[Editor’s note: Every week New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or — no surprise here — a party.]
I love my parents, but I feel like they’ve filled me with a lot of self-doubt. Often when it’s time to make big life decisions, I talk with them and they try steer me towards some other direction rather than the direction my heart has told me to go. Do I need to stop asking their advice, or is there a way to respect my parents while developing the independence I’ve struggled to find?
– Self-Doubt Dude
Dear Self-Doubt Dude,
There are all different kinds of parents, including the kind that aren’t even around. So for starters, be glad you’re parents are alive and part of your life. In addition to their general presence, parents can also have an unbelievably deep impact — or lack of impact — on their offspring’s choices.
Some people’s entire identity is formed by reacting against their parents and defying them. Some people specifically look at how their parents live, and then try to do the opposite. Others seem to follow in their parent’s footsteps exactly and — consciously or subconsciously — recreate their parent’s life. The fact that you have a good enough basic relationship with your parents to tell them about your hopes and dreams is valuable and I think it’s definitely worth maintaining that foundation.
But as far as turning to your parents for life advice about your dreams, maybe you’re better off asking me (or as we discussed before in this column, not asking anyone about the dreams of your heart). Parents don’t know everything, and as surprising as it may seem, they often especially don’t know “what’s best” for their children. Parents tend to want their children to be safe, and this impulse has positive and negative outcomes. The parental desire to protect their child lasts beyond the earliest stages when the child still lives at home and relies on the parents for every aspect of their survival.
After a child moves away and begins their own life, parents can have an increased amount of anxiety and concern over the child’s well-being precisely because they have less physical control over their day-to-day survival. Because of this lessened direct control, it can become confusing as to what exactly the parents role is at this stage, and for some parents, their confusion manifests as perpetual nitpicking, worry, and concern that the child’s life isn’t “going in the right direction”. This “right direction” can often mean a copy of the parent’s own direction in life, or a version of a societal and cultural standards that “most people” choose to follow.
Parents want to be able to understand and grapple with their child’s life choices, and what easier choices to understand than the same choices they or the general public have already made? It’s more common to find a parent pushing their child to recreate their own life than to venture out into some uncharted waters. This impulse isn’t always purely based on a belief that the parent’s own way is the best way, but simply because it’s familiar and predictable.
A parent’s own life is their area of expertise, and an area from which they can offer wisdom. It’s what they know, and when you create your own child, the idea of them drifting into the unknown is especially distressing. In the worst cases, the parent expects to maintain some sort of control and influence indefinitely — even if it means holding the child back from its full potential and passion — just because it’s easier and less frightening than having the child brave the raging waters of the unknown.
So, with all this in mind, do your best to try and understand where your parents are coming from. Try to develop some sympathy for their point of view, and how they’re probably just longing for your safety and security, even if it seems like they’re discouraging you. Even though they love you, their love can take shape in uninspiring feedback. Some parents are just jerks, but most are just afraid.
It can be hard for us to imagine that this superhuman parent who created us and brought us into existence can be just as full of fear and terror about the world as we are, but they’re just people — and they’re not as powerful as we sometimes believed them to be. This in itself can be an intense and upsetting realization for a child, but it’s part of ultimately becoming your own independent person. Respecting your parents as individual human beings means also respecting yourself and your own individual identity that sometimes might have nothing to do with your parent’s identity.
For now, I’d recommend not turning to your parents for any more advice, at least when it comes to following your heart. Turn to yourself and listen more deeply to what your heart is telling you. Ultimately, only you can hear your inner voice accurately. And consider this: Perhaps you’ve been telling your parents your dreams precisely because you want them to discourage you. Maybe it’s not your parents who are afraid of you following your heart, maybe it’s you who’s afraid.
Be courageous, take big risks, and break away from everything holding you back, including your parents, yourself, and your own need to ask others about following your dreams. If you can hear what your heart is saying to you, you already have the answers. And then you can have a nice relationship with your parents that’s mostly based on eating food.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.