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.
233 thoughts on “#762: Helicopter parents and moving out.”
There’s a lot of this in the Italian neighbourhood my fathers family lives in. My sister had this friend whose father told her she was not allowed to have any kind of life until she could pay for her “university, wedding, and funeral” moving out was out of the question. Other kids were told they had to go to the nearby university and live at home or they could forget about their parents paying. Hang in there, LW, you are your own person. Great advice up here from the cap’
Wow…. I don’t think I had any idea how prevalent this was! My family was harsh and screwed-up in a lot of ways, but they largely involved pushing me out of the nest before I could fly and/or simply dissolving the nest from beneath me. (I had an abusive-neglectful parent, and was working after school to pay for my own food by twelve or thirteen, because they wouldn’t. I could go wherever the hell I pleased that was *not* home, which was unsafe; often, I rode the subways at night and then got my sleep tucked underneath the bleachers in the school gym during the daytime where it was safe to sleep.)
Other parent – who was not abusive in the least, but had high expectations, zero conception of what ill-health was like, and a scathing contempt for incompetence – told me they’d pay for me to attend college anyplace I chose and could get in, so long as it was OUTSIDE a 100-mile radius of home!! They felt learning to live on one’s own without leaning on family was part of the educational process. I’m not as strict as all that, but I basically agree with the sentiment, and intend to encourage my kids strongly to get far away from the only city they can remember living in, and see what someplace else is like for a while.
LW, all the best in dealing with your helitigers. (Tiggecopters?) I may not know helicopter parents through direct experience – except perhaps in working hard to avoid being one – but I know tigers, and one thing they are very good at is loading up their kids with the skills to excel. Don’t let them convince you that you aren’t ready to run your own life; you’re more ready than 99.999% of us when we get out there, because they made you learn to be. Have a grand time using all those lovely academic/professional/artistic/disciplinary/life skills they force-fed you to please YOURSELF at last.
Tigercopter parents sound terrifying.
LW -I had an abusive family, and it felt like I’d never escape. I did though, and the quote above about the safe space for you an your future self? It’s true, one day you’ll be able to breathe.
Best of luck and Jedi hugs.
As the daughter of immigrant helicopter parents, boy does this resonate. I agree, LW, that you cant prepare your parents for this, you have to prepare yourself. Remember that your parents have nothing to gain by you leaving and they have convinced themselves that living with them is awesome for you. They will demean your abilities to live on your own because it makes them feel necessary and important. You are not going to change their minds about this. It doesn’t mean theyre bad people, they just dont know how to transition from parenting a child to parenting an adult whos not married.
Here are some other things I did when I first moved out that helped keep their tentacles at bay:
1 Dont ask your parents to help you move.
2 For the love of all that is holy do not borrow money, furniture, house stuff
3 Find a safe person to have your extra key. That safe person is not your parents right now
4 If they drop by without calling, dont open the door
After a couple of years of “good behaviour”, I relaxed some of these rules. For example, my parents now have an extra key for emergencies.
Final thing: I had no idea how stressed id bern until I lived on my own. Stay strong, LW!
LW, please please PLEASE do not accept money, large gifts, or any sort of significant help from them if you are able. If they try and you don’t accept, they may whine or even admonish you for being so “ungrateful”, but trust me: it’s much better than the alternative. Gifts from super-controlling parents are *always* strings-attached, and they will hold it over your head.
I would personally recommend that the first order of business should be doing everything in your power to cut as many purse strings as are feasible ASAP. Your parents may not be too receptive to the idea of you having a job, but like the Captain said: you’re a grown-ass adult who isn’t requesting permission. Having your own money is unfortunately the key to independence. Really think-over how much help you will be willing to take from them without shooting yourself in the foot debt-wise.
Agreed on the job front. Also, LW, I know that you say that you have money saved, and that is wonderful. Go you!
But also, even apart from the practical value of having more money, having a regular, reliable source of income can be an incredibly comforting thing. If that’s not something you have right now, which it sounds like it’s not, you should think about finding something, even if it’s part-time. This could be especially reassuring if you aren’t super experienced in the working world, because it’s one thing to abstractly feel like you could probably get a job if you tried; it’s another to actually prove to yourself that you can do it, to show yourself that you are smart and capable enough. Having that ongoing reminder that you are in control of your life and are working toward something better can be really empowering.
