It’s good to be a nice person in life and help others, especially if they’re in need. There’s no point in being disagreeable or mean. However, it’s also important to design your life according to the rules that matter to you. This often means that you have to disappoint your parents in this or other way but that’s okay because you don’t owe anything to them.
The common misconception is that you owe to your parents because they brought you into this world, gave you food and clothes and sometimes even emotional support. That’s all cool and you should be grateful for that. It doesn’t mean, however, that you’re now in debt and have to live your life in order to please them. Your parents made a (somewhat) conscious decision of bringing you to this world because they wanted to have a baby. Some of them just had this feeling that it’s the right thing to do, others wanted to have a mini me in terms of looks, yet another group of parents count on their children achieving what they didn’t and the last group uses them as a surety for the future, just like a savings account in a bank. The thinking of the latter two groups of people is: I’m going to give birth to this thing and it’s going to do what I want it too/help me when I’m old. It’s like as if they were signing a contract in their heads with someone who didn’t agree to the terms of it. Did you ask them to bring you to this world? No? Exactly, this is why a contract signed only by one party doesn’t work.
In life there are no guarantees. You may spend a few years in a relationship, sacrifice yourself for a person and then they meet someone else and they leave you. It seems ungrateful and harsh but that you made a decision to make sacrifices, doesn’t oblige people to give you the same thing back to you. It’s exactly the same thing with parenthood. Sure, it’s nice if you help your parents through thick and thin when you’re an adult but it’s up to you to make such a decision.
Financially help your parents when they get older is one thing and most people would agree that it has more to do with human decency than with owing anything to anyone. Nevertheless, your parents expectations are certainly not something you’re obliged to meet. If something doesn’t cost you anything, you can do it to avoid family frictions. Your mother really likes you to eat your greens? Sure, why not to comply with it. At the same time, when your mother wants you to be a doctor and you don’t want that, you’re not being difficult for not listening. If your parents are religious and you aren’t you don’t have to pretend that you are either. Last but not least, if your parents would like you to make a choice of whom you should marry, it’s also an important issue you should fight for.
Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. As much as theoretically we don’t owe anything to our parents, it doesn’t mean that on the emotional level we don’t think we do. My parents, for instance, always thought they were bringing up a lawyer. I’d even internalize it to the point that for many years I’d tell people that that’s what I was going to do. Then puberty happened and I realized that it’s really not something I want for myself. I fought and fought and eventually my parents understood I made up my mind. Still, neither of the two options I wanted “had a future” according to them and instead of becoming a psychologist or a journalist, I studied languages. It was an acceptable compromise that I wouldn’t have to be making if I could afford to pay my way through studies myself. A part of us relying on our parents is, of course, financial. This is why up to some point in our life, they actually have a say in our decisions. Ideally, they’d love us for who we are and accept our choices just wanting us to be happy and bla bla bla… but mostly they think they know better. Fair enough, if our parents are supporting us, we must obey some of their rules. They’re a bit like an Airbnb hosts till we’re truly adults.
At the point when we become financially independent, however, we can truly make our own decisions. A lot of people shy away from doing so because of a thing called “respect”. Oh, you see, my parents are religious I couldn’t live with my boyfriend before we got married. It’s just a matter of respect. Oh, my parents would never accept me if I decided to date someone outside of our culture etc. Those are just excuses. You shouldn’t respect your parents just because they’re your parents, you should respect them for being human beings and such respect should be mutual. In other words, if your parents are trying to impose on you how to live, it’s not you being disrespectful towards them, if you disobey. It’s them having no respect for you as an individual and understanding that you’re no longer a child they can control. As an adult everyone is entitled to make his or her own decisions. Sometimes such decisions are contrary to our parents preferences.
I’m not just theorizing here. I did disobey my mom in a rather serious way once (my father didn’t even know). I fell in love and pursued a relationship with a Muslim. My mom’s grievance was mostly on the grounds of racism, telling me things I wish I never heard from anyone. The relationship lasted for over two years and during this time I my mother would constantly go on rants. When I say constantly, I mean daily. Shouting, offending me and my former partner, emotionally blackmailing me, intimidating me and using all sorts of disgusting techniques to make me break up with him. Eventually, I fell out of love and I ended the relation. I kept quiet about it for a month because it did feel like the unconditional love your parents are supposed to have for you, wasn’t really a thing. After all the fits, when I told my mother about the break-up, she just said “Great, you’ve finally came to your senses”, smiled and never spoke about it again unless I brought it up. My mother, of course, was proud as she “won”. In her head I understood that she was right all along. The problem was that she was wrong. I made my own decision about the break up because of a shift in feelings and it had nothing to do with her shouting and screaming. Without it, the relationship would have ended too but my mom and I would have had a chance at a relationship like adults do. We don’t have it now and we never will because since then, as much as I love her, I do not treat her as a source of support or advice. I tell her what I think she’ll be fine with hearing and otherwise I just have a thousand layers of a secret life she’ll never get access to. Even if our decisions turn out to be objectively wrong, we have the right to make them and no parent should try to take it away from us. They have their own lives to live.
Parents can react to what we do in outrageous ways and perhaps even cut us off for the time being but they usually come around. Sometimes they’re just broken people and their my way or no way attitude is so strong, they’d rather lose a child than be disobeyed. This is their cross to bear and you can never satisfy such parents, anyway. This is why rather to try to pleas them, we should focus on pleasing ourselves. It is difficult to come around ourselves, if we decide not to pursue a relationship with someone we love, abandon a passion or in another significant way, decide not to do something that’s important to us. Parents may hink that they know better but with things like profession, marriage, having or not having children, they don’t. We may not know what we want exactly but we usually know what we don’t want. We don’t owe anything to our parents as financially independent adults. We may tell ourselves we do and decide to please them but we should never compromise on important things.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my longish post, Dear Rinser. It was inspired by a movie “The Big Sick” which I will review for you tomorrow. What do you think about the issue? Have you ever disobeyed your parents? Were your parents respectful of your life choices?