A very recent conversation with my coworker Adele gave me a lot of clarity about how much I don’t need to be limited by whatever influence or control my parents are trying to exert over me. This is a tricky topic to delve into. A lot of parents apparently “mean well” for their children but the ways they show it or don’t show it are not done in positive ways where it uplifts and empowers the person to make their own sound decisions. No, instead I have parents who sometimes give opinions as if they are trying to intimidate or scare me into listening, and honestly, I don’t care what they think.
Adele confided in me about how her relationship with her mother recently dissolved into complete silence on her mother’s end after years of tension. Adele’s parents divorced when she was a young adult, and her mother blames Adele for “taking her father’s side”. She wrote an email to her mother explaining that it wasn’t about picking sides and that she shouldn’t have to feel guilty for wanting to continue maintaining a father-daughter relationship with her own father just because her parents had an ugly divorce. Since then, her mother has given her zero response. Adele was quite hurt by this and it affected her emotionally for about a week before she started to let go. She has compassion for her mother, whom she has seen firsthand as a person who always shuts people out when things get difficult, and she suspects is probably so emotionally distant because she got the same treatment from her mother. However, Adele decided to move on and stop waiting for her mother to change knowing that her mother would never do that.
To my surprise, the way she grew up was very similar to my own upbringing despite that we are not of the same ethnicity. Her father was emotionally absent from her life despite having the front of a hardworking provider for his family (as was mine) and her mother often used abusive language with her and gave her the silent treatment a lot (as did mine). Being exposed for years to these kinds of traits from my parents, I really lost my initially carefree personality that I had when I was a young child and just wanted to please my parents by being meek and obedient. The worst that I regularly got praised by relatives, like, “She’s such a good child; so quiet and well-behaved.” Or, if people who knew my parents would comment on how quiet I was, my mother would sometimes laugh and reply, “Oh, yeah, she doesn’t talk much but doesn’t make trouble either.” It was like so many things in life were stacked against me then and they only deepened the older I got. I was literally so meek to the point I wasn’t able to speak up for myself and didn’t feel comfortable expressing my opinions because no one ever gave me the time of day to encourage me or show interest in what I had to say. For Adele, too, she spoke of how long it took for her to learn that it was completely fine to express herself and assert her opinions.
I’m not that scared person anymore and have been working so hard to walk out of that shadow. I may still live under the same roof as my parents but I certainly don’t tell them everything that goes on in my life nowadays. That sounds cold and standoffish. Maybe it is. I do it to protect myself but also because that’s the nature of many relationships where I try to get along with certain people and keep the peace but it’s obvious in some ways that those people aren’t the perfect fit for truly understanding me as a whole person. The fact that I have a regular job and I mingle with co-workers, classmates, and acquaintances outside of my parents’ sphere is a testament to how much my experiences are my own and are vital to giving me the strength to cultivate my own identity. I’m protective of my experiences, too, so I’m pretty selective about what I choose to share with them.
Adele got her first job at nineteen while still living at home with her parents, and back then, her mother gave her an ultimatum about needing to start paying rent. When she objected to that, even her father said that as long as she was living under their roof, she would have to obey their rules. So that is partially the reason why Adele left her home country eighteen years ago and decided to study aboard in the U.S. for a year but then stayed long-term. I’m envious that she took such a courageous leap and was able to set that emotional boundary with her parents by going so far away from the only home she once knew so that they no longer had the first say in how she lived her life. But I’m sure that wasn’t a magic pill that solved all her problems in an instant, either, and she had to struggle and grow emotionally as a person in the last eighteen years of being on her own and having no family to lean on. I believe my growth pattern could have a similar ebb and flow. Recognizing myself as an individual means taking ownership of my feelings and learning to be more confident in expressing them. It isn’t about proving my parents wrong because if I was doing all this just to tell them “I told you so”, then it would be a real personal setback in not having the right kind of motivation for wanting to change myself. This is about me and my future.