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How can I tell my overprotective parents I´m going nomad?
January 12, 2014 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Without losing them in the process. Click for (a lot) more of details.

Pffff... where do I begin? Sorry if it´s long, but I can´t talk about where I am in life without talking about where I come from.

I should probably begin by saying I´m a 31 years old adolescent. Some of what you will read will sound like "But Mom, pole dancing is an art!", but with a bit more experience under my belt. However I have to accept that I am now doing some things that the majority of people do during their teenage years, but I didn´t do them back then because I skipped that stage completely.

I went from kid to adult in a snap. Not like some people who were forced to work and fend for themselves since I young age, it was much less traumatic for me. Being the child of my parents (healthcare professionals, politically active in their youth, always working to make things a bit better for those around them), I matured really quickly, and can barely remember a time when I didn´t behave rationally. When all my schoolmates were overtaken by hormones and laughed at everything that could be construed as double entendre, I was studying, collaborating with charities, working at a human rights NGO or getting involved with the students association.

Up to there, everything my parents wanted for me, but at some point something broke. I took a drama workshop and fell in love with it. So much that it was what I wanted to do for a living. Eventually I got more involved with artistic theatre (as in making meaningful plays, asking questions that can lead to changes in what we do, not entertainment), and because there´s no support for that here and spectators are few, I decided it would still be my main focus, but I would find something else to pay the bills, however I wouldn´t go to the university in order to still have time to perform.

My parents hated that. And more when those plans (along with a break up from a long relationship) took me to move to Spain. They gave me some money to help me, but not after doing everything to convince me not to go, telling me how hard I would fail, how irresponsible I was, etc. I lived there for a while, came back, and then moved to Argentina, driving my parents crazy again.

With them being so important to me, though, I listened to them more than I should have. I focused too much on a steady job and forgot about art. I succeeded in becoming somebody else, a character that my parents wanted me to play, or that they would at least tolerate. And eventually I got very sick of that. Since then I´ve been struggling to getting out of that character, and I have come a long way, except when it comes to my family.

A few years ago I started a different path, slowly, paying more attention to what I felt, starting to live more by emotions than by rationality. I began a spiritual search, opening my eyes to a bigger reality, learning a lot and realizing how good it is for me to help others along this path too.

I also started to explore my gender identity, as I always knew I wasn´t male, or not completely male at least (if that makes any sense to you).

I went to massage school, where I learned to work on much more than the body, but on the person as a whole, and saw that as a possibility of both paying the bills and doing what I always had been doing (which is not much different than what my parents did their whole life, although the approach is completely different). I learned some meditation techniques, became an "instructor" in some, begun to practice magick, and started to use more of what I already knew how to do all my life. All in the same vein of being a healer, in a wide sense of the word.

I apply the principles of permaculture on my daily habits as much as I can living in a city. I have played several musical instruments. I take photographs.

I shared all of this with my parents, and at every step they told me how wrong I was. How I was unprepared, how I was insane, how I should be institutionalized, how I was promiscuous, etc. And that´s when they listened. Somehow my father had no idea I had studied massage for two years. And while I was living abroad, they mostly lied to the rest of the family about me, to fit me into their idea of normal. Like when I started to feminize my appearance, they told everyone that waxing and having long, polished fingernails (that was before I started massage school) was the latest trend between argentinian men.

Now, a bit over a year ago I decided it was time to leave Argentina and return to Uruguay and make it my "base". I was still working a corporate job but had a lot of patients. I knew I wasn´t going to stay still here, I had been talking with a friend from Brazil about doing a trip through the continent together, and was already feeling the call to learn to use sacred medicine herbs, but from the aboriginals (thanks to some contacts my friend has), not some westernized practice one could find in a city.

When I told my parents I was coming back, they showed me the same type of support they usually do, which means they told me what a terrible idea it was, and when they couldn´t talk me out of it they offered me my old bedroom at their home to stay and another extra room to semirepurpose as my studio. I accepted the help, because even though I had some savings, renting here is not easy if you just moved to the country.

Soon after coming here I went to Costa Rica for a very deep 5 Rhythms workshop (which I had been practicing for a while), and I started planning moving close to NYC to take the trainers training (hence my post about moving to Vermont, but due to visa requirements my destination is more likely to be Montreal), so I set to save money to relocate one more time.

Such like my parents, Uruguay is much more conservative than you would expect, so building a clientelle as a massage therapist / circle dance teacher has been quite difficult, which led me to having to find another corporate job which I am hating and is making me literally sick (chronic fatigue and skin issues).

Now, at the stage where I am in life, I realized that if I go to Canada now and stay there for three or four years, I´m probably going to settle there, maybe even start a family. And if I do that, I won´t do that trip I so much want to do. So while I do want to add 5 Rhythms to my magick toolkit, I feel I have to leave it for later and do this trip now.

