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Our daughter has been living with a married man for six months now. She advised us that he just filed for divorce this month. We have a Disneyland trip planned this summer. Our daughter has agreed to let us take her young children on the trip with us. However, we haven’t invited her because we don’t feel comfortable with this man. Any suggestions?
Your daughter’s choice to have an affair with a married man is certainly scandalous and difficult to witness. My guess is that you’re asking this question because you don’t want your invitation to unintentionally condone their choice to live in an adulterous arrangement. Or, perhaps you’re so upset by their relationship that you can’t stand to be around them. Whatever your reasons, let’s look at some possible ways you can respond.
First, you need to look honestly at your motives for wanting to exclude him. Is this a protest about your daughter’s choice? Is there something you want to say to her, but you don’t know how? You are having a strong reaction to this situation, which means that there is a motive for your desire to exclude him.
Sometimes we’re ashamed of our motives and have difficulty admitting the true feelings we’re experiencing. If you can identify the motive, however unpleasant it may be, it will make it easier for you to figure out the healthiest way to respond. For example, if you discover that your motive is to teach your daughter a lesson for having an affair, but you don’t want to be that kind of mother, you now have an opportunity to do something different.
Understanding our motives is a powerful way for us to honestly assess how we show up in relationships. This way, our reactions aren’t as automatic and potentially harmful to those we love. Watching our loved ones make choices that we know will harm them and others can tempt us to do things to control or manipulate the outcome. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf offered the following warning about these types of situations:
“There may be moments when we are tempted to justify our actions by believing that the end justifies the means. We might even think that to be controlling, manipulative, and harsh will be for the good of others. Not so, for the Lord has made it clear that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.’”[i]
Your responsibility isn’t to change your daughter or even protect her children from the reality of her choices. They are living with her and know she has this man in her life. Your daughter most assuredly knows that she’s doing something really unhealthy, so there isn’t a need for a lesson from mom. If you feel you need to talk with her about her life choices or the impact on her children, setting an indirect boundary about a trip isn’t going to communicate those feelings very effectively.
If your motives are about wanting some alone time with your grandchildren, then communicate that. If your motives are to have some time alone with your daughter to talk about her life, then let her know that. Be clear about your motives with yourself and with your daughter so you don’t feel trapped.
Ultimately, you get to decide who attends your trip. If you’d rather wait until she’s married to him, then communicate it with her. If you have something to say to her regarding her choices, then talk with her directly instead of using the trip to send a message. Your inclusion or exclusion of your daughter and her married boyfriend isn’t going to change your daughter’s direction in life.
Moments like these provide us with opportunities to check our hearts and make sure we’re aligned with our deepest values. Her choices aren’t a reflection on you as a mother, so you now have an opportunity to love her and her children without the pressure of trying to control or change the life she’s creating for herself.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.