Your 20-Something Kid Has a Significant Other: Now What?

The fact of the matter is, you can never fully understand the romantic relationships of your 20-something kid. The way they engage in love has changed so radically, it’s hard for parents to make sense of it, much less accept it.

Insight for parents when a 20-something kid has a romantic relationship.

Recently a close friend of mine told this story to me. His youngest son (age 20) announced he was bringing a girl home for part of holiday break from school in December. The dad, who had not met the young lady, said to me “ I’m so happy for my son…. I’m going to give him tickets to the Rockettes and dinner in the city.” Dad was really excited so you can imagine his face when the son was silent over the phone when he told him. “No Dad. The Rockettes-are you kidding me?” Dad was crestfallen, thinking a Midwestern girl who had never been to New York would love Radio City, a New York landmark. Was my friend wrong? Yes and no. Most 20-somethings don’t take well to plans being made for them and they seem to like to come and go with no set schedule.

Here are 6 insights I’ve come to while trying to understand this intricate chessboard of dating for my 20-something daughter.

1. Resist the urge to ask how it’s going.

Despite your truly best intentions, most 20-something kids are learning as they go and don’t want to share their relationship ups and downs with you. If you must ask, you will probably get a one-word answer and if you ask again, the subject will be changed. This isn’t a rejection — it’s a behavior that is frustratingly commonplace today. We can’t truly understand the terrain they are navigating, though we may think things haven’t really changed when it comes to the basics. Newsflash: things have changed dramatically. Your son or daughter will share what they think you need to know, and in many, if not most cases, it’s very little (leaving moms like me to imagine the worst).

2. When can I meet him?

Some girls are happy to bring their boyfriend home a lot. My daughter wasn’t one of them. It’s tempting to take this personally but it really isn’t. I think they protect their privacy and relationships to a much greater extent than we ever did. Bringing someone home is a big deal and they don’t do it lightly. Back in prehistoric days, when I dated someone, he picked me up at home and my parents eyeballed and cross-examined him if necessary, even when not necessary. Those days are long, long gone. For some of us, a fleeting “ hi…nice meet you” is all we get as they shuffle quickly out the door.

3. Your plans or their plans?

“How about we all go out for a casual dinner?” In my house, I may as well have suggested a blood test for them. I was met with a quizzical, then horrified look. Dinners out and slightly formal encounters are reserved for when your 20-something daughter has fully introduced the significant other to the family and everyone knows him well. When I asked my daughter the restaurant question again after I thought some time had passed, she replied “My God mom, we aren’t getting married….. Noooooo…Dinner is much too formal.” Subject closed and I’ve yet to share a meal with the two of them.

4. If there is trouble in paradise, refrain from taking sides.

Of course, in most, if not all cases, you are on your child’s side. Do everything you can to keep your thoughts to yourself and just listen. As soon as the words “He did what??? What’s wrong with him?” are out of your mouth, they will have resolved their issue and you will be there with an omelet on your face and several texts telling you how little you know.

It’s difficult when your child is bereft and tearful (or sullen and uncommunicative) not to want to speak up. Resist, resist, resist. Listen and say nothing. I add a slight addendum here: if they break up, which often is temporary, they may tell you more. If it’s permanent, dry the tears and still refrain from commenting. The ashes are never really cold.

5. Where is everyone sleeping at your house?

This is a question with the potential for world-class fireworks. I downsized to a spacious apartment from a larger home a year ago. With my daughter home for the summer and her boyfriend a distance away, she just assumed he would stay in her room, which is adjacent to mine, even though we have a lovely guest room with its own bath.

My hackles went up from the moment she mentioned this. I couldn’t shake my rather old-fashioned upbringing where that scenario never even came up for discussion. After a heated discussion, I swallowed my pride (and a good strong drink) and let it go. This may be a non-issue for many of you but for those for whom it is a thorn, make your decision and live with it. I decided it wasn’t important enough and let it go.

Of course, when he has been at our place, I’ve been conveniently away. It’s hard for some of us old dogs to learn new tricks but we’ll get there.

6. Even if you think you get it, you don’t.

I am learning this fact the hard way, having made many of the mistakes I outlined above. We all know the constant communication via Snapchat, texting, Facetiming, etc. fosters an intimacy that is accelerated and intense. Our 20-somethings go from point A to B in a relationship, both physically and emotionally, at lightning speed. This is their “normal.”

I do think they are keenly aware of the possibility of getting hurt and protect themselves fiercely with privacy and often avoiding the opinions of parents or even peers. Is the possibility of pain greater due to the incredible amount of technological contact? I am not sure on this one.

Our millennials will make the relationship journey in their own way and, hopefully, each will find a person who appreciates them for who they are. The road markers on this journey are changeable and the pit stops can be brutal. But there is also the exhilaration of seeing your 20-something daughter excited and happy, dare I say glowing, with that blush of meeting someone terrific who “gets her.” I remember that feeling, very, very well. But I didn’t text my sister about it. I called her and we spent hours on the phone talking about him. And I think I even told my mother.

Cathy DonovonCatherine Donovan is a mother, painter, graphic designer and contributing writer to several blogs. She writes about topics relevant to the women of the mid-life generation. Catherine has written three children’s books and is working on a fourth. After a successful career in advertising for 25 years, she also owned a confection company, Milton Point Sweets, whose cookies were featured on the Today Show. Catherine now concentrates on her writing and is a Masters of Fine Arts candidate at Sarah Lawrence College in creative non-fiction and is the mother of a daughter who is a senior in college.


About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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