We started quarantine with our adult daughter and developed a family routine of cooking, cleaning, and evening TV. We were recently joined by her longtime boyfriend. He waits to be served meals even if the three of us are scrambling in the kitchen, doesn’t pitch in for groceries or to help in any way, and leaves for his room when we are relaxing around the TV. I’ve mentioned this to my daughter, more as a concern about her future; she insists he’s better with just her. The longer he’s here, the more worried I am about his someday becoming a member of our family. I just don’t know how to settle my feelings about him and/or convey my deep concerns to my daughter.
Anonymous / Boston
You already have conveyed your deep concerns to your daughter, so you needn’t worry about that anymore. Trust me, as the Adult Daughter of a Mother, what felt like a “mention” to you did indeed come across as a conveyance of deep concern to her. Any further efforts in that direction will do nothing more than add to the thousand-and-one stresses your daughter, like all of us, is already experiencing.
Your daughter’s partner is being a bad house guest, and you and your spouse should make house rules and expectations clearer so that he will be a better one. That’s both your right and your responsibility as hosts. Start assigning chores and asking him to pitch in financially. The fact that you didn’t do so before hasn’t created some sort of precedent barring you from ever doing so — a fallacy people often subscribe to. Nor does it mean any blame needs to be placed for past behavior.
And then let. It. Go. Stop thinking of this man as your daughter’s future husband. You will go crazy thinking about the future too much. He’s not your son-in-law right now. He’s a foxhole buddy, hunkered down with people he clearly feels wary of. Your goal should be to create and maintain sufficient structure for all of you to share space and resources equitably for however long this lasts. That’s it. That’s enough.
It sounds like you and your spouse and daughter had a cozy setup, one that was probably very comforting. His arrival was always going to disrupt that. He was never your baby. He doesn’t speak your family’s special language of recipes and in-jokes and “just how we do things.” Most importantly, you aren’t a family of three any more; you’re two couples sharing a house. And you have every right to mourn that change — as long as you acknowledge it.
Don’t make your daughter feel like a dual citizen whose loyalty is constantly under question, or she’s going to walk out of quarantine not wanting to talk to any of you. Trust her. She will see things about her partner that she hasn’t noticed before, I guarantee you that. She’ll see things about you that she hasn’t noticed before, too. And neither one of you can control what she sees — only what you show her.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.