Living the sheltered life.
August 7, 2006 6:06 AM   Subscribe

How does one go about loosening the apron string that is slowly suffocating me and extinguishing my last burning torch for freedom? (In NormalSpeak: Help me deal with overprotective parents!)

My parents come from a conservative ethnic culture and have attempted to instill me with the same values and morals while raising me in a western country. You don’t have to know much to realise the dilemmas I have often faced when I’ve had to deal with such a juxtaposed set of ideals. But before I follow this prairie dog of self-doubt down the golden path of insecurity I must first fill in the gaps.

I’m the product of one of those parenting techniques where as soon as I popped out of that womb I was wrapped up in bubble wrap and they haven’t seen fit to pop a few bubbles for me yet. I’m not going to go into all of the nitty gritty cultural and social issues in play here. Maybe they have a right to be so protective, maybe they don’t. What we have now is one sheltered girl plonked in the big wide world of university with not much in the way of street smarts, if you catch my drift (and if you think I should have gained some knowledge by now, I went to an all-girls catholic school where we learnt abstinence was the best defence against having them babies!).

But I digress. Basically, I’m eighteen. I’ve been so for a little while now. If my dad had his way I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the male species until I was 25 (and I’m seriously not exaggerating no matter how much you think I am). I still manage to get away with it, but it’s limited and requires a lot of hiding. I have my license but no car and I’m not allowed to use public transport or go walking by myself or drive in friend’s cars etc. I’m also not allowed to get a job, which means a limited income (read: must depend on them for all monies). I’m not allowed out in the night with friends unless it’s for something special like a birthday or the like. And the list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong. I know they do all this because they think they have my best interests at heart. They’re just trying to protect me from the big scary world and ensure that I do well in my studies which will lead me to a happy life and [blah]. I never expected them to unlock my tower on my birthday and say “Time for you to do the whoring and drinking you’ve longed for all these years, darling!” but I expected…something. Recognition, maybe? That I’m considered an adult now, at least in the eyes of the law? And that means I should be entrusted to take some responsibility for my own actions, make some choices for myself and so on.

I’ve tried telling them these things, of course. But my dad is not much in the way of a rational man (his word, his law). I also have the irritating tendency to start sobbing when I get frustrated. It doesn’t help with the coherency of my arguments. The real crux of the problem is that I’ve been dating my boyfriend for nine months now and I’d like at some point in the near future to break this to them. There is no way that this would go down well, but the web of lies just constantly keeps on growing larger and larger that I’m going to explode or start listening to Janis Joplin if something isn’t done. Soo, after that long tirade:

What can I do or say that will help my parents start trusting me/the world a bit more and give me more of that freedom I so crave?

And also, what would be the gentlest course of action in letting my folks know I’m seeing someone?

Any advice, experience and the like is greatly appreciated. Thanks. : ) (Oh, and sorry for the long ramble. Just wanted to give you as much background info as possible).
posted by liquorice to Human Relations (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
No need to make a big deal of the boyfriend. Just tell your parents, "there's this guy I'd like you to meet. He and I have really hit it off." By treating the topic as if it's something you have to "break to them," you're playing into their worldview --- as if you're doing something wrong.
posted by jayder at 6:12 AM on August 7, 2006


You can't change other people, no matter how important it is, but you can change yourself. With the tears, I'd suggest mentally rehearsing difficult conversations that are likely to come up. If you're prepared for a brick wall, then you're not going to be crying in frustration, you'll be repeating the phrases you've prepared (like, "Dad, I understand you don't approve. I hope you can understand that it's important to me.").

However, while this might make it possible for you to actually communicate better to your parents, I don't know that it's possible to change their mind. From your post it seems like they think of you as a child that they are responsible for, and to an extent, you are participating in that (accepting that you can't have a job etc).

When I was 18, I just went and did all the things I'd been prevented from doing as a teenager. It wasn't wise, I went overboard, and I did some risky things, so I'm not suggesting you do that. However, some time after that, my mother seemed to accept that it was my decision how I lived my life, even if she disagreed (I was living with someone) but in her house, her rules applied (separate bedrooms when we visited.)

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't think there's any easy solution. There's a price we pay for everything. For parental support while we study, sometimes the cost is our independence and our freedom. Is it worth it? Only you can say.

Good luck.
posted by b33j at 6:26 AM on August 7, 2006


This might seem like crude, dismissive advice, but I assure you it is not. I have many friends in similar situations and you have my complete sympathy...but I'm running late for work so this might be a bit abrupt.

You are an adult. Which means that technically you are letting them do this. Stop letting them do this. I realize this is obvious and there are many hurdles (financially especially etc.) but I think this is the crux. Learned Helplessness is an awful thing.

