Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Best way to banish daughter's iffy boyfriend is to invite him in
Seattle: My daughter is dating a man who is not ambitious and lives at home. She is a college student. I like him and he is a good person, so I don't have a real problem with him (although he smokes and drinks quite a bit, which bothers me, but I'm not dating him).
My husband, however, is really against this relationship. As a result, the boyfriend doesn't come over and our daughter spends tons of time at his house. Our other daughter is in high school, and her boyfriend is welcome here. He comes to our house about once a week for dinner.
Our older daughter is furious that her boyfriend is not accorded the same treatment. I kind of agree with her, and her boyfriend is welcome here as far as I am concerned. But I also see my husband's side, because the boyfriend has done some not-so-nice things and we were left to help our daughter pick up the pieces. I feel stuck in the middle.
Carolyn: It's not a "real problem" that he's cruel and smokes and drinks copiously. Hm.
Please warn your husband that banning the dude from your home guarantees the relationship occurs out of his sight, which means he will witness neither serious abuse nor serious progress, which doesn't help his daughter. It gives her incentive to stay with him, so she can prove her dad wrong.
Dad can't end this relationship — but he can allow it into the light. Let the daughter see her boyfriend drink too much in her parents' presence, or have nothing to say for himself during routine conversation. If anything can nudge this relationship to the brink — if — then that will; let her wince with recognition and humiliation. Welcoming the boyfriend may seem tough to swallow on principle, but this is one of those rare cases when principle works against him.
Request for reference puts friend in tight spot
Baltimore: The daughter of a friend tutored my son in SAT prep. She does not have professional credentials, but she tests very well and we thought she might be able to help him. His score actually dropped the second time he took the test. We had put our trust in this girl and paid her hundreds of dollars.
She is now trying to get more tutoring gigs and asked if she can list me as a reference. I don't want to hurt her feelings (hence I haven't told her about my son's lowered score), but I can't in good conscience tell another parent that she knows what she's doing. I also worry this could sour my relationship with her mom. How should I handle this?
Carolyn: Tell her about the scores. She is trying to start a business and charging real money, so her feelings are secondary. They still matter, of course, so be direct but not harsh.
You also can't blame the lowered score on her; your son is still accountable for that.
Instead, just say — ASAP — "We got Son's scores and they went down. I'll be a reference, if you'd like, but I'd have to tell people about the results." Boom, done.
If this strains your friendship with the mother, then that's the mother's problem. What are you supposed to do, lie?