I was wondering if you had suggestions on how to convince parents to let their grown up kid move out. I’m planning to get an interstate job and move out in two years (I’ll be around 22) but feel the need to lay ground work early.
My parents have never:
1) let me go on exchange overseas;
2) let me go to a town an hour’s drive away with my friends for any length of time; or
3) even let me go on sleepovers.
4) when I suggested going interstate to do a specific degree only available interstate, my parents went out of their way and eventually succeeded in convincing me not to do that degree, and I overheard dad telling one of his friends that if I did move, they were going to have me live in an apartment with other South Asian girls.
5) when it looked like my sister was going to have to move for university so she could study medicine, mum was going to move with her. Eventually, parents settled on ‘maybe dad will go with her for the first few weeks’. Sister ended up getting into our local uni and so didn’t move. I don’t know how this would’ve panned out.
6) Arranged Marriages are a thing, I’m only ever meant to move out of my parents’ home into my husband’s home, and my parents like to talk about when they have grandchildren.
7) they need to know where I am at all times even now. As a result, I don’t feel like I can go see a counselor even though I think I’m depressed/anxious because my parents are also really disparaging of any sort of mental health issue and I don’t want them to know of mine.
Basically, my parents are helicopters, and also tigers (at one point in high school I was involved in debating, piano, double bass, private speech and drama, my school’s drama club and dance, on top of straight As).
I can follow recipes (and can make cheesecakes), have my own car, have money saved already, work part time, do my laundry, and clean so I don’t think I’ll be a complete failure. Whenever I’ve raised this, I get instantly shut down with ‘but why would you want to work interstate’ and ‘but why would you want to move out – we feed you, buy you things, etc’.
How do I convince them I should/could move out?
How Did We Develop Helicopter-Tiger Hybrids?
Dear Competent Person Who Can Take Care Of Herself and Bake Cheesecakes!
I find your desire to prepare your parents for the eventuality of your moving out to be a very unselfish and loving one – you want to be an honest person, you want a loving relationship with your family, and you want to give them a lot of time to get used to the idea so that your leaving won’t provoke a crisis. I suspect also that over time you have been a very obedient, well-behaved, and loving child to them and that, outside of their fears of “what might happen” if you left or desire to have you married and pregnant, they have almost nothing to complain about and much to brag about in you. The stress you are feeling is the stress of wanting to act with integrity and agency within a family power structure that historically has not honored independence or rewarded such honesty in its children, especially its girl-children. If you are committed to staying with your parents for the two years until you finish university, then I think that this becomes a question of choosing and scheduling your battles, paying lip service to their expectations while quietly arranging your life as you wish, and possibly deferring some questions until they are a fait accompli.
What I mean is, maybe let the discussion about you eventually getting a job in another state and moving away lie fallow for right now, and focus on stretching your parents’ apron strings in ways that add to your present quality of life. That doesn’t mean letting the plan to move lie fallow; you should do all you can to save money, build your skills, find internships and professional connections, research companies you might want to work for, take full advantage of your school’s career center including any on-campus interviews and recruiting activities. Be resolute in your plan, make the plan, and when the time comes, execute the plan and present it to your parents as “Great news, I got a job! I am moving to (place) on (date) and I am so excited!”
They will most likely have exactly the reaction you anticipate (how could you/we are coming with you/why would you want to), and at that time you can change the conversation by saying, “I’m grateful for your support, and I’d love your blessing, but I am not asking for permission, I’m letting you know about my intentions.” I write about this like its easy even though it is not, and even though following through might mean having friends come pick you up and going anyway, even if your parents are very unhappy about it and they say lots of things they don’t mean like “I have no daughter now” and things remain unresolved between you for some time.You may never convince them to let you go, and spending the next two years on that project is likely to be very painful and draining for you. The biggest factor in your success in living on your own someday is for you to decide for yourself when the time for permission is over and learning that you can survive your parents’ displeasure. If you stay committed to the lie that permission is a) possible or b) necessary for you to move out, your parents win in keeping you close and dependent.