I realize you wanted gentle, but I believe you've attempted the gentle way in the past and they see fit to ignore it. If they don't trust you to be out at night, they don't trust you to have good opinions on what you can do. As far as I can see it, the time for diplomacy is over.

How do they enforce things? How can you nullify that? What happens if you walk out the door to go to the bus? Do they stop paying for college? Cut you off? Call their bluff. Will they physically attack you? Call the cops. Verbally? Leave or end the conversation the moment they say something offense.

Keep reiterating that you are not trying to offend them, but as an adult you have certain expectations of your quality of life. If they are not being met in a living situation, you will leave the situation.

You have something to negotiate with - you. Don't threaten, exactly, but make it clear that the lack of respect they are treating you with is not something you would tolerate from a friend, and just because you share genetic material, that does not make it okay to be treated like a prisoner.

You probably cry because you're frustrated. That's tricky to work around. Maybe bullet a list before you go in? I feel like there's good advice out there for how to have long talks coherently and I'd rather point you to that rather than summarize poorly.

Good luck.
posted by Brainy at 6:43 AM on August 7, 2006


b33j seems to have said exactly what I wanted to say, much more consisely.
posted by Brainy at 6:48 AM on August 7, 2006


As the child of overprotective parents myself (my Mom and Dad tried to tell me before I left for college that I had to call them every time I left campus. Like, even before I went to the mall or Taco Bell), I have to say this... freedom can't be given. It can only be taken.

You say, "I expected…something. Recognition, maybe? That I’m considered an adult now, at least in the eyes of the law?" They're never going to treat you like an adult until you start acting like an adult. And that means taking a stand and telling them no. Not because you want to hurt them, but because you control your life. And that means accepting the consequences for standing up for yourself too. You want them to magically come around to your point of view, but it's not going to happen without some consequences. You have to be willing to let them be mad at you, to threaten things (like that they'll stop paying for college, etc.) And you have to stand firm anyway.

You have to decide what's important to you, and where you agree with their values, and you have to stand firm. Repeatedly. Even when they're guilt-tripping you. Even when they're threatening consequences that will make your life difficult.

As an example, I told my Mom when my boyfriend and I were getting ready to have sex for the first time. (I was 19.) She freaked out and went into a 20 minute rant about how I couldn't (not shouldn't) do that. The result? I considered her opinion, made my decision, and did it anyway. Did this involve not talking to her about sex for the next 5-6 years? Yes. Was this the only way to do it? Yes. She wasn't going to change her mind overnight, but it was my life and my decision to make as an adult. And she's fine with that now. Both she and my Dad treat me as a fully functioning, responsible adult... because I am, and because I've shown that that means making my own decisions, making my own mistakes, and owning my own successes.

They'll never believe you're an adult until you actually are, hard consequences and all.
posted by MsMolly at 6:48 AM on August 7, 2006


Here is some truth - you will never achieve any degree of freedom from these people as long as you are living under their roof. Here are the minimum prerequisites:

--Living in your own apartment
--With your own source of income
--Not close to your parents (minimum one hour drive)
--Not depending on their funding your university education

Your parents are doing an evil thing to you. It is, in a phrase, child abuse. Your parents' job is to prepare you for life on your own. That is the only task of a parent. They are doing the opposite.

You are probably not ready to understand this yet. Understanding will come. You are probably thinking of this whole thing in a very sex-related fashion, because that's what's on your mind. But it isn't, really. It's a much larger problem than whether or not you can tell them about your boyfriend. Not allowed to get a job? Not allowed to drive a car? Not allowed to ride in a friend's car? Not allowed to use public transportation? These have nothing to do with conservative sexual hangups. This is deeply dysfunctional child abuse.

Nothing will change in your life unless you achieve those four things I listed above. You think that your parents will give you your independence? No. They won't. You will have to *take it*. It will be hard. They will yell and scream at you and threaten to disown you. You will cry. But you will succeed, if you want it badly enough.

Parts of your question suggest to me you are from a Muslim culture. If there is any danger of you being slain by your family while trying to achieve independence (because you've dishonored the family), then you will need to make a clean break of it - contact a local women's support agency.
posted by jellicle at 6:48 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


There's already some excellent advice above, so I will leave it to those who have experience of similar situations. I just wanted to add that as far as the crying thing goes, it can help to make sure that you take deep breaths. Often when angry or frustrated, you tend to close your throat off and don't breathe properly. Then when you do speak, the tense throat makes your voice sound funny and you start to sob when breathing (I know, I had this problem for years because I would often cry when angry, and then be accused of being manipulative.) So remember to take deep breaths and keep your throat relaxed when you're trying to discuss things that make you angry or frustrated. It takes practice, but it does help, and it will help you to be taken more seriously.
posted by different at 6:50 AM on August 7, 2006


Maybe I missed it, but are you living at home or at the university? Because if you are in their house, there isn't much you can do except figure out how to leave. If you are at school, time to figure out what it would take to go to school without their financial support.

