Most of my extended family lives in New York, and we live three hours away. My husband, two daughters, and I have always celebrated holidays with my extended family members who are very close. Because of distance, holidays are among the few times that we see my family, which includes my now 80-year-old parents. Yesterday, my daughter sent me a text stating that she and her boyfriend want to spend Thanksgiving with his family! His family lives fifteen minutes away from our house and all of his relatives live locally as well. My daughter and boyfriend go to the same college and see each other all of the time. I am very upset that my daughter is willing to hurt my family just to please him. I know in the past he has tried to guilt her into this. Can I just tell her flat out no and that she has to come with us? (If it matters, we pay for her car insurance, health insurance, and phone. Last year we paid her tuition, but I have been out of work for six months so this year my daughter had to take out additional loans for which my sister co-signed. I supply my daughter with toiletries and homemade treats, and she lives with us on school breaks and in the summer). — Worried Mom
What you have here are two problems — one short-term problem (you and your extended family being hurt by your daughter’s absence at Thanksgiving), and one longer-term problem (your daughter dating a religious control freak from a cult-like family). Obviously, addressing the short-term problem is much easier than tackling the longer-term problem — you can tell your daughter that she has to come with you on Thanksgiving and that it’s not up for debate; if she refuses, you can threaten to cut her off financially and even physically put her in the car and drive her to New York. But doing all of this only solves the short-term problem of getting her to your extended family’s home for Thanksgiving. It certainly doesn’t ensure that she will be pleasant company, and, more than likely, it will have a detrimental effect on your tackling the larger problem — the grip her control-freak boyfriend has on her.
I would sacrifice the short-term problem for having better leverage and luck addressing the long-term problem. Tell your daughter how disappointed you and your family will be to miss her on Thanksgiving. Express to her your hurt feelings, but don’t tell her she can’t spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend. Consider even extending an invitation to him to join all of you in New York (which he will decline, of course), if only to show that YOU have made an effort and that this isn’t about your keeping her from her boyfriend as much as it is about making it easier for her to be with him AND you on Thanksgiving.
Of course, you DO want to keep her away from her boyfriend. I totally understand why you would. Unfortunately, short of keeping your daughter locked in a room in your house, there’s not much you can do to keep her from seeing him. There’s not much you can do to lessen the grip he seems to have on her. What you can do is make sure your relationship with your daughter remains positive, open, and loving. Being anything else risks your being alienated from her at a time when she seems especially malleable.
The good news here is that your daughter is only 20 years old — an age when people make a lot of stupid mistakes they learn from. She still has plenty of time to explore this relationship and come to her senses before being brainwashed by her boyfriend and his religion. You have to trust that the foundation you’ve provided her, along with your love and comfort and acceptance of her, will be an ultimate guiding light, guiding her off a path of religious isolation and back into the world in which she was raised.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at email@example.com.