Relationships - Teens & Young Adults

Parent Q&A

When is it OK to give etiquette hints to son's girlfriend? Aug 20, 2020 (5 responses below)
Hickeys! Mar 4, 2019 (1 responses below)
  • We recently invited our son's girlfriend of 2+ years to join us for a family road trip up the coast for a few days.  They are both 19 and living at their respective homes now that colleges are closed. She is in our bubble so she comes over to our house a couple of times a week.  She is very shy. She doesn't have many friends and she rarely says anything. I like her -- she's sweet and she knows a lot about a wide variety of different topics, so she's interesting to talk to if you can pry conversation out of her.  But there are couple of things about her that are bugging me that came to the forefront on the trip, to the point that I'm not sure if I'd invite her on another trip.

    Number one problem is BO. Just plain old overpowering underarm BO, not other types of stinky.  She's kind of a hippy. I don't think she believes in deodorant and she doesn't seem to shower or change her clothes all that often, even if it's been hot for a few days. I can keep my distance when she comes over to the house, but being closed up in a car with her for 3 hours was pretty unpleasant. 

    Number two: She never, ever thanks us for anything. Not for the many dinners she's joined us for, not for inviting her on our weekend getaway. She isn't a bother at all, and she always helps out if I ask her to, but it seems like she doesn't know she's supposed to thank the host. A couple of times at dinner after my kids have said "that was great, mom!" I've prompted her with "did you like the ___?" and she just chirps "mm-hmm!"

    She was raised by a single dad and I don't know him very well, but I gather they are close and she has always had a lot of independence and responsibility.  While she is extremely introverted, she is also adventurous and is the kind of person who does her own thing regardless of what others may think. I admire this, but I feel like she's young, and she ought to have a few basic etiquette tools at hand for future interactions with humans and career prospects. I could ask my son to mention it to her, but I dislike the idea of discussing her personal habits with him, and besides he clearly has no problem with it. So ... what would you do? Play the mom card? Or drop hints to my son and hope he picks up on it and relays it to her?

    ooh, tough one.

    Re the BO, I would be frank with my son that this is making her unpleasant to be around, which is so sad because you really like her.  It's got to be an issue for her socially, and it will certainly be an issue when she is looking for a job (assuming that one day there will be in-person employment).  I'd ask my son whether he wants to bring it up with her, or if he would rather you did, and if the latter, if he has any ideas for how you do it.  You could also ask him if she has allergies or some medical problem. Heck, you could ask her that. From your description, she sounds like the kind of person you could be pretty frank with.  Or you could try a sitcom type solution where none of the rest of the family bathes or changes clothes for a few days, and then you invite her over and see if she gets the hint. 

    The 'thank you' thing is hard.  Maybe I say that just because I've had the same issue with my stepson, who is in his late 30s. You practically need to put him in a headlock and give him a noogie in order to get a thank you out of him.  He's oblivious to even the broadest hint; for example, when he and his family are leaving after we've given them a lavish meal, I'll say "thanks for coming over" -- rather than responding "thank you for having me, it was great," he'll say "You're welcome."  (When you ask him how the meal was, he says "fine.") You could try telling her, hey, the cook needs some love! Tell me great that meal was!  Or announce "whoever says the best thank you gets out of cleanup duty."  On the vacation front, we've had a similar issue with my younger son's girlfriend.  We paid for her car to be repaired (out of partly selfish motives so that our son wasn't doing all the driving for the two of them) and kind of expected a thank you. But nope. When we asked her how the car was running, we were told it was fine.  OK.  You feel bad, because you aren't doing it for the big thank you, but still... It may be that she doesn't think to thank you because she feels so much a part of your family? 

    Good luck!

    Unfortunately, I don’t know if it ever ends up being welcome or productive for the person in the “mother-in-law” type position to offer this kind of feedback. I would be irked, too, by the things you mention, but it may be best to just appreciate her positive aspects (and they sound admirable), and to accept her as she is. Even if it might benefit her in some situations to make the adaptations you’d like to see, the advice should probably not come from you (directly or indirectly). Your son and her girlfriend may well be hurt to know you feel this way, and the offense will likely not be forgotten easily. It sounds to me not worth the potential feelings of rejection/judgment. 

    My rule of thumb is more compliments than criticisms. Five times as many if possible. So start by complimenting her. She has many good qualities that you list in your post. You can mention those. This will build a stronger relationship with her. Then choose one critical thing that you want her to work on. Tell her gently and privately. Listen to any response she has. Then drop it. If things improve, do it all over. Start with compliments again and so on. Each cycle may take a week or a month. Don't rush. Be kind. 