My other question is would you be in physical danger if you broke from your parents? Would your father or other male relative attack you if you made an announcement that you are moving out on your own?

I don't think you can change them very much.
posted by LarryC at 6:57 AM on August 7, 2006


What jellicle said. One issue is college. Are they paying right now? Is that important to you? I would guess it is one of the things that might be holding you back from doing the things jellicle suggests. Perhaps it is worth it to stay through graduation and work subtly to gain some enhanced freedom, not by acting out or pushing back too hard but by showing your responsible behavior, that you can be trusted and that you need to experience some freedom to prepare yourself for the eventual day when you do strike out on your own. On the other hand maybe the time is now to make a clean break. Only you can decide this one for yourself.
posted by caddis at 7:03 AM on August 7, 2006


Before I go to sleep (Australian Timezone), just a few quick things:

- I'm in no danger of being slain or stoned to death because of this. I come from a very conservative Catholic background.

- I'm living at home, there's no real need to live at university here, because most are half an hour to an hour away if you live in the suburbs and going interstate to attend college isn't common.

- Finally: I'd always thought that I wouldn't tolerate this once I turned 18, problem is a few months before I had my birthday my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's currently undergoing treatment for this but even so I don't exactly feel in the position to make threats or walk out on them. I just keep on hoping (wishing?) that there was another way.

Thanks for all the advice so far.
posted by liquorice at 7:04 AM on August 7, 2006


hah! I'm guessing you're Indian (I would have guessed Middle Eastern, but you went to Catholic school). I'm Indian too, and have parents that are the exact same way. I'm a little bit older than you, and have just completed college, so let me give you some "practical" pieces of advice, as opposed to the generic, "this is wrong and they shouldn't be doing this to you, just leave."

When I was 18, I expected that going to college would be a big transitional step and I'd get a lot more freedom...well, it didn't. Now I'm 22 and a graduate, and it still hasn't gotten better- and I'm a guy!

As far as the boy goes, don't tell them yet! Telling them will be a tremendous shock to the system. Hell, they don't want you to even see boys. If you really, reallly care about your relationship, then you'll wait. Start off slow. Introduce your parents to guy friends (even slower, make the guys come over with girls), and then work your way up. Amongst my group of friends, the transition seems to be easiest for the girls who showed their parents their "best guy friend" that later turned into "boyfriend."

As far as jobs go, find a position at a university as a "research assistant." Tell them that it will enhance your career. Or better yet, start a separate bank account (if you're living at home, this may be harder).

As far as friends go, and street smarts, I really feel like you'll acquire that in college. For me, for better or for worse, I stuck to my own ethnic bubble. This made it a lot easier, as we were all coming from similiar situations and backgrounds. Don't worry too much about this- you'll develop these skills in college. While white people developed these skills in high school, it just takes a little longer for us.

So basically, my take home message: take baby steps. As much as you want it to be, your life is not going to undertake some massive drastic shift. I know it can be frustrating, but just remember that every day that you get older can only get better.

What not to do: be one of those people who forsakes everything and tries to go it alone. We're just not set up for this. This is terrible, terrible advice. Trust me, this is the route many of my friends and myself took. We all spiraled out of control, and some of them still are. They don't get along with their parents, they have no financial support, and their friends are tired of putting up with their drama.
posted by unexpected at 7:15 AM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Contrary to some of the advice above, I'd say you shouldn't make this more dramatic than it needs to be by confronting your parents any more than necessary. I also take exception to the people above who suggest your parents are "evil" and abusive.

What you need to accept at the outset is that you and your parents are from completely different worlds, and they are most likely NEVER going to accept your world. Don't create more conflict with them than necessary by expecting them to do the impossible -- they are probably fundamentally incapable of accepting that you're a modern, liberated woman. Instead of making this into a battle of ideals, you need to work more practically on securing the freedom you need in order to live your life privately from them.

That means getting a source of independent income and moving out. Doing this will probably cause conflict, but less so than announcing to your parents that you reject their values while trying to live under their roof.

