How do I navigate this issue with my relationship with my parents?
June 16, 2019 11:57 PM   Subscribe

My parents, wonderful people that they are, cannot seem to respect my decisions as an adult. How can I respond in a way that preserves our relationship while also respecting my needs?

I want to preface this by saying that my parents are really wonderful people. They love my sibling and me unconditionally and try to do what they think is best for us. Severing my relationship with them over this issue is not an option. I am presenting a segment of our relationship here, but you can assume that, overall, they are loving and kind.

It might also be helpful to know that my parents grew up in south Asia, but have been in the US for decades and are fairly "westernized." Also, I am a 30-something, financially independent professional with a good career and stable job.

I'm having a longstanding issue in which my parents don't seem to respect my independence. Over time, their constant questioning of my life decisions has instilled in me so much self-doubt that I am stressed about every decision I make.

They have these dreams of me marrying a handsome, wealthy man from our culture in a big Bollywood ceremony, having lots of kids, having a high-powered career in the big city in which I grew up (and where they still live). Meanwhile, I don't want most of those things. I have decided to move to a semi-rural Midwestern town that I love. I am in a committed relationship with a wonderful, unfailingly supportive man with whom I share life goals but who is not from our mother culture. I don't want kids. I don't want to get married at all.

That said, I am happy with my life in general. But they constantly remind me that they don't approve of these facets of my lifestyle, and it's causing me a lot of stress. Although I've been saying for years that I've wanted to move back to that semi-rural town, the decision has caused me insane amounts of stress because now I'm questioning my decision, too - even though I know it's what I want, and even though I have a great job offer that I'm excited about.

After meeting my SO (fortunately, they treated him well to his face), my father said to me that he thought my SO was beneath me and that "I think you should break up with him." (Obviously, I am not going to do this. I tried to explain that this was way out of line.)

They repeatedly tell me that I should get married, that I should have kids. They want me to meet other men. They keep telling me about job offers in the city they want me to live in. They keep asking why I want the things I want, in a loaded manner that puts me on the defensive, and each time, they claim not to remember my previous explanations.

I've explained to them countless times that they need to respect my independence, that they need to take my life decisions seriously, that their questioning of my decisions instills doubt in me that causes me stress, and that it's harming my relationship with them. They don't understand this at all - they think that they're voicing concerns as parents should. They say that they're actually hurt by my requests, but I'm honestly not sure why.

I imagine that they might be conflating my requests for independence/support of my life choices with my rejecting them, their wishes, the values with which they tried to raise us, and our heritage. I'm saying, "Stop saying stuff that undermines my confidence and makes me feel bad, and don't insult my SO," but they're hearing, "I'm putting a certain lifestyle above my family and heritage."

I suspect that there's also an undercurrent of concern about how they will be perceived "in the community" when their daughter moves to the Midwest and lives with her non-south Asian boyfriend without being married - though they deny this.

My questions are these:
1) Can you help me understand why my parents feel hurt by my requests for independence and respect for my lifestyle?

2) How can I get them to understand my request? Or am I just going to have to accept that this is how they are, and if I want to preserve my relationship with them, keep the peace, and maintain my own confidence and sanity, I'm going to have to find a way to deflect the conversation when it comes up?

3) When it comes to either course of action in (2) - if you've been in a similar situation, are there specific phrases or ways of thinking about the issue that you found helpful?

Thank you in advance, everyone, for your always-excellent advice.
posted by aquamvidam to Human Relations (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I imagine that they might be conflating my requests for independence/support of my life choices with my rejecting them, their wishes, the values with which they tried to raise us, and our heritage.
This might be worth thinking about further. What are their values? What do they want for you? And WHY are those things important to them?

For example: they want you to marry a man with a right education and career prospects. Why? Maybe they want you to be financially stable. In that case you agree that you want to be financially stable but you don't need to do in the same way. Or maybe they are imagining that you and your rich husband will be supporting them in their old age? Is that something you agree that you want to help with or is that an expectation you don't want to take on? Or maybe they want to brag to their friends because they gain prestige from having a high prestige son in law? That one you probably don't want to take -on you need to do what is right is for your life and not live it in fulfillment of theirs.

To the extent that you can agree with their values, even if you don't agree with their recommended strategy, a conversation with them, to assure them that you hold similar values even if you express it differently, could be helpful.

