Low Cut Clothing Offends Mom’s Fashion Sense
Q: My 17-year-old son is dating a girl who wears really suggestive low-cut tops. Would I be out of line to say something to the girl about this?
A: At least three people are involved in this question: You, your son, and the girlfriend. First, each of you probably has an opinion about current fashion. One of you may feel it is fine to do what everyone else is doing; another may not be dictated to by the fashion industry; one of you might not really care or notice. Could this be an issue of simply having different opinions about appropriate dress and clothing styles? What is acceptable to some in dress is not acceptable to others. Whether or not you should say anything depends on how your son and his girlfriend will take the comment, and whether or not you are prepared for the consequences.
Have you already said something to your son about the current low-cut fashion styles? Does he like it when his girlfriend and other girls wear them? If it is a problem for him, can he handle letting his girlfriend know what he thinks without your help? Has he asked you to say something to her for him?
Some people love suggestions from others; others see suggestions and feedback as criticism or judgment. Some people have a great sense of humor and take everything anyone says with a grain of salt and hold no grudges, while others may hold onto a misunderstanding for years and allow it to cut off a relationship. How both your son and his girlfriend may perceive your feedback frames the outcome of you giving her any advice.
What might happen if you say something that the girlfriend feels is critical of her? Will your son take her side and be critical of you for hurting or confronting his girlfriend? How might everyone in this triangle handle conflict or differences? How have you earned the right to say something to your son’s girlfriend?
Even though your question was about giving feedback about clothing, the whole concept of telling others what you think, especially when they have not asked for your advice, opens the door for taking on a wider frame of reference. If your son and/or his girlfriend take your comments as unwelcome criticism, then your son may feel caught between loving you and his girlfriend, knowing you don’t approve of something about her. You may also hurt her feelings.
This is an excellent question about boundaries in relationships with your son’s girlfriend. It helps set the stage for you to think about the future when you could be a mother-in-law, probably years away, but still in your future. Think about your own past relationships. Did parents on either side ever say anything that felt hurtful, uncomfortable or was problematic? Were your parents, you boyfriend’s parents or your in-laws overly involved in your relationship, or did they set up barriers? You may have experiences of your own that will help you act in the way you wish you had been treated.
Jane Angelich, a life coach, has recently written a book that details five steps to building a relationship with your son’s significant other. While your son’s situation may seem minor, it is good practice for learning to deal with your son’s adult relationships.
Consider these tips:
1. Do your best not to tell his girlfriend what she should do in any certain situation unless she asks directly and it is something that really matters. Sometime you might be asked out of courtesy, and the best answer is really, “Whatever works for the two of you will work for me.”
2. Be sure to walk your talk. Be a good role model. Be the kind of person who will earn their trust and respect by acting in a way that invites them to feel safe with you, not judged by you.
3. You don’t need to know everything. A lot of questions do not need to be asked and they may share things with you that it is critical for you to hold in confidence. Be a safe place for their fears and hopes.
4. Your son and his girlfriend need to make decisions for themselves. You can let them know you trust them to think things through, make good choices, and ask for help if they need it. For the most part, you need to keep out of their business unless their behavior shows you something very different, (drugs, sex, and other risky behaviors.)
5. Work to see what your son sees in his girlfriend. As a parent, make sure you don’t force them together (which occurs often when either we criticize her or include her in too many family activities.) At the beginning, always let your son be in charge of inviting her to family events. If they become an item, then it may be appropriate for you to include her in some family events spontaneously. If they decide to make it permanent, then embrace her despite any reservations you may have. It is your son’s choice, not yours.
Good luck as you navigate this territory. Think before you speak, and speak kindly. Good luck!
- What Do You Want from Me? by Terri Apter
- What’s a Mother (in-Law) to Do?: 5 Essential Steps to Building a Loving Relationship with Your Son’s New Wife by Jane Angelich
- The Mother-in-Law’s Manual: Creating Relationships That Work for Ourselves and Our Children by Susan Abel Lieberman PhD