  • Hickeys!

    (1 reply)

    my 16 yr old stepdaughter is fullll of hickeys- all over her neck chest and boobs too! I find it very distasteful but then again when I was young we would never show off a hickey if we got one. I asked her about them and she said it was to show everyone that she is “taken.” (Her beau has them too) Is this just the new thing? Are attitudes much looser these days in regard to these?  She is about to go job hunting and I wonder if the potential employers will care? Thanks in advance for your thoughts. My own children are grown now and they never had hickeys that I could see! 

    RE: Hickeys! ()

    Ugh! Yes, I’ve definitely seen this and they wear them like badges or honor. When my son was a HS senior son he and his girlfriend often had hickeys in visible places. I asked why they do it where everyone can see and they say it’s basically so others can see they’re taken. So distasteful in my opinion. And yeah, when I was that age you did not want a hickey where your parents would see! For a job interview she should definitely wear cover-up or stop getting hickeys on her neck before an interview 

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Support for 17yo daughter leaving abusive relationship

Feb 2013

My daughter just turned 17 yrs. old - she has been traumatized by a relationship with a very controlling/abusive boy - she end up having an abortion! She is so so sad about it - can't talk without the tears flowing down her face... very painful to see her... She feels shame and guilty for being involved for so long and causing herself/and us her parents - so much pain. She is moving on but has moments of being agitated and the boy goes to the same school, which makes all that much rather. She is in therapy - it's been helpful - and I am wanting to ask is there anything else in addition to the therapy? ... that can be helpful? I am thinking of a group support or hypnotherapy or Gestalt therapy - some other type of support using her body - creating a vehicle for her to express this trauma and release it! I fear that she can't -really- move on - is there any other suggestions???? Thank you! helpful mother

I think there is much to cheer in your message. I too got involved with an abusive person in high school--he was 12 years older than me, I saw him in secret for two years and then brought him home to mom and dad after I turned 18 as someone I'd just met. We got married when I was 21, had a child, and I finally got out at 30. I was a mess, I had to get a divorce, our poor daughter was hurt by all took me years to recover. I still worry my mother will find out (my father is dead now). It would hurt her so much to know both that I was abused and she didn't realize it, and that I lied to her.

I celebrate that your daughter had the strength and courage to get out at such a young age. So many of us have been caught by abusive people and found ourselves lying, covering up, isolating ourselves because of it, and yes, hurting other people. It is part of being trapped in that abuse. But she has freed herself! She has learned what a bad relationship looks like. Good for her! If she was in front of me I would cheer and applaud and celebrate for her.

I'm so sorry she went through this, but I hope you are championing her success. We all make mistakes; we all get taken in sometimes by bad people. We don't all correct our mistakes so early. I was stuck in my relationship for 14 years. I'm 46 now, and still living with the consequences of all that abuse and shame. It took many years of therapy to recover (I even had PTSD symptoms years later), and I know I'll never be completely okay. But time, patience and love heal much. Your daughter will be fine, and she has learned so much already. wish I could give her a hug

I'm a parent too, and can only imagine how hard this must be for both you and your daughter. Recovery from an abusive relationship and from emotionally stressful events does take time. You might talk with her therapist about whether your daughter is making progress and what normal progress looks like. Your daughter has also most likely lost her confidence in herself and in her ability to choose her friends/relationships well. Her therapy can help her get this back as well. Best, Pat

Son's girlfriend is restricting my access to my grandchild

Nov 2010

Hi, I typically don't bring other people's issues to broad day light. However this time someone hit a raw nerve. My son got his girlfriend pregnant and had a baby girl, they are 21 now the kid is turning one this month. They don't live with me so I don't know what goes on; one thing I know for sure is that from day one, my son's girlfriend has been using their daughter in a mean way, as tool to manipulate my son. For example: Since the kid was born, I've only seen her about seven times, that's less than once a month and that is no exaggeration. She told everyone on my family side to stay away, yet she invited the whole family, they even took pictures of the new born and posted all over the net, including Facebook.

I am a photographer, so by nature I took a few photos whenever I did get a chance. My son took a cute photo of her with a magazine I found to a real charmer. I received a message from her mom asking me to remove the photo, and funny she has a photo of the kid on her profile. My response to her was, No, you remove the photo from your profileC". Under any other circumstance I would have done it without a question, but after visiting everyone in her profile and seen how they all display photos of my GRAND DAUGHTER, I decide to proceed in such fashion.