The second part is strengthening yourself so that you can live in accordance with YOUR own values and not allow a difference of opinion to stress you out so much. On some level, you get independence by acting independently. Obviously, it is easier when the people you love are encouraging it but even if they are aren't , you can still lovingly and respectfully claim it for yourself.
posted by metahawk at 12:28 AM on June 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


1. They might be hearing "I'm putting a certain lifestyle above my family and heritage," sure, and they also might be hearing "I don't need your guidance, even though I'm making a decision you see as a serious mistake." I think that's probably hard for most parents to hear.

2. Personally, I would accept that this is how they are. It sucks to be second-guessed, but my experience is that the pain-of-trying-to-change-people is usually greater than the pain-of-accepting-the-person-as-they-are.

3. What I would say to deflect is things like "I know you care so much about my well-being and want me to happy. I really appreciate that. And I know it's hard for you to understand, but this is what is making me happy and well." Or even just the first two sentences, then change the subject. You can acknowledge the good that they want to do (help you find a good life) without accepting the way they want to do it (badgering you to live the life they've visualized).
posted by hungrytiger at 12:57 AM on June 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


To question (3) I have some thoughts which may or may not be helpful.

You and I are from similar backgrounds (South Asia). I'm single, and my family have this weird almost schizoid approach to my life - on the one hand they're proud of me and where I am in life; on the other they too have Bollywood dreams of me getting married and immediately plopping out 3 children.

Honestly the easiest way I have found to navigate this is simply not engage with them about it. I know I'll never change their minds, and also I know that in a way this fantasy is just that, a fantasy, and deep down, they kind of know it.

So now when they say things like, "Oh I wish you'd get married, why don't you try and meet someone nice" I divert the topic, or if they want to stick to it, I just say we're not going to talk about it. This didn't work perfectly overnight, but over the years, a consistent calm approach has really helped.

What has never really worked with my family has been a conversation along the lines you describe ("But why don't you want to get married?" "Mom, Dad, you need to respect my decisions.") Once I stopped thinking I had to change their minds and just focused on avoiding the conversation things got much easier.

I guess that sounds really conflict-avoidant but I actually found that refusing to have a stressful conversation feels pretty empowering!
posted by unicorn chaser at 2:59 AM on June 17, 2019 [45 favorites]


You and I (and unicornchaser) are from similar backgrounds. I asked a very similar question about two years ago and got some helpful answers. What has worked best for me is, if they try to criticize or pressure me, I just calmly say "that's not up for discussion" and if they keep going, I hang up the phone.

I only had to do this like twice, and now the topic just doesn't come up at all. It feels weirdly Pavlovian, but having a touchy-feely talky conversation about the "why" wasn't working with my parents, so I decided to give up on motivation and focus on results.
posted by basalganglia at 3:42 AM on June 17, 2019 [40 favorites]


My family are from different cultures than yours, so please ignore if this isn't applicable, but I find that they are looking to support me, stay in touch with me, and give me advice, so I give them lots and lots of opportunities to do that in ways that don't really affect my core priorities and life choices ("how do I keep this houseplant alive?" "what kind of savings account should I open, Roth or traditional?"). I'll also keep them updated on the minutia of my life ("went to the park! saw a dog!") without discussing major stressors or challenges.
posted by capricorn at 5:01 AM on June 17, 2019 [23 favorites]


As a parent, I can tell you that parents honestly do not think about things the same way that their children do. They want you to be happy, kinda, but above all else they want you to be safe and prosperous (which is another way to say "safe"). When you do things that are outside of the norm or unfamiliar to them, it makes them anxious that you are unsafe and it makes it harder for them to help you stay safe. When you do things that they feel will lead to community disapproval, they worry that you will not have that community to call on, should something happen, or that people will be mean to you. When you choose a career that is less remunerative, they worry that you will run out of money and get in trouble. When you date someone who is unfamiliar, they don't know how to help you navigate it. When you live with a man without marrying him, they worry that he is taking advantage of you or that you will be at risk should things go bad.

They might not think all of these things consciously, but this is basically how parents feel about this kind of stuff.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:48 AM on June 17, 2019 [28 favorites]


Also parents want you to have kids because...it's a serious biological drive that is really common in people. They will want this basically regardless of what you do / say.