One thing to look into now is getting federal student loans and other financial aid from your university, and whether you can do so without your parent's consent. Visit your financial aid office and tell them your situation. Once you get the loans, you'll be in a position to move out. But if your parents get wind of your plan, they may be able to block your ability to get the loans and scholarships by withholding financial information. So, you may want to be a little sneaky and get copies of their tax returns before you tell them you want to move out.

One last thing -- it occurs to me that you may be able to get advice and support from other women from your ethnic group in the area who have gone through the same process.

Good luck!
posted by footnote at 7:23 AM on August 7, 2006


Social independence must necessarily follow financial independence. As long as you are financially supported by your parents, you are morally obligated to abide by the conditions they set for their support.

Assuming that your academic work thus far has been up to par, it is possible to put yourself through a public (or even private, depending on how much you're willing to sacrifice) college with scholarships, loans, and work study.

Look into these possibilities discreetly. Have applications sent to your boyfriend's residence, or another address you trust not to be monitored.

It's possible, once you've established primacy over your life, that your parents might not be prepared to deal with the loss of control, or with the manner in which you retook control. I do not believe that this will be the case, however; it was not the case with my own parents.

To borrow from b33j's analogy: brick walls are seldom the most convenient means of egress. Try the door instead.
posted by The Confessor at 7:41 AM on August 7, 2006


I have qutie overprotective parents (not as extreme as yours) who put me through school. If cutting things off with your parents is not an option:

there's no real need to live at university here

Is it commonplace to live at university, though? If so, it would be helpful to do so even if it isn't strictly necessary. I achieved relief from the ever-watchful and very anxious eyes of my overprotective parents by living at school and taking summer classes every single summer.

Even if you can't live at school, be as involved on campus as possible, which will give you legitimate reasons to be out of the house. Take extra classes, get involved in groups that are somehow related to your course of study, etc.

There's not going to be a lightbulb that goes off over your father's head. This is going to be a slow, slow process. There have been several AskMe questions, including this one, that you may find comforting. (Even adults still struggle with their overprotective parents!)

This is hardly child abuse. Unwise parenting by some standards, yes, but not abuse.
posted by desuetude at 7:58 AM on August 7, 2006


As the child of overprotective parents myself, I disagree with all of the people who are suggesting you cut off your parents completely, especially since your mom is sick adn needs you right now (please don't put the added stress on her) -- and I'll second what both b33j and MsMolly said -- I love my parents, but they were always pretty strict with me. I knew that they weren't going to change, so I started changing. I stood up for myself more often, and did what I wanted to do -- sometimes I told them, sometimes I didn't. Eventually, they started accepting the things I did. I think easing them into your independence is probably the best way to go...
posted by echo0720 at 8:15 AM on August 7, 2006


Another alternatives is just to wait it out. Put your head down, accept their rules, and put your energies into college. Do a few of things Unexpected suggests along the way. You can cut the apron strings when you graduate and are no longer financially dependent on them. But can you tough it out that long?

Good luck!
posted by LarryC at 8:32 AM on August 7, 2006


What everyone else said. Your parents aren't going to suddenly change.

You can try to keep the peace by complying with their rules; you can try to keep the peace by hiding your non-compliance; you can tell them you're 18 and insist upon changing the rules (which will not keep the peace); you can say screw their rules and get a job and your own place.

None of these courses will be easy. Telling them things need to change is probably the best place to start.

But you need to commit to the need for change. I'm not suggesting leading with a threat to leave home, but they have to know you're serious about being treated more like an adult. If you allow the context that your parents have all the power, and you have none, to stand, then nothing will change.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2006


Let me throw out here that 18 isn't as old as you think it is.

Bluntly your parents are trying to protect your virginity. I understand their overprotection. I have two girls who moved out of my house at about your age (18 and 19) to share an apartment. One of my daughters handled the freedom responsibly and the other one is pregnant and unmarried (planning to marry this month but I digress.)

If they find out you have a boyfriend prepare for more restrictions, dear. Only advice I have is study hard and get done with college quickly.
posted by konolia at 9:37 AM on August 7, 2006


Skimming the responses since mine (all very good advice) I want to say that while I don't think this is child abuse per say, I think it can be very harmful to the child. Stunting their social growth, making them incapable of making decisions and incompetent in many areas. I say this not to derail but as a counter to LarryCs suggestion to just wait it out which I see as taking two steps back and allowing things to continue.

On the other hand, Unexpected's advice and cautionary tales are very good and probably better than the "stand up and run away", but I feel there's a steep slippery slope there: you are going to be doing new things, on your own, while still having to "act subservient". Living a lie is not very easy, no matter what the intentions, and its often that we just end up sliding back into one role or the other. Hiding things from the people you love makes it difficult to not feel ashamed of what you're doing and that can cause anxiety. The anxiety can make it easy to just "give up".