She is crafty, disrespectful and rude towards me. And since I know the way she works, I know she does not want me at the little girl's party, because deep inside she's embarrassed of my heritage. In other words, she does not want her family to come in contact with me or any of my relatives, because she has expressed we're a low class. I've expressed my intentions of not attending my daughter's celebration based on the fact that she is the host, it's held in her neighborhood and at her expense. Your thoughts are deeply appreciated. Sad Grandpa

Sad Grandpa. I'm sorry your son's girlfriend had decided you are ''low class'' and hence wants nothing to do with you. But you must accept this as you have no relationship with her other than a biological offspring.

Now that we've stopped you from fixating on the girl, let's talk about your *son* for a minute.

Why isn't your son, who is the father of this child, bringing the child around to visit you? You are his parents and this is his child!

It is your son's responsibility to forge a relationship with your grand-daughter and not her biological mother.

If there is a problem with your son seeing his child, I suggest you get a family law attorney immediately. It will be expensive - but so what?

If your son is living with his girlfriend and not visiting with you and the child, you have a more serious problem. I would suggest in this case talking to someone you trust about your despair of knowing your grand-daughter, like a minister or counselor. It will help you handle you feelings of disappointment.

You cannot change the past. And due to the informal nature of your son's relationship (no marriage), you were not able to forge a relationship with the girlfriend's parents or other family to support your case for seeing your grand-daughter. It is up to your son. Seek legal help if his rights are not being enforced. Good Luck

Yes, clearly the other side of your son's family is mean and manipulative, and is using your grandchild as tool against you. From the antagonism of her relatives, it sounds like she trashes you to them too.

But, your son's girl friend is, and always will be, the gatekeeper to your grandchild, so the question is, what can you do/not do, to establish a relationship with the child?

Your decision to not to attend a celebration ''based on the fact that she is the host, it's held in her neighborhood and at her expense'' is a mistake. GO! Put on a smile and pretend that everything's fine. Do not engage in any negative actions, no matter how much bait they throw at you, and she and her family will. Turn a blind eye and deaf ear to her hostility.

This is the only way to have a continuing relationship with your grand daughter. anon

Dear Sad Grandparent, It can be difficult to see the bigger picture, especially when upset. The goal here is to have a relationship with your great-granddaughter. The gatekeeper is her controlling mother. If creating an opening for a relationship means deleting a photo, do it. Think ahead 10, 15 years. Your photos may win Pulitzer Prizes, but print and frame them for your own enjoyment. Your grandson may be the most manipulated young father in town. It is what it is. Showing genuine interest in him and supporting him may also lead to more access. Take the high road, be polite and you may be attending next year's birthday party. The mom will never invite you if she feels you detest and disrespect her.

If you can stomach it, you might even post a note on your facebook page complimenting the mom on the beautiful photos she took of darling child. Remember, Machiavelli said to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Keep your end goal in mind. Wishing you strength in your resolve. Sam

i am sorry to hear about your situation. if you want to see your grandchild, you will need to get along with your son's girlfriend. when she asked you to remove the photo, why did you not politely ask her to explain why she wanted you to do that? when she told you that she did not want you to attend the party, why did you not tell her that that made you sad as you love your granddaughter and just want the best for them? you sound angry, and while i understand why, i predict it will lead to more problems. you have the wisdom to bite your tongue and get along for the sake of peace. at 21 they are kids, so their immature behavior is not surprising. her having a problem and thinking someone is ''low class'' also makes her sound very insecure. having a kid is a lot of work, why not offer to babysit so your son and his girlfriend can take a break? even for an hour so they can go out for coffee? if i were you i would try to mend things, apologize and ask her ''what can i do to help you?'' or ''how can i make things better between us?'' for now, i would send a card to her saying sorry, send a birthday gift, and realize that if your behavior is classy and beyond reproach, ultimately she will come around. it may take a few years, but you can wait to have a relationship with your precious grandchild. with love, judith
This all comes from real life experience from my brother's odyssey with his son. First of all, if your son isnt married to this girl he needs to get a legal custody order from the court. My brother thought he and the mom were the best of friends until the child was 2 and she said he could see the child anymore. With custody will come child support.

Next, your son is the parent you need to be dealing with as far as visitation goes. He should have a say as to where and when you see your grandchild. If he doesnt have legal custody, he has no say. If they are married, I'm sorry for you. He married a bxxxh with a mom who is one too.

