I am a 25-year-old European girl. I came to the UK to study and at university I met my partner, who also came to study from abroad. He is South Asian and Muslim, whereas I am Christian. We have been together for over five years without my parents’ knowledge because I knew their reaction would be very bad.
After we graduated and got settled with brilliant jobs, I started the process of telling my mum about him. She is opposed to him due to his race, colour and religion and she has become very abusive and threatening.
She feels hurt, calls me selfish and without ever meeting him calls us unspeakable names and says she has no appetite for mixed-race grandchildren. I explained that this was why I could not discuss my relationship with her and had to become independent in order to speak to her. When they do not get their way, my parents just mention the financial help they have given me. Now she is threatening to tell my dad and says they will come to pick me up from the UK and cut their financial support.
However, I do not need her money and have not used it for three years. I am very insulted, but I want my parents in my life. My mother, though, is very toxic, drives me to tears and I am afraid my dad will be even worse as he is even more narrow-minded.
My partner and I have thought about and discussed the difficulty of having a family together. We have also sought legal help and drafted pre-nups so our parents will feel more at ease.
I am very sad about this behaviour; I feel that my mum is knowingly abusive and hurtful in order to manipulate me and make me feel even more guilty.
This must be a very hard time for you. You have left home, moved countries, studied, got a job, and you are happy in love. Yet your parents don’t see any of what would make most parents proud. Instead, they are defining you by their bigoted beliefs. No wonder you are sad. The disappointment must be extreme.
The good news is that your mum cannot just come and pick you up – you are not on a play-date. And you are not beholden to them financially – those are all pluses. So you are physically independent and safe, but emotionally I can see how tied and conflicted you feel. It must be awful to feel that your parents will only love you if you do what they say.
I was intrigued to know what sort of legal help and pre-nup arrangements you thought you needed to help your parents (his, too, it seems?) feel more at ease – especially as pre-nups aren’t, anyway, legally binding.
I consulted Myira Khan (bacp.co.uk), who specialises in relationship and family problems, and the first thing she picked up on was, “You seem to have very little power in your relationship with your mother. You are also still trying to appease your parents with these pre-nups. They don’t seem to be for you yourselves.”
Your mum does seem to have a lot of control, and when controlling people start to lose that power, they get desperate. The big hook she has you dangling from seems to be that you are scared of an ultimatum: your partner or them. Your mum also seems to have power over you about telling your dad, so you really need to tell him first to defuse that little time bomb.
But, as Khan says, “If your parents give you an ultimatum, you still have a choice and ability not to cut them off. You can say, ‘I choose him but I am not cutting you off. Don’t blame me.’”
In other words, if they cut you off, it is their choice, not yours, and they will need to take responsibility for it. You are, as Khan says “only responsible for your half of the relationship with your parents”.
You cannot live a life dictated by them, fearful of doing something they won’t like in case they go mad or cut you off. Because where will it end? They may never like who you choose. Controlling people – whether parents or partners – don’t like displays of autonomy. Have your parents always made your choices for you? That is not parenting.
Khan wants you to think about how you’d like your relationship with your mum to develop and if you could ask her what her concerns, her fears actually are? Or is all sensible discussion out of the window?
What you want – the freedom to choose who you love and to live your life, and keep your parents in your life without condemnation – may not be possible just yet. I live in hope, however, that although their reaction right now may be extreme, people do change. If they don’t, that is their choice, just as what you do next should be yours.
This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 16th January 2016.