What kind of people should your children love?

Over the holidays I’ve gotten to spend time with the sweethearts of my two adult children. They are lovely people.

The question of how you treat your children’s chosen lovers reveals a lot about yourself and your own prejudices. What is in your rational mind is not always the same as what your habits reveal.

Here is what I tell my children.

The only thing that matters to me about your relationships is if you make each other happy. If I see that you treat each other with love, respect, joy, and friendship, I’m good with it.

I don’t care what color they are.

I don’t care where their parents came from.

I don’t care if there is a space between their teeth, or one eye is higher than the other, or they have a weird hairdo.

I don’t care how small or large or skinny or fat they are. I don’t care if they are in a wheelchair.

I don’t care if they have tattoos and piercings and funny-colored hair.

I don’t care what God or gods they believe in, or whether they believe in a God at all.

I don’t care what gender they are.

If you make each other happy, that’s all that matters.

This is not easy for many parents to do. We all were raised with prejudices. But the events in my life and my experience with parenting have gotten me to the point where this is not a theoretical test: it is my actual life, and I have passed.

The thing about love is it’s not about the parents

I know people who have fallen in love with other people that the parents couldn’t accept. Sometimes the parent cuts off the child and never speaks to them again. Sometimes the parent belittles the child and insults their lover.

What do you think happens in those cases?

The parent loses. Adult children in 2019 don’t give up on love because Mom and Dad told them to. They give up on Mom and Dad.

And Mom and Dad get to stew, not only about losing their children, but about the blackness in their own souls that has led them to this point.

It can be hard to accept your child’s sweetheart if they don’t look and act the way you were expecting. It is work. But, in the spirit of the holidays and of love for your own children, it’s work you should do. You won’t be perfect at it, but if your children are at all reasonable, they will notice that you’re trying and give you a break.

You probably don’t get a say in who your children love, but sometimes, you do. If you have a good relationship with your child, they may come to you and say “Mom, Dad, I’d like to talk to you about my boyfriend/girlfriend.” And then they may talk to you about doubts about the relationship.

This is your chance to say “Are they making you happy?” That’s the right question. If you instead ask “Are they making us happy?”, your window will close and your child will stop listening. If the sweetheart is not making your child happy, you can help them to think through it.

What about society’s prejudice?

There is a backdoor your prejudice can go through. It sounds like this:

“You’re going to face a lot of anger from people who don’t want black and white people to be together.”

“The rabbi won’t accept your children if the mother is not Jewish.”

“Gay couples have to hide who they are, or they could be attacked by intolerant people.”

“If you are with someone trans, people will be confused about your relationship.”

These statements may be true. They still won’t work. Your child loves who they love — enough that they’re willing to put up with this kind of bias from those around them. They know about hate. They don’t really need your help to figure it out. Is “protecting” them from prejudiced people really the reason you are bringing this up, or is it because you and your friends are not ready to accept these kind of relationships?

If this is what your community is like and how your friends and neighbors behave, is that a really a community you want to be a part of? That is a very hard question, but it is one you must honestly ask yourself.

You may face prejudice yourself. You may face people close to you telling you that you raised your children poorly if they are making such choices. You may face your own share of rejection from your church or your social circle for loving children who love the “wrong” people. But which is more important: those intolerant friends, or loving your children as they are? It’s a hard question, but you’re going to have to deal with it.

I am lucky to live in a part of the country where people are more accepting of diverse relationships. But things are changing all over. You might be surprised how much tolerance people have. You’re certainly not doing your children any favors by repeating what the most ignorant people around you are thinking.

Acceptance goes around

I’m sure that when my mother-in-law considered who would marry her daughter, she was not thinking of a Jewish person. But she accepted me because I was good for her daughter. In the end, we developed a lovely relationship and I cherished our time together. She was a good person and I was glad to get to be close to her. (She loved Christmas, and I learned to like it, too.)

My own parents have accepted their children’s relationships with people who are not just like them. They have great relationships with their sons- and daughters-in-law.

My children have made decisions about themselves that I did not expect. Acceptance is not a switch you get to turn on like closing a circuit, but it is something you can strive for and attain. And it has helped me get to the moment where I can accept and embrace their choices for companions, because I believe they and their companions will make each other happy.

Despite the resurgent rise of prejudice in today’s world, I believe we are on a path to more acceptance of differences, not less. It brings more love into the world. And from where I sit, that is a very good thing.

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  1. Josh,
    Your children are very lucky. I already share your viewpoint on this, but I’m going to save this post as a reminder, because sometimes it is difficult to recognize that you have a bias until it walks through the door, hand in hand with your child.

  2. You can ask yourself if you want to be part of a community, but it gets more complicated when it’s family. That’s when it’s even more important for your kids to know you have their backs and support their choices.

  3. I really love this post. I have accepted, and even loved, some of the partners my children have had. The only hard part is when they break up as I feel that loss too. So far, it’s only been high school and college breakups as neither of them have gotten married. I am hoping the relationships along the way help them figure out who to select when they do get married.

    You are a great dad.

  4. I welcome this conversation, Josh, and turn to the wobs perspective of it. As a “priest” whose day-job is financial planning, I’m often tapped by young adults (my children included) for relationship counseling. I invite them to set aside words like love (the noun) and happiness (often a fleeting feeling) in favor of love (the behavior) and joy (a more substantive version of happiness).

    I also include the simple, though profound, question asked by Jimmy Stewart to a prospective son-in-law in the classic film Shenandoah, “do you like my daughter?”. When the young man answers with the word “love”, Stewart forces him to refocus. “But do you like her?” Mature adults understand the difference.

  5. Thanks for your honesty & realistic approach to a heart wrenching subject. It’s sad when people get so invested in their view point that they are blinded in not seeing seeing any other options and or the consequences. I believe people can change, and with change comes being accountable for our words& actions- Namaste