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How to Navigate Your Adult Child's Romances

Take it slow when meeting significant others

Meeting your child's boyfriend or girlfriend

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Take it slow when meeting your child's significant others.

En español | While our millennials probably post details of their love life on Instagram and Snapchat, chances are parents might not hear about it. I know a family in which two adult children informally instituted the "three-month rule": Don't tell mom about a new relationship until after that time because she asks too many questions. After three months, a relationship has real long-term potential.

Regardless of when millennials decide to reveal their romances to parents, you can trust and believe that the rules of dating have changed over the last decade. As with every aspect of their lives, millennials go online to find potential partners, whether for one night or for life. A new Pew survey found that almost one-third of young people have used an online dating app. Sometimes adult kids are reluctant to tell their parents that they met a significant other online. But as one argument goes, how is that any better or worse than meeting in a bar?

However, the day eventually dawns when you'll meet the boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever they call the romantic interest. And when it does, take your new relationship slowly, advises psychologist Deanna Brann, author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law.

"Don't jump in with two feet, especially because you don't know if the relationship is going to work out," she says. Even adult children often feel the need to please parents, and if they are overly enthusiastic about the new friend, the child may sometimes stay in a relationship that's not working so as not to disappoint them.

Here are some other tips from Brann.

  • Casual inquiry. Ask your child how he or she met the new partner as well as other nonjudgmental, open-ended questions. "Remember this is not an interrogation. You are just trying to get a feel for who this new person is and why your child likes them."
  • Online match? If you're horrified that they met on a dating app, let it go. "That's the way dating happens today. It's very different from our generation."
  • Where to meet the couple. You want to make it casual, so pick a neutral place such as a restaurant, which puts a beginning and end on the meeting. "An hour and be done. You can gradually work your way into longer periods."
  • Who pays? "Parents should pay. That's our role." If the boyfriend or girlfriend objects, say, "Let us pay this time, and you can pay next."
  • More casual inquiry. Ask questions intermixed with casual conversation. Don't get into family history and other personal issues. Stay with neutral topics about work and hobbies. "You might check with your child beforehand to ask if there's anything you should stay away from, something that would make an awkward conversation."
  • Disapproval. If you take an immediate dislike, say nothing. "First, you don't know if this relationship is going anywhere, and saying something is not going to have any impact anyway."
  • If it lasts despite disapproval? "Your child picked this person for a reason. What is it that he or she loves so much? Find some positive things about the person and build on that. The bottom line: You need to create some relationship with the person your child loves."

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.

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