I’m not sure I agree with Aurora. I suppose it depends on how prone you are to feeling guilt, and whether you risk upsetting relatives, but I say take every gift and all the money you can and tuck them away somewhere. They may give them as an attempt to control, but you can repurpose them as tools of freedom.
I had to let go of guilt to survive my abusive family anyway. I literally trained myself to be unable to feel guilt or shame. I had to relearn those feelings later in life, because it turns out that they exist for a reason, but that training is still an asset. I can turn guilt off when I want to, and after I’ve made a hard decision, I do.
My belief is that parents owe children a safe and nurturing environment, and if they break that social contract, it’s basically the state of nature. If you are, as Captain says, in survival mode, then take every last penny you can get. That’s what people fighting for survival do — take whatever advantages they can. If you have to justify it, tell yourself that they offer these things because they do want you to have a good life, and that you’re using them for that purpose — just not in the way that they expected. But honestly, you don’t need a moral reason to take what an abuser freely offers.
Mm-m-m. Not sure I agree with you, Orion. I mean, if you accept that it’s OK to be a “taker”, or to “take advantage” of a situation, well I guess it works for some people but I, personally, just don’t respect opportunistic people as much as I do honest and independent people. Gifts that obviously have strings attached aren’t really gifts so there is some sort of “reasoning” or justification going on to take them then say, “I don’t owe you a thing”. I can see where turning off the guilt (when it’s convenient) bears mentioning. I’m not sure if I’d feel guilty about basically using someone or their money but I wouldn’t have self-respect if I lived like that. Just my opinion…
Yup. I was parentified and my parents wreaked havoc on my finances/education at crucial points in my life.
I am now being offered financial help with some Big Life Things. And I’m going to accept them with a “yes, please” the same way regular kids accepted things like money to go to the movies. I used to feel like that was me “taking” then I realized normal parents give! They don’t make their kids feel guilty for having basic needs (like, you know, seasonally appropriate clothing.) And I don’t really care if there are strings, because I can set boundaries now – “helping me buy a house means you did a nice thing as a parent, thank you, but does not mean you are entitled to enter my house whenever you please.” They just don’t have the power to guilt me anymore – it’s made our relationship much healthier.
She’s not a child though. She’s 22. I think continuing to take just reinforces the parent/child relationship which is exactly what she’s trying to change.
If they do give you money, keep it in a separate account so you can give it back to them if they turn into huge jerks about it. Lesson learned from hard experience, three generations ago.
LW, all the jedi hugs and support. When you think, “I don’t think I’ll be a complete failure,” I want you to know that you will be so, so, much better than “not a failure.” You can do so many things, and you are already so incredibly capable.
Another idea to throw into the pile is, maybe looking for South Asian groups to belong to, not only in your current town, but when you start making plans for a move, look for something in the city you’ll be moving to. It can be nice to have a community of people who are also trying to navigate similar cultural conflicts, and it can also sort of function a little like the “Good Friend” that Captain suggests. Like, your parents don’t have to know that when you get together with this group that you’re all sharing tips on how to make unapproved activities look like approved activities. It would look, to your parents, that you have a group that reinforces their ideas of how they want you to live, but to you, it would be a group that supports you, and how you want to live.
LW, you will, in fact, fail at some of the things some of the time. And that’s OK. And if your parents think this demonstrates your unfitness to live alone, well, they’re just wrong.
We’re humans, and we make mistakes, especially when we’re doing something new, e.g., moving, finding an apartment, buying couches, but really, we keep making them all the time. You don’t have to be 100% perfect to be “not a failure.”
Good luck, and keep listening to your inner voice that tells you this situation just isn’t right.
LW, I suspect that your upbringing has been such that failure is regarded as shameful and unacceptable – and that’s not the case. In a great many fields of endeavour, failure is not just possible, but a necessary part of the process without which you can’t succeed. Failing at something, and being able to evaluate why without shame or blame, is a necessary part of life and its a skill that will take you far, far further than getting everything right first time (and also better than everyone else) ever will. Go forth into the world, and screw stuff up sometimes – you’ll be absolutely fine.