I've tried several different ways of phrasing this next part, but it always comes out sounding opportunistic and insensitive and sometimes even ghoulish to my ears. Please understand I am not trying to be, just trying to find the best course of action for the situation. I lost my father to lung cancer a couple of years ago and my heart goes out to you.

The best thing here is to exploit their honest intentions: to raise you as best they can. Manipulate, manipulate, manipulate. That's what they've been doing and you're only doing it in self defense. You say your father is not a rational man. That may be the case, but that doesn't mean you can't use logic against him. Get your mother on your side, this might be easier as she is currently dealing with her mortality.

Maybe you could sit down (with just your mother), and tell her this entire situation has upset you, that you've realized very much how fragile life is, how "there but for the grace of god go all of us" and you're worried about yourself. You're worried that if anything should happen (God forbid) to your mother, your father or both, that you would be very unprepared for life. That even if they live long and happy lives, you still find yourself unprepared. Bring up specific examples. If they've not allowed you to have your own checking account, tell them that if they got into a car accident their daughter would be legally responsible for cleaning up their finances...and you don't even know how to balance a checkbook, or write checks. That when you are allowed to date at 25, you will be dumped into a school of fish with an established food chain and have to pick out the guppies from the pirhanas...and you haven't even been to an seafood place. Bring up all the allusions to the natural world you can (immunization can only happen from exposure, babies raised in clean rooms die from the weakest germs) as these things are visible, inarguable and are what your parents are trying to protect you from. If I could dig more into religious memories, I would say bring those up to as they might be even more effective.

i.e. That the world will expect certain things from you and they are not allowing you to do those things and so you will be crippled and weak and be the first zebra taken out of the pack.

They will probably try and reassure you that "the lawyer will take care of the finances" or that "other people will be there to help you" or "you'll meet a guy when you're ready", etc. Don't let that trip you up. Come up with crazy-but-plausible scenarios. What if the lawyer is corrupt - How would you even know? Do they really want Aunt Betty or whoever to have to give you a crash course in life the month after the joint funeral? What if the great guy you really like at 26 turns out to be a wife abuser at 33 but you didn't know how people were supposed to behave in relationships so you couldn't see the warning signs?

Force them to visualize you, the daughter they love, their (extrapolated from your question) only chance at genetic survival, in a situation where she is falling, failing and it is out of their hands and it is all their fault she cannot succeed. Think of it as the scared straight program. Do not show them not how your personal life is pained (they think of this as justification as kids need boundaries) but how your chances for success are being eroded. Find examples in your life, in movies, literature, media, friends, etc.

But most of all: Bite down like a dog and do not let go. Take baby steps but force your way in. Be the iron hand in a velvet glove. Thank them respectfully for any changes that are made in your favor(but not too much, these are not privlidges exactly) and let them know they are appreciated. Use any opportunity you can get, anything you think might leverage your idea in their head. If they threaten punishment for trying then they are escalating it - but remember this entire thing is only open for debate because you let it be. Find out what their punishments are. Anything short of tying you to a chair is only done with your consent, anything more than that is abduction and assault. Don't threaten, but show them you mean business.

This might all sound like a guilt trip and might seem almost cruel given the circumstances. To that I say that it is a guilt trip, as they are guilty. And they need to be shown that they are guilty of hurting their daughter where they mean to help or they will not change their ways...and that is really what we want. If they change their ways it will make it all much less of a struggle. Your parents have been thinking of their mortality already (which works to your advantage) but they have a limited concept of what the world they are preparing you for really is. If you show them it isn't that you want more, but that the world expects more of you, it makes it less of a "you vs. them" and more of a "world vs. you" and most families tend to unite in the face of a common opposition. Exploit that.

If it fails you can "up and leave" or "stay and take it", but try this approach first. If you can come up with any rebuttals or tactics you know they will use, feel free to email me for specific advice.
posted by Brainy at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2006 [2 favorites]


Force them to visualize you, the daughter they love, their (extrapolated from your question) only chance at genetic survival,

The problem with conservative religious parents is that they may be more interested in their child's immortal soul than their child's happiness, or even their own genetic survival.

Rather than trying to reason with them, it may be better to just get your own life and slowly implement a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Honesty is not always the best policy.
posted by footnote at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2006


That means getting a source of independent income and moving out. Doing this will probably cause conflict, but less so than announcing to your parents that you reject their values while trying to live under their roof.

