Life & Culture

Can we police our son’s love life on holiday?


Q My son is 17 and has been going out with his girlfriend - also 17 - for six months. They seem very much in love. She is a lovely Jewish girl and we are acquainted with her parents, who are more religious than we are. We know they are sleeping together, but have always taken the approach that it is none of our business. But now our son is making it our business, by inviting her to come on holiday with us and saying they will share a room. We are sure her parents wouldn't approve. We also think that, if we condone this, then she will be staying over in his room a lot, which might impact his A-levels and upset them more.

A You're right: your son and his girlfriend are over the age of consent, they're already sleeping together, and you're not going to be able to close the stable door. But while it's "none of your business" what they get up to in bed, it is your business what they do under your roof, or on your holiday. And there's a difference between allowing and condoning, between turning a blind eye and facilitating.

You make lots of assumptions about what your son's girlfriend's parents think, without asking them. I sense you might feel some awkwardness discussing this subject. But you need to talk and find out their opinion about a shared holiday room and then make a decision together, to avoid future conflict. As for your son, if he's old enough to have sex, he's old enough to have an adult conversation about this.

Ultimately, you own the house and are paying for the holiday, so you can make the rules. If you feel uncomfortable about a shared holiday room, then say it's not on. If you don't want his girlfriend staying over and distracting him from his studies, say she can't. At the very least, you can make strict guidelines about when she stays, such as weekends only during term time. Sure, they'll sneak off and have sex anyway, but at least you've set out your boundaries.

Q I went through an acrimonious divorce 10 years ago, and brought up our children on my own, although the children still saw their father. Now my daughter is getting married and wants us to stand together under the chupah. I am so worried about having a panic attack if I have to be near him, but I am determined to do it for my girl. How can I cope on the day?

A However acrimonious your divorce, (unfortunately for you) your ex-husband will always be your daughter's father. She didn't divorce either of you and, naturally, she wants you both to celebrate with her. It's admirable that, in spite your own feelings, you want to do this.

Now is the time to focus on the present, not the past. But the fact you're so anxious you fear you'll have a panic attack just being near your ex suggests the divorce was particularly nasty, and that, 10 years on, you still haven't recovered.

There is no detail in your question either to confirm or to refute this, but was he violent or abusive? Whatever happened, it really might be a good idea to get some help to deal with the after-effects of your relationship. Jewish Women's Aid ( provides counselling - call the free helpline on 0808 801 0500.

Alternatively, you could ask your GP about CBT. For specific help with anxiety problems, contact the organisation No Panic ( Helpline: 0844 967 4848.

Preparation (both mental and practical) is the key here. Figure out the logistics of the wedding so there are no nasty surprises. You could, for example, tell your daughter that you're happy to be under the chupah with her dad but would prefer not to sit near him at the reception. If you don't have a partner, could you ask a friend to glue him/herself to your side for the duration, so you're never left alone with your ex?

You could even rehearse lines to say to him - something humorous, perhaps, to diffuse the tension - to avoid awkward conversation. Ask your daughter to help you pick an outfit/makeup that makes you look your best. The more confident you feel, the less he'll get to you.

Remind yourself: this is just one day. I can't promise it won't be difficult, or that you won't have anxious moments but you will get through it. And you'll be surrounded by supportive friends and loved ones. In the long term, overcoming this fear might actually help you move forward.

Contact Hilary via email at, anonymously or not. Or write to her at 28 St Albans Lane, London NW11 7QU

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