Given how hardcore and instinctive so much of this parent stuff is, I have to agree that focusing on results is probably the best way to go. But you might also try thinking of this as them seeking reassurance, even though it comes in the form of criticism.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:50 AM on June 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


Different kind of Asian here, but yes, also not quite living the life they hoped for me (and sacrificed so much to make possible).

I don't want to get married at all.

I wonder if your parents see the unmarried cohabitation as categorically not a serious relationship, and that's why they try to talk you into leaving him and looking for someone else.

My parents wanted me to break up with my girlfriend, but have been super-supportive of her as my wife. It's like they thought, "Welp. Lost that one. I guess we'd better play the hand we've been dealt."

I wouldn't suggest you get married (especially if this requires a big wedding and introducing your not-what-is-expected fiancee to everyone), but is there anything you can do that your parents would understand as committing in the same way as a marriage?

they claim not to remember my previous explanations.

Can you write them a letter? Written communication is often perceived as more serious and considered than verbal, and they can refer back to it next time they want the explanation anew. You can refer them back to it, in fact.

Can you help me understand why my parents feel hurt by my requests for independence and respect for my lifestyle?

One thing my parents have gotten better at over the years is recognizing that the difference between my situation and theirs is much greater than the difference between theirs and their parents'. So they still offer a lot more advice than I think my American peers would get, but they also back off more easily when I tell them it's not applicable for whatever reason.

You are probably not from a Confucian culture, but maybe there is still the expectation that the collected wisdom of previous generations will be relevant to the next?
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:16 AM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


^^^ adding onto this answer, to the extent that their experiences are not helpful for you, it might somewhat painful and difficult for your parents to realize. They probably would, ideally, be well-equipped with advice that would really be helpful and important to you navigating your life. This may make them resistant to accepting that their advice is not necessarily relevant.

One thing that has helped in the past with my dad (who is from a different culture than you are but also a different culture from me) is to try to show him how he did teach me certain skills or lessons but that they just look a little different.

Like, for example, my dad always talked about interest rates etc. and finance and so when he lectured me about taking a certain type of (fairly low-paying) job, I told him that he taught me so much about finance and that I knew it was okay because opportunity costs, low expenses, whatever.

So to the extent that specific advice that you can't really take can be spun to reflect more general values/lessons that you are using to make these decisions, you might get some mileage out of pointing those broader lessons out and giving your parents credit for helping you make your decisions.

Also in this vein you might try asking proactively for advice on things that they can truly help with, so they feel more useful and helpful.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:23 AM on June 17, 2019 [7 favorites]


seconding what basalganglia said. This is all about boundaries. And remember that you setting boundaries means that you determine what your behavior will be when they bring these things up. You don't even have to tell them anything about it. Just redirect the conversation every time it comes up. Search for "broken record boundaries" to see lots of examples on how to implement this.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:08 AM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


They repeatedly tell me that I should get married, that I should have kids. They want me to meet other men. They keep telling me about job offers in the city they want me to live in. They keep asking why I want the things I want, in a loaded manner that puts me on the defensive, and each time, they claim not to remember my previous explanations.

I found writing a detailed but straightforward and uncomplicated email (bullet points!) was useful for this*. Now, it didn't actually change my parent's behaviour (she still didn't remember my explanations or stop asking the same questions over again). But, it gave me a way to politely end the conversation, lowered my stress levels, and reduced the amount of repetitive emotional labour I had to do: "We've talked about this before. If you need a reminder [about X] it's all in that email I sent you [on Y date]. I'm not going to continue this discussion with you now." I got a fair bit of pushback at first and had to remain firm on not discussing the subject unless she was willing to do the work of reading that email again (didn't happen so far as I know).

* Your mileage may vary. My parents are White, ethnically-British & non-immigrant.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:35 AM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


I like meaty shoe puppet's idea of writing a letter. In fact, write down each time you talk about it and keep adding to the list maybe.

I've been thinking a lot about what my father wanted for me. I can't quite figure it out. (The comment about how parents want you to be safe kind of does clarify it.) When I quit my job once 2 years ago, he wouldn't actually let me explain (hung up and we didn't talk for months). I wish I'd gone to meet him and sat down and had a "serious discussion" where this was all we were going to talk about at the time. Maybe that would help.