Even if your parents were the world’s biggest pussycats around this, launching your life successfully would depend on you being determined within yourself. That may mean wrangling with some of the cultural expectations you’ve been raised with and forming your own relationship with your culture. It might mean finding examples of other young women from your background who have forged their own way, and holding onto their stories as a road map for your own. It might even mean making relationships with those women via social media, and putting a virtual mentoring/support group in place for yourself. It also most likely means withstanding a lot of friction from people you love, and it probably means dealing with pressure from other members of your family as your parents enlist them to keep you home. It maybe means wanting to have conversations like, “Parents, what are you so afraid of? Didn’t you raise me to be skilled and hardworking and dedicated to excellence? How little you must think of me if you think that the values you raised me with will disintegrate the moment I cross your doorstep or the state line” but instead feeling like a fake and a liar because your own survival and happiness depends on keeping some things hidden from them until you’re ready to actually go. That is an unfair and heartbreaking amount of pressure. I think you can and will withstand it just fine, but I want to honor how very hard it is at times to make that break.
In the meantime, while you are in school, and you have the structure of the school around you, I wonder if there are some things you can take advantage of now where you live. You don’t think your parents would support you in going to counseling, but if you used the school counseling office (usually free to students for at least some sessions) and called it “tutoring” (either tutoring you are receiving or tutoring you are providing), would that work better? It’s a lie, and lies don’t feel good, but “getting a better handle on my feelings and emotional state” is a form of learning, and I would absolutely ethically support you in giving it a different name to get the care you need. Health care, including mental health care, is a human right and you absolutely deserve to have it.
In addition, are you able to arrange an on-campus job or nearby internship, or talk to a sympathetic professor who could use a “research assistant” to help you get a little flexibility out of the house each week? Could that professor serve as an advisor or mentor and keep an eye out for interesting overseas opportunities and fellowships you could apply for? And could you pursue some of the musical or dramatic interests you were raised with now, for fun, as a way to connect with other people and have more “permitted” out-of-the-house time for yourself? Are you able to put a regular exercise routine in place in the school gym? Given your parents ambitions for you growing up, you may be able to bait this hook with the idea of “prestige” or “ambition” – things that look good on a resume or graduate school application, things that are very competitive and reserved only for the “best” students, or as a testament to the lifelong love of such subjects they instilled in you as a child. Maybe the town an hour away has a library that you need for your research, or maybe your student film got into a festival there, or your professor has recommended a speaking series there or a field trip to their museum.
There are some other things that can get you through the next two years:
-If possible, make a friend and ally out of your sister. Ask her how she feels about her choices to go to school near home. Be kind to her, make her her favorite treats for when she’s stressed out and studying, do fun social things with her or work out with her when possible (given that she’s a med student), work out and forgive whatever rivalries you carry from childhood. If you move out eventually and things go south with your parents for a while, she can be a lifeline and a balm.
-Try to assume a more adult role within your home and your family. Cook dinner for your parents once a week, maybe, or take on a chore without being asked and do it with immense reliability. Practice incorporating your own wishes into household things in small ways, like, it’s my night to cook so I will make my favorite foods. Try asking your parents to show you various “adulting” skills, and ask them about their lives when they were your age. I imagine that much of the extended family social life filters to you through your parents (very common for college students), so also think about using this time to forge your own relationships with your aunts & uncles and cousins. Send them postcards, call them sometimes, take a auntie to lunch. One of the threats that your parents might place over you if you leave is the prospect of losing your family. As in the above example with your sister, you can’t “lose” your family if you make your own loving relationships within that family.
-We’ve already covered finding more permissible reasons to be out of the house more, and I also suggest that you become pre-emptive and extremely detailed in informing your parents of your schedule. Not because they deserve it, or because knowing where you are every minute is healthy or something that parents of adult children are entitled to, but because it puts them off balance and out of the role of monitor and interrogator if you do it first. I want to be clear that this practice is not about rewarding controlling behavior, it’s about you being in undercover survival mode until you move out and about giving you low-stakes, daily practice in informing them of what you are doing instead of asking permission. In the past, you might have asked or floated a trial balloon – “I want to join a chem study group or audition for the play, what do you think?” For now, try informing them – “Good news, I’ve joined a chem study group with some of the best people in my class!” “Good news, I got a part in the fall play!” – and treating whatever it is as non-debatable. You could print out a grid of your schedule and post it on the refrigerator, or tell them each day “I have class until three, and then I have rehearsal until seven and my chemistry study group meets in the library until nine. I’ve packed myself some leftovers for dinner, I’ll see you before 10. Love you!”
