My College:
Family Life

The Girlfriend

Marlene Kern Fischer

We met her the weekend of his college graduation. Although they had only been together a few months, we already knew she was special to our son. She sat with us during commencement and a few people asked if she was our daughter because she has similar coloring to our youngest son.

I tried to put her at ease, but the truth is I was the nervous one. As a mom of three sons, I wasn’t used to girls. In addition, I didn’t know how I was supposed to act; I had never done the mother-of-the-boyfriend thing. I wanted us to get off on the right foot so I used my default tactic which is to try to be funny.

She was two years behind my son in school but their relationship continued while he was in law school — by a stroke of luck, he ended up in a program near her family’s home. He had been accepted there only two days before they started dating, so he was able to see her whenever she came home on break. He visited her back on campus and in Europe during her junior year abroad.

The first time he brought her home I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to hang out with them or leave them alone. I tried to remember how I felt the first time I stayed at my husband’s family's house when we were dating. It was hard to remember so far back, but I don’t think I wanted to spend too much time with his parents. It was nice having female company in the house — I'm used to the male way of communicating, which is, well, different. I tried not to appear needy, but after receiving mostly monosyllabic answers from my boys for decades, conversing with someone who used a lot of words was like receiving water after wandering in the desert.

When my husband helped our son move in at law school, he got together with her parents but I didn't have the opportunity to meet them until law school graduation a few years later. It was a hectic weekend with a lot to deal with: cranky children, elderly parents, bad weather, the logistics of helping our son move out, etc. But we enjoyed having dinner with the girlfriend's parents — my husband was right when he told me we had a lot in common and he could see us being friends even without the connection of our children.

We had dinner together again recently and this time their two other adult children were included. It was nice to see our son’s girlfriend with her siblings — watching them interact gave me further insight into who she is. During the meal, my son, not generally the lovey-dovey type, and his girlfriend looked at each other with such love that both her mother and I noted how sweet they were together.

In the almost five years that they have been dating I’ve learned a few things about navigating the mother/girlfriend relationship. I admit if I didn’t like her, this whole thing would be more challenging. I feel good knowing my son has someone who cares about him in his life, and that he has the capacity to care so deeply, too.

Here are a few thoughts that may help when you find yourself in the mother-of-the-boyfriend/girlfriend position.

1. Every family has their own traditions and ways of doing things.

It's important to be respectful and flexible (this advice goes for both you and your child). A good friend of mine married someone whose family celebrated anniversaries and birthdays as if they were national holidays, whereas in her house they were barely acknowledged. They learned to understand the other’s positions — she even got him a cupcake for his birthday this year.

2. Be willing to share.

Once your child is in a relationship you can’t expect to spend every occasion and holiday with them. Let them figure out what works best and try not to make them feel guilty. If you feel things are inequitable you can voice your concerns to your child and hope that they understand your feelings.

3. Don’t offer an opinion unless asked.

You don’t want to be a buttinsky. I am honored when my son and his girlfriend include me in their decisions but I am not insulted when they don’t.

4. Let the relationship between you and the g.f. or b.f. evolve naturally.

(I may not have been so good at this one.) You can’t expect to be besties right away. In time you will feel more comfortable around each other. I do know that your child will appreciate your efforts to accept and welcome their significant other.

In the end, unless you think they are making an egregious mistake, your goal should be to make their relationship easier. After all, you want to establish a good rapport with your child’s special someone and help the two of them find happiness.

Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons and a newly gained daughter, food shopper extraordinaire, blogger and college essay editor. She recently published her first book, “Gained a Daughter But Nearly Lost My Mind: How I Planned a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic.” A founding contributor at Collegiate Parent, her work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Grown & Flown, The New York Times (Modern Love), Kveller, Her View From Home and The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Find her on Facebook at “Thoughts From Aisle 4.”
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Betty Foufos
Betty Foufos
2 years ago

Thank you for sharing and writing on this topic! First time in a week that I’ve sat back from a frenzy to prep for my son’s girlfriend’s first home visit, enjoyed your article, found it validating and appreciate the tips!

This our third son is most sociable. He and his girlfriend are pleasant, high energy. Can I keep up?

Our farm home is eclectic at best. I decided to prioritize the outdoors, maybe they’ll sit (for hours) on the porch, gazing at the (distant) view.
When the mower broke down three days into the prep, I was not bothered (I can call the tall grass “a meadow garden”). I shifted my focus (a strained push) to decorating the interior space where for two days I fretted over where to hang lop-sided wreathes and various (hoarded) vintage treasures (junk). Finally I gave up and decided to “go for clean”, hoping for the best.

Your article reminds me to pause (besides I’ve exhausted myself) and enjoy their company!
I’m grateful they enjoy each other and want to come home.

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