I knew two females in college with similar family problems who took footnote's advice, and they were some of the most responsible, mature and happy students I met. If you want to take this step, you'll need a support network (the females I knew were both in sororities and had boyfriends with supportive families), but many make it work. I won't reccomend this, since whether its desirable is a very personal decision, but know that its certainly not an impossible pipedream.
posted by gsteff at 11:06 AM on August 7, 2006


Tell 'em you're knocked up.

Let 'em go nuts, imaging the worst

after that, letting you go out on an occasional date will seem such a relief compared to dealing with you being preggers.
posted by orthogonality at 11:44 AM on August 7, 2006


N'thing the idea that your parents won't see or treat you as an adult until you make it impossible for them to see you as a child any longer. Obviously, there are good and bad ways to go about this, and your first task as an adult will be to make these hard decisions. Lots of good ideas to mull over upthread, so I'll leave it at that.

But somewhat off-topic, you seem to have quite a flair for writing, and I could totally see you writing a hilarious memoir about growing up in your bubble-wrap. It might make you feel better to think that you're collecting material right now - you can't make this stuff up! Keep a journal and write down the best stuff (leave the physical book in your locker at school, or someplace where your folks can't snoop into it). It might make the present situation more bearable, too. Cultivating your skills as an observer and journalist may help you develop a bit of detachment - if you can focus on capturing the details that will bring a scene to life, and deciding the best way to describe them, it will distract you a bit from your role as a helpless player in the domestic drama.

As konolia said, 18 isn't all that old. At 18, many things seem bigger than they will at 28 or 38. The things that rankle with injustice and drive you crazy now may well seem like comedy gold in a few years. While it is still important to convince your parents to let go at some point, your perspective on this phase of your life will probably change when you look back on it 10 years from now. So to console yourself a little, try to see it occasionally as raw material for your book or screenplay.

posted by Quietgal at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


What the op posted could have come out of my keyboard when I was 18. Let me first say that I sympathize. My parents were like that even through college, but during my college years, they weren't able to really do as much since I was going to school 6 hours away. But as soon as I finished school and moved back home, it was the same thing again.

What really made our relatioship better was that I got a job and moved out. Yes, there were a lot of tears and hurt feelings and my mom refused to talk to me for a week or so, but now, months later, I feel like it was for a better. Sure, my parents and I don't have a perfect relationship, but they understand that I'm an adult and I can make my own choices.

It seems like there are two paths for the OP:
1.) let her parents keep doing the parenting thing until she's done with school and has a job of her own where she can support herself and move out
or
2.) Get a job right now and move out.
posted by nakedsushi at 1:01 PM on August 7, 2006


I'm pretty much in your situation. I live in Brisbane now (originally from Malaysia) and I had VERY overprotective parents. Their excuse was they "trust me, but not the world"...eh, I don't believe that, but oh well.

I remember wanting so badly to be an exchange student for as long as I can remember. The first time the chance came up, they only allowed me to apply for the free/on scholarship one to Japan because they weren't going to pay for it. I wasn't even keen on the country but I applied anyway. (I didn't get in.)

Just before last year the chance came up again, for a different program. By this time I was already in uni, living away from the house, so on so forth. But I still relied on them for money (Uni's expensive, and my only income was freelance stuff), and when I proposed the idea, they were all "WTF THIS IS A WASTE OF TIME YOU'RE TOO YOUNG blah blah". We fought a LOT over this. I went and applied anyway. They said they won't pay...so I went out to look for my own funding...they paid anyway (I wasn't getting anywhere with the fundraising). I then left for the program - and had the time of my life. Best thing I ever did.

Even after all that - and now that I'm in a different COUNTRY - they're still very overprotective. Mum has extreme empty nest syndrome (my sister's been in London over 10 years and she's still not gotten over her leaving) and everytime I talk to her she's crying, "oh why are you two not here, I am not happy". Your mum having breast cancer isn't helping, I'm sure.

I know for myself that there's only so much I can do, so what I've done right now is asked my best friend - who's also friendly with my mum, and a lot older than me - to talk to her to soothe her through her ENS.

As my sister and I are both in similar situations (she was overprotected before I came along, then she got her freedom) we relate to each other and try to talk to each other about it. Is there someone like her (or my best friend) that can help? They could be the mediator, try to soothe things between you and your parents.

Also, just stand your ground. Once in a while you would need to accept a compromise. But stand for what you truly believe in. After a while they'd know that there's no changing you and give you more freedom. (I'm doing the course I'm doing because of that; I know my parents would rather I do Science or Business, but they also know of my creative side and know that I would never be happy doing something else.)

Part of my growing freedom is also because I had panic disorder and depression a few years ago and now my parents don't want to impose more of that on me. That's not a strategy I advise, however.