It´s not just for the "professional" reasons. It´s also the experience. Most of my life I knew exactly what I was going to do, what was going to happen next. I need to live the opposite for a while before I found my middle ground. I need to not know where I will be spending the next night. I need to let go of most physical possessions and live with the minimum. And well, I feel the time to transition to living fully as a woman may be closer, and the chance to be in new places can be a good opportunity to explore this and experiment. Heck, I don´t want to have to explain this, I don´t feel I should, it can´t be explained.

Of course I´m not stupid, and I´m not jumping into the rainforest head first with no preparation, but I´m not going to get prepared sitting here. I will backpack through Brazil and maybe other countries, working along the way (I can legally work in all, or at least most of the continent without much paperwork) and will go to the Amazon when I feel it, and certainly not alone, I´m not going to pretend I´m Bear Grylls. Other than that, there is no roadplan, as I will be following each opportunity that presents itself, and I have no date to return or final destination.

Since I started doing all these changes in my life I have met respect from a lot of people. Considering the statistics, I´m impressed by how many people have been perfectly okay with my gender identity. I´m not spoiled, I know how to find my way around the darker parts of a city, and I do have that something that, despite my peculiar appearance that attracts stares, I tend to be greeted and treated well wherever I go. Recently someone told me I have a vibe that makes her see me as a priest, maybe it´s that.

However, as comfortable with myself I can be anywhere, I feel the opposite in my family. My parents have their own idea of who I am, and don´t want to see who I really am. They make me feel how embarrassed they are of me, which limits how much of myself I show to the rest of the family, and how much I interact with them. They act as if they don´t listen when I talk. From time to time my mother feels she has to buy me clothes and completely ignores the type of clothes I buy and wear. They treat me as the family´s technical support because I used to work for a company that manufactures computers (doing a very non technical job). Whenever they can they show me their disagreement with my lifestyle. They never cared to find out if I´m good at what I do, they assume I´m a hack, and because I´m not comfortable bringing people home (their home) they believe I have no social life.

Now, mind you, my parents are great people. I admire them, and I wouldn´t be who I am if it wasn´t for them, because they have influenced me in a very positive way. What I do in this life, the mark I will leave in this world, is a consequence of what they did, and extension of it if you will. I just can´t get them to understand that while I do appreciate what they have done for me, my choices in life are different than theirs, and that I don´t want to live their lives but mine, that I have different priorities and value different things.

When I try to tell them this, they guilt trip me by how much support they have always shown me, because they allowed me to do everything I wanted (they never jumped in front of a train, and a couple of times forked out some money I needed, but their "support" was always after hours of trying to get me to change my mind).

These problems communicating with them have made me stop trying. I can hardly talk to them anymore because I know what their reaction will be. And then they complain when they find out of any decision that I took without asking them, no matter how minor. It makes me so angry that part of me wants to disappear from their lives, cut them off, and that´s not really what I want.

The other day, during my grandfather´s birthday, my dad overheard me talking about the trip with some cousins I´m closer to. I hadn´t told him about it yet. He immediately started his questioning and showed me how uncomfortable with the idea he was. He hasn´t told my mother, but he told me when they come back from vacation on Thursday he wants me to tell them about it, and they want me to hear their opinion, meaning he wants me to let them talk me out of it. I am open for advice from them (although they never did something like this), and am flexible on how to do it, but not about IF I´m doing it.

How should I face this conversation? I don´t need their financial support or anything, I just want them to accept I will be doing it, and that it is a good thing for me to do. I want them to accept it without having to justify or explain everything, because part of the appeal is that it is not carefully planned step by step.

Any words of advice are appreciated. I really don´t know what I´m going to tell them, and I´m quite scared of what may happen.
posted by Fermin to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
You are 31. Financially independent. You don't need their approval, honestly. Go live your life the way you want to. Access risks, do it wisely, but it's YOUR life. Use it as you see fit. Treat them with respect, but really, you are not a child needing them to approve your every move. You really are allowing them to have way too much power over your thought processes. It "may" be useful to explore some of this in therapy, if you were so inclined, and can't allow yourself to break away. (By break away, I mean, live your own life, not break contact)
posted by batikrose at 12:05 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I want them to accept it without having to justify or explain everything, because part of the appeal is that it is not carefully planned step by step.

There are two things here that you have intertwined, and the problem is that one is entirely out of your control and one is entirely within it.

You cannot control whether or not they accept this trip (or your decisions in general), or how they might accept it (slowly and begrudgingly vs. rapidly and gracefully). The only thing you can control is how you choose to present it -- and you most certainly CAN present it without justifying or explaining everything. Oh, they may demand justifications or explanations in one way or another... but you are not obliged to meet those demands. You can refrain from following the same pattern you've always followed.

In fact, that's really the only way that interpersonal patterns change. They don't change because you find some magic way to make the other person(s) change their behavior; they change because you make a considered decision to change yours.

