April 5, 2007

Dear SML - Will Engaged Daughter Be Under His Thumb?

Dear SML,

Hello, I'm sorry, you don't know me and I hate to email you in this way but I am feeling desperate. My name is Tim, my wife and I just found out tonight that my daughter has accepted a marriage proposal from her Mormon boyfriend. We have had many reservations about him, many which have nothing to do with the fact he is Mormon. To make make matters worse we also found out that she is pregnant as well. He has been unclean and I suppose the fact that she is pregnant has prompted the proposal. We are very concerned as our daughter is 22 with an 8 month old and he is 29 with a 5 year old. She is very impressionable and very easily manipulated and she is already slipping away. She has had a tough life with a mild learning disability and has difficulty just comprehending things her whole life. She can be focused and single-minded which has served her in the past over coming challenges but in this case I see it as a hindrance. He has already arranged several meetings with teachers for her. We know so little about the Mormon faith but what I have read to this point is that she will be under his thumb and with her personality it will be very difficult for her to escape if she finds she doesn't like it. We are afraid for her. We know that she is an adult but we are always her parents.
Do you have any advice on how we can move forward? We are lost.
I await with great anticipation.



Dear Tim,

First and foremost you need to remember that your daughter is an adult, and while it's brutally difficult to watch your child, no matter what age, do something you consider to be a mistake, you still must let her lead her own life and learn lessons and gain her own experience. That doesn't mean you can't advise and encourage her to avoid certain mistakes, but in the end, it's wise to give your advice once, then allow her to choose her own path, and support her and be there for her no matter what she chooses. This will be especially important if what you suspect is true and she needs your help later on if she's being mistreated by her husband.

You don't give too many clues to his personality or what your reservations are concerning him. You do, however, mention that your daughter is pregnant and that is what you suspect has prompted the proposal. This may be true. I suspect there is also an attraction between them, maybe even love, since they have been intimate enough to become pregnant, and since she has already agreed to marry him. It is natural when a person is in that stage of love and infatuation to seem like they are "slipping away" from their families. It makes it hard for you to watch, especially if you don't like her fiance very much.

You wrote, "he has been unclean." What do you mean by this? I will admit those words make me wary and raise some questions. Do you think he's "unclean" because he has been intimate with your daughter? Do you think he's unclean because he's got a 5 year old from a previous relationship? What exactly do you mean? I hope you don't think that he's unclean simply because he loves your daughter enough to be physically intimate with her. That is a natural and beautiful step in a loving relationship, and society and religion often attach a taboo of sin and wrongdoing to it that I feel is unjustified. I know it can be difficult for a father to think of his little girl growing up and having sex, just as it's difficult for children to consider the sexuality of their parents. Maybe you can reply in the comments and clarify what you mean by "unclean."

It is my experience that people who are in love, no matter what age they are, do not easily listen to their loved ones when warnings are issued. Love is blind.

So. That leaves you with little comfort, but allow me to help you see the positives or things that will maybe give you hope. You wrote that "she can be focused and single-minded which has served her in the past overcoming challenges." This will come in handy if something bad happens and she needs to leave her marriage. Plus, she will have your support and love and wisdom to draw from.

You do not know that these two people will not make a success of their lives together, either. They will have many struggles, as do all people who have that many young ones in the house, but there is hope. If they are willing to work hard and treat each other well, then it could very well be the beginning of a good life.

Have you talked deeply with your daughter and spelled out your specific worries with her? If you are worried that the Mormon religion will be the cause of her being "held under his thumb," have you said this to her? Let her hear the question so that she is able to watch for signs of that herself. Have you encouraged her to have a longer engagement, possibly marrying him after their baby is born? This will give her even more time to get to know him well. If he's an active Mormon, then he will likely be unwilling to try living together (although he apparently didn't refrain from having sex before marriage, one of the more serious sins in the Mormon culture) especially if he's got family who will judge him for doing so.

I think all of your questions, hesitations and reservations would be good to talk over with her, but do so lovingly and keep in mind that you are talking about the man she loves, so do it respectfully. You don't want to push her into rebellion and cause her to dig her heels in and not see the reason in your worries. Plus, what if theirs turns out to be a successful marriage? You may not want your negative comments about him to be in her memory forever, giving her the fear that no matter what, you don't support her choice.

If you are concerned over the Mormon faith and what she is learning with her teachers, whom I assume are the missionaries, then why don't you ask if you can join in the discussions? You will then be more likely to offer her sage advice after hearing what she's hearing and will be able to ask the missionaries harder questions if it appears she isn't asking the obvious ones. I will leave it up to my readers to respond to you any good questions you may want to ask the missionaries about the religion, or questions your daughter may want to ask them. They most definitely give only a very light overview of the church in their first discussions, and the full picture can take years to uncover.

There is definitely a patriarchal order in the church, and women are encouraged and commanded to embrace their divine role, motherhood, and to defer to "divine" priesthood authority in all things. She will be encouraged to always support the priesthood leadership at church, as well as her priesthood-wielding husband, who "presides over her" with his priesthood which is termed "the power to act in God's name." Women who are naturally submissive should be very aware of what they are taking on when they marry a man from the church.

I wish you luck. There is no real answer but that your daughter is a grown woman and you should support whatever she chooses, even if it's not something you would choose for yourself or for her. She will appreciate your love and support if you give it to her, especially if she someday finds herself in a situation that is unbearable.

Your daughter should be free to forge her own path, and learn and grow and love and live as she sees fit. That is the greatest gift a parent can give their child: room to simply BE, with love, acceptance, and encouragement from those she loves the best.


kitten said...

I can only add emphatically...do NOT push her away by giving ultimatums, please! Be supportive and let your daughter know that NO MATTER WHAT you will ALWAYS love and support her. She may go through with the marriage, she may not, only time will tell. I don't think that there is anything wrong with being submissive to ones'husband, however that doesn't mean one does not have a mind of their own. I agree with SML, go to the meetings, ask questions, it may open her eyes...it may also open yours to the possibility that this relationship may be what is best for your daughter, regardless of your future sil's religious beliefs. I do wish you all the best.

Cele said...

As a parent sometimes we have to helplessly watch knowing the only thing we can do is listen, support, and love. Sometimes life sucks.

Hellmut said...

An easy way to educate yourself about Mormonism is to listen to the Mormon Stories podcasts.

presents a variety of Mormon perspectives. You will find it enlightening.

May be, your daughter and her fiancee would like to listent to Mormon Stories themselves.

JulieAnn said...

Great advice, SML. It's so important to preserve the relationship at all costs with our kids. They will screw up--just like we did. But if the relationship is strong, they will have a good support system to recover. Good job, missy!


CV Rick said...

Wow, that was a really well thought out reply you gave him. I was recently asked a similar question about the daughter of a friend of mine who was engaged to her Mormon boyfriend and was planning on quitting school to move to Utah so she could be near him while he finished college at BYU.

It was a hard letter to write. As a former Mormon I often find myself in the uncomfortable position of explaining the church to others, and it's rarely easy.