My relationship with my parents is affecting me emotionally, and has echoes in my professional life. I really want to get through to them across a generational/cross-cultural gap -- but how?
posted by anonymous to human relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am female, in my late 20s, single, was born and raised in India, and moved to the US (by myself) for college. I stayed for a doctorate, and I'm now working as a postdoc. I visit home 1-2 times a year during university breaks, usually for a month at a time, which I get away with to an extent because I can do my research remotely.
My mother stays at home and has centered her life around taking care of the family. This manifests itself in paranoia and controlling behaviors. So it's pretty surprising that she allowed me to go to the US for college, and I'm grateful for what must have been an enormous sacrifice.
When I'm visiting home, I'm under house arrest. I can't even go for a walk without my parents freaking out. I don't get a say in my schedule -- if they've decided I need to go somewhere with them, I have no choice but to go, often with no advanced notice. They once created an emotional scene when I went to the ATM to get money (from my US bank account), because they were insulted that I wasn't letting them pay for all my expenses during the visit -- which effectively means I can't go out without their permission since I don't have my own access to cash.
This problem is partly on my end in that I've lost touch with most of my old friends, and many have moved away, so I have no concrete social plans. But I would like to go to the gym or work in a cafe sometimes, at least to get out of the house. (It's a big, modern city, and I know won't look strange for a young woman to be hanging out alone, but my parents insist that it will, or that it's not safe.) When I protest at these restrictions, their responses range from how they miss me the rest of the year and want to maximize their time with me, to how I have unlimited freedom otherwise so I shouldn't grudge a month of restraints, to how I've become too Americanized, to how my mother's parents are more authoritarian (which is true) and curtail her or monopolize her time when she visits them even now, so it's just natural behavior which I should accept.
I've sort of made peace with this, though the initial few days of each visit are hard, and I go stir-crazy by the end of the trip. But taking 1-2 months off every year does affect my work. While they do understand this and let me focus on my research (barring other plans on their schedule for me), it's clear they don't think my work is serious enough to give me uninterrupted concentration. I have my own room, but my mother prohibits me from locking the door, and often randomly walks in to chat. She'll peer at my computer screen with a "gotcha!" if I happen to have a non-work webpage open. She told me today that I should feel lucky that I can take a week to myself at anytime, while she has never had the chance (since she went straight from her parents' house to marriage). I sort of see what she means, since she always had family responsibilities, but I was shocked that she thought I could really blow off a week of work without consequences. Her response was that my work is a choice, whereas her marriage and taking care of children wasn't. I see the difference, but it's also symptomatic of how my parents treat my career as a personal indulgence that they're allowing me to pursue, rather than a serious contribution to society. (Even when I'm in the US, my mother insists on talking on the phone for an hour every day, and gets irritated/hurt if I can't sometimes because I'm busy.)
That's not to say they're not proud of me -- they were thrilled when I got my PhD, get excited when my papers are published, and my mother keeps saying she prays for my professional success every day. But it seems like they expect all of that to come to me without effort. Or they expect me to work extra-hard while I'm in the US, but keep myself free when I visit them... I don't know. They also don't realize being a postdoc or a grad student is a year-round job and that I'm technically expected to stay on campus during breaks, and when I explain, it doesn't seem to sink in. (My mom never worked, and my dad is a self-employed businessman, so they are also sometimes clueless about professional work ethic.)
I could theoretically make shorter visits, but I don't have the courage for many reasons. My parents will get emotional and accuse me of neglecting them. They have started having some age-related health problems (nothing serious, but still), and I feel terrible that I don't live closer to be there for them. It doesn't help that I have been carrying a burden of guilt for moving to the US for many years. It helps a bit that my brother lives in India, or I would probably have moved back home.
Anyway, tl;dr -- how do I communicate to my parents that my career is important and that my visits shouldn't be taken for granted, and that they should respect the time I need to work, while still showing that I care for and appreciate them? Joint therapy is out of the question because of cultural taboos. I'd especially like to hear from people from Asian or other conservative cultures where your parents never really treat you like an adult.