I'm white and from the Midwest so I'm clearly out of my depth on any cultural stuff going on so apologies if my advice is bad.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:43 AM on June 17, 2019


So I come from a different culture, but one that also produces overbearing parents (NY Jewish). The thing that's worked for me is to set a firm boundary when something comes up, and then be prepared to end the conversation if it isn't respected. That second part is key. You say, "hey, I know that you're trying to help, but my choices here aren't up for discussion." Then if they don't stop, you say, "I love you but I really don't want to talk about this so I'm going to [hand up / leave] now - let's talk about something else soon."

The other helpful thing is that I don't talk to them about anything that's in progress. So if I'm looking for a new job, or moving to a new apartment or something, I tell them about it when the situation is resolved, but not while I'm in the decision stage.

On thing to keep in mind. You say:
if I want to preserve my relationship with them, keep the peace, and maintain my own confidence and sanity
which is an understandable thing to want! The problem is that this is kinda a 'pick two' situation, depending on what you mean by 'keep the peace.' If your life and decisions have been open for comment by them, they are going to perceive any new boundaries as threatening and aggressive, and they're going to react badly. It's up to you if you want to deal with that unpleasantness.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:59 AM on June 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


Thank you for the cultural context, OP. I am a college-educated white woman with a smart but not formally educated father who appears to have disapproved of my life choices for most of my life. So that is the context for my responses.

Can you help me understand why my parents feel hurt by my requests for independence and respect for my lifestyle?

I cannot actually help you understand this. I will say that it seems to be common among a variety of parents. Many years ago a child therapist I knew at the time adopted a baby. Later she told me about complaining to her pediatrician that her mother would not stop questioning her parenting choices even though the therapist actually specialized in child development issues. This woman (white, born and raised in the US as was her mother) could not make her mother happy when it came to her parenting. I think internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 may be right that parents tend to have lots of fears for their children and these fears get expressed in lots of ways, often in ways that are not especially helpful to us.

How can I get them to understand my request? Or am I just going to have to accept that this is how they are, and if I want to preserve my relationship with them, keep the peace, and maintain my own confidence and sanity, I'm going to have to find a way to deflect the conversation when it comes up?

A few years back I was complaining to my Al-Anon (for the friends and family of alcoholics) sponsor about my super critical dad. During a visit he had complained because I was staying for two weeks only, and this was coming from a guy who had left me and my mom when I was 10 and never visited me as an adult for more than one night. Once he came to visit and left after three hours, no kidding.

So I was whining about this and my sponsor said, "Oh your dad is being sweet. He doesn't know how to tell you how much he loves you and how much he will miss you so he complains instead."

I will be honest, that interpretation had never occurred to me. So on future visits, when my dad would say things like, "I can't believe you're here for such a short time," I have learned to say, "I will miss you too, Dad. I wish I could stay a lot longer. I love you." When he says, "You can move here and live with me and do your work," I say, "It would be so great if I could see you all the time. I can't do that because of my grandchildren but I wish I could, Dad. I love you."

With my dad, at least, responding to the meaning rather than the literal words has been helpful, and I think it has reduced his frustration as well as mine. I don't know if it would work with your parents, but I wonder if it might help them feel heard if when they say things like, "You should get married, you should have kids," you replied with something like, "I know you love me and want the best for me. I love you, too," and then change the subject. When they say, "You should get a job in X city," you might try, "I know you think that would be the best place for me. I appreciate how much you care about me. If SMALL TOWN doesn't work out, it is good to know there are other choices," and then change the subject.

... they need to respect my independence, that they need to take my life decisions seriously, that their questioning of my decisions instills doubt in me that causes me stress, and that it's harming my relationship with them.

Al-Anon has taught me many things, first and foremost that I cannot control the behavior of others. But I can establish boundaries. One of the boundaries I have with my dad is that he is not allowed to talk trash to me about my sisters. It has taken three visits but now when he starts, I just say, "Dad .." in a serious but not mean voice and he quickly says, "Sorry, I forgot," and we talk about something else. But he's alone; I am not fighting this on two fronts with a set of parents.

Here's a thought: can you potentially find a culturally appropriate therapist for a limited-number of sessions to help you stop stressing over their questioning of your decisions? I ask only because you have more control over your reactions to them than over them. Is there a way that you can come to accept that your parents are going to question your decisions and decide that is them being them and just you be you?