Take the trip. You were not put on this earth to protect your parents from all anxieties and fears and concerns they might experience. Your parents are adults and will learn to cope with the fact that you are making your own adult decisions. It might be a bumpy path, but at least it will be a path.
posted by scody at 12:07 PM on January 12 [11 favorites]


The biggest act of acceptance that has to happen here is down to you. You have to accept that they are not going to fully accept your plans - at least for now - and that's okay. Go live your life...you sound quite happy otherwise.
posted by meerkatty at 12:08 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Oh, and if and when you tell them about the trip: don't present it as something you want to do. Present it as something you are doing. It's not something you're considering; it's a decision that you have made. This may not make much difference to them, but it will make a difference to you.
posted by scody at 12:12 PM on January 12 [15 favorites]


It sounds like you are already doing what you're asking for our advice on. I'm not sure what your home country is, but you've already lived in Spain, Uruguay, and Argentina. You've traveled to Costa Rica and are planning a long term move to Canada.

I think what this question is about is the trip up through South America across North America to Montreal? I'm sorry if I'm not correct in parsing your intent.

I don't know, to me, a long term road trip of several months is way less of a big deal than living abroad. If you want to do it, just do it.

Regarding your parents, I'll be blunt. You should not expect them to do anything other than what they've already done in response to all your other travels. I also have parents who don't understand what I do for a living and generally have not been supportive of any of my life choices from childhood up till now. I love them both dearly and enjoy our time together, but the reality is that I just don't let their ignorant opinions about my career have any weight in my life decisions. This is absolutely what you should do, no matter how difficult it is.

However, so far it sounds like you're doing great, living your own life and not worrying too much about what your parents think. Keep on keeping on, is what I say!
posted by Sara C. at 12:17 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


you have spent a lot of energy here trying to get us to see you for you, and i can't quite tell why. what is it that you aren't comfortable with about yourself?

i hope that doesn't come across rudely, as you sound like an interesting person who does what they dream about, and this was an interesting read, but it might be a piece of the puzzle with you and your parents.

i agree with the others, just do what you want to do. sometimes when we stop trying to force people to see things our way, and just do our own thing, there is space for better feelings. you need to change the me-against-them dynamic.

if you are concerned about how controlling your parents are feeling, you may consider not accepting their money, places to stay, gifts of clothing, etc. The expression "there's no such thing as a free lunch" is really true. It sounds like the cost of these gifts is coming with you feeling criticized on every level.

good luck!
posted by andreapandrea at 12:35 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]


There are a couple things that stand out to me when I read the wall of text (and apologizing in advance because it is a lot of material, and I am having a hard time understanding the timing of some of the events, so I may be wrong in some of my conclusions and suggestions):

-Are you occasionally taking money now? Or a place to stay (you mentioned to room that was available and it was easier). I would stop doing that, as much as you may love your parents. I've seen some adult relationships with parents spiral into problems where the parents tell the adult offspring what to because the parents in a way see the money as providing a right to make suggestions and it also appears like the offspring is not functioning. So if you are accepting things, stop (i.e. visit for a few weeks is fine, not for months).

-You are an adult. You don't have to share EVERYTHING unless you want to. As an example, I've had friends who travel/traveled to developing countries. In communicating with family/friends, you share the good times. You don't tell them about hepatitis/malaria, because they can't do anything and it just scares them. So I am saying this because maybe you can tell them about your desire to travel/do X, but you don't have to tell them about Y,Z, 1,2,3, whatever. You have an idea as to how much they will understand/accept.

-One more idea, and this was something I learned from watching an undergrad who I taught at the time. Anywho, the student was on a course to study nursing because her mother had that dream. But the students was miserable and failing the classes. She finally told her mother something along the lines of "I am not happy following this path, do you want me to be X or happy?" For whatever reason, those words went through to the parent. I wonder if you could use of those same words. You are not happy doing corporate job, but traveling in country X and seeing Y makes you happy.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 12:41 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]


One of the hardest parts about growing up is letting go of the need for your parents' approval. Your parents are not going to like or approve of everything you do. They will never "get" all of you.

Resign yourself to that truth, accept it and keep doing what you are doing.

This goes hand in hand with accepting yourself and becoming your own source of approval.

