Mom Dislikes Daughter's Boyfriend

A mother asks how she can express her fears to her daughter about her boyfriend, without putting her on the defensive.
My 20-year-old daughter is dating a man that I do not like. I guess I have a motherly instinct about this. She has been dating him for about a year. She has such a caring, wonderful personality, but he seems just the opposite. He is selfish, has had a DWI recently, and just rubs me the wrong way. My daughter knows how I feel about him. I did let her know that I love her deeply and want her to keep her eyes open. My husband and other family members feel the same way. How should I handle this situation?
As you are well aware, your daughter is an emancipated woman who needs only to answer to herself about who she selects for a boyfriend. I fully understand and empathize with your motherly instincts that tell you he is a poor and possibly dangerous choice. His recent DWI understandably leaves you concerned about his maturity and common sense, as well as your daughter's safety. The fact that your husband and other family members feel similarly about him must create some serious emotional problems for your daughter. No young adult wants everyone in her family to dislike her boyfriend intensely, unless she feels a need to rebel against or get back at her family for some reason.

I would try to have discussions with your daughter that do not put her on the defensive about being with this young man. Ask her open-ended questions about him and their relationship that are non-judgmental, shaming or blaming. Don't put her in a position of having to choose between her family and him. You have instilled your beliefs and your values in your daughter. You need to believe that you have done your job in raising her to make sensible decisions about how and whom to select as a boyfriend. If you do sense that this young man is inflicting any physical harm or mental anguish on your daughter, you need to intervene. If not, it might help if you extended a more welcoming attitude toward this boy and made more of an effort to find out what your daughter sees in him. I'm sure that she told him long ago that you all dislike him, so chances are he feels uncomfortable in your presence. Remember, when you talk negatively about her boyfriend, you are indirectly talking negatively about your daughter.

I know that it's tough not to be alarmed when you believe that your children have made seriously bad choices in friends, girlfriends, or boyfriends. I would focus on maintaining a loving, supportive relationship with her and show genuine, interest in the other aspects of her life that do not directly include her boyfriend. You are free to be honest about why you do not like her boyfriend, but it is unwise and unfair to condemn, embarrass, or otherwise make her feel badly because she is with him.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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