I used to be jealous of my youngest sister because my dad would spout all kinds of nonsense and make demands and she was nod her head and look thoughtful and then go home and do whatever the hell she already planned to do. I can't do that. But I have developed other coping strategies. Including saying no, as needed, and taking a walk or a long break away from my dad during visits when he is at peak crazy.

Captain Awkward is also a great resource when it comes to setting boundaries with parents. Unclear if she has ever factored in any cultural contexts, but consider checking out her advice. Best of luck, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:03 AM on June 17, 2019 [15 favorites]


Even in my mid-30s, it still shocks me that I can be right about something and my parents can be wrong. It sounds like you’re getting to the same place I am, where you know and understand your desires for your life. You just have to trust yourself, even when your caring and involved and thoughtful parents say “you are doing the WRONG THING and we’re trying to help you!” Weirdly, they are wrong! How can it be? I don’t know, but you have to trust yourself.

Proceeding with your life is one thing, explaining it to your parents is another (as you realize). Group their complaints into two buckets: (1) things you can tolerate hearing ad nauseam, and (2) things you will no longer tolerate.* I try to keep my bucket (1) pretty huge and in those discussions I just zone out and say the same thing back to them that I always say.

For (2), sit down with them. “Mom and dad, I need to talk to you about the way you tell me BF is not good enough. It’s cruel and it’s disrespectful to my BF. I love this guy. Maybe I can’t talk you into loving him too, but with time I think you’ll understand how wonderful he is. But I can’t and won’t listen to you insulting him over and over. Let’s talk it out one last time, and you can tell me your concerns and I’ll listen, but after today, please don’t ever insult him to me again, no matter what. If you do it again, I’m going to remind you of this afternoon.” And next time they do insult him, you say “mom and dad, please stop right there. We talked about this when I was at your house in June. We’re not doing it again.” If they feign confusion, say “no, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s change the subject.”

*There are some here who think no one should have to put up with uncomfortable parental interference and should always set strict boundaries, etc. I have somewhat nosy and overbearing parents and I’m okay tolerating a level of irritation rather than seriously hurting my parents’ feelings, whether or not those feelings are “right.” YMMV.
posted by sallybrown at 8:33 AM on June 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


If you tell them "these comments are stressful because they make me doubt my decisions," they are probably thinking "it's working! She's doubting her decisions!" I'd retire that particular argument immediately.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:40 AM on June 17, 2019 [16 favorites]


Seconding what Bella Donna said above. My in-laws are south asian and there's been a huge learning curve in terms of how they operate vs how my parents do. The insight that made all the difference was understanding that their constant nagging about things that are a) not their business and b) not going to change is actually how they express love.
You aren't going to change them, or convince them of a different way to express their love. All you can do is address the thing they're trying to express ("I love you and will miss you when you're away" or "I am sad that I don't have grandchildren" or "I'm worried that you don't have the stability of a hetero marriage in your life"), change the subject when it comes up, and try your best to keep them busy talking/thinking about other things where you do welcome their input - my sister in law is constantly asking her dad for car advice I think for this reason exactly.
Good luck! Try to re
posted by dotparker at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


Hi, I'm from a similar ethnic background. I also have a kid. Just to tack on to what everyone has said, please also be aware that parenting is weird. Your parents had to overrule your toddler tantrums and desires to explore the world in ways that would kill you when you were little. They probably had to help or at least watch you experience hormonal swings as a tweener/teens. They possibly felt they had to curb potentially stupid choices in your late teens and 20s. And look how well you turned out! They did great - all that love and support paid off! So clearly they should stick to this amazing role they've been playing for 3 decades, in ways that follow a strong cultural template which is also what worked for them!

I 100% believe you when you say that they love you unconditionally. I would propose that maybe this is the expression of that love - a deep seated desire to keep you happy and safe via a clear plan that they know works well. Speaking of Pavlovian conditioning, they've been trained for 30 years to believe that they know what's best for you, even when you disagree. It's reflected in your description of the situation - they don't like current S.O. because in their minds you deserve better (the problem is that better is defined on their terms, not yours).