Thirded, and how!!
As I mentioned above, I didn’t have a helicopter parent, but I sure did have a tiger, and failure was met with utter sarcasm and contempt. I was never good enough, disciplined enough, confident enough, committed enough, hardworking enough, thoughtful enough… about the only thing I *was* (in theory) was smart enough, because they always stressed that it was solely my own lack of enterprise which led to my failure; the inherent talent was there (and hence not something I could blame for screwing up).
It took studying education, and becoming a sports fan, to get over that indoctrination, actually.
The teacher training led me to oodles of research which shows that kids who are able to become comfortable with failure achieve substantially more, controlled for comparable talent, than kids who believe that failure is unacceptable. Fear of failure stops people from reaching out and embracing *new* skills, because everyone’s bad at anything when they first begin to learn it. Comfort and expectation of failure; treating mistakes as a sign that one is on the right path and making progress, allows us to keep trying until we learn.
Being a sports fan led me to books about the offseason training of the world’s finest athletes… among whom, “Failure is success!” Is a common maxim. For someone whose workout routine needs to take them to the limitsof their body’s capacity, so they can be ever increasing that capacity, how do they *know* they’re leaving it all in the weight room instead of holding back? Many of them use failure as a benchmark; one they seek out deliberately. Do sets of a high weight until your body absolutely won’t lift it anymore – can’t. Take off just enough weight to get it up in the air again and repeat. By the time they’re done, they can’t lift 10 pounds anymore… and they’ve failed jubilantly 10 or 15 times. 😉
A writing instructor once told me, “Nobody gets to be a really great writer without producing at least a million pages of utter crap. So when you look at something you’ve just sweated over for weeks or months and realize it’s flawed in a way that’s completely unsalvageable, stick it in your Million Pages file and be proud of yourself; you’re making progress!”
Get comfortable with failure. Failure is success. You will succeed; I know that. You’ll also have to fail a lot of times in order to get there. File those experiences under your Million Pages of Life header and hold your head high.
This comment so speaks to me, because I was one of those kids who were terrified of failing. (Don’t you know that if you’re not perfect, no one will love you??) Thank you for posting this; I need to make it into a poster and paste it somewhere where I can see it all the time.
One thing that helped me was picking something to be “bad” at. Initially it was a foreign language – after 8 years of HS and college study, and maxing out the classes at more than one school, I was doing worse than many in the 3rd-year* class I was in. And that was OK – I was “bad” at it.
Now that I’m a parent, it’s Karate. I take the ladies (re: mom’s) class offered opposite my kids. In the same amount of time I’ve been practicing other friends – who are single, or were in college at the time, etc. etc. – have gotten their black belts. Me? No-where close. It’s OK – I’m “bad” at it, and that’s what it is.
Neither of these things are needed for my day to day life – I’ve done them because I wanted to – and if I stink, that’s OK, I’m just going to keep at it.
*1 year of HS language = 1 semester of college language (barely), 1 year of college language = <1 semester of elite-language-college language. If I'd started in the program I ended up in I would have washed out as a total failure (native speakers were having trouble) … but compared to the whole class and the teachers expectations? Yeah, I was not a great student.
Totally agree here. There is also research that the way society speaks to little girls about success and failure makes things worse. Little girls in particular are often told they’re good and smart and talented, and therefore, they avoid situations in which they would be perceived as not good or smart or talented. They are never rewarded for effort, for grinding, for the process, and therefore, they never learn to embrace it and the accompanying failures.
I confess that well into my 4th decade of life I am still not broken of this avoidance at all.
Oh gods, this was my mother. Because I was bright and precocious, I was TOO CLEVER to fail, and could never be allowed to struggle with ANYTHING. The only possible reason for not succeeding INSTANTLY at EVERYTHING was that I was lazy and failing on purpose. So from about age six onwards, the smallest failure or setback would send me into a terrifying shame/despair vortex, for which she would of course also berate me. I was not only a failure, but I totally failed at dealing with failure.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if she had bothered to get me some help with subjects I struggled with, like maths, but she preferred nursing her disappointments to actually doing anything about them. How she herself got so fucked-up is a whole other story.