(Become your own parent!)
posted by Locochona at 1:10 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]


Stop taking money from your parents and don't frame anything as a discussion/negotiation if you want them to respect you and maybe agree with your choices. Responsible 30-somethings who want to pursue new business ventures or travel save for it, they don't try to get it from their parents. Or if you can't make it without their financial help, realize it comes with strings and that's the price of their continued "support"

The vast majority of responsible adults would not set out through the Amazon without a complete plan. The majority of responsible adults stick with a career path and a place to live for a while instead of changing plans every few months. Your parents' skepticism is not "overprotective", it's a pretty mainstream attitude, and really they're pretty open-minded if they keep funding you. If you really feel like this is the right thing, execute first, ask for your parents to be happy for you later. Your ideas are so far outside what most people consider responsible and normal it's not at all reasonable for you to demand anyone's understanding and support up front.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:11 PM on January 12 [8 favorites]


Going by what you've told us about your past experiences, I do't believe there's anything at all you can do to get them to accept your decision in the way you wish they would. If there's nothing practical you need them to do for you before you go, and all you want from them is their blessing, I think you're going to have to resign yourself to going without it, and just hope that when you get back they'll eventually see that it didn't ruin your life.

As far as getting through the conversation, this is the way I would probably handle it (and of course I'm not you and my family is not your family, so this may not work for you). I'd let them have their say, and while not precisely tuning out, I wouldn't take their words the heart; I'd keep reminding myself that what they were saying had more to do with them than it had to do with me. You've proven to yourself that you can take care of yourself, so you know that what they're saying isn't correct and you can let it go in one ear and out the other. Answer their questions as calmly and simply as you can, using examples of how you;ve taken care of yourself in the last few years.

I'd come up with a few stock phrases you can calmly use. "This is a great opportunity for me, and I hope we can talk all about it when I gat back." "I'm really grateful that you raised me to be able to take care of myself so that I can make the most of these chances when they come along." "I'd love to talk more about it, but I have a lot of things to do to get ready brefor I go."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:20 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Remember that your parents are already living their lives, and making their choices. You have to live yours, with or without their blessings. You don't need to justify your choices to this random group of internet people, or to them. Your life doesn't belong to them any more than theirs belongs to you.

This is hard for them to accept, but you might be making it harder if you keep asking them for their approval. It's understandable to want it, but you can't force them to give it if they are too afraid or uncomprehending to do so. The fact that they keep demanding to have a say in your decisions doesn't make it any easier.

You have to set the boundaries. You have to say some variation of "Mom, Dad, I love you and appreciate all you've done. I know you worry, but this is the life I'm choosing. You don't have to like it, but it's not up for debate, and if you can't talk to me without tearing me down, then I will be a lot less likely to tell you what's happening with me, because it hurts too much. I'm not going to apologize for who I am."

And then, if they continue to not respect your right to make decisions for yourself, you will have to hold to those boundaries. Don't apologize, don't ask for approval. Just tell them you love them and go your own way.
posted by emjaybee at 1:34 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Ah, this is hard. I agree that during this conversation, you should focus on presenting the trip as something set already, and tell your parents as calmly as possible that this is what is going to happen, without justification.

For what it's worth, your question turned out to be different that what I thought it would be at the start, and then by the end it was back to my first assumption. My parents are also very overprotective, and I also spent time living in Spain. They didn't LOVE that I was so far away, but they were 100% supportive of me having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That's what parents should do, yeah? Support their kids so they can have the best and most fulfilling life possible. So at first my advice was going to be, "This is crazy, you are TOTALLY not weird to want to travel around South America!!!!" Then I read about your gender identity and spiritual path and I thought, "Oh, ok. Yeah, your parents SHOULD be way more accepting of their child, but those are big things for a conservative generation to get a handle on, maybe give them a little grace?" Then at the end you wanted advice only on the trip part.

Soooooo, yeah. I think you are conflating 2 things. Overprotective parents >> South America trip >> disapproval >> "Whatever, Mom and Dad, this is a thing. I love you both and I'll send you postcards from every country!" BUT conservative parents >> nontraditional lifestyle and gender expression >> disapproval >> "I know this is hard for you but I am still your child and I want your support for my choices and my true self."

Take of that what you will.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:38 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


From personal experience, I can tell you that you're both engaged in a sort of game. As long as you expect them to act like they have to parent you, and you respond by a) letting them, b) giving them reasons and opportunities to do so and c) continuing in this fashion? Things won't change. You're not changing anything, so why should they?

Do what you think is important and meaningful. When they question you -- which they may not -- stand up for yourself. Or, you know, don't even say anything. Just keep doing what you're doing.
posted by Madamina at 1:59 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


If you read your post again, it seems clear. You have a long history of going against your parents wishes, and yet it sounds like you continue to feel loved by them. I'm not sure what the problem is. The more interesting question to me is how you can have so much experience with going your own way and so many thoughts about others approval. One would think you would be an expert at this point.

You are a son/daughter. I am a father to a son and a daughter. I observe both of their lives and I see things. I see strengths. If asked, I will give my opinion. I may think my daughter will be happier at medical school than getting an MBA. However, if she chooses the MBA, I'm all in. I'm hoping with every aspect of my being that it works for her. I care not at all about being right. I will love being wrong. However I am watching, and I see things. Perhaps one day, after my kids have successfully separated and found their own path, they will be open to my observations.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 2:28 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Rules of families that nobody ever tells you:
(a) There is a price that you pay for having a family. Especially the particular family that you got born into.
(b) Sometimes kids are just too weird for their family members. It happens. I am too weird for almost every relative of mine in this state, and I live in the land of fruits and nuts and flakes, for crying out loud.
(c) You can't make adult people do what they don't wanna do.

