Dear Dr. Meg
I am a practicing Catholic, and my almost 19-year-old daughter used to be strong in her faith. She is bright and talented and in first year university. She is currently on an organ scholarship and plays for our parish church. All in all the relationship is not disastrous, but definitely strained, given that she now dates a non-practicing Muslim and I am concerned for her future relationship with this man, if he does start practicing – the difference in their faiths, etc.
She used to be so very much engaged in family life but I fear that our several past fights have caused her to become more and more distant – she seeks the company of her friends and her ever-present cell-phone more so than her family (she has 5 siblings, all younger, who are still fervent in their faith but who feel the impact of the strained relationship in the family).
My general question is – what advice might you have for me in trying to mend this relationship? She has not been to confession in a long time, I am just praying that she goes… I feel also that the relationships between my wife and myself and the rest of the kids and myself are becoming strained because I am worrying so much about her. I also don’t know whether I should meet this guy – I told her I don’t want to meet him.
Sorry for rambling on but I have read your great book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters and I am re-reading it. Maybe you can offer some brief insights into what you think on my aforementioned situation. I understand that your advice (if any is offered) is just that and I am completely responsible for whatever should happen.
Thank you so much for listening.
Dear Concerned Dad –
As a good father, you are right to be concerned. Any time a daughter pulls away, it hurts. Many young adults pull away from their families and most of the time, it is temporary. Your daughter wants to figure out what she thinks, wants and believes- especially when it comes to her faith. In fact, she might be dating a Muslim man out of curiosity and sense of rebellion.
When I was 20, I became engaged to a man that my father did not want me to marry. While I loved my parents, part of me liked feeling independent and rebellious. But I knew in my heart that I would never follow through with something they were strongly against. Your daughter may be doing the same thing. If my father had pretended that he liked this fellow a little, I would have been less defensive of him and probably broken up sooner. Maybe.
Here’s what I recommend you do.
First, tell your daughter that you want to meet her boyfriend. The last thing you want to do is drive her away. She may become angrier and then she’ll move further toward him. When you meet him, don’t say much. Be polite. Treat him like you would a boyfriend that you liked. This will throw your daughter off and she will stop defending him and start seeing him more objectively.
Second, write your daughter a hand-written letter and send it to her. Write to her about your love for her, what you admire in her and what your hopes are for her in the future. Be positive. Don’t tell her what she shouldn’t do but remind her of her strengths. In the letter, ask for her forgiveness. Tell her that you have not done a great job of letting go, because in your heart, she will always be your little girl. Then, tell her that you want to forge a new relationship where you treat her as a woman, not a child, but that you need her help in doing so. Then ask her if she will help you.
Third, about one or two weeks after she has received the letter, call her. Ask if she read it and what she thinks. Reiterate what you said in the letter and tell her that you really mean it. She may test your sincerity so be ready. If you stay resolute in your determination to change and treat her like a grown-up, you will absolutely win her over. But if you fall back into trying to control her and force her to do things like go to confession, church, etc., she will ignore you.
Fourth, trust God. Your faith is being tested. You are either going to trust God with your daughter or you aren’t. No middle ground. Give her to God and ask Him to help restore your relationship and keep her on a good path. I don’t say this lightly but I know that you can trust God. Your worry is killing your family and you either choose to worry or to trust God. Your daughter hasn’t lost her faith, she’s trying to rework it. She’ll be OK.
Paul tells us in Philippians “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” Write this down on paper and put it on your bedside table. Say it every morning and night. God can and will care for you daughter.
You are a good man and really good father. Your daughter undoubtedly loves you and I’m sure that she wants reconciliation with you too. So reach out to her over and over. If she is close by, go to her school on a Saturday and take her to dinner. Ask her how life is and listen. Don’t talk- especially if you don’t like the answers. If she is far away, then ask if she’ll go on a 2-day mission trip or canoeing with you this summer.
You get it. Ask, love, pray and reach out. And don’t talk or lecture. Just listen. Let her do the talking and you will see miracles. One day- she will ask you what you think.