Dating or even (gasp!) romance is not something that necessarily goes out the window just because we’ve hung a new calendar on the wall. Whether it’s true love or just friendly companionship, the opportunity to socialize with people our own age – to share interests or to have a special person in our lives – doesn’t change based on the number candles on a cake.
We’ve talked previously about complications we might experience when Mom or Dad has a romantic interest. It’s part of our role as caregivers to support their choices and their independence from the perspective of their happiness and wellbeing, not simply our comfort level.
But how do we put this support into practice? We asked our caregivers for a few tips from their experiences.
Set some ground rules
Taking an interest in their plans or their relationship status can ease some of the awkwardness that either of you feel and may even deepen your relationship with your parent. But know where everybody’s comfort zone is. Asking too many questions may cross the boundary into prying. Likewise, your loved one’s oversharing may make you uncomfortable. Be careful in asking too many details and be ready to say so when you’ve got all the information you need.
Let them take the lead
It’s important to be supportive of our loved ones’ relationships, but that doesn’t mean we get overly involved. Taking the initiative with their personal plans is probably over the line. So if your older parent would like to invite a new friend to a family gathering or occasion, let them know that’s fine with you. Maybe even offer to do the driving if an event requires travel of any distance or takes place later in the evening. But don’t invite the friend, yourself. It’s an adult relationship that you’re dealing with here, not a play date.
Try to see things from both sides
Just as your parent is navigating a relationship landscape that’s new to your family, so, too, is their new interest. That means there is likely another family of adult children quizzing, worrying and otherwise bumbling through this unfamiliar experience at the same time. The reaction from any member of the couple’s support systems can add stress to the situation. It may also be helpful to realize the fact that to another loving family somewhere, your mom or dad is the newcomer.
Remember, it’s not about you
The hardest part of accepting an older parent’s romance may just be that it’s a new experience. For both of you. And while it’s tempting – perhaps even natural – to react initially based on how this affects our own roles and perception, it’s important to focus on the genuine objective: The happiness and security of someone you love.