‘I’m worried my in-laws in the Middle East will reject my daughter and her girlfriend’

Tell Me About It: Offer support and try to trust that your child will manage whatever faces her

PROBLEM: As a single mother, I raised three amazing children all of whom are now young adults. None of them chose the traditional university route, but they are all energetic change-makers and successful in their own right and I am confident that they will be part of a generation that will change the future for the better.

Their father died before any of them had started school. He came from a religious Middle Eastern family who were unhappy that he had married a European woman. Over the years I received some financial support from them, but very little else. My youngest daughter is in a relationship with a beautiful young lady since they were both in transition year. She has always spoken about feeling disconnected from her father’s family and wants to meet her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins that she has not seen since she was a toddler. She has made contact and received a warm reception and now plans to travel with her partner to meet them in their home country later this year.

I have suggested to her, that given the differences in culture, her family may find it difficult to accept that she is in a same-sex relationship. Almost uttering the same words as her father, she said, “that she will show them that she can love whoever she wants” and in a way I think she is driven by a need to educate people on her way of life. I am terrified because not only does she risk rejection, but same-sex relationships are not legal in the country where she plans to visit, and both her and her partner could be in significant danger. I have always taught my children to stand up for themselves, to never be ashamed and show the world who they are. They all admire myself and my husband for breaking tradition and following our hearts.

I do not know how I will sustain my relationship with her if I backtrack on these principles, but I do think that her naivety could place her in jeopardy.

ADVICE: You highlight some wonderful things: that youth has the optimism that they can change the world, that love can conquer all and that it is the lot of parents to hold their breaths as their children face challenges of their own. It seems that you have done a great job of fostering confidence and resilience in your children, to the extent that your youngest daughter was able to declare her lesbian relationship to a world and holds the belief that her fraternal relations will be able to accept and support her choices. However, the risks appear to be real, and for your daughter to travel with your blessing, could you ask her to do something to help allay your fears?

She could contact the Department of Foreign Affairs not only for advice, for example do women need a male relative to accompany them in public? She could also let them know of her intention of being open about her same-sex relationship. The other obvious action you might take is to contact your in-laws yourself and ask that they are conscious of any danger that might arise and to give them the contact details of the Irish Embassy or consulate. It would be advisable for your daughter to tell at least some of her extended family of her same-sex relationship before leaving so that she can rely on support while she is there.

Naivety can indeed put someone in jeopardy, but it is also the best chance of overriding previous prejudice and reaching the hearts of those it meets

What you cannot protect against, however, is any rejection your daughter may face from her extended family, and you have to trust that both she and your in-laws are aware and functioning adults. Your husband left his country and his family for love of you and that experience of loss may be at the forefront of your in-law’s minds as they get an opportunity to repair the rift and to get a chance to love their son/sibling’s daughter. Naivety can indeed put someone in jeopardy, but it is also the best chance of overriding previous prejudice and reaching the hearts of those it meets.

An issue that you might look at yourself is how your sense of protection is a measure of your love which you have to balance against your trust in your daughter’s capacity and potential. Try to trust that she will manage whatever faces her and that she will contact you if and when she needs to. You want to avoid the danger that she will keep you in the dark as she does not want to increase your fear, and this will create a distance between you. You have been through great loss in your life so your sense of the worst thing happening is real and enduring.

It is likely that you are very sensitive to loss and abandonment, and this may be blocking you from seeing that your in-laws have had a chance to change over the years. An opportunity for healing now exists and your daughter (in the image of her father) is taking this risk.

Can you find the strength to support her and reassure her that she has a strong partner and family at her back should things be difficult?