Epilogue: I did eventually get my maths GCSE (HS level certificate, for the benefit of non-Brits) as an adult, but I still have horrible anxiety around numbers. And I’ve failed spectacularly, at many things, but I’m still here. If I’ve survived, so can you.
^Virtual Sibling. You are not alone.
Great advice from the Captain, Your Helicopter -Tiger parents love you and want all good things for you, but you are not a toy they own, you are your own person with your own life to make. And we do not so much “find” ourselves as “construct” ourselves through our personal experiences and life. So you must go and HAVE your life in order to Make yourself into your future self. There is a wonderful poem by Max Ehrmann, written in 1920 that comes to mind:
Go Placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.”
Best of Luck to LW and do your own thing as you can.
Very much agreed, re: “not a complete failure.” My mother is of the standard narcissistic variety, without the immigrant/tiger mom/helicopter component, but man, that phrase really resonates with me. I’m 28, and I still couch my disagreements with her about my behavior/hair/clothes/WHATEVER as, “I know I’m not perfect, but…” Feeling like I STILL have to audition for her and convince her that I’m not a miserable failure is just fucking awful.
Good luck, LW! I wish I had read this advice at the age of 20 (and also that I’d seen my mom for what she is back then — I spent too many years thinking that this was normal).
So much of this sounds like the hazards of coming out. “how to convince parents to let their grown up kid move out” has pretty much the same answer as “how to convince parents to let their kid be gay.” You can’t convince them. You can only take steps to survive the now and escape into your true self and your own life when you have the means at some point in the future.
The Captain gives good advice here. Please follow it and take care of yourself.
Another point–it’s okay to mourn the parents you wanted but don’t have, the ones who would love you as you are, support you in lifting your wings to soar and explore the world and be your terrifyingly awesome self. It’s okay to mourn what you don’t have while you temporarily accommodate the parents you do have.
I totally agree. This is about what they want, not what’s good for you. They already know you’re competent; hence the pressure and guilting. Your best first resource is your academic advisor. This is a common problem crossing all cultural lines. Keep your drivers’s license on you at all times. Your birth certifícate and social security card are not hard to replace. Getting your passport from your parents may be a red flag. Be careful with that. This is just the price of your free education/living situation. A lot of parents see their children as lifelong personal possessions. Husbands can be that way also. The cultural thing is just an excuse (for them). I’m pretty sure things are changing in what ever country they’re from or they wouldn’t be here. They woud have stayed with their families no matter what.
Re: passport–you can replace a passport by saying that you lost the old one. You will have to show more documentation to prove citizenship/identity, but that’s usually birth certificate+picture identification, assuming you were born in the United States. If you are an immigrant, I’d say put getting your green card/naturalization paperwork from your parents as your first priority.
A good text for doing this is “the university want to confirm my greencard status before I can start tutoring” or similar. Make it something positive, and that someone else needs to see it.
Yes, something about school is good, or a totally plausible one is also getting a job. The LW mentions that she would be able to work part-time. Before she can be paid for work, she’ll need to prove her identity.
LW, if I were you I’d follow the Captain’s advice to the letter and get yourself a safe deposit box at the bank. It won’t be free, but it won’t be insanely expensive either, and it’s worth it to have everything in a safe place where your parents won’t be able to hold it hostage to stop you from leaving. Then choose some pretext and get all of your identity documents, every last one, and put them there.
While you’re at the bank you can also take a minute to make sure your parents don’t have access to the money you’ve saved. If you don’t yet have a bank account of your own, now is the time to set one up. If your parents raise a fuss about this, tell them it has something to do with the financial aid you’re on for school — maybe the school needs you to have a separate bank account so you can show them a statement of how much money you personally have, or maybe they need to deposit money from your financial aid into an account which is solely yours so that you can withdraw it to pay for textbooks. Or if you’re telling them you’ll be doing some tutoring, or if you’re getting a job, tell your parents that you need your own account because of reasons to do with the direct-deposit your employer needs to set up in order to pay you.
