Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My husband and I have three adult children. Twenty years ago, our oldest got pregnant while still in high school. It was a devastating and terrible situation but she and her boyfriend married, began a life together, and ended up having a second child together. By her own account, they were incredibly happy, made good money, and had a beautiful life together.
When her sons were teenagers, my daughter got very involved at her local gym. She began hanging out with the gym fitness staff and got very close to one man in particular. Her husband sensed problems and spoke to us, and we talked with our daughter, but nothing changed. She grew closer to her male friend and in our opinion, abandoned family values, responsibilities and relationships.
Eventually she moved out, got divorced, and began openly dating the man from the gym. She broke off all relationships with those of us who had spoken against the relationship and told her not to leave her family. She has said she will not have a relationship with us unless we accept all that she did without question. This is absurd to all of us!
Now this: we have received a wedding announcement from her. She won't talk to us, but she’s invited us to her wedding! I am so sad, my heart is broken. We love her no matter what, but cannot support her decision or support how she has hurt her children and family. Any words of wisdom?
Your story makes it clear that your love for your daughter was shaped by how she managed potential adversity as a pregnant teenager; she turned her situation into a success story, forging a marriage and building a family. It’s understandable that you’re proud of how she took the reins and built a future and family around it.
Now that she is building a future in an uncharted direction, it has shattered your image of a daughter who sacrificed and strove to put her family first, above all else. The circumstances around her affair and the subsequent demise of her marriage sound painful and frustrating, especially given your pride in her devotion to family. I’m sure this turn of events felt shocking and like a personal betrayal.
But it’s time to move past that – for the health of your own relationship with her, and for the sake of your grandkids. Yes, it’s unrealistic of your daughter to demand that you give approval for her choices, and in fact you may never be able to accept her actions. But it is realistic to show parental compassion. Knowing that happy people don’t typically have affairs and leave their partners, try to understand what it was about her life that your daughter sought to change. This is a juncture where you can say to her, with love, that you know she has been through a lot, and you know you don’t now and may never fully understand it, but you want to support her happiness.
Her wedding invitation is an opportunity for you all to mend this rift and move forward. Every family faces disappointments, challenges and changes, but it’s how we deal with these potential obstacles that truly defines us and will chart the course for future healthy relationships.
This is one of those situations where we get ourselves so worked up about hurt feelings and disappointments of the past that we lose sight of what’s really going on in that moment.
So take a deep breath, get grounded, and ask yourself a few questions: Do you want a relationship with your daughter? Will you regret not attending her wedding? Will you pass on an opportunity to make peace after she broke the ice with her invite? And what kind of example do you want to set for your grandchildren about love, forgiveness and family?
One more question: Why are you surprised by anything your daughter does at this point? She’s broken (and rebroken) your heart with some selfish, irresponsible and impulsive decisions over the years. She’ll certainly never live up to the high (and possibly a tad unattainable) moral standards that you hold for yourself and everyone else. And she’s certainly very proud and stubborn. (I wonder where she gets that from …)
Someone has to be the adult here and, sorry, but that’s you. Swallow your pride. Accept your daughter for the imperfect person she is and will always be. Love her. Go to her wedding (and seize any opportunity to be a part of the planning leading up to it), meet her new husband, bring the grandchildren, and be the momentum behind that first big step toward bringing this family – your family! – back together again.