The Personalist Project

Contra a recent National Catholic Register blog post by Pat Archbold, titled “8 Rules for Marrying my Daughter”:

1)   Unless your daughter is a minor, you don’t get to have requirements for her prospective spouse. Not only do you not get to choose him for her, you have no veto power over her choices at all. None. You don’t get to lay down criteria. You don’t get to say, “He has to be Catholic,” much less, “He has to have a prayer life.” However reasonable the demand may seem to you, and however objectively advantageous to your daughter, you have no right to insist that the man seeking her hand in marriage be gainfully employed, or have no debt, or come from an intact family. All of that is out of your hands completely and totally. If you want to have good relations with your daughter and future son-in-law, strive to realize that fact deeply and sincerely. Be sure that your words and actions reflect it. If they haven’t, or don’t, repent—to God and to her. You were out of bounds.

2)   Your adult daughter doesn’t belong to you; she belongs to herself.  Her decisions—especially those relating to her intimate life and her prime vocation—must be her own. If you want her to be properly self-standing, rather than weak and dependent in relation to men, you should take care not to influence her too heavily. As she is growing up, work to develop her independence; encourage her to choose freely, and for herself, according to her own sense of right. Make a point of expressing confidence in her ability to discern God’s will and choose well. (Make sure you don’t give her the impression that choosing well means choosing according to your ideas.) 

3)   Your daughter is not a better daughter if she tries to conform to your judgments and preferences. Her responsibility as a person is not to live the way you think she should, but to live the way she thinks she should. Don’t make her have to fight you off to figure out who she is and what she wants in life. Don’t crowd her discernment with your judgments. Don’t put pressure on her to see things your way. Don’t confuse her morally by acting and talking as if you know better than she does what’s best for her. You don’t; you can’t. The moral life is lived “from within.” It’s better by far for her to make her mistakes and suffer the consequences than to live into adulthood under her father’s thumb, however benevolent a thumb it may be. Just as a young man “tied to his mother’s apron strings” is crippled in his manhood, a daughter under her father’s thumb is crippled in her womanhood.

4)   Rejoice if your adult daughter asserts herself by defying your illegitimate “requirements”. There is nothing wrong with her resisting your undue interference in her life. On the contrary. It indicates that she has the self-respect and inner stuff to demand respect from men. This is good. Just as men have a particular call to restrain the natural tendency to dominate women and instead order their gifts toward love and service, women have a particular call to resist their natural inclination to be servile and dependent. They must learn to assert themselves against anyone who tries to dominate them, wittingly or unwittingly. This includes their fathers. It includes their future husbands. If she can assert herself lovingly, without anger and bitterness, great. If she can’t, it may be because your heavy-handedness has made smooth relations between you impossible. In any case, it’s better that she does it. As Chesterton said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

 5)   Her prospective fiancé doesn’t have to ask your permission before he proposes. He doesn’t even have to ask for your blessing and approval. There is no disrespect whatsoever toward you implied in his asking her before he asks you. On the contrary, by acting as if it’s your prerogative to be asked at all, you express an inexcusable disrespect toward them

6)   Don’t let your prospective son-in-law behave toward you as if you have authority you don’t actually have. That would set you both up for dysfunctional relations. If he asks your permission to marry your daughter (perhaps out of immaturity or romantic nostalgia, or undue deference), your answer should be something like this: “My daughter speaks for herself. If she says yes, you will both have my blessing.”

7)   However attached we may be to the tradition of prospective husbands first asking the father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, we should realize that it comes from an age when single women were legally and economically dependent on their fathers. They could not marry without his permission. That that is no longer the case—that a woman’s right to dispose freely over her own existence, in accordance with her dignity as a person—is a great moral achievement of the modern age, endorsed by the Church and incorporated into her teachings and traditions. (See John Paul II’s Letter to Women.) Mature Christians adapt customs to new moral understanding. We don’t try to conform reality to our preferred customs.

8)   If you decide to withhold your blessing from her choice, your reasons had better be serious enough that you are prepared to lose your daughter. If he has shown himself to be a liar or a two-timer or an addict or an abuser or a blasphemer, you can’t bless the marriage. You can share your concern with your daughter, though. And you can pray.

Comments (11)

Rhett Segall

#1, Jun 25, 2013 9:05am

I agree with you Katie.

Now if your daughter decides to cohabit before marriage what attitude would you have?

My attitude is that so long as your daughter, or son, knows that you hold to the Christian understanding that living together is for the married then that is enough. Be loving and respectful toward them and let them follow their conscience.