Yes good call! I had to verify that it was legal for me to work when I started a work study job. LW’s parents can hardly object to employment. If she’s already working, maybe they are magically reverifying stuff. Because the database of employee info had a problem or something.
“So much of this sounds like the hazards of coming out.”
I might have to do that one day too. Parents are homophobic and I’m bi.
Parents fled civil war, although I’ve heard non resident Indians tend to be more conservative than Indians so maybe it’s similar here too.
Oh, an extra layer of complicated.
Man, I love every word of the Captain’s response. Honestly the best post ever.
*nods* I wish I could print out a copy, travel back in time, and hand it to my younger self, especially the “try to assume a more adult role within your home and family” paragraph. This is golden, and it would have saved a lot of trouble and angst.
LW, arranged marriage is not a thing in my family, but helicoptering and over-protectiveness are. (So is being upset about adolescent and adult offspring developing close social ties outside the family that might weaken their ties to the family.) Sending you all the commiseration you would like, plus a hopeful anecdote.
My family was okay with me moving out for college, but wanted me to be within a day’s drive. In return, they would offer what financial help they could. In theory, this was so they could help easily in times of crisis. In practice, it meant introducing crisis to my life. It meant that sometimes, one or both parents decided they were going to come visit, showing up without notice, being angry and upset when I wasn’t willing to drop everything I had scheduled to spend time with them (“after I drove five hours just to see you!”), and being rude to the friends they felt I was unfairly “favoring” over them.
Eventually, refusing their financial help made a difference. So did moving much farther away, to a place where I deeply wanted to live. When I did that a decade ago, it became prohibitively expensive for them to show up without warning. They still express sadness that I am far away, but they survived my move and eventually adjusted. It was important to me to learn that not only would I survive doing things that they didn’t like, so would they. (I get along better with them for being farther away, though your mileage may vary.)
I wish I had had this advice twenty years ago. My little sister figured it out though (in part, I suspect, from watching all the head-on fighting I did that Did Not Work). The Impeccable Friend was super useful for her.
I really need to find this impeccable friend don’t I? My parents are very judgemental but surely there’s someone…
Yeah my parents use financial help as a reason to stay. Mum’s spent literally hundreds on my work wardrobe for example, and they were so upset by me spending so much money on my car that they randomly gifted me somewhere between a third and a half of the price I spent (it literally just turned up in my account marked from dad). They’re quite well off (even interstate visits probably won’t be prohibitively expensive though I hope so). Refusing financial help will be something I should expect to do I guess…
Once you are out of the house, financial “help” will be a puppet string. However, gifts are gifts, so don’t let them guilt you about money spent on your wardrobe, upbringing, university, transport, etc.
Oh, I feel you here, too! My mother used her financial support as a way to regulate my behavior, even down to my hair, for far too long. She eventually cut me off completely when I moved in with my now-spouse because only sluts shack up with their boyfriends and I was embarrassing the family. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me, once my credit recovered from the years of trying to survive on minimum wage. Now I am a financially independent adult, and I’m watching her exercise the same financial leverage with my brother: she provides childcare for his daughter, and constantly undermines his parenting and all the boundaries he tries to set with my niece’s behavior, and says that if my brother wants her help with childcare, this is how it gets to be. He can’t afford to tell her to get bent. I’m comforted to know that I never have to take her “help” ever again.
A small piece of practical advice: if you need a bank account and don’t have one, check to see if the banks near you have student checking account plan. As long as you have proof of enrollment, plans like this usually come with a lot of waived fees, their own attached debit and credit cards, and an easy account-opening process. I think Bank of America still has a program like this.
Good luck, LW, we’re all pulling for you. ❤
And if your parents are watching the mail and you’re worried about them knowing where you have money, LW, places like the USPS and FedEx let you rent mailboxes, as well as the school sometimes getting mail for students. Or you can stress to the bank that everything MUST be electronic and see if they can guarantee that.
I second what everyone else is saying – we’re pulling for you!
