We all know in some corner of our minds that one day our children will grow up, find that special someone, get married and have a family of their own. In truth, most of us wish that our children will have happy families of their own. However, many parents find the transition painful and difficult to accept, mostly because we fear that our child will make the wrong choices.  

Self-proclaimed ‘daddy’s girl’ Anne Chew, the eldest daughter in a family of four shares her perspective of this with us. While she was still in Junior College, she faced her biggest dilemma to date. How was she going to tell her protective father that his precious little girl now had a boyfriend?

“I was only 17 when I met Robert, and before that I never dared mention any of my guy friends in front of my Dad,” she said. “He would become very suspicious and interrogate me,” the 19-year-old said.

To Tell or Not to Tell?

Many parents dread the day their child gets into a relationship. Suddenly, their little baby is all grown up and stepping into the scary and unpredictable world of boy-girl relationships.

It’s not all smooth sailing for teenagers like Anne either. Adding to the pressure of the relationship, they often struggle to share this relationship with their parents. While some choose to hide it, Anne says it’s important to be honest with her parents about her relationship with her boyfriend. Anne is not alone—48% of teens indicated that they would not talk to their parents about their romantic relationships, while 31% of the respondents said they were unsure about whether they were comfortable doing so.

According to Anne, teens hide their relationships out of fear that their parents would not approve, or to avoid an “awkward and uncomfortable” talk with their parents.

Telling the Parents

Though she knew it wasn’t going to be easy, keeping her relationship a secret from her parents wasn’t an option—especially since she described her family as close knit and warm.

“I’ve always been able to talk to my parents both as their daughter and as their friend,” she explained. “We’ve established a parent-child relationship that allows me to feel comfortable talking to them about my personal life, and I wouldn’t like it if I had to hide something as big as my first relationship from them.”

Initial Reactions

After four months, Anne eventually plucked up the courage to break it to her parents. Unsurprisingly, her father, Mr. Phillip Chew, did not take the news well. “Back then, I was in a state of disbelief and denial. I told her she was too young for serious relationships and hadn’t seen enough of the world yet,” the 54-year-old recalls. 

Her mother, on the other hand, was slightly more accepting and had no issue with the relationship as long as Anne was sensible enough to handle the inevitable ups and downs. She did, however, list acceptable criteria for Anne’s boyfriend: he needed to be emotionally mature, caring, considerate towards her feelings, understanding and supportive.

A Closer Family

While the news was initially difficult to digest, both Mr. and Mrs. Chew agreed that they were glad that Anne chose to share her relationship rather than hide it from them. “It shows that there is a sense of trust between parent and child,” said Anne’s mother, Mrs. Marianne Chew. “As a parent, I feel more secure knowing who she is with. It’s better than being kept in the dark.”

Mr. Chew still has his reservations, but respects her decision. “I can’t deny that relationships are almost inevitable for teenagers; it’s part of their growing up process.”

Teenagers whose parents make it a point to talk to them and give advice about dating tend to experience warmer, closer, more positive romantic relationships, with less fighting and tension, according to a study published in the Wall Street Journal. The study also revealed that if parents keep out of their teenagers’ love lives altogether, their teens tend to end up in ‘poorer-quality’ relationships that include less affection and support, and more conflict.

Getting To Know Each Other

It’s been three and half years since Anne and Robert first started dating and Mr. Chew who originally opposed the relationship has now been won over. He constantly suggests for Anne to invite Robert along for their family dinners and outings.

Robert appreciates being a part of Anne’s family life. He regularly joins the family for significant events like family birthday celebrations as well as everyday activities like a simple family dinner or family movie night. “I actually enjoy myself a lot — her family makes me feel welcome and they make an effort to include me in their conversations.”

Being involved in the family gatherings allows both Anne’s family and Robert to get to understand each other better. “Everyone feels more comfortable in the relationship process. I feel that I'm being accepted by her family, while her parents can be put at ease as they get to know the guy their daughter is dating.”

Getting her boyfriend involved in the family also allows Anne to fulfil one crucial criteria in choosing a life partner. It allows her to see if her partner and her family can get along. On hindsight, she also feels that her choice has actually strengthened her family ties. Talking to her family about her relationship has allowed both her and her parents to get to know one another better, and through all this, Anne learned how supportive and loving her parents are.

Despite the initial struggle with getting her parents to accept her boyfriend, Anne has no regrets about getting her family involved in her relationship. As she puts it, “Nothing is better than knowing that our parents truly accept the ones that we love in our lives. If they don't even know about the person that we love and want to spend the rest of our lives with, it is difficult for the relationship to go far.”

4 Tips to Handling Your Teen’s Love Life

  1. As parents, be open and receptive to developments in your child’s life. Let them know that you are ready to hear them out.
  2. Share your thoughts about the personal qualities and values you hope your child’s partner would possess and why you feel these are important.
  3. Encourage your child to introduce their partner to you.
  4. Involve your child’s partner in family gatherings or activities. Get to know them better through these family gatherings and grow more comfortable with each other.

Tags: Teenage Issues /Parent-Child Relationships