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Carolyn Hax: Religious daughter won’t abide divorced dad’s cohabitation

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Hi Carolyn: My wife divorced me 10 years ago. After a period of time, I found a new companion my age, “Deb,” and we have a wonderful relationship as boyfriend/girlfriend and share a house. My four adult kids are very fond of her.

My oldest daughter is happily married with kids of her own and lives six hours away. Her husband was “recruited” into a small church when he moved to their town, and made it a stipulation that my daughter also join the same church when they got married. Their life revolves around church friends, who seem very nice. She home-schools the kids. The husbands are “the man of the house,” while the wives do not work. It all works for them, and they are a happy and stable family.

My daughter and I have a nice father/daughter relationship, but there is an aspect of her thinking I struggle with. When Deb and I go to visit, we must sleep in separate bedrooms. My daughter displays lots of family pictures, but none of Deb and me together. She declined to participate with her siblings in a group birthday gift for Deb. I find it hurtful, as does Deb, that my daughter does not fully accept Deb as part of the family, simply because we are not married. Otherwise, my daughter treats Deb courteously.

I understand the Bible’s basics, but I feel as if there needs to be some flexibility regarding today’s ways people choose to live together. I don’t know how my daughter can’t see that she is being hurtful to both of us, but I also feel as if approaching my daughter about this concern would cause a rift between us. Thoughts?

— P.

P.: You “feel as if there needs to be some flexibility,” but your daughter and her husband and their church have made it pretty plain that they don’t feel the same way.

You spelled this out for me yourself: Your daughter has centered everything around her church. Everything. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that she doesn’t make a one-off, be-flexible-for-Deb (or even Dad) exception.

I’m surprised it surprises you and Deb, if anything.

But I also know it’s a lot easier for any of us to see a harsh, impersonal fact for what it is when we’re not the ones getting the bony end of the elbow. Your daughter isn’t shunning me as biblically inappropriate, so it’s easy for me to point to ideological absolutes and say, “Yup, makes perfect sense to me.”

Please don’t mistake this statement for agreeing with your daughter’s choices. I’m just explaining them. All I stand by explicitly is her right to make them.

I do encourage you, though, to accept your daughter’s rigid consistency as license to stop taking her exclusions personally. The point of this community’s dogma, to the extent I can make it out from here, is to leave as little decision-making as possible in the hands of the individual. Things aren’t personal. It is all about the faith.

And when the collective impingements of her faith on your relationship with Deb amount to nice, courteous relationships, except: 1. Separate rooms for visits. 2. No photos. 3. A group gift that’s 25 percent smaller than it could be? My advice is to thank the Fates for handing you some pretty small beans to digest.