Just so you know, a good “mailbox” store will arrange things so that your address looks like the address on an apartment or business suite, something like this:
11467 MacArthur Ave, # 345
New Jack City, TX, 34221
This can be useful if you need to provide a “home” address, though there may be legal issues with lying about your home address; read all contracts carefully.
If the LW is using that as a home mailing address, that is not a lie. Unless the form specifically requires “physical address” then “home address” or “address” is understood to be either physical or mailing address. “Permanent address” for college students is also understood to be either physical or mailing address, so long as it is not an address for a temporary dwelling, such as a dorm or temporary apartment that is only kept during school terms.
A lot of places I buy from online won’t accept a PO Box address, but that’s mostly for packages. Pretty much all bill-type things can go to a PO Box: bank, water, gas, electricity, insurance, uni, etc. (I got a PO Box at uni about 6 months before i moved out, and started getting most of my mail redirected/sent there instead of to my parents’.)
@ shehasathree – Packages can be sent to other places with permission, usually just by adding c/o [Name that goes with address] as part of the address. Troutwaxer was talking about giving that address and later being accused of *lying* which doesn’t apply. If you can legally receive mail there, it is legally your address. Also, mailbox stores usually accept packages and set up your address like Troutwaxer said–basically their street address and your box number listed like it’s an apartment number.
There may also be a credit union affiliated with LW’s school/college, which would likely help with managing bank transactions on “school time” and probably has good deals/account packages for students.
Hahaha fun story. My parents set up kid accounts for my sis and me and put money in regularly. It was always linked to theirs and they could track it. When I finished high school, mum got me one of those key cards. Then I started uni, and getting paid in cash for tutoring people. A few months went by and then I started using that card to pay for little things like coffee. Cue my parents asking me why I was spending x at some cafe on campus etc. Went on for a few weeks and then I changed my account to the student account so that it would no longer appear on their online banking.
I’ve been debating getting a separate post box for a while because my parents will open my mail but a lot of my bank notices, for example, come on my email. The only thing is my 401k (because justifying why I added money or changed the investment strategy is exhausting) and that doesn’t come regularly enough to justify the cost. I do have what’s called a parcel locker though.
Not saying this to growl at you, LW, but man this raises my hackles. (At your parents.) You are an adult. They don’t get to “let” or “not let” you do anything any more, unless you’re living under their roof, and pretty much by definition, “moving out” is no longer “living under their roof”.
That said… The Captain is right on. Especially the bit about cultivating a friend you can use as an anchor post to pull away from the grip of your octopus parents. *slurp, slurp, slurp!* Getting away from the house regularly will likely help your mental state some too, especially if you’re feeling suffocated. And will give you the opportunity to cover your trips to the school counsellor’s office, which if you think you need it, I’ll definitely agree that you need it. In some sense, you’ve gotten some of what I think you need (a place to bitch about the state of your life) here, but as someone who has a long standing relationship with a therapist, I’d like to say that it’s useful to have someone to do that with on a regular basis, and who knows the details of what’s going on and can ask relevant questions.
Lastly, good luck, LW. 😀
You are an adult. They don’t get to “let” or “not let” you do anything any more, unless you’re living under their roof, and pretty much by definition, “moving out” is no longer “living under their roof”.
Winning this inner mental battle is crucial. Once you internalize this – You are an adult. They don’t get to “let” or “not let” you do anything any more – everything else will fall into place, though you still need to plan intelligently, assess risks wisely, and execute competently.
I’m going to echo Solecism here. You can’t convince your parents. Helicopter parents will hover, and tiger parents will roar, and whatever else. My advice?
Run. Stay low until you have the money and arrangements. You go to lots of clubs/etc., use that time away from them to set up your going to college or whatever else you want to do, without their permission. They know *where* you are, but not *what* you’re doing. Yes, going behind their collective back sucks so much, but they won’t give you permission to live the life you want. They want to set you up with a guy and have you make babies and never leave the house until then. This may be culturally accepted by some, but it isn’t what *you* want, from what your letter says. You might have to make an awkward run for it at 1 AM even. I’ve seen people do this. You might have to leave pets or some belongings, especially furniture. Still, the adult independent life is worth it.