I second DTHEASH1 in "You have a long history of going against your parents wishes, and yet it sounds like you continue to feel loved by them." You want them to not freak out when you tell them your plans, but there's no way they're not going to freak, and you know it. They're accepting you as best they are up to at the moment, but at least for right now, no, they don't 100% accept you as you are. It happens. Yes, parents should HAVE TO love that you roam foreign countries and like drama and have gender flexibility going on, dammit, but.... not everyone pulls it off, or some people do but they take awhile.

It sounds like they are not nearly as bad as a lot of people's disapproving parents are. This situation doesn't sound easy, mind you, but it could be a LOT worse. This makes me think that you may have hope that they may mellow out with time, age, and getting used to the idea.

But for right now: yeah, they're probably gonna flip out about the trip. On the other hand, you're over 30 and paying for it yourself and it's not like they can stop you, no matter how unhappy they are about it. That will be the price you pay for having a family and doing what you want. That's just life. At some point--maybe the closer to the trip, the better--you just have to bite the bullet, tell them, and pay the price of them objecting and complaining and worrying at your face for 2 hours, or whatever. As you put it, they eventually are supportive....after the hours of arguments. That is what you have to put up with in order to have these parents in your life. And then you still do what you want even if it makes them miserable. That's adulthood, saying "I"m going to do whatever I want and FUCK YOU IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT" to your parents. (Which I'm not good at either.) They're not going to get what they want from you and you're not going to get what you want from them. By all means, limit your interactions with them--it sounds like they object if they know what you're doing and object if they don't and will be unhappy no matter what, so it's a duration of time spent suffering.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:42 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


As long as you're not asking them for monetary support or help to live/exist/subsist in any sense, do as you wish. That's for you to decide.

They can feel and react however they want to - that's their right. You can listen or not, interact or not, but you don't get to change or discredit their feelings as invalid, any more than they get to change and discredit yours.

I get that you feel all "special snowflake", and in some ways, current public opinion is that the more special snowflake someone chooses to be, the more they should be catered to and appreciated and approved of, and that everyone should HAVE to.

But that's just it - that's not fair. They have just as much right to chose their lifestyle and beliefs as you do yours, so you have pretty much three options:
- Deal with it, and choose the future they think you should have.
- Deal with it, set boundaries, and simply don't interact on the things that you disagree on.
- Walk.

But all of those require grown-up reactions to the issue, not adolescent whining or demands or pouting to get your way, and make them cater to your whims. So I'm not sure it's helpful to present yourself as feeling like you're going through a second adolescence.
posted by stormyteal at 4:29 PM on January 12


Hmm. Your post strikes me as having an abnormally high usage of the pronouns "I" and "me," even for a website that attracts lots of navel gazey sorts of questions. (And I've asked a few!) I found some of the parts of your question difficult to relate to and reflective of a rare level of privilege, like this

...was already feeling the call to learn to use sacred medicine herbs, but from the aboriginals (thanks to some contacts my friend has), not some westernized practice one could find in a city.

And this

Of course I´m not stupid, and I´m not jumping into the rainforest head first with no preparation

It sounds like you have a really complex and messy relationship with your parents. Is there any possibility you can lay to rest any of those things you are struggling with, without a major geographical shift? Moving to Brazil can't solve every problem. Also, I know it's been said on Metafilter before but -- are you in therapy?
posted by mermily at 5:18 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


slow graffiti: "Stop taking money from your parents and don't frame anything as a discussion/negotiation if you want them to respect you and maybe agree with your choices. Responsible 30-somethings who want to pursue new business ventures or travel save for it, they don't try to get it from their parents. "

I know it´s a long and not very linear post, so I have to clarify this:
Right now the only thing I´m taking from them is a low rent roof that didn´t require proof of income and two years of working for the current employer. I only needed to borrow money from them in a couple occasions. They haven´t funded me since I got my first job and I don´t want nor need them to fund me now.

stormyteal: "I get that you feel all "special snowflake", (...)
But all of those require grown-up reactions to the issue, not adolescent whining or demands or pouting to get your way, and make them cater to your whims. So I'm not sure it's helpful to present yourself as feeling like you're going through a second adolescence.
"

