I have an issue with my son and I’m not sure I’m handling it right. He is living with his girlfriend, which I do not approve of. It is against my beliefs to live with someone outside of marriage. He and his girlfriend need a place to live for two months while waiting for a new home to be completed. They have asked to stay with us, but I’m uncomfortable having them live together unmarried under my roof. When I told him so, he got very offended. He is now quite mad at me. Should I stand up for my beliefs, or give him what he wants and let them stay here together?
The parent-child relationship is a very complicated one. As a parent it is your duty to teach, guide and love, but inevitably you also place a lot of expectations on your children. You want them to succeed and make good choices so they will have a happy life, but also because their mistakes reflect poorly on you.
Children also have unrealistic expectations for their parents. They expect parents to behave perfectly with wisdom and love, and children desperately want to win their parents' approval.
In his book "How Good Do We Have to Be?" author Harold Kushner says, “Parents are seldom as wise and children are seldom as accomplished as we think we need them to be. Hence, this relationship is full of need and expectation, and disappointment is inevitable. This relationship is the most complicated one a person will ever have.”
It may help to remember that making mistakes is a crucial part of this human experience as those mistakes are often our greatest teachers. Mistakes scare us, though. We develop a fear of not being good enough. We subconsciously believe we must be perfect or people won’t love us.
The role of religion is to cure that fear by telling us that God loves us anyway. Religion can help us to see that making a bad choice doesn’t make us a bad person, that God understands how complex and messy being human is, and He offers His perfect love to each of us as we grow.
“It’s not just a matter of hating the sin and loving the sinner," Kushner says. "God condemns the sin but loves the person who did it too much to even brand him as a sinner.”
That is unconditional love.
God thinks you have intrinsic, infinite and absolute value as His child, no matter how many bad choices you make. He wants you back, and understanding the depth of God’s love for you motivates you to obey Him.
Family should also be a source of this unconditional love. Ideally, your family should reinforce the idea that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Children — even grown children — need to know they can make mistakes without losing the love of their parents. They must know that even if you are disappointed in things they do, you are never disappointed in who they are.
We must give them permission to be scared, struggling, fallible people in the process of learning and growing — just like us. This is the greatest need they have.
I realize the job of a parent is also to guide and teach (along with providing unconditional love). The problem is that unconditional love must come first, or an environment of defensiveness is created where no learning can happen. When people feel judgment and criticism, their walls go up and they shut you off.
Besides, the best way to teach is by example. If your children feel disapproved of, they won’t stick around long enough to see your example.
I would recommend showing your son and his girlfriend that they are more important than your policy about marriage — especially since your unconditional love will bring their walls down, and it may give you the opportunity to share your beliefs with them down the road. It will also show them what your religion is really about: love.
Admit you were wrong and apologize for being fallible and human. Tell them you would love to have both of them in your home.
At least that’s my opinion — but you should listen to the voice of your inner truth to find the right answer for you.
The following passage is from the book “The Measure of Our Success” by Marian Edelman. It is her prayer to her children.
“I seek your forgiveness for all the times … I talked when I should have listened, got angry when I should have been patient, feared when I should have delighted, scolded when I should have encouraged, criticized when I should have complimented, said no when I should have said yes and said yes when I should have said no. I did not know a whole lot about parenting or how to ask for help. I often tried too hard and wanted and demanded so much and mistakenly tried to mold you into my image of what I wanted you to be, rather than discovering and nourishing you as you grew.”
Our children need to know they don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
Principle: Love is always the right answer.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of www.ldslifecoaching.com and www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker. Watch her on KSL TV every Monday between 6 and 7 a.m. Follow her on Twitter @coachkimgiles
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.