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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 28

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.


We are worried about our son’s choice of partner..

A Laterlife reader from the US writes: 

Have we been too soft with our 31 year old son? We have paid for college so he had no loans and helped finance his attempt at an acting career in Los Angeles. When he became 29, we told him within in the year we were planning to cut out our financial support and all three of us planned a schedule together. Now he is on his own, except for our funding his health insurance.  

He has a long time actress girlfriend who has moved with him across the country to Florida where he has started flight school to become a pilot at his own expense. She is from a different racial background, has a college degree, does not drive, has had little medical or dental care, never smiles, is not happy and has a huge chip on her shoulder. She has no family support.  

She needs to work close to home since she does not drive and complains about her hotel job. We are not happy about her, but feel our son has made his choice.  We have not expressed this to him. We recently spent a weekend together and all managed to get along but he keeps asking if we like her. I reply that it is important he likes her, after all he has chosen her, but I want to scream NO. We have nothing in common, religiously, philosophically, politically and we even eat different foods as she is a vegetarian.  

What`s a mom to do?

Maggi Says:

Watching our children making their way in the world and making their own decisions can be difficult, especially when we don’t agree with what they are doing. You and your husband have given your son a really good start in terms of financial support and backing,  and you must miss him very much. Even now you are still paying for his healthcare - no small thing in the US - but all over the western world parents are finding they support their children for longer into adulthood.

It also sounds like this has paid off, as you say he has started pilot training at his own expense. This shows his determination to stand on his own two feet at last doesn’t it?

You tell us a something of his girlfriend and make it clear that you do not approve of this relationship. Yet you also know that you cannot say anything as your son is a grown man and is free to make his own decisions and his own mistakes. (They are the best kind to make incidentally, as we all learn more from our own than from another’s.)

But I wonder if you are missing something here. This young woman followed your son thousands of miles across the States to be with him. That to me says that she loves him very much. He is anxious that you should like her because you are and always will be very important to him. One of the things all parents of adult children learn and need to accept is that their offspring do not love their chosen partner in the same way as their parents. They are two distinctly different kinds of love and therefore no potential partner is ever going to ‘deplete’ the supply for a parent and vice versa.

Your son wants you to share in his good fortune because he cares about you and wants your reassurance and approval. Possibly you had your own dreams of your son meeting someone who fits your set of values and experiences, but these will not be the same as his even though he will have learned much from you.

I feel rather sad that the girlfriend had so little care from her family.  No wonder she doesn’t smile very much. I am sure she will sense your reserve and will most likely want very much to please you. Confidence doesn’t come easily to those who have been shown scant love and care. I wonder if her dissatisfaction with her job in the hotel is due to this lack of confidence or even, simply, that working in an hotel is very hard, sometimes demeaning, and often badly paid work. This might be made worse if guests are the sort who are unable to show the staff basic respect. It would be awful for the girlfriend and for your son if they thought you felt that way too.

Perhaps your son has made a mistake. Perhaps she is too different to fit into your family ways, but she seems to fit with his, which is the most important factor. But perhaps he has been with this partner for so long because he recognises some of the qualities in her that he loved in you when he was growing up. This area of selecting partners is a very complex and subtle one and unfolds gradually the longer a couple stay together.

Points for you and your husband to remember:

  • We all make mistakes in our lives, no matter how hard our parents worked to pass on the wisdom they gained through years of experience.  We have to work through them in our own way.
  • Your son needs your support now through encouragement rather than finance.
  • You need to let him believe in what he is doing and not undermine him by avoiding answering his question

  • Be gently honest, without criticism of the person he has chosen to love.
  • Tell him his girlfriend is different to what you had imagined he would choose but that you will welcome anyone who has earned the love of your son.
  • Reassure him you will take time to get to know her more fully.
  • Wish the couple well and express the hope that they will make strong and loving life together.

That way he will know you have his best interests at heart and will always be there for him if he needs you. If you show disapproval you run the risk of driving him away. You see, if things were to go wrong for him, he might feel unable to come to you for fear of you saying ‘There you are, I told you it wouldn’t work’.

Recommended books 

From the Waterstones website:

Forever a Parent: Relating to your Adult Children
Carolyn Johnson, Publ. Zondervan, 1992

Letting go and Finding Yourself: Separating From Your Children.
Verena Kast, Publ. Continuum International Publishing Group - Academi, 1994

From the Barnes & Noble website:

Family For Life: How to Have Happy & Healthy Relationships With your Adult Child.
Kathy Peel, Publ. The McGraw Hill Companies, 2003

I’m Still Your Mother: How to Get Along With Your Grown-Up Children for the Rest of Your Life.
Dr Jane Adams, Publ. iUniverse Incorporated, 2001




You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

To view previous articles in this series - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index


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