I don´t feel like a special snowflake. I realize I´m quite out of the mainstream in my decisions, but at the same time I´m not quite different than anybody else, not even my parents. Still, I don´t think everyone should appreciate and approve me. I would wish my family did, though, and I think that´s pretty normal, isn´t it?
And I don´t want them to cater to my whims. I just want them to respect, or at least tolerate my decisions, without assuming them to be whims, and without trying to talk me out of them. I want them to stop treating me like if I was 14. That´s why I say I´m going through adolescence now, because most people want their parents to stop treating them like if they are 14 when they are, well, 14.
I have obviously failed at setting boundaries, which is what I´m trying to do now. Trying to be able to talk to them like adults, without them feeling entitled to shove their opinion down my throat all the time, and without me having to slam the door and walk out when they don´t stop it.
We already don´t interact on almost anything, and they don´t realize it´s because their constant disapproval drove me away from sharing with them. I´m this close to break all contact with them when I leave, but I don´t want to, I feel doing THAT would be the adolescent reaction and it´s what I´m trying to avoid.
posted by Fermin at 5:26 PM on January 12


Yeah, you can't make your parents react the way you want them to. Stop explaining so much, it's not going to win them over.
posted by mskyle at 5:52 PM on January 12


One thing that occurs to me, especially reading your follow-up, is that there is a process that a lot of us have to go through as adults in relating to our parents... namely, accepting that every single one of us has the the parents we have; we don't automatically have the parents we wish for.

What this means is getting very, very clear on one basic fact: your parents are who they are. They are human, with good qualities and imperfections like any other. In your case, they are good people, they love you, they gave you many wonderful things -- AND, simultaneously, they are limited in their ability to accept the decisions you make that they find anxiety-provoking. All of that coexists.

This means that while you want them to accept who you are and how you behave, what really has to happen (because it's the only thing within your control) is that you have to accept who they are and how they behave. The parents who love you and the parents who second-guess your decisions are the same parents. You can't make them be people they aren't -- there's no perfect combination of words you can say to them to magically win them over. This is who they are. They do what they do because... it's what they do.

I totally understand (from long-term personal experience with my own parents) that this is a hard and difficult thing to get your head around. In some ways, you have to mourn the loss of the expectation/dream of having parents who will be happy and excited and totally confident in you when you make decisions like this. But just as you wouldn't maintain an unrealistic expectation of playing a sport with a parent who was too old, or who had a physical disability (just as an example), so too you need to start letting go of your unrealistic expectation of your parents on this score. They are who they are. You are who you are. Sometimes those things overlap in complimentary ways, and sometimes they don't. This is the state of being an autonomous individual and not merely an extension of your parents. It can be hard and painful to accept this -- but it's one of the essential realizations that's part of transitioning into healthy adulthood.
posted by scody at 6:49 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


We have similar stories - parents nominally supporting us but not really getting why we do what we do. I wonder if this has to do with cultural expectations of filial piety.

From my experience, what the parents can or cannot accept is not really that predictable. I've been surprised by them before. And, as some other people have said, sometimes you just have to do it. I've gotten away with audacity before telling my parents about it and it's turned out ok in the end.

Good luck!
posted by divabat at 7:31 PM on January 12


If your entire living situation, work studio (and current corporate job? I am unclear on that) is courtesy of your parent's largesse, then you ARE financially dependent on them and they will continue to see you are a child, not an equal. Move out into your own place, stop turning to them for financial help and see how your relationship shakes out. They are very much funding you now even though it seems to you it isn't "costing" them much to save you so much money on rent/crappy jobs. They sound like they have been very supportive to you from your description; I think you could be a little more empathetic of their difficulties in accepting your fluctuating gender fluidity - many people struggle with that in strangers, let alone their own child.
posted by saucysault at 7:32 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


And I don´t want them to cater to my whims. I just want them to respect, or at least tolerate my decisions, without assuming them to be whims, and without trying to talk me out of them. I want them to stop treating me like if I was 14.

Your parents will always remember you as someone being around this age. It's human nature. Heck, more than half the time your parents have known you, you've been younger than 16.

Not sure what's different about what you're doing now-- as Sara C said, you've obviously traveled to and lived in a lot of places.

I've traveled to places that my parents thought were pretty crazy places to go to. I don't expect their "approval"; I just do it. At this point, they've realized that I seem to know what I'm doing.

I really do get the impression that you're trying to convince your parents to approve of or applaud your decisions. That isn't a realistic hope. You can just live your life and show that you are making good decisions for yourself. Assuming they are good decisions.
posted by deanc at 7:57 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I just want them to accept I will be doing it

You can't control how others feel about this.

They don't have to "accept" your trip by being happy about it or thinking it's a wonderful idea.

They don't even have to accept the reality of you traveling, and could choose to spend the months when you are away creating an elaborate fantasy of you working at a corporate job in Europe and telling all the rest of your family about it.

If you care how the rest of the family sees you, you need to stay in touch with them yourself and not rely on how others are presenting you.
posted by yohko at 9:03 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Not sure what's different about what you're doing now-- as Sara C said, you've obviously traveled to and lived in a lot of places.