Oh my brother? It took 2 years and 1000s of dollars to get 50% custody of his son. Jenny

I can relate to your issues, because we had something similar happening in my extended fmaily in Germany. The grandparents were sooo obsessively excited about their grandchild that they wanted to see it and hold it all the time and this totally turned off the young parents. So here is my take: You are not a victim, this is not about being lower or upper class - this is strictly about your behavior and the way you talk about ''your'' grand child. The fact is that this child is not yours to claim in any way and you are not entitled to anything. You need to repair the relationship with the young parents until they don't find you hard to bear and actually want to spend time with you. Your energy is desperate, the emotions switch between demand and hurt, and who would be attracted to that? Make yourself more likeable. It worked for my relatives and it took a good two years to win the young mom over. Many people are superprotective of their baby, but wait until they are 4-5 years old, and if you have repaired your relationship, you'll be seeing a whole lot more of the grand child and much sooner! Change your internal approach and you will change the situation. Anonymous

Friendship with son's ex?

June 2010

What do you do when your young adult son and his longtime girlfriend break up, and you really liked the girlfriend and had established a friendship with her? My son and his GF broke up a couple months ago. I have sons but not any daughters, so I really enjoyed having this young woman in my life, and in some ways felt like a mentor. Now my son has told me he doesn't want me to talk to her. I can understand why he doesn't, and he IS my child, so I want to be on his side, but ... I really like her! She is suggesting lunch dates, and sending me messages on facebook. Do I just cut it off with her? What should I tell her? Is the occasional email OK? Stay friends on Facebook? I haven't had this experience before and would really appreciate hearing others' advice! confused mom

If your son had been married and had children with his ex, then it could be reasonable to continue a kind of relationship with her, but it seems to me rather peculiar to do so under these circumstances, when your son has asked you explicitly not to continue your relationship with her. I wonder whether he might have been made uncomfortable by your friendship with her during their relationship? He is trying to make his way on his own in forming new bonds, and it may complicate matters for him to have his mother deeply involved as part of a triad. I can understand your longing for a daughter (I have a son but no daughter), but in fact, you DO have a son, and helping him find his way has to be a priority still, I would say. Ultimately he will need to learn to integrate his family and his partnership bonds, but right now he needs to keep them distinct.

So I would say, write a friendly e-mail to the young woman and say that you have treasured the opportunity to get to know her and you wish her all the best, but you have to attend to your son's needs, and so you prefer to set aside your contact for the time being. And then I would see whether you could find some other outlet for your daughter longings, so that you don't mix into your son's business too much. For example, do you have any nieces in the area you could take under your wing? Or perhaps you could tutor or teach a class or do something else that would bring you into contact with young women? Some day you will have a daughter-in-law to love, I imagine, and that could bring you joy, but now might be a time also to reflect on how to develop that relationship successfully. mother of an only son

There is a lesson here for your son. You can still have a relationship with this young lady, without it compromising your parenthood. It is, after all, your social life. You only have to be tactful - not discuss your son's life with her and vice versa.

We have a tendency as mothers to give up on our own needs for our kids. I can tell you I have chosen to remain friends with my daughter's ex, despite her anger at him. He is a kind person, and has been a part of our lives for 17 years. I'm just discreet about what I share with either of them. Rosalinda

My first reaction to your situation: How charming that you became close with this young woman. A question: Which person instigated the break-up and why? Another question: What's your son worried about? And a last question (which might hinge on your answers to my previous questions): Is there any chance his ex- views her continued friendship with you as a means of staying in touch with your son?

I would try to gently probe some information from your boy. If the break-up was mutual, then maybe he's just worried that the two of you will sit there over lunch and discuss him. If the break-up was messy, then perhaps he has a good reason for not wanting you to continue seeing his ex. All in all, though, it sounds like you and the ex formed your own, separate, rewarding friendship, and it would be sad to not continue it. Perhaps you might reassure your son that you will not talk about him, analyze him, or whatever with the ex.

Another way of looking at this: Suppose you broke up with a man who had befriended your son; would it be all right if your son continued being friends with him? Under what circumstances would it not be all right?

(You don't say how old your son is, but up until about 25, and sometimes beyond, adult and young-adult children can imagine that they have more claims on your personal life than they really have a right to. They need to get over this fantasy.) Melanie

It is really sad to lose a friend because your son broke up with her. But I really think that your relationship with your son is more important than your relationship with her, so you have to ask him what sort of contact is okay now. And abide by his answer. You can also ask him if you can revisit this issue in the future, because feelings change. Sanon
Please do not under ANY circumstances maintain contact with his ex, even though you really really like her. You can tell her you think she is just great, but that out of respect for your son you can't maintain contact. The truth is, you will never know what happened between them or precisely her motivation for staying in touch with you and NO MATTER - It could ruin your relationship with your son. It is a supreme form of betrayal and he might not be able to forgive you or allow you into his life in the future. I have been in your son's position and I know the other side of this. Maria
Your relationship with your son is most important. You need to ask him to set the boundaries between you and his ex and abide by his wishes. I think no in-person meeting, but maybe Facebook is ok. But you need to ask him, and put his wishes first. I am sure he will have other girlfriends that you will bond with, and it sounds like he picks nice girlfriends. If you do not agree to live by his wishes, you are putting your friendship with this girl above your relationship with your son. That would be a big mistake.

