To offer full support, get off the either/or highway
Q: My 29-year-old daughter is dropping hints that she will soon be engaged. I have hopes (maybe expectations) that her intended will ask her father, and they will marry in the Catholic church, preferably, or in a religion they would both choose to practice.
How do I NOT project these hopes onto her, and what do I say or do instead? I want to be accepting and supporting of all their adult decisions; however, in my heart I feel if the parents' values and morals are ignored/rejected/bypassed, there will be hurt feelings.
As parents, are we supposed to just let all of our ideas and needs go by the wayside and accept what we don't believe in ourselves?
A: The choice to honor parental beliefs does represent, in itself, a belief. Ideally you want your daughter to share your values, but, short of that, it sounds as if you'd settle for her believing in a respectful nod to her upbringing. A nod, that is, to you.
Fair enough. You're hardly alone in that wish.
However, it's a much thornier expectation than it may appear — starting with the way you've framed the issue. "There will be hurt feelings"? Will the church's feelings be hurt? The family dog's feelings? Will the car be hurt because it won't be parked at a church?
If you're talking about you, then talk about you. If you're talking about her father, then talk about her father. (And, bonus unasked advice for your kid: If you're getting engaged, then say so vs. "dropping hints.")
One of the most frustrating ways to impose your will on a child is obliquely, through pointed omissions or attempts at humor or (ahem) strategic use of the passive voice. You may be afraid that speaking directly will pressure your daughter, but, remember, backhanded swipes are pressure, too, and notoriously hard to combat. Directness at least allows her to respond in kind.
You've also positioned your daughter's choice as either getting permission for a faith-based wedding (your way), or ignoring/rejecting/bypassing your values and morals (highway). That needlessly boxes everyone into set roles — the perfect means TO "project these hopes onto her," which is the perfect strategy for alienating her.
If your desire is genuine to accept and support her choices, then that has to start with a nuanced understanding of those choices. Whether your daughter follows your preferred path or deviates from it, I would encourage you to see it not as sharing or rejecting your values, but instead as her incorporating your values into her own.
Consider this: You raised your daughter with a careful eye to your values and morals, yes? Then you planted the seeds and cultivated her moral sensibility. A result that differs from what you imagined — i.e., differs from your own moral sensibility — doesn't mean she "ignored/rejected/bypassed" her roots. You have to account for different growing conditions. Different person, different parents, different peers, different times.
If you raised a good person, then here's what you can expect: that she, too, will make choices with a careful eye to her values and morals. That leaves you ample room for both honesty and support: "I'll admit, I'm disappointed it won't be a Catholic service — but tell me this is important to you, and I'll support you 100 percent."