I fucked up the other night. It was in quite a small, outwardly inconsequential way, to the uninformed observer, but for me it was huge. I fucked up because I sought out my parents’ approval on a decision I’d made.
I don’t normally do that. I don’t normally reach out to mum and dad to say, “Hey – I’m thinking of doing this particular thing, what do you think?” The way I’ve found works best for us, as a unit, is when I go to them and say, “Hey, this is happening!” and put absolutely zero investment into their agreement (or not) with my action. I presume they’ll be thrilled for me, and if they’re not I’m doing it anyway. There’s no respect lost because they see things differently. I’m not invested in their approval. I’m just gonna go right on ahead and say: because of this approach, I believe the relationship I have with them is one of the healthiest and most courteous parent-relationships that it is possible to have. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article telling you how we do.
I adore my family. My parents are two of the most badass, loving, hilarious people I know. But. My mother is not my best friend, and my father is not my boss. I see, over and over again, male and female friends alike who have prescribed these roles to their parents (or have had them prescribed to them) and they can’t take a shit without calling to get permission for it. It makes them miserable, but they can’t get the permission they need to alter the dynamic to something a little less co-dependent because autonomy is granted, it is taken. And a mamma’s boy won’t take anything. He’s been told not to.
It crazy to me how parents profess to only want to raise healthy, intelligent human beings, and then helicopter around their offspring through high school, university, through their first jobs and apartments and relationships, throwing in their ten cents worth like life is a goddamn slot machine. It’s done in the name of “love”, I know. It’s just… well. Mama’d be the first one to point out a Stage 5 clinger if the same behaviour was exhibited in a best friend or lover, you know? So why does she get the honour of smothering her offspring in manifesto and opinion?
When I was 18, I bought a plane ticket to Sri Lanka. On a whim. Because I could. And my parents could’ve gone ape-shit. They could’ve banned me from going. Listed all the reasons why I was too young, too inexperienced, too whatever, and marched me right back to the travel agents to get a refund. But they didn’t. I don’t know what was said behind closed doors, but the week before I flew my dad took me to a jewelers in the city, and picked out a St. Christopher pendant: St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. He told the sales assistant, “My girl is taking a bit of a trip, aren’t you, Looby?” and that was the most we ever really discussed my choice. (Years later, I’d ask, “Why on earth did you let me do that?!” and my mother replied, “Laura. Since you were three years old we’ve been unable to tell you what to do. Best just let you get on with it.”) They trusted me, they let me know, and that trust means that I now trust myself. When my friend’s parents second-guess their every move, it makes my friends second-guess themselves, too. It’s a sort of bizarre way to keep our kids – and adults – small, frightened, and needy. The best compliment I can give to my folks is that they made me brave because they never made feel like I had to prove myself. It was a given that I’d be just fine. And when I wasn’t? They never said “I told you so”. It was all just part of the process.
“They’ve always given us so much freedom, haven’t they?” my brother said on the phone to me. And they have. That’s the number one reason why you’ll never find my brother and I shit-talking them: there’s nothing bad to say.
I’ll ask Dad for advice on stuff with my accountant, and go to Mum about how to get a stubborn stain out of my favourite dress. They are both always there to talk to, about anything I want. But last week, when I called to say, “I’m going to India to train as a yoga teacher!” there was a bit of confusion that meant I didn’t get the most positive reaction from them, and it was my fault: I framed the conversation as a discussion rather than as established fact. And it reminded me how much better our dynamic is when I don’t do that. How much more confident I am when I don’t rely on the reaction of somebody else to validate what I already know is right for me.
It reminded me that we can’t be happy adults if we keep seeking parental permission like we’re still kids.
That it’s all well and good saying that we’re free to be who we choose, but that even with our parents we have to take that freedom. It isn’t always given freely.