The Commercial Appeal
Parents fear for adult daughter amid ‘older, more worldly’ men
Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared Nov. 16, 2008.
Dear Carolyn: We are the parents of a 22-year-old who has recently graduated from college, moved out on her own and begun working at a large corporation in another state. She is outgoing, smart and attractive, and she has become a “big hit” with the single men at work, all of whom are older by five, six or more years. She mentioned that one is divorced but “very good-looking.”
We are concerned about her getting involved with an older, more worldly man. We are keeping the lines of communication open, hoping we are saying the right thing, but she pushes back, saying she is “fine” and knows what she is doing. We feel the playing field is uneven given her age and experience vs. the age and experience of these men, and we find ourselves going into a protective mode, which of course doesn’t work well with an adult “child.” Is there anything we can do? Cincinnati
Cincinnati: You can stop treating her office as shark-infested waters, and your daughter as a bucket of chum.
The most effective weapon against exploitation, of any kind, is confidence. Your baby may be overmatched on life mileage, and she probably will learn some difficult and/or humiliating lessons. But if she has enough faith in herself to set limits, to recognize when something doesn’t seem right, to say no, to stick to no under pressure and to ask for help when none of this is working, then she’s well equipped to handle all manner of sharks.
If this is true, then she would also be better equipped than most people twice her age – so for purposes of pragmatism, let’s assume she’s at least somewhat naive and impressionable:
Warning her off “worldly” men is not the remedy for that.
For one thing, older and divorced does not mean predatory and sketchy. Making such biased assumptions forces her to defend these men against such bias. That would position them sympathetically as a direct result of your campaign to make her skeptical of them.
You’re also correlating her age and sex with fragility. Either she’s sure of herself and can “Oh, Mom/dad” that veiled insult away – and thus can avoid dubious characters just fine without your input – or she’s not sure of herself and will feel pressed to prove to you that she can handle these guys. While also taking great pains not to seek your advice.
Because her ability to weed good men from bad rests largely on her confidence, and because her ability to weed good parental guidance from bad also rests largely on her confidence, please shift the focus of your parental campaign from her social life to her confidence.
Is it healthy, well-founded and growing? If so, then trust her. Please.
If it’s shaky, then your hand-wringing serves only to undermine what little confidence she has. Instead: Listen to her; encourage her to confide in you by resisting the urge to advise; avoid lobbing assumptions when she does ask your advice; and instead help her see that, always, always, always, she’s the one calling the shots.
In other words, show her you trust her judgment. It’s your best chance that she’ll do the same.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.