A family friend of ours is going through a tough time. Two of his daughters have greatly disappointed him. One of them has started an affair with a married man in his 50s (she is in her mid-20s). Another daughter, who is around 20, got married to a guy who is 40. Before we start judging the father, he has other children who have made more, erm, conventional choices.

The father is devastated and is walking around like someone has died. He has cut off the two daughters and does not speak to them anymore. This is clearly hard on everyone because they shared an affectionate relationship before this.

My mom supports the father’s position. “How much can parents put up with?” or something along those lines.

Now, I can see how it would be painful for a parent to watch their child making a choice that is not just unusual but bound to make their life more complicated. Marrying someone twice one’s age might seem fine when one is 20 but harder when one is say, 40, and one’s spouse is 60. At 40, you’re at the prime of your life, while at 60, your partner will be entering old age and all the slowing down that comes with it. There are enough adjustments to be made based on personalities in marriage, adding a definite one like age might be just too much. Which is why I understand why parents encourage kids to marry within their own religion/community – because then the cultural adjustments are less – but these days when the influence of religion, for example, is waning for many young people, these strictures are losing their relevance.

That said, while age difference would certainly make things more difficult, if the two people really love each other and are in sync, then it could work. It might work even better than marriages when all the boxes like age/religion/language etc can be ticked off but the personalities don’t match. Moreover, there’s nothing morally wrong with marrying someone older than oneself; these kind of age gaps between men and women were common in my grandmother’s time. So why the scandal now?

When I thought about it, the issue seemed to be parents being able to accept their children as adults who are free to make choices independent of their parents’ approval. Sure, a parent can advise, he can disapprove, he can even refuse to support a child who has decided to go her own way, he can even withdraw a bit. But to cut off a child altogether because she made a choice that he doesn’t agree with… seems a bit excessive.

I’m talking about the second case here. The first one is a bit more complicated because it’s morally thorny. Breaking up a marriage, especially in this case where it’s a friend’s marriage, just seems wrong. And some might just have a principle against interacting with people who do this… even if the person in question is their own child.

I guess it comes down to where you draw the line. What choices of your children would be deemed unforgivable? Is it worth it losing your child over what is essentially a difference of opinion? Are there some values that parents should just not compromise on?

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