I have two teen girls, would have loved to have had a son, and part of me would like my girls to have boyfriends that I can get to know. But I stop myself from encouraging that in any way. judith

I'm going to choose to respond as a dad, rather than as a therapist, here. It makes it much easier to answer, from my perspective.

The dad in me says: absolutely, support your son and do not have a relationship with his ex. The fact that you want a relationship with his ex-girlfriend is 100 percent about you, not about him. And right now your son needs you to be there for him, not for yourself. You don't need this young woman as a friend. And he specifically asked you not to continue a relationship with her. I would suggest you write a very kind, heartfelt letter to his ex saying that you appreciate that she wants to keep a relationship going, but you're in a really hard place and need to not make things harder for your son. You never know what the future holds, etc...but for now, it wouldn't be appropriate to continue to hang out with her. It is likely that she is ambivalent about the relationship ending, and is, in some way, acting out by trying to keep this kind of contact with you right now. Again, as a dad, I would say please don't make this about your needs and your son and his wishes--they are not unreasonable. Concerned Dad

Please stay connected with your son's ex--not only for you and the young woman/girl, but also for your son. The reasons are many: 1. It would show your son that there are different kinds of love and that the love of friendship does not end when romantic love does. This is potentially a huge lesson in this day and age when 50% of our marriages ''fail'': that friendship can (sometimes) be possible even between the ex's, but certainly among the ex's family members. A breach between two does not render a breach among twenty(!); 2. You could teach, through example, that loyalty comes in many forms and is more nuanced that the black and white your son seeks: that you can remain loyal to him as your son AND remain loyal to this young woman as your friend. We don't cut people out of our lives in order to satisfy a ''false'' sense of allegiance to family, a tribe, a country. We are not Romeo's Montagues or Juliet's Capulets; 3. it shows that you--Mom--have your own life with your own interests, likes, dislikes, and friends. That you get to make up your own mind in this matter, not him. This absolutely does not mean that you do not understand his pain, anger, disappointment, confusion. You absolutely do understand all of this--AND you wish to continue your friendship with a person whom your son loved for many years. That's powerful for a son to see, IMHO; 3. There may come a time when your son breaks up with a girl and he wishes to stay close to her family (her brothers, her sister, her father, mother-- whomever). It's certainly possible. Your example now shows that it is not only possible, but doable; and 4. It takes a village. It takes a village to not only raise a family, but to be a family. We all need one another. In today's transient, come and go, uber- nuclear, highly divorced universe, we have to get creative about what constitutes family and friendship. The rules haven't been written yet (which is why you seek counsel from the UCB village!). So, perhaps we need to write the rules about post-divorce, post- break-up families of the ex's: that love trumps it all and let relationships fall where longing calls. Best to you and your new young girlfriend! Linda
Sorry to keep ''talking'', but I do want to share a lovely experience about a mother who maintained close friendships with her son's ex's. The son, John, was a friend of mine from high school over 30 years ago. John had many girlfriends over the years; his mother, Marty,--who had four sons and no daughters--maintained friendships with many of them. She was not shy in calling them her ''daughters''. Two of the ex girlfriends (who had themselves become friends through Marty) were the two people with Marty when she passed away last year at age 80; they had been friends with her for over 30 years. Everyone knew that about Marty: that she and her love were expansive. People in her circle, in turn, became expansive with their love for one another; it really was contagious. It was really beautiful and was one of the things mentioned over and over at Marty's memorial.

I have a friendship with members of my ex-husband's family. I was married for over 25 years; his family was my family. That did not end with our divorce; I did not divorce his mother, his sisters, his brothers-in-law. Of course, not all his family want to be my friend (it's hard for his mother, who blames me for the divorce). But the sisters and I and one of the brothers-in-law are quite close to this day. My daugher sees this and has learned that family is fluid, not rigid in its definitions.

Friendships are hard enough to find these days, particularly inter- generational ones. We are so enriched by them all; I say go for it, Mom! All of your lives--including that of your son--will be made richer by it. Linda