I think the difference is that previously, the OP was living the life that the parents were more comfortable with - studying, or working a corporate job at least part time, living in fairly developed countries, and so forth.

Now, the OP plans to take a backpacking journey into the Brazilian rainforest with as few possessions as possible, without planning anything specific about the trip each day more than 24 hours in advance, to learn about medicinal herbs from aboriginal people.

I believe that concerns about such a trip being challenging are fair, whether they are coming from the OP's parents or from friends or whoever. I say that as someone who regularly has had to speak to parents in reassurance about safety and health concerns regarding a trip to rural Africa that I have helped to organize. I appreciate that there are disclaimers about not going it alone and so forth, but this is still going to be a pretty extreme adventure to embark upon. That doesn't make it wrong, but it is high risk, and if you seem to be brushing off the riskiness of it, that might make your parents even more worried about the plan and whether it's realistic/safe.

OP: You also noted that your parents are healthcare professionals, which suggests that they are from a scientific school of thinking. Although you pointed out that you feel that what you enjoy doing is the same as what they do, but approaching it from a different perspective, I think it's far more complicated than that.

I am a healthcare professional (as is my husband) and I know that if our child decided to dedicate her life to studying the use of medicinal herbs, healing people through massage, and ecstatic dancing practices (I'm still not exactly sure what this is, despite reading the Wikipedia page on 5Rhythms) - I think most of the people in our family would struggle to understand that a bit and we might even wonder "how did this happen? We raised her to be a person of science and rationality!". Although I myself am at least somewhat open to alternative and spiritual healing practices, I've also seen too many people fail to seek traditional medical attention because of belief in these practices, or to insist that these practices are more/equally effective than western medical practices despite no research evidence to prove these assertions, and that can be infuriating/upsetting. I know many other science-minded individuals feel this even more strongly.

It's sort of like if you and your spouse are atheists and your child comes home an evangelical Christian. It is going to be shocking and possibly make those parents quite defensive, because it could easily be seen as a repudiation of the way the parents live and the way the parents raised the child. All that is to say that what you see as carrying out the family tradition could likely be perceived as completely the opposite to your parents.

I'm not saying your parents are handling this well - I think they've been overly harsh, by your description, in their criticism of the way you've chosen to live your life. But I would agree with prior commenters saying that if they are conservative and traditional types of people, you're asking for them to accept some pretty majorly outside their comfort zone things over a short period of time. If you were going to stick around your home area, I'd say introduce them to your friends, try to get them involved in what you do little by little, show them your talents and over time they might grow to see the value in it, to understand you better. As it is, you're so afraid of their reactions that you may be shooting yourself in the foot by trying to make sure they never get any exposure to your life. Anything that is perceived as "other" or totally unfamiliar is going to be more frightening and easy to mistrust or dislike. But - you're not staying in your home area, so I am just saying that as you set those healthy boundaries with your parents and try to explain your plans and this trip, to try to have some compassion and mercy for their perspective. If they get harsh with you, you can leave, and even take a break from being in contact with them if you need to, but I hope you'll give them another chance someday if that does happen.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:06 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I think I have a parallel experience to share.

I'm a musician, I tour a lot. There are times when I'm very broke. I've lived in 6 different states in the past three years.

My mom didn't give me too much flack, but she would express disapproval and generally only be able to discuss me getting a conventional job, not the success I was finding as a performer. She's a loving mom, I never felt like she was my enemy. I wanted to make her happy AND do my own thing.

Well, I tried to do that. The result of this is that I often felt really guilty. I didn't figure this out until my therapist pointed out that I always referred to my lifestyle as very weird, extreme or fucked up. But.... its really not. That's all projection from adopting my mom's concerns as my own, even though I thought I was free of them.

This kind of sounds like where you're at. You are already doing things. You probably shouldn't need to write a bajillion paragraphs about why they are OK. Familial love is tricky, but its not a debt you need to repay through justification.

Something that really helped me was to tell my mom less. I don't tell my mom that I'm polyamourous and kinky, I don't tell her that I've been on food stamps in the past, I don't tell her that I buy plane tickets across the country on a whim. She doesn't need to know these things because she can't relate to why I do them. Your mom doesn't need to know everything about your trip. She probably isn't going to understand the healer aspects. It is a bummer, but part of growing up is realizing your parents aren't perfectly supportive saints. Its hard when you've had a mostly positive relationship with them too, because its difficult to not feel guilty for dividing from them.

Just do it and stop telling them your plans except just to let them know where you are. Just call and say you are happy and ask how they are doing, tell them you love them.
posted by supernaturelle at 9:24 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I have a transgendered son who took a long time getting to the point of changing his gender. Over the years we've danced in circles a thousand times because I never could figure out the whole story and he didn't seem to have any continuity in his life - he bounced all over the place for years. He's in his mid 40s now and has finally taken the steps to becoming a man, though he's not doing surgery yet.