Love your parents. Live your life. If you're able to, think of the ways they supported you as a child, and think about tolerating these boundary incursions as returning the favor. Let me put it another way - you aren't comfortable with the S.A. cultural expectations they want to impose on you. Maybe you could reframe your relationship as not enforcing current western cultural norms on them either? Perhaps you can focus on the great new job to highlight your career ambitions. (Perhaps talk about the lower cost of living in the semi-rural area?) Defer/deter/avoid conversations about future family planning (In my experience, there's no way to win that one - I did have a kid, and then still had to endure the same thing about why there won't be a second one.)

And for the rise of self-doubts, one strategy is to make yourself comfortable with the real meaning of risk/failure here. If it doesn't work out with the semi-rural town, you can always move back to the big city (which is parent-approved!) But if you don't try it out, you'll never know. The risk is not failure, the risk is missing something great because you didn't try. Also, find a broader trusted community to talk to that extends past your parents. That way you can work things out for yourself first, and then present them with decisions, not plans. It's challenging to prevail in a disagreement that is dependent on future outcomes, because the world can and does change, and "I told you so" is not a healthy victory for either side.

Good luck! An ABCD internet stranger is cheering you on!
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:44 AM on June 17, 2019 [15 favorites]


In a really simple sense: your parents want you to live nearby and marry someone from your tradition and have kids so that they can be grandparents and have limited conflicts with your spouse and they can have fun with and show off their grandkids probably like some of their friends are doing. It's not that your parents want you to live in City X. They want you to live near them. They want you to marry someone from your same background because they are anticipating fewer conflicts with them in that case. They have maybe heard exaggerated horror stories from friends about daughters who married someone outside the culture and moved away.

I'm not saying any of this is right or good... but their framing is what they want for themselves, which they probably think is the same as what's best for you.

I'm saying, "Stop saying stuff that undermines my confidence and makes me feel bad, and don't insult my SO," but they're hearing, "I'm putting a certain lifestyle above my family and heritage."

What if you just, in a way, accept their framing? Yes, you are choosing to live the life you want for yourself above what your family wants for you. Your parents moved to the US to raise you as an American. There are unintended consequences in that you are perhaps more independent than they'd like, and less beholden to what they regard as traditional. They enabled you to be the independent thinker that you are... even if they didn't exactly mean to.

I say to stop arguing back. You take away their power if you agree with them (or at least don't disagree) and just don't engage. It's very hard to draw this boundary. I think a few visits with a therapist, especially once who understands your cultural traditions and overbearing parents, would be really useful to practice and role play these conversations.

I think you want them to understand you and support you. So you don't just want them to respect your independence. I think you want the approval and support for the choices you are making. You might never get that. And you're going to have to learn how to live without your parent's approval. You are still hoping to convince them to change. If you accept that they are not going to change, and you stop trying to get them to see your perspective, you will get to the point where you stop arguing with them about what you are doing. If you truly see yourself as an independent person, it doesn't matter if they recognize that or not.

Easier said than done, right? Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2019 [5 favorites]


I’m really enjoying how this thread is progressing, a lot of interesting perspectives and advice and so far no “cut them off / you don’t owe your parents anything” rhetoric.

> They want you to be happy, kinda ...

I thought this response by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 was astoundingly perceptive and worthy of engraving on a plaque or something.

> ... each time, they claim not to remember my
> previous explanations.


They’re not fibbing: they don’t remember. Because as soon as you started explaining, they stopped paying attention. I don’t mean to paint them in a negative light - it’s simply something that normal human parents do. My daughter would get in a dudgeon over how “If I loved her, I’d listen to her” and do everything according to her wishes. That’s really not how the parent-child dynamic works.

Pragmatically, for you, this means that yeah, you’ll need to deflect or go with some other strategy.
posted by doctor tough love at 11:06 AM on June 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, I would probably be tempted to walk down this conversational path: "Mom and Dad, why you did you move away from your parents?" Maybe ask them about the choices they made that went against the norm. (This might devolve into, "We had to for economic opportunity and you don't" blah blah blah.)

I'm not sure that will work. But if you want to make a last ditch effort to talk to them about this... I say talk to them about them, not you. Or maybe that can be one strategy you use as you work on building boundaries: when the conversation is focused on you, ask them about their relationship with their parents. Just a thought.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:11 AM on June 17, 2019


When my parents feel the need to comment, I ignore the actual words and focus on the feeling because I know that when they hint that I should start dating/take a different job/etc. they are really saying "I love you and I'm worried about what will happen when we're gone." Our conversations are much more pleasant now that I've reframed their comments.