Good luck; your time will come. (Oh, and "whoring and drinking" are severely overrated. :P)

(and ha! I'm South Asian too. Is this common?)
posted by divabat at 2:22 PM on August 7, 2006


unexpected: I'm from a Sri-Lankan background, but close enough. :p

Child abuse this is not. They're still very loving and caring parents. I want for nothing (except that pesky freedom and trust).

I guess I'd always realised that this was something that was going to have to be taken slowly but I wished for it to happen over night. I know that the "threaten to leave" is an option but I don't think I could take it even if my mum wasn't sick.

It's not that I don't think I deserve that freedom or that trust, but I also feel great loyalty to these people who looked after me pretty well for the past 18 years and I don't think I could inflict that kind of drama on them.

Well, here's hoping I will be looking back on all this and laughing (and probably sobbing a little too).
posted by liquorice at 3:36 PM on August 7, 2006


Just for some Australian perspective on the university thing (more for other respondants, as liquorice obviously knows this stuff!):

It's not common to live at university. At my uni, there's maybe 600 out of 30,000 students in colleges. Many universities don't even have colleges (residences).

There are no federal loans, and much less in the way of scholarships and grants. Instead, university fees usually don't have to be paid until you are earning AU$36,000/year (effectively a loan, I guess, but everyone gets it automatically), and you can get Youth Allowance to live on if you qualify (welfare for students). 'Workstudy' programs in US terms, don't really exist here. You can get work at uni, but most academic stuff is limited to older students than liquorice.

It doesn't sound like you would qualify as independant for Youth Allowance, liquorice, but if your parents income is low enough, you could get some payment as a dependant. They would have to cooperate for this to occur, however.

I'm a little curious about the transport thing, and how you have been seeing your boyfriend within the limitations described. How do you get to uni - do your parents drive you?

My recommendations - I would work on being out in the evenings, which might lead to a need for looser transport restrictions. Easiest way to do this would be organise a uni commitment. If there are no classes you can take in the evening, join a club (band/study club/chocolate society) that meets in the evening. I have some idea of what it's like because I have the Catholic background and a dad who is convinced that a job will lead to failure at uni, but not on the same level. I second the idea of introducing the boy as a friend - if only because anything else would involve telling them how much you've been doing without their knowledge, which might freak them out.

It sounds like a tough situation, and hopefully you've managed to let off a little steam here. It will be slow, but you sound like you knew that, and this is just confirmation :)
posted by jacalata at 7:26 PM on August 7, 2006


Well, here's hoping I will be looking back on all this and laughing (and probably sobbing a little too).

Heh. You'll be replying in threads like this to console others and pointing out that at [insert age here] your parents still would prefer to supervise your every decision.

(I really like Quietgal's suggestion about you "collecting material" for that memoir. It'll help you laugh about this sooner rather than later.)
posted by desuetude at 8:21 PM on August 7, 2006


My parents indeed drive me to uni, they work their work schedules AROUND my timetable (not as crazy as it sounds, my dad has a very flexible schedule and my mum works part-time).

With the boyfriend thing, there's various stuff. One, he visits me at uni, two, I use my friends as covers when I'm actually out with him (like shopping, bowling, lunches, movies etc), three, he can drive so it makes it easy for him to get around to see me, four, I get to see him at all my various friend's birthday parties and five, sometimes I'll just sneak out and visit him. But yes, it's very complicated. We spend a good portion of our time chatting on the phone or online each day (easily 4 or 5 hours when I'm not at uni) and I manage to see him at least once or twice a week.
posted by liquorice at 3:21 AM on August 8, 2006


Oh, and if you're having sex, please, please use at least two types of contraception (condom and birth control pill).

I had a similar upbringing and I just lied lied lied until I graduated from university and I was financially independent.
(And that specifically meant not continuing on for an advanced degree, because I needed to make money right away).

Some people may think it's "wrong" to lie to your parents, but it got me what I needed: and education so that I never had to be their financial hostage again.

Also, I knew it was entirely hopeless that they might ever change, and don't ever let that confuse you, either: only you can affect your behavior, you cannot change their minds.

Having said that, acting like an adult will go a long way.

But be careful, I've known of at least two Asian-Americans who were kicked out of their parents' house for not being "obedient" kids. (And it wasn't because they were getting arrested or doing illegal drugs --- the kids were simply not following the strict parents' rules).
posted by Pocahontas at 4:18 PM on August 8, 2006


I agree with a lot of the advice here. I also have over-protective parents, and there were a lot of things I wish I had done when I was 18--it would have made things a lot easier on me now (I'm 24).