I "support" him in that I'm very happy that he's finally figured out what he wants and he's going for it. I've told my friends, with his blessing, and dealt with the shock and stammering that pops up at first, but they're all on board and supportive also. But - I put "support" in quotes because that particular word means something different to one person than it does to another. For example, I actually paid for his legal name change and was delighted to do it, I went to a meeting for transgendered people that was held for the express purpose of helping the family and friends understand and it was fine, but really dull, because I was already there, I'm (at last) finding it easier to call him by his male name than by his female name, although I'm still having trouble with the pronouns - in every feasible way, accepting his new gender -

but when he starts telling me some of the details, I beg off. Up comes my hand and I say, "Stop - too much information - you need to save that for your friends and share not with thy Mama." I know sometimes he's disappointed because we've always talked freely about everything, or, at least, what I thought was everything, but I find I'm too old now to expand my knowledge in some subjects, if you get my meaning.

So - am I "supportive" or not? I think so and he thinks so and has told me many times how happy he is that I'm behind him, etc. - but I think if you asked him directly he'd say I'm "partially supportive." In other words, I'm not sure he could ever feel completely supported by anyone other than someone who's going through the exact same thing.

And that's my point. Your parents are different from you. They've led a different type of life. They clearly love you deeply or they wouldn't be welcoming you home and trying to redirect you - they do that out of a sincere desire to set you up for what they think would be a life of happiness for you. It's just something that goes with parenting, and as parents we all have to learn how to give it up and back off at some point.

Keep in mind their motivation - it's not to condemn you - it's an ass-backwards way to give you love - but you'll do best to just go ahead and go for the brass ring. You sound like a talented, bright, gypsy sort, and the world needs those just as much as it needs conservative, predictable sorts.

Look ahead, not back. Good luck to you.
posted by aryma at 10:08 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


One thing that I find works with my parents is to employ a bit of caution in revealing how the sausage is made. Or unmade, as the case may be.

I get along fairly well with my folks, but they're human and they have perspectives that are different from my own -- about things like employment, gender identity, what items constitute status items to be pursued, who one should be friends with, etc. I have an idea of what these tricky areas are, and as a result I now tend to avoid presenting them with my ongoing thought process on these subjects.

It's kind of difficult if one has gotten used to equating disclosure with intimacy or if one is inclined to see non-disclosure as punitive, but it really isn't. If you see the basic truth of "my parents do care about me and do want to support me", it's a matter of arranging circumstances so that their weak points do not detract from the overall message.

Presenting whatever decision in a low-key way as a fait accompli lowers the stress level, at least from what I've seen -- as long as there's the possibility, and hence the perceived need, to push you towards a given course of action then much anxiety will arise about getting you to see the light. The less ambiguity is present, the more it clears the decks for finding some way to accept the reality of the decision. This ends up being kinder for all concerned.

It might be a good idea to cultivate people who you know have good judgment and can be trusted in indecisive or introspective discussions, if you don't already have such people.
posted by sparktinker at 12:03 AM on January 13


I'm with aryma.

Honestly, if I were your parent, I'd be kind of confused and hesitant and uncomfortable too! Because you kind of sound all over the place. I am only interpreting from your writing here, so forgive me if I'm way off, but it sounds to me like all the job and vision and dreams and country-hopping have more to do with your gender journey than anything else. You are seeking a place of comfort, a home within yourself. Which is fine! You'll get where you need to be in your own way.

But it's a lot to expect your parents to comprehend. Be kind to them and patient. We're in new territory, all of us.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:24 AM on January 13


Thank you all for helping me get different views on this.

I found myself almost replying to a couple of people that I felt I had to explain something to, and I managed to refrain, as it was their choice to read what they read into what I wrote. The need to be right (and for people to know I´m right) has been a weight during all my life, but I´ve been quite successful about letting it go, learning when to shut up and let people believe what they want to believe. It still is very difficult when it comes in relation to my parents.

Tying that to what most of you said, about accepting that they just won´t accept all my choices, I understand the best will be to focus on the parts that we´ll have a common ground on.

I know my plans are crazy for most people. I know most wouldn´t even call them plans. I am ok with putting some things in the back burner when I focus in others. I am ok with having a bunch of different goals for this trip. I am ok with not knowing how I´ll do everything before stepping out of the door. I am ok with not doing everything I set out to do initially and to end up doing other things too.

I´ll have to frame that within what they find acceptable. Put more weight on the experience of backpacking and learning about other cultures than the part that they can see as a career change (which for me is just deepening into it). Assure them I won´t take unneeded risks and that I´ll just take an unpaid leave from work while I see what it´s like in Brazil, and I´ll come back if it doesn´t work, instead of telling them how flexible I will be in order to make it work.

White lies, or omissions, that will give them just enough peace for things to remain civic until April when I get on that first bus.
posted by Fermin at 8:20 AM on January 13


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