This question is especially relevant in an Indian context. Parents in our society are notorious for maintaining a tight leash on children, even after they have left home or they get married. Today’s parents apparently work hard and try to provide the best for their children. If you think about it, it was always true. Irrespective of whether it was true in earlier times or not, I base this piece on my own observations in the society.
Having provided the best possible for their children, taken care of all their needs and luxuries, helping them with their studies, teenage years as well as early adulthood, most parents find it hard to let go. So much so, that excessive parental protection and guidance can make children weak.
It seems only logical that there needs to be a cut-off line for the ceasing of parental interference in their children lives. Personally, I am tempted to define that timeline as the child turning 18 and a legal adult. But that may be too aggressive for most parents, who still believe that their 18-year-old boy or girl is a kid who needs to be led at every step. To be fair to both sides, shall we keep this timeline as marriage or 24 years of age, whichever is earlier. (Here, my skill in writing derivatives term sheet is coming in handy!)
I came across a case where the husband was following up regularly with the wife for taking her medicines on time. The girl in question got annoyed and asked him to stop chasing her like a baby. The husband was worried that her illness will resurface if she didn’t take the medicine regularly but still decided to keep quiet. Next thing he knows his mother-in-law tells him,’ Why are you harassing my daughter over small matters?’
He was wild at this and they had a bitter fight. Unless something is really out of hands like a domestic violence case or adultery, the couple should sort out their differences on their own.
Whether it is love marriage or arranged marriage, unless the couple was living together before marriage, it is a period of tremendous adjustment. Your individual way of living may have been ok for you or your family but needs to be modified now for the relationship to start developing. In the ideal world, one should accept their loving partner as they are but this seldom happens in real life. Both the newlyweds need to be prepared for this upcoming period of reconciliation.
Barring how the couple handles this situation among themselves, others can help only in one way – by keeping away as much as possible unless asked for advice. I don’t mean being away physically but in spirit. Let them figure it out. Their partner’s likes and dislikes, tastes and distastes, habits and addictions, manners or the lack of them, are now their own problem. Both partners need to act slow and steady. Take time to understand the other person before reacting. Yes, you will have enough time through your life to affect a change in the other person. First, accept them as they are and then work with them to make the relationship work.
As people are getting married later in life compared to earlier times, they are matured and their habits hardened before marriage. Hence, the couple has an uphill task in front of them. Further, expectations run high from both sides. During courtship, people put on their best self but it vanishes after marriage. This even happens in love marriages and where the live-in couples get married.
In such a scenario, if the parents of either partner try their old habits of helicopter parenting, it is sure to backfire. It may have helped your son or daughter to get through their school and college but not anymore. It doesn’t work at their office and it doesn’t work with their spouse.
The helicopter parents always assume that their child is the most innocent person in the world and it is always the fault of the other person. I have seen a multitude of such parents. Treating their own child as special and others’ children as an outcast is a very well established behavior.
A new bride texts her mother,’ Amit shouted at me just now. He called me immature and asked me to get lost.’ She cried inconsolably over the phone. The mother’s parental instincts take over and she doesn’t ask for the whole episode. She tells her daughter,’ You need to act tough. Don’t reconcile easily even if he asks for forgiveness. If you pardon him easily, he will act like this more often.’
Next day, the daughter again calls her mother,’ Today, Amit was feeling guilty. He sent a few loving messages from his office. He has booked a table for us at a restaurant for a romantic dinner. I think he got carried away in anger last evening and didn’t really mean any of it.’
The mother advises her to be stern,’ Don’t even think of any proximity for a week. This is the minimum you need to punish him with.’ Such advice causes a small situation to spiral into a big quarrel.
First, if you have not made your child psychologically independent, he or she will run to you for comfort and advice for everything. Then your advice is likely to be one-sided as you always assumed that the other person is wrong. If your child comes to you, unless the situation is of outright abuse or exploitation, desist from advising.
Like it or not, in India, mostly the girl moves to the boy’s home. The onus of adjustment falls more on the girl due to this structural issue. My sympathies are with the girls on this. Still, they need to use their judgment and resolve issues on their own. Parents are prone to giving inflammatory advice, especially from a distance.
One young wife told her husband to stop talking on the phone while walking on the road. Still, the man refused to change the habit. The man complained to his mother that the wife was unnecessarily making an issue and the mother scolded the wife. In this case, whatever be the argument, could have been handled by the couple without going to either parent.
For parents, it may be a little late in life but is absolutely necessary to tell the children that they need to start handling matters according to their own judgment. Any long lasting relationship needs work from both sides.
If parents interfere to protect their ‘exploited’ or ‘weak’ child’s interest, every small matter will snowball into a big one. While the couple could have resolved the matter after talking or arguing, parental interference keeps the matter alive for longer and makes it worse.
I am not suggesting that communication between parents and children should stop or genuine advice should not be given. Not at all. But there is a line in the sand beyond which the parents’ intervention makes matters worse. Guide the newly wed on common matters in life. Issues of running a household, managing work-life balance, developing a great relationship, helping with childbirth and parenting are important matters that need your attention.
But when it comes to differences among the couple, leave them to their own devices. Every couple (if they want to stay together) develops an equilibrium without outside ‘help’.
P.S: All the above applies to normal differences and situations. In case, either husband or wife feels that matters are getting badly out of hand, they obviously need to seek advice from elders in the family or a marriage counselor.
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.