(Also, I have a relative who is continually in drama, so when my mother gets on a roll, I distract her by asking for updates on that.)
posted by betweenthebars at 11:21 AM on June 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


I see two practical strategies that might be useful here.

1. Behaviorism and boundaries, as mentioned above. "This is not up for discussion. If you can't talk with me about something else, I'm getting off the phone."

2. I don't think I saw this mentioned above, and you can decide if you think it would fit with your cultural context. If they get dramatic in a way that borders on guilt-tripping, respond in a similar way. In other words, mimic their strong and black-and-white language. Them: You should break up with your partner and marry a nice XYZ person. You: So you want to end my wonderful relationship? Why do you want to make me unhappy?
posted by medusa at 11:22 AM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


I had a similar experience with my constantly critical mother years ago. I found success with the following approach: Each time she would start interrogating or lobbying me on a problematic topic, I would look her square in the face and say "Mom, we can either talk about that or we can have a pleasant walk/visit/meal." I did not even bother re-explaining why the topic was not a welcome one. It did not take long for her to start respecting that boundary, because she never chose not to have a pleasant time with me once I framed it like that.
Your parents' culture no doubt places on you a strong burden of emotional labor to keep your parents appeased. I urge you, for your own well-being, to resist the pressure to do so.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 1:03 PM on June 17, 2019 [7 favorites]


Here's a relevant Captain Awkward entry. It involves and reinforces a lot of the strategies mentioned above.

I particularly like this line: “Maybe I will be sorry someday, but I’m mostly sorry now that another perfectly good day is being eaten by this pointless argument.”
posted by lampoil at 1:14 PM on June 17, 2019 [7 favorites]


I would look her square in the face and say "Mom, we can either talk about that or we can have a pleasant walk/visit/meal." I did not even bother re-explaining why the topic was not a welcome one.

Oh, yes, this is a strategy I use too. Sometimes I phrase it as "Would you really rather [engage in negative unwanted behaviour X] than do [positive social activity Y]?" and I go heavy on the confused disappointment.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:29 PM on June 17, 2019 [5 favorites]


1) Can you help me understand why my parents feel hurt by my requests for independence and respect for my lifestyle?

They are cultured to give opinions and will always worry and want what is best for are you, in their minds. To ask them to stop having opinions is equal to stop caring in their minds.

2) How can I get them to understand my request? Or am I just going to have to accept that this is how they are, and if I want to preserve my relationship with them, keep the peace, and maintain my own confidence and sanity, I'm going to have to find a way to deflect the conversation when it comes up?

Deflect like crazy. It would be nice if they took your choices seriously or had respect for them. They don't. You can't do anything about it apart from thanking them for their concern, assure them that you are happy, make a joke that it's not healthy to worry so much, all is well in the world, and change the subject.

3) When it comes to either course of action in (2) - if you've been in a similar situation, are there specific phrases or ways of thinking about the issue that you found helpful?

How does this affect your life?

Do you care so much because you believe my choices reflect poorly on you? (They may say because you are their daughter, what you do affects them. At this point you can joke --"only if you let it". )

Mother and Father, why are you frustrated when I'm happy and supporting myself? Aren't you happy that I am happy and functioning? Who could ask for anything more? Your children are happy and healthy. Let's enjoy and not fret about what others do.

Mother and Father, you bring me great stress when you question me. I respect you and answer your questions, however I shouldn't have to answer the same questions over and over. It borders on bullying. I owe no one an explanation. You may never agree with my choices and your badgering will certainly not change my heart or mind.
posted by loveandhappiness at 3:48 PM on June 17, 2019


1) Can you help me understand why my parents feel hurt by my requests for independence and respect for my lifestyle?

I am a middle aged white lady, but I once had a therapist answer a version of this question that gave me some insight: maybe they are taking it personally because view your choices as a rejection of their own lives.

My usual way of coping with it has been to remind myself that it comes from a place of them wanting me to do/be well and this is the only way they can conceive of it based on their own lives. That it is also probably the result of a bit of anxiety of conversations with their friends whose children have done what was expected. I try to not take it personally and recognize I'm never going to feel the validation from them that I would receive were I to marry/have kids/buy a house. I take those things (kids/marriage/real estate) seriously enough that I would never do them just because it would give my parents a sense of relief.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:39 PM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


There is so much anxiety in your description of your parents. Being surrounded by white people in a country that may feel unwelcoming is anxious. Being a parent is anxious. Feeling like you are losing your family (to another city) is anxious.

