Do Your Parents’ Opinions Matter Too Much?

I’ve never defied my parents.

Is that pathetic? Is it weird that at 24, I’ve sort of always kept on a path they’d find acceptable, not doing a whole lot I couldn’t tell them about? To be fair, I can tell them a lot, and they usually handle it well — even if it’s weird and TMI and private. My parents and I generally get along. They’ve always been very supportive and kind to me. We hang out like friends and I mostly keep them in the loop about my life. I didn’t hesitate to add them on Facebook and Twitter. We don’t have a whole lot of boundaries. I don’t think, even if I killed someone, I would ever be disowned.

Other people have commented, overhearing phone conversations, “Is that how you talk to your parents? It sounds like you’re talking to a friend.” I curse on the phone with them, make crude jokes, tell them about drunken shenanigans, etc. Which, I guess, is weird to many of my peers.

When I imagine “defying your parents,” I picture a locked up princess running off with a vagabond knight from the tower she’s meant to stay in until she marries a boring prince. Or someone getting a bunch of facial piercings. Or a rigid Christian father kicking out and disowning his gay son. Or some other such dramatic thing that may really happen. I’ve never done that kind of drama. We’ve never done that kind of drama.

Though I’ve rebelled and certainly had my wild, irresponsible moments, I’ve never outright defied my parents. If they didn’t like something, I didn’t really do it. With big life decisions, like when I quit my job at a women’s health magazine, I talked it over with them first, worked out a plan for my future and then did it. And they let me know it was okay and that I was doing the right thing.

But lately I’ve been feeling caught in a loop. I feel like they usually don’t disapprove of what I do with my life, which is a good thing. I’ve never had them express doubt about me and my choices. But is that because I already just do what they want or is it because what they want is already what I do? (Stay with me here.) Why do I still feel it necessary to run every decision by my parents? Could just be that I trust them and value their insight. Or is it some weird co-dependance I need to grow out of? I used to think, “Well, I don’t have much time left with them and I’m lucky to have them so I should at least make them as happy as possible.” But at what point does it become my own life, you know?

As I get older, my parents and I aren’t going to agree on everything and I don’t know why their permission and approval is still so important to me. I’d like to think if they didn’t approve of something, I’d do it anyway but I just thought about something I could do that they’d disapprove of and I felt immediately guilty, fearful and terrible.

Sometimes I’ll share things with them that they don’t think are a good idea: like another instance where I wanted to quit a job to work on a book. My dad thought I was so jazzed about potentially writing something amazing that I wasn’t thinking realistically about finances. I immediately changed my mind about quitting that job. Still not sure who was right in that one, but ultimately, I did not do the thing I thought would upset him.

This is kind of our own faults. We’ve opened an “opinion faucet” we can’t shut off. Ever since I was a little kid, my parents have asked me for my opinion on things as if I were just another adult around the house, which is something I appreciated. I also ask for their opinions — maybe too often. But then, the flow of opinions started happening even when not kindly solicited. For one, my dad hates my tattoos. I have four of them, some fairly big, and he’s always said he finds tattoos “trashy.” And yet, I still get more tattoos. Eventually he stopped voicing his opinion on them. So maybe that’s the strategy? Close the opinion spigot? Make my own decisions, be strong-willed about them, and let them know that when I want their opinion I will ask for it, but otherwise let’s not?

One thing I’ve written about before on here is their need for me to marry someone Jewish. I haven’t always dated Jewish people and certainly don’t plan to let that factor in to who I am with. But it factors in for them, and I’m often hurt or disappointed when they aren’t as enthusiastic about my new partner as I am. If I’ve spent months confiding in them that I’m really falling for this person and then they have a lukewarm reaction which they do not hesitate to tell me about, should that matter? They aren’t dating this person.

At what point do you disappoint your family in favor of what you want? At what point do you, let’s say, grow up and become your own family? How much do your parents’ opinions matter to you on a daily basis? Let’s talk this out. Ironically, I’d love some opinions on this. TC Mark

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