Your parents will probably be furious, at least at first. They may decide you aren’t worth being theirs. That’s their decision, and frankly, it’s a cruel one. But, keep close friends around you. If they just whine and sob but don’t do anything drastic, really, *they’ll get over it.* As a chronic parent-pleaser, it killed me to see my parents thinking that because I was bisexual I had lost a chunk of their approval permanently, but…well, they learned to deal and so did I. They need to accept you as an adult, and that process hurts, but so do most important things in life to some extent.
Also, hey. “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.” That sounds like you already have your shit together like ten thousand times as much as I did when I left home. I think a lot of college-aged folks haven’t gotten to this point. You’re going to kick ass at adulthood. 🙂
This reminds me a lot of what it’s like to leave a physically abusive relationship where you’re cohabitating. Your own bank account is essential, because your parents will steal your money if that’s how they can control you.
If you decide you need to escape in the middle of the night, take what you need (most importantly your ID documents). Anything that you can afford to rebuy, leave. Don’t give your parents your new address. Tell them you’re safe, but don’t tell them where you are. If you have a cellphone, keep it off when you’re in your safe space (maybe buy a new cellphone + plan with a different carrier).
You’re parents may be dangerous if you decide to vanish like this. I saw a friend dragged out of my house by his father once. Don’t let them know where you are for a long time.
Also, hey. “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.” That sounds like you already have your shit together
And so very much echoing the “you can’t convince your parents”. I know that what you probably want, LW, so much, is to find the magical phrase or dance or potion or whatever that will make your parents wake up, realize you’re an intelligent competent adult who can look after herself, and that you need to go and find your own life and happiness.
And, well, anything is possible. But we’re talking possible on the level of “tomorrow you will wake up and discover your entire life has been a few episodes of the Truman Show” or “and tomorrow we will be struck by a stealth!comet that had a cloaking device on so we never saw it coming.” It’s possible . . . but it’s not likely, and it’s a really bad idea to try to make it happen, because it involves something over which you have no control: how other people feel and how other people act.
We always, always want people we love but who are doing things that are toxic to us to have that sudden moment of revelation and understanding that turns them into the better version of themselves, the version that doesn’t poison us or hurt us or confine us. They’re not going to; that’s not really how people work.
But you will be a legal adult. (Actually, you already are, but at twenty-two you REALLY will be.) You will be twenty-two years old: there is absolutely no legal power they will have you anymore. Now emotional ties are really really powerful, but I stress that just because at the end of the day, if you said “I’m leaving” and walked out the door, there’s no legal way for them to force you back. And that knowledge is important and powerful.
The advice up there is really good (especially about important ID documents, seriously: I know it probably feels paranoid and even disloyal, but here’s the thing: if it is paranoid, then your parents won’t even notice or question, and if it’s not, that just makes it that much more important that you have those important pieces of paper somewhere else; you can overcome the difficulties of not being able to get them, but it’s a huge, huge pain in the ass and stress and nobody deserves to go through that). And I wish you all the best.
Just remember: the right to do all of this is already yours. Enforcing it might be full of work and stress, but you already possess it.
Even if you can’t keep the original, a certified copy of your birth certificate is good enough for many purposes, and is one of the things that you don’t have to have lost the original in order to get.
Generally agreed, but one practical document/issue that hasn’t been mentioned is the car. Is it in your name? Do you have the pink slip? Is the car parked where you can get to it late at night or if you need to leave in a hurry? Finding a good reason to leave it on the street might be a useful thing here. (Is there a shady tree nearby? Does someone need late-night access to the driveway?) If the car is not in your name, do not take it when you leave.
If you can do so, you might also get a safe deposit box at a bank where you can keep a second set of personal papers – birth certificate, social security card, etc. Note that you probably need a birth certificate to get a social security card. As noted above, no mail should go to your home.
