Edited to add additional follow-up from the Letter Writer below the jump.
Dear Captain Awkward,
First off, I want to let it be known that we are a family of Christians; I believe there is only one true God and that to be saved it must be through Jesus Christ. I have raised both my children “Paul” – 19 years old – and “Mary” – 24 years old – to be strong in faith and put their trust in God.
However, I fear for my daughter’s life. She recently confessed to me (this past summer) that she is seeing someone, let’s call him “Jim.” Jim is not who I want for my daughter and I worry that their incompatibilities and differences will lead to her being hurt.
One, his family is Catholic. We are a Baptist Christian family. I don’t believe in the teachings of Catholicism. Even worse, Jim is an atheist and does not believe in God and I feel that he will drag Mary down spiritually. This is the biggest thing that I am scared of, and while I have tried to tell Mary that she should break up with Jim for her own wellbeing, she will ignore me or pretend I didn’t say anything. It hurts me deeply that she would choose to ignore her own mother like this. She should know that God’s love is not to be taken lightly.
Secondly, We are a Chinese family and Jim is from an American family. I worry that the cultural compatibility will be an issue.
Three, Mary has a masters degree whereas Jim has only his bachelor’s. I feel that he will come to resent my daughter for having a higher education since he is the man in the relationship (and I have seen many relationships end because of this).
Four, I am scared that he will be a bad influence on Mary. He does not smoke or do drugs but according to Mary he does drink on occasion. Mary tells me she does not drink (she claims she does not see the point) but for how long until she gives into the temptation of drinking? What about peer pressure from hanging out with his family and his friends?
Five, I feel like Mary is settling in life and Jim is a result of that. Another example: She is in a marketing job and they are not paying her very well (only 40K and she has a masters degree). She says she loves it but I don’t think she does, I think she’s just trying to rebel against me. She doesn’t even listen to my suggestions that she move back home to Virginia (she lives in New York) to save on rent or so that I can help her grow.
Six, I am scared that Jim will pressure Mary to do sexual things. I have already warned her that her purity is an important gift from God, but I am so scared that she will ignore my pleas. And because Jim is a man, I am worried that he may rape her even if she says no.
Mary has always been very independent, but she is still young and not mature. I need help in making her realize that Jim is not a good person for her and that she will suffer in the long run as a result from being with him. If she does not break up with God, how can I help lead them back to God so that they can have a Christ-like relationship?
Dear Concerned Mother,
I confess to being very confused and very curious as I read your letter. I’m going to guess that you’re not a regular reader of the site, but even so, what on earth do you think I’m going to tell you?
Full disclosure, in case you want to stop reading now: I’m an agnostic who was raised Catholic (which is a kind of Christian, btw) and I don’t think drinking, having sex, having a boyfriend of a different religious denomination, or making “only” $40,000/year are wrong, especially not for an adult woman. I think the emphasis on “purity” by Christian church, especially in America, is sexist and toxic for both men and women; I suggest reading Damaged Goods by young Christian feminist thinker Dianna E. Anderson for a different perspective on that question. You say that you “fear for your daughter’s life;” I think, based on your description of her choices, that this is a massive overreaction on your part. It honestly freaks me out that you can only imagine a scenario where she has sex with Jim as him raping her, like the idea that she might want to can’t even enter your mind.
To be completely frank, when you say that “Mary” ignores your comments about her relationship with Jim and resists moving back home with you, it actually makes me hopeful and happy for her, because she’s developed independence and the ability to have healthy boundaries. If she did move back in with someone who talks only of wanting to control her, it would make me seriously worry about her emotional well-being.
Your daughter is her own person. She belongs entirely to herself. Her body belongs to her, her faith belongs to her, her romantic and sexual life belongs to her, her career belongs to her. All of her choices – even if all of your worries come true and even if every single choice ends up being a mistake – belong to her and her alone.
