Some ways in which the perpetually-in-transition generation of parents can learn to let go off their children as they get older and more independent…

A few days ago, I was in conversation with an engaging group of couples in their late forties and early fifties, who wanted to explore the issue of how they could facilitate the marriages of their children. They were at an awkward age (the couples I mean, not the children) – young enough to remember some of their own marital tribulations with parents and parents-in-law, but old enough to fear that the gap between them and their children was becoming unbridgeable. Obviously, most people of this age are anxious to get it right, since they believe themselves to be more enlightened than their parents, but are bemused that their children perceive them to be dinosaurs. Post-midnight's children (those born in the 1950s and 1960s) generally seem to have a bit of a hard time, for, they cannot pay complete allegiance to traditional beliefs as their parents could, nor can they wholeheartedly subscribe to contemporary liberal thought as their children do. As a result, they end up feeling like the perpetually-in-transition generation. But they somehow manage to walk the tightrope and get by until their children either get married or become marriageable, when they are forced to take a stand.

Best training ground

Ideally, to facilitate the process of your children having stable marriages, you need to make a beginning when they're teenagers making tentative forays into the world of relationships. I believe that the teenage years are the best relationship training ground simply because they provide a platform for not just the teenager obtaining an understanding of how relationships work but the parent to learn and understanding the process of ‘letting go' of the teenage child. By this term I don't mean ‘cutting the teenager loose', but the process of accepting the reality that your child is no longer a child, but a young adult; that you don't have a key role to play in any relationship your teenager engages in; that you can't expect your teenager to share everything with you as in the past; and that your teenager has the right to expect some private space, provided the overall boundaries defined by the parents are adhered to. In other words, when teenagers have relationships, and if their parents respond to these with grace and understanding, the first seeds of mutual respect are comfortably sown in the parent-teenager relationship.

I cannot emphasise how important this is going to be when you start dealing with all the different aspects of your adult-children's marriages. First off, they may not want to get married. Or they may want to get married only in their late twenties or early thirties. They may want to choose their own partners. They may actually end up choosing their own partners who may seem horribly wrong to you (you may derive some comfort in knowing that most parents think their children have chosen the wrong partner). Or they may want you to choose a partner and may end up rejecting every ‘alliance' you bring their way. They may want a small wedding. They may want a fat wedding. They may call you every day of their honeymoon. They may forget completely to keep in touch with you. They may want to live independently. They may want to live with you. Whatever they do or don't do, I think parents need to have their own strategy to deal with their married or marriageable children.

Private spaces

In developing this strategy, they need to remember one critical fundamental: The most crucial determinant of a stable marriage is ‘ownership' of the relationship. In other words, the couple has to feel that their marital relationship is inviolate, private and belongs only to them. So, even if they start talking to their parents about issues they have with each other or their in-laws, the most prudent thing that parents can do is to discourage them from doing so, encouraging them instead to talk to each other to find solutions. Or, on the other hand, if they seem to shut you out of their marriage completely, think of it as a good thing they're doing, for, this means they're taking the ownership of the marriage in their own hands.

There is today a distressing trend for parents to insinuate themselves into their children's marriage. Whether this is because they find it hard to let go of their children, or whether since they've spent so much on the wedding and its accoutrements, they're looking to protect their investment by demanding a position on the Board, is hard to tell. However, it needs to be also remembered that the single biggest stress factor on the Indian marriage is the Indian family. Of course, it goes without saying that the intentions of family members to help and facilitate are usually genuine and sincere, but even well-intended ‘interventions' may end up becoming unacceptable ‘interference', when parents don't recognise that they don't own their children's marriage.

Pre-midnight's children didn't feel the need to do anything about this since they wholly subscribed to the traditional belief that marriage was between two families and not two individuals. But one would imagine that post-midnight's children who are relatively free of such and other similar dogmas can appreciate their children's need for boundaries. Here's an idea: maybe they can concentrate on their own marriage now, the one they'd put on the backburner years ago!

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Keywords: marital issues