-It is essential that you retain access to your identity documents (birth certificate, passport, social security card) and that you have a bank account that is yours alone. I stress this to the point that it is worth finding a way to keep your papers off-site starting now if necessary.
-How imminent/serious is the arranged marriage pressure? Are we at “Mom wistfully remarks upon a desire to hold grandbabies and smell their New Baby Smell” or “Starts many sentences with ‘someday when you are married…'” levels or are we actively exchanging photos and having tea with prospects and their families? On the theme of choosing your battles, you might want to develop a script or strategy along the lines of “Parents, I will meet anyone you want to introduce me to with an open mind, however, I am personally in no hurry to get married and I would encourage you not to oversell/over-promise anything on my behalf at this time. My wish would be to put this off entirely until I have finished school and established myself in a career.” Since you have an older sister, you probably have a pretty good idea of what this is all like in action, and I imagine that many of the smiling young gentlemen with sparkling resumes, good family connections, and fierce grandmas and mothers you meet can become expert friendly allies in perfunctory performances of filial piety.
-A charming friend with impeccable manners that your parents think of as a “good influence” has a price above rubies in the repressive household. Impeccable Friend can come for dinner with your family and then send your mom a handwritten thank you note on good stationery. Impeccable Friend can say things like “Double bass lessons! What supportive parents you are! Letter Writer talks about you all the time, it makes me jealous,” or “I’ll have her home by 11, sir.” If you manage to cultivate and produce such a friend, try not to laugh or openly smirk when your parents compare you unfavorably to the wonder that is Impeccable Friend. “She has the most beautiful manners, not like some people I could mention.” Impeccable Friend is also useful for suggesting previously forbidden outings. “Mrs. and Mr. Letter Writer’s Parents, I have an extra ticket to a play in (town) and I would love LW to accompany me for my birthday. Would that be all right?” They may have a harder time saying no to her. Obviously, Impeccable Friends cannot be summoned at will from the Faerie Realms if you don’t already have one, but I reckon you at least have a mental classification of people you know who are “safe for parents” and “unsafe for parents.” Over time, “Where are you going?” “Studying with Impeccable Friend!” might become a thing that can put your parents’ mind at ease. It worked like gangbusters for my older brother, who was almost certainly not “At Ted’s” all the times he said he was going to be. Then again, he was a boy. 😦
-Practice asserting yourself in small, daily ways with people inside and outside of your family. “No, that won’t work for me.” “It’s so thoughtful, but I can’t use that.” “It’s lovely, but it doesn’t fit quite right/isn’t my style.” “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t have time.” “I disagree, would you like to discuss it or should we change the subject?” “Attending this review session is very important for my grade and I don’t understand why you want me to stay home. Nonetheless, I am going.” Find spaces and friendships where you can truly be yourself.
-Give yourself lots of love and lots of credit for enduring a hard thing. Needing to continually present an edited version of your life to people you love because it’s what you need to do to survive their control is incredibly wearing, draining, and unfair. You may not be able to make the situation better right now, but you are not powerless and you are not alone.
When the time comes for you to leave home for that new job you’ve earned, to live in your own place and forge your own adult life, I sincerely hope your parents will let you go without friction or recrimination. I hope that they can see that loving you and wanting to protect you are understandable, but controlling your life to eliminate the possibility of making any mistakes is not right. I wish the gifts I had to bestow were words you could use to soften their hearts and open their eyes to truly see and to trust that this wonderful person they have raised can make her way in the world.
I don’t have the right words for your parents, but you’re here, so these are for you:
”Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste… years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just… take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that’s hard.” – Ekaterin, A Civil Campaign
“Listen: In the future, there is a small, quiet room that is just yours, where you are safe and you are free. In that room your shoulders will finally start to come down from around your ears. Nobody can come into that room unless you let them. In that clean quiet place, you will work and you will study. You will love and you will heal. I know this is true because I am there with you. We are there together because you saved us. You saved us because you were brave and because you never stopped believing in that room.
See you there,
Your Future Self” -Question 122: Should I move away from my abusive family?” (The whole post is a recommended resource if your anxiety & depression worsen and you feel like you have to leave sooner than you planned)
Your small quiet room is out there waiting for you. Your strength and smarts are and skills will be sufficient to carry you there when the time comes. Your parents may be incapable of being convinced ahead of time. Your own messy, wonderful, flourishing life doesn’t have to be deserved or earned. Hold on and hang in.