Hi, Carolyn: This question has been stewing for a long time, and I really dont know what to do. Two years ago my brother and his now-wife were preparing to get married and felt so much pressure, judgment and negativity from my parents leading up to the wedding that they almost uninvited them. That relationship has since repaired a bit, though there is still a lot of tension.
My parents are now applying the screws to my relationship, my life and all of my decisions. They disapprove. Have resorted to screaming and yelling, angry 2 a.m. emails, and making it blatantly clear my significant other is unwelcome at holidays. They say, But hes welcome! I think we were very civil to him when we saw him in August but the civility was palpable tension and anxiety.
Ive explained boundaries to them: that if this relationship DOES work, theyre making it really stressful, and if it doesnt, I will distance myself super far away from them to avoid this type of intervention in the future.
Im a happy, successful person in my early 30s and their attitude is a major negative force in my life. How do I make it go away without cutting them out?
I appreciate the idea of a boundary, but what you set down is not a boundary, its a pair of consequences. Consequences are an important part of boundaries, which Ill get to in a second, but they need to be immediate, concrete and directed at the people whose invasiveness youre trying to thwart.
One of your consequences is so deep into the future as to be nearly abstract: If your relationship doesnt work out in however many months or years you give it to play out then youll move away? Imagine a mousetrap that snaps two years post-snatching of cheese.
Your other consequence is making it really stressful for you. So, they snatch the cheese, and you get snapped?
A viable boundary involves a cause (their behavior), an effect (your response to their behavior), a clear statement of your position, and a direct consequence:
Cause: Mom, Dad recently youve responded to my choices with pressure, judgment and negativity, and you did a similar thing to Brother as he was planning his wedding.
Effect: When you scream, yell and send me 2 a.m. emails, I feel stressed and (your other feelings here).
Position: I will no longer discuss my relationship or my decisions with you not until youre ready to trust that you raised me well enough to handle my own life, including any mistakes I make.
Consequence: If they keep up the hysterics, you respond calmly and decisively by hanging up the phone/leaving the room/deleting the email/opting out of the family holiday.
This gives your parents a chance to make an immediate connection that if they impose their opinions on you when you havent asked for them, then you will not stick around to be badgered. Better they learn this now, in low-conflict, single-encounter-size increments, than in your abrupt overseas relocation after years of bitter arguing.
Dear Carolyn: My daughter is engaged. This will be her second marriage and her fiances first. Her first wedding was a traditional, expensive affair that my wife and I paid for.
We are wondering what we should be doing for her second wedding. We are approaching retirement age and need to continue throwing money there. We have a son who likely will be getting married in a year or two and another son who hopefully will be following suit in the not distant future. First marriages for both. My daughter is in her early 30s and the fiance is a year younger.
Short answer: Do whatever you want.
Slightly less short answer: Do what you can afford and think is fair to all your kids.
Preachy answer: Dont let your opinion of marriage or remarriage influence your decision. When your kids are old enough to marry, theyre old enough to be spared attempts at puppeteering by purse strings.
Contingent answer: Hope she doesnt expect or ask you for anything and makes this whole question a moot point.
Pre-emptive answer for other parents with a question like this in their future: Plan ahead, and not just financially. Also prepare yourselves philosophically by figuring out how youd handle a child who remarries or doesnt marry at all; or one who can afford to pay his or her own way versus one who cant; or one whose vision of a tasteful wedding differs vastly from yours or from a previously married siblings; or just different kids wanting or needing different things from you.
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