“Ask a Priest: May I Enable My Daughter to Cohabit?”

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Q: My daughter is 24 and lives with us. She is not practicing her faith. She is finishing her university degree soon and just informed us that she is moving out to live with her boyfriend. They’ve been dating for five years. I’ve shared with her my concerns about doing things in the right, God-given order and why that is so important. I’ve tried to tell her that God has a plan for her happiness that is even better than some of the big choices she is making. But we end up agreeing to disagree. My words seem to wound her without intending to. I’m wondering what to do. Should I be helping my daughter move out? If I do, would my actions show that I agree with her decision (when I don’t)? Would I be enabling her? Or would it be better to assist her (with things like packing, moving, giving tips on budgeting, sharing in her joy, etc.) because it is the charitable thing to do? I’m concerned that I would wound her more by withdrawing my help. But how can I feel good about aiding her efforts to move in with him? My heart is torn. I’ve said my peace. But now the next steps of the move are about to happen. What is the right thing to do? – S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about the situation. Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon nowadays.

There are different levels to this question.

It’s one thing to help your daughter move out of the house. That in itself doesn’t seem sinful.

But helping her move into a situation where she will be cohabitating is another matter. That could be complicity in sin.

Just the fact that she’d be moving in with a young man would be scandalous and would certainly put them in the near occasion of grave sin.

It would be good to think through the consequences if you enable your daughter to move in with her boyfriend. Would the “couple” invite you over for dinner? Would they expect to be invited to spend the night in your spare bedroom if they visit you?

As for your “wounding” your daughter, the onus here is really on her. You didn’t ask to be placed in this situation. In any case, the higher priority is to avoid wounding the heart of Christ.

So, you shouldn’t feel pressured into supporting her bad decision.

This might be the moment to intensify your prayers and sacrifices for her.

Your daughter is at an age when she might be trying to find her own identity. Rejecting (at least for now) the tenets of her faith might be her way of expressing her independence. With God’s grace and the passage of time it might dawn on her that life apart from Our Lord won’t be very satisfying.

It might be good to remember that you are already helping her by the mere fact that she has been living at home while pursuing her studies. You might want to offer to let her remain at home after she gets her diploma. That might take pressure off her if she feels pinched financially.

In any case, now is the time to draw a line and to let her know in a loving but firm way that you don’t want to be complicit in helping her enter an objectively sinful situation.

You might invite her to do some reading on the topic of cohabitation. Even if “everyone is doing it,” cohabitation remains a bad idea. It breaks the link between intimacy and lifelong commitment.

It can sap the motivation and ability of the partners (especially the man) to enter a stable marriage. And it can rob the two of the chance to develop a deep friendship apart from physical intimacy; this could help them later as a married couple when they don’t have the opportunity to be intimate, be it for reasons of sickness or physical separation or lack of privacy.

Perhaps the both of you could read something together. A few suggestions would the U.S. bishops’ conference document “Marriage Preparation and Cohabiting Couples” and a related page, and this National Catholic Register article.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.


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One Comment
  1. Well said Father M: let her know in a LOVING BUT FIRM WAY that you don’t want to be complicit in helping her enter an objectively sinful situation.

    It is, sadly, ‘commonplace’ in the ‘culture of death’ (death of soul). She went all through college living at home? of living ‘in a dorm?’ If living in dorm room (which these days are usually called ‘co -ed’ which used to mean alternating individual rooms housing both male and female students or sometimes co-ed floors, which meant alternating floors were male and female) I don’t know if these days, male and female share one dorm room with two bedrooms.

    The question doesn’t indicate if daughter was commuting from home to college or living in a ‘co-ed dorm’ with other female room mates who ‘chide’ to DO IT… live with / or . . . perhaps she saw ‘too much’ of male and female ‘closeness’ (even if she did not) OR … maybe the graduation is only graduation from the class studies . . . with ‘living arrangement’ of boyfriend SAME. (This is not made clear)

    The daughter gave this parent ‘a slap in the face’ for ALL THE GOOD BLESSINGS childhood through teen years and into young ‘college’ adolescent years (whether she was chaste in college and just now going to move out OR ‘did it’ in the dorm and simply wishes to continue it.) It’s a ‘tough cross’ to pick up . . .but I say better to SEPARATE here on earth, while PRAYING FOR the daughter and her boyfriend to ‘mature.’ than to lose her (possibly forever) It is very emotional, of course . . . and called TOUGH LOVE. The tough love that hung on a cross and ‘died to self’ — for love of the Father’s will. This parent(s) has to provide stern warning and reasoning, as long as she lives in such manner… there will be no Christmas gifts, no visits ‘in house,’ no birthday gifts. If she is so ‘in love’ than offer to pay for a small wedding… putting it to her that if IT IS LOVE … LOVE COMMITS, KIDS ‘PLAY HOUSE.’

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