Another thing which hasn’t been mentioned in my reading so far is your computer files. Make sure you have backups which are kept off site. This might be on CD/DVD that you regularly update and keep in your safe deposit box, or possibly a small hard drive on a usb cable… if you’re not technical, find someone who is technical and get their advice on this. Your movies or music isn’t nearly as important as documents and photographs. Don’t back this data up “in the cloud” as someone who knows your/your family’s computer might be able to erase those documents.
Do not under any circumstances allow your family to take you out of the country right now.
I should probably add one more thing here, and that is to take full advantage of your computer’s ability to create and destroy users. I don’t know what OS you’re using so I can’t give you specific advice, but you should be able to create a new user, log into your computer as that user, do online research, then destroy that user and all their files. Once you learn how it is very easy. Also, you should only do online research on this problem when you’re not at home.
Thanks for all that advice!
My parents ask me for technical advice and aren’t terribly computer literate, but yes I have my own laptop and password protected user. I don’t think they’re capable of getting in and investigating. I’m very territorial about my technical too.
The car is in my name, although my dad is on the insurance policy. I’d ask about the consequences of that but I don’t live in the USA
If you are not in the US, some of the social/legal advice you’re receiving probably need minor re-evaluation, as it is US-Centric.
If you’re in Australia like me, the thing to do is ring up the insurance company, get to their help desk, and ask them. Tell them you’re going to be moving some time in the next few years, and you’d like to make sure that you’ve got everything set up to go smoothly. Ask them what their process is for switching the names on the insurance, and if they’re ok with post office box addresses for mailing things (you’ll keep them updated with where the car is garaged), because you may have to move again for work. Trust me, they understand, and they’d rather you ask than not know what to do.
Get in the habit of locking/logging out of any devices that you have personal information on, or that have active logins to accounts, or even account names that they don’t know about. Even if say a Twitter account is locked down, searching for mentions of that name can reveal friends who might accidentally leak information about you.
(I have a wealth of non-parental horror stories about things which have happened to unlocked devices around me, any of which you are free to attribute to someone you overheard around campus to justify the habit if it’s new. Of course you wouldn’t need to do it at hoooome because you truuuuuuuuuust your family but with all the weeeeeeeeirdoes out there, it’s safest to be in the haaaaaaaaabit you know…
There was the time my roommate’s boyfriend left creepy files in the depths of my file system, it was mostly just weird text files but there were some pictures and just ew no. There was the time my ex-boyfriend saw that I’d been talking to his new girlfriend and read through my journal and then hacked into her journal and it upset her very much and it freaked me out and I refused to acknowledge his presence after that and he was so super hurt and all our mutual friends felt like they had to choose sides. My smartphone kept pocket-dialing a co-worker who got super mad about it, because my phone was unlocked and there was something metal in my pocket. My co-workers had a habit of putting really obnoxious wallpaper on each other’s computers when they’re left unlocked. One time I pranked co-workers by making it look like an important program crashed and the IT guy freaked out so hard when he saw it, and Derek got in trouble because the IT guy asked him if he had done it and he said no but he looked super guilty so the IT guy thought he had done it but he really hadn’t. Nobody ever actually sent bogus email from my account because I was always careful to lock up when leaving the computer. One of the girls who always gets picked on left her laptop in class and it was locked and when she got back to her desk there was one failed login attempt and nobody would tell her who had been trying to break into the computer or what they’d been trying to do. I had my phone pickpocketed and who knows what the stranger could have found on it, and I’m lucky I didn’t get my identity stolen!)
Speaking of OS’ – Most people don’t know how to operate a Linux system, so it might be worth it looking into setting up a dual boot on LW’s personal computer/laptop.
Knowing your way around Linux is a good skill to have anyway, and it could be explained that way if questioned.
You’re doing so many things right. Now the important groundwork is in your own head. You have to get to that place where your parents’ opinions don’t matter. You already know they don’t want you to move out, but THEIR OPINIONS DON’T MATTER. Go over everything they’ve said on this subject. Either recite it in your mind or write it down. After each of their objections, think about their thoughts, and go over how THEY DON’T MATTER. One of the voices in your head might be how they were right about some other things. Terrific, but they’re not right about your moving out because THEIR OPINIONS DON’T MATTER. Another voice will be about how they only want what’s best for you. That’s true