamp for those who have broken trust and want to repair their marriage. Visit www.lovingmarriage.com and go to “online courses.” Enter the code: COVIDHALF at checkout to receive instant savings of 50%.  

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.

You can connect with him at:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber
Website: www.geoffsteurer.com 
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT
Instagram: @geoffsteurer


[i] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/gs/compassion?lang=eng