I recently got engaged to my boyfriend of three years. When we announced it to my family, no one said congratulations. A week later, my mom invited us over, only to lay out all their fears of how we might struggle financially. They aren’t huge fans of my fiancé because he’s not in a professional field with a high salary. I know it’s my life, but I wish I could change their mind and get their blessing. I’ve always been close to my parents and we have a great relationship. How can I let go of the need for their approval of one of the most important decisions of my life?
– Happy wife, unhappy parents.
On Starting a family: New but necessary boundaries
Dear Happy wife, unhappy parents,
Congratulations on your engagement! Getting engaged is not a decision to take lightly. Finding your marital partner requires all the stars in the compatibility universe to align. So when you do find that special someone, it is truly a moment worth celebrating.
I am sorry to hear that this joyous occasion was overshadowed by your parents’ disapproval. Instead of the squeals of excitement and well wishes, you received silence and a lecture. It must have been extremely hurtful to hear their judgmental comments about your partner. Even when the criticism is directed at your fiance, it’s difficult not to take it personally.
Announcing your engagement can be an exciting yet nerve-wracking experience. You are baring it all, not only who you love and choose to be your life partner, but also who you are and your future plans. Therefore, it is natural to feel incredibly disappointed that the two people that you love so much could not bring themselves to utter even basic words of support.
Identify Approval Seeking Habits
The desire for our parents’ approval feels instinctive because we love and respect them. The impulse is especially stronger when we have a close relationship with them.
All throughout our lives, we are taught to listen to our parents and hold their opinions in high regard. Even when we come to form decisions based on our individual values, we face a perpetual conflict between our parents’ expectations and our inner voice.
There is nothing wrong with needing approval from your parents. But if you’re not careful, it becomes very easy to fall into a toxic cycle.
To stop making your happiness conditional on your parents’ approval, you must detach your life and self-worth from the expectations of your parents. The best way to do this is to set some emotional boundaries. This will foster and preserve a healthy relationship between you and your parents. As you learn to clarify and articulate your personal limits, you will gain a stronger sense of autonomy.
Finding your own voice: Renouncing approval
As you and your partner forge your new relationship identity, the existing conflict may affect how your families interact in the future. Given how close you are with your parents, you may choose to communicate to your parents how you feel about their comments and remind them to be more tactful in their comments about their soon-to-be son-in-law. Establishing these boundaries early on will clear the way for potential conflicts down the road.
For the sake of covering all bases, it might be worthwhile to do a reality check to assess the validity of their concerns before confronting them. Chances are you and your partner have already broached the topic of finances and have a plan in place. (Let’s be honest, weddings are expensive!)
Sometimes, those who are closest to us can see things that we don’t, so give them the benefit of the doubt and address their concerns in an objective manner. If their objections don’t bring up any warning flags, then be confident in your decision.
These comments may be a reflection of their personal biases and value system rather than an actual problem. It is possible that your parents’ disapproval comes from their own experiences. Perhaps they encountered financial challenges in the past or have experiences that lead them to have traditional views on marriage and careers. Understanding these concerns can help you alleviate your parents’ fears. More importantly, it can help you let go of feeling responsible for your parents well-being.
Their actions and words, although sometimes unintentionally damaging, are ultimately driven by their unconditional love for you and desire for your happiness. As you find ways to accept each other’s choices and actions, hopefully you can build on the love that you have for each other and continue to support each other through this major life transition.
Learning to grow together
While our parents have our best interest in mind, they pass on what they know. Their advice is best tailored to their past selves, speaking from the specific experiences that they have endured. As we become older and gain more life experiences, our horizons expand. We start to see the world through our own lens.
Children will grow and follow their own paths. Parents also need to grow and eventually let go of their control over their children’s lives. As you enter a new life stage, your parents will need to embrace your decisions and visions if they hope to remain an integral part of your life.
Whenever you feel trapped in your parents’ expectations or approval, remind yourself that you are worthy of love no matter what you choose. At first, It might feel uncomfortable when you and your parents don’t see eye to eye, but you do not need to prove your love for your parents or compromise in your own beliefs.
Over time and through earnest conversation, hopefully your parents will rise to the opportunity to grow themselves, open their hearts and meet you in the middle. What they choose to do is something that is out of our control. Sometimes, all we can do is our best, and step back.
Marriage is a journey with a series of new firsts and many more important decisions ahead. You now have a partner by your side who can cheer you on and lift you up along the way, so trust that you will find the best way forward together.
If you haven’t done it already, pop that champagne and gather your bestows. Let’s celebrate!
Always here for you,
Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments here. Or, subscribe to our newsletter to get Kiki’s advice straight to your inbox on the last Sunday of every month.
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