During your university years, you might want to look at studying abroad for a year, or even a semester; it's a really good excuse to get out of the family house and stretch yourself personally, especially if your parents are the type that really value educational opportunities. Run your life responsibly and maturely. Try to be as honest as you can with your parents about your daily activities, your thoughts, and your feelings. If your parents are like my parents, something in their life experiences must have made them scared and mistrustful of the world; a lot of it might be more about them than about you. If you're planning to do anything that you know will freak them out, gradually get them to your side by dropping hints way in advance. Tell them you want to do this, but you're aware how dangerous it is/how inexperienced you are and you want their advice on how you can go about doing it as safely and responsibly as possible. Keep persisting and updating them on it. Be firm on what you want to do, but be aware that you might have to make compromises. It might be frustrating, take a long time, and sometimes you might want to pull your hair out because you don't see any of your friends having to deal with this. What's important is that you be honest and upfront with them so they know you can keep your word.

This isn't going to happen overnight, and a lot of it is going to depend on your own initiative. Your parents might not ever recognize you as an adult. Like what others have said, you have to make a conscious decision to grow and take responsibility for what you want to happen in your own life. That takes an awful lot of self-knowledge, and to get that you might have to rock the boat for awhile--ignore what they want you to do and just do what you think is appropriate or right (but keep the communication lines open as much as possible).

I moved across the country last summer for a job, and it's the best thing I ever did. They still treat me like a kid and don't respect my opinions and interests, but what that summer did was help me be psychologically independent from them. I went at this alone for a number of years, and I can tell you that if you have people around you that you can talk to about this, or that can provide alternate suggestions, than do it. Make excuses if you have to (you have to study with them, whatever) but they can really give you a different perspective, link you to the world, and keep you from going insane from your parents' excessive attentions.

Of course, the best course of action by far is to live away from them and/or be financially independent, but if you have to be under their roof, then that's the next best thing. I don't tell my parents everything, but the bigger decisions I do (or try to), even if they get mad at me or don't speak to me for days afterwards. If they recognize what I'm doing, fine; if they don't, then I can tell myself that I've given a shot at trying to be a good daughter but also lead my own life.

Good luck!
posted by elisynn at 11:54 PM on August 8, 2006


elisynn: During your university years, you might want to look at studying abroad for a year, or even a semester; it's a really good excuse to get out of the family house and stretch yourself personally, especially if your parents are the type that really value educational opportunities.

YES YES YES. Wholeheartedly seconded.

I mentioned earlier about the study abroad program I was on. (and ha! I see it's your "best answer", thank you!) This was the turning point for my experience. They knew that they couldn't control me when I was about a million miles from them, constantly moving. They did insist on the once-a-week phonecalls (tradition started with my sis), though they learnt not to freak out when I was away from communication for a while.

One important moment was when I was in Europe. The week before, I was talking to my mum and she told me that finally she feels that I am independent enough to go on my own and that she trusts me. One week after that convo, I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle, and I needed hospital treatment for a while. This scared my parents like crazy, and I felt bad too because I thought this would completely change their opinion of me being independent and all that. However, when I was healing they told me that they thought I was very brave for going through all of that (limping and all), for being able to take care of myself and move on. That helped a lot.

You'll get there. Good luck!
posted by divabat at 2:21 AM on August 9, 2006


Oh and here's two anecdotes that might inspire you:

1. My first week at Malaysian uni, there was a club night. This was my first time out clubbing, and just as I was waiting for transport, my dad rang.

Dad: Hey.
Me: Hi dad.
Dad: What are you doing?
Me: I'm going clubbing. (oh crap they'll freak out now they're coming tomorrow to see me ack)
Dad: OK! Have fun!
Me: ... o_O

They freak out over me taking public transportation in the daytime but clubbing doesn't faze them?! go figure.

2. My dad's hard to talk to when it comes to relationships. Even suggest that my pet RABBIT wants a partner and he goes all shy. Mum's not as shy with that but she's also not usually the first person you run to for this sort of thing.

While on tour I found out that one of my friends had a crush on me. It's pretty much the first time this had happened and I didn't know what to do. I wanted to talk to my mum about it, but she was with my sister in London and my dad was at home alone. I told him what happened (hey, maybe he'll have some good advice) and all he said was "talk to your mum". I thought "oh crap I've embarassed him."

Right after that I talked to my mum and sister and told them the story. Both of them were all "AWW she's growing up! how cute!" which wasn't what I was expecting. I then asked my sister if my dad told them anything...she told me that Dad was laughing.

Oh dear. XD But it just goes to show, sometimes they can surprise you!
posted by divabat at 2:42 AM on August 9, 2006


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