A common way for anxiety to present itself is by trying to control the people and environment around you. It sounds like they have a lot of anxiety about your choices and want you to make choices that are more comfortable for them. If I were you and had an otherwise good relationship with them, I would try confronting that anxiety headon. “It seems like whenever I talk about [X] it makes you upset/anxious/unhappy. Why is that? I’m still going to be your daughter and care about you, even if my life looks different than what you expected. I really just want you to be proud of/happy for/accept me.” See if they’ll talk through their underlying emotional stuff with you if they aren’t defensive. Maybe they aren’t anxious at all and that’s just my projection! But since you have such a good relationship overall and they love you so much, it seems like all of this is a proxy conversation standing in for what they don’t want to acknowledge/say. I think they’re just scared of losing their connection to you.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:27 AM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


South Asian woman here, extremely similar life circumstances.

my parents don't seem to respect my independence

Something very key here that I think you are missing: independence is not valued in South Asian culture. In fact, independence is seen as a negative trait. Families are MEANT to stay together, live together, help each other - financially, emotionally, physically - for life. It's a community-oriented culture. They expect you to seek out their opinions and follow their advice (that's what they did with their parents!). They expect you to care for them as they age, but they also expect to help you throughout your life (by helping raise your kids, etc.). So yes, in many ways, you are rejecting their culture and values. That's ok! In many ways it's inevitable, because they raised you in a completely different culture. But you have to recognize it, and admit to it. You want to do things your own way, AND you want your parents to be happy about it...unfortunately that feels like an impossible expectation.

The way I deal with this is with compassion, and firm boundaries. Compassion, because it's hard for my parents, who raised their kids in a different culture than they were raised in. They sacrificed for their parents, but aren't being rewarded with similar sacrifices from their kids. We are breaking the cycle and they are paying for it. Firm boundaries, because nothing I do or say can change this. I can be kind and loving but I still have to live life within MY reality, which is different than my parents planned. There is really no win-win here, unfortunately, and I think you have to accept that. Good luck!
posted by yawper at 12:03 PM on June 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


Damn, you guys are good.

Thank you everyone for your incredibly insightful responses. Every single reply taught me something useful about how my parents might be thinking, how to frame the situation in my own head, and how to respond to them. It gave me something to thinking about seriously. So many times, I read a reply and went, "omg, YES! This!! Finally, someone gets it!"

In reading these responses, I realized that I have previously chosen to defend myself against my parents' challenges because just "letting it go" or deflecting felt like I was admitting defeat. Because they do things that frustrate me and that I perceive as disrespectful, I guess I want to win our arguments. In reality, there are no winners or losers here. 'Defeat" would be sacrificing my happiness to appease their expectations, which is a dangerous game to play because they may never be satisfied, no matter what choices I make.

Anyway, thank you everyone for your insightful, heartfelt replies. As always, you have no idea how much they helped me. It will take time for me to make these changes, but I hope that they'll improve my relationship with them and dissolve the resentment that's built up over the years.
posted by aquamvidam at 8:54 PM on June 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


I realized that I have previously chosen to defend myself against my parents' challenges because just "letting it go" or deflecting felt like I was admitting defeat. Because they do things that frustrate me and that I perceive as disrespectful, I guess I want to win our arguments.

I relate to this so much too! I'm Chinese Canadian, parents are immigrants so while I don't have the exact same issues as you, I definitely felt their overbearingness and feeling like I'm not good enough for them. People's responses have also helped me a lot too, and I have a kid, so will be thinking about these as I parent.

You might also find the concept "JADE" (justify, argue, defend, explain) helpful as you learn to set boundaries: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/family-building/jade-an-easy-mnemonic-for-difficult-family-members/#.XQr5VLcpBdo (this article is written for a pretty white audience in an abusive context so take what you need and leave the rest.)
posted by foxjacket at 8:09 PM on June 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


« Older Vitamins, Supplements and Spectracell Testing   |   [Syllabi planning filter] Teaching a plethora of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.