Do you understand that? Can you understand that? You have raised her with as much love as you can in the best way that you know how. Now that she’s grown, the time for you “raising” her is over and done. It isn’t your job to break up her relationship or “lead her back to God” (which conveniently dovetails with leading her back to live with you, huh, interesting) or “help her grow.” Your job now is to love the adult woman as the fully-formed independent person that she is.That doesn’t mean liking all of her choices, but it does mean finding a way to accept that they are her choices. Start with scripts like:
- “It’s up to you.”
- “What do you want to do?”
- “Whatever you decide, I’m here for you.”
- “I’m proud of you.”
There are even scripts that allow you to be honest about your less-than-encouraging feelings while still acknowledging Mary’s autonomy:
- “I think they should be paying you more at work, because you are so valuable. Hopefully you can find a way to make that happen next year.”
- “I have had some reservations about Jim, but if you say he’s a good person then I believe you. I’d love to get to know him and see what you see in him.”
Your worry and disapproval and desire for control are unlikely to change Mary’s mind about anything. They are likely to drive a deeper wedge between you the longer you treat her choices like they don’t matter. I know you feel powerless where your relationship with your daughter is concerned right now, but you actually have immense power to decide what kind of relationship you will have going forward. Will it be one where you see her as clay to be molded in your image, or will it be one where you see her as a full human being? Is Mary, actual Mary, dater of disappointing Jim, earner of mediocre marketing pay, actually welcome in your life, or do you only interact with the version of her you wish she would be? You are worried that Jim will hurt her someday, but if you constantly undermine her choices when you’re together the way you do in your letter, the person hurting Mary is you.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I saw your response on your website and thank you for writing back but I don’t think you understand. As I have said, while she is very independent she is not yet mature (she can be very selfish and I fear her being in New York has taught her to value the materialistic things of this world).
Even if you do not believe in God, we do. So please understand my very real fear that she is signing up to spend eternity in hell because she chooses an un-Christian-like lifestyle. Again, understand a mother’s love for her children. I will do anything I can to protect my children, and that means making sure that they are going down a righteous path. I am not selfish, if I was I would have demanded that she moved back to Virginia. I would have told her not to take the job she took. I would not have helped pay for her education or rent. Knowing this, can you truly say I am the selfish one? It seems like Mary is the selfish one who is using me when it is convenient or benefits her.
I want what’s best for my daughter. I have prayed many times and know that God has a plan for her, that she is to become a missionary one day and that she is to marry a man of faith. That man is not Jim. Mary thinks it is, but that is because Mary again is trying to run away from God. But as we know, we cannot run from God, for He is everywhere (like with Jonah and the fish). I just want to stop her from making mistakes in life that cannot be taken back.
I had written to you in hopes that you can provide good advice for me, but please understand that I am looking for good advice. Please help.
Dear Concerned Mother,
Oh, I understand, I just completely disagree with your approach to parenting your adult daughter. For example, I think that the money you give your kids for their upbringing and education is a gift, not a down payment on controlling the rest of their lives. And I am still totally confused as to why you wrote to me in particular or what you think I will say to you. Did you just want to be able to complain about how “selfish” your daughter is to 30,000 daily readers? If so, mission accomplished! (Mary, if you’re reading this, I don’t think you are being selfish by not moving back home or not dumping your boyfriend).
However, now that you’ve written me again, I have had a thought:
What if YOU become a missionary?
And, if you are not currently married (and forgive me, you don’t mention a husband/Mary’s dad), you could find a man of the church to marry. One who is totally compatible with your culture and your beliefs!
Maybe your prayers are really telling you about God’s plan for you. Also, what better way to lead than by example? Perhaps Mary will be so moved by your sacrifice that she’ll follow you. The Lord works in mysterious ways!
Perhaps not, but at least you can comfort yourself in knowing that you’ve done all you can to spread your faith in the world. It’s never too late to be what you once might have been!
I would prefer that you not email me again, truth be told. However, I wish you and Mary all the luck in the world. You: Luck in coming to terms with the fact that your children are outgrowing the need for your guidance and in finding non-controlling ways to channel your love for them, Mary: Luck in living her own life and being happy in New York (or wherever she chooses to go).