Patrick Dunn

#2, Jun 25, 2013 10:34am

I'm glad you wrote this response.  Not only did I find the content of Archbald's post loathsome, but the tone seems to betray a great immaturity (of Christian consciousness) on his part, and also a posture of grandstanding that is embarrassing.  I'm surprised it was actually published.

Jorge G

#3, Jun 25, 2013 11:24am

I once heard a priest say something I doubt many parents understand. When it comes to children, it's useful to acknowledge that the only gift God gives a person is a spouse. Children are the fruit of that gift, but they do not belong to their parents. 

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Jun 25, 2013 3:08pm

Patrick, I agree with you that the post was so bad that it shouldn't have been published.  On the other hand, the ideas and attitude it expresses are so common among consevative Catholics that it may be good to have it out in the open, where it can be critiqued.  

My guess is that since his oldest is barely a teenager, he's still in the parenting-young-children mode, and he'll learn a lot as she gets older and starts asserting herself.  I just hope he learns in time!

I know I had a lot of learning to do.  My oldest could tell very mortifying stories of how inordinately controlling I was when she was little.  Mercy.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Jun 25, 2013 4:03pm

Rhett, to answer your question, I think it would depend on the case.  For sure, parents shouldn't imagine they can forbid their adult children to live together unmarried.  And they shouldn't act like they're perfectly okay with it, when they're not.

The key, IMO, is knowing and keeping within the real boundaries of our authority. 

I love the serenity prayer: "Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

A lot of harm gets done in families when parents try to assert authority they don't have in truth.

Rhett Segall

#6, Jun 25, 2013 7:18pm

I agree with you.

I'm looking forward to hearing the presentations from Franciscan University!


Devra Torres

#7, Jun 26, 2013 12:46am

This post instantly reminded me of my own engagement, which we presented to my parents as a fait accompli.  There was great joy and celebration, but at some point my mother mentioned that it made her nervous, since she hardly knew Max at all, to which my father replied: "It's a good thing you're not the one marrying him!"

I'm not recommending doing it this way, necessarily, but it did show respect for my own decision-making authority!

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Jun 26, 2013 3:24am

Your parents keep impresing my socks off.

I used to be romantically attached to the idea that the man should ask the father first. Since in Holland that tradition was virtually unknown, I had to explain it to Jules when it got near the time I thought he might propose.

Now, looking back, I'm glad that when he did it, he didn't "ask".  I think it's because he intuitively knew it would have been unreal. Instead, he told him, "I'd like to marry Katie."  And my father didn't give permission, he just said, "Welcome to the family!"

Neither of our two daughters' future husbands (both good Catholic men from devout Catholic families) asked Jules before proposing.  Both knew implicitly they had our blessing.

Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick

#9, Jul 18, 2013 5:13pm

Thank you for this post!  Yes, an adult daughter should decide for herself, and she can ask her parents their perspective if it is desired (and, if her parents are wise, it often is).  

I am wondering if there is some mark of respect in talking with the parents beforehand, because of tradition.  My husband talked to both of my parents (actually my mom first), even though he knew a. he had their implicit permission- they'd been wondering why we weren't engaged for about a month, even though we only dated about 4 months- and b. it was ultimately our decision, not theirs.  I think both of my parents appreciated that, even though they also know it was my decision.  We had also discussed getting married many, many times before he actually asked.  I understand where the tradition comes from, but maybe we can still respect our parents in that (though, as parents, not expect it)?  A lot of wedding customs, such as the dad walking the bride down the aisle but the groom walking up alone are from the same ideas- but our solution was for my groom to walk up with his mother rather than buck tradition.


#10, Feb 25, 2016 10:56am

Good Lord, that Archibald makes no room for growth within a man.  Seems to me the man who marrys his daughter must be all finished his journey to the Lord - saintly perfection, really. (Is there anybody on earth like this?) He couldn't ever struggle with anything like having a wicked mother or porn or masturbation, because "real" men don't struggle with things like these.  If my father had had these rules for me, I would never have been "given permission" to marry my husband - even though he was a church-going, Lord-loving man. 

Perhaps these perspective husbands should have lists of rules for their Fathers-in-law?  Monetary recompense if she is a nagging shrew?  Or if she cannot have the standard 8-10 children?  A goat?  3 iPads?   

And by the way, my husband asked for my parents blessing, not their permission, and my parents joyfully prayed over him and even gave him my mother's diamond (for an engagement ring) that she had always said would come to me.  My parents understood what you are saying here Katie.  Thanks for this. 


#11, Feb 25, 2016 8:16pm

Nice post, Katie. I did not ask my father-in-law permission to marry my wife, and I am proud of it. I did it for the exact reason that you stated. Personhood and freedom go hand-in-hand, we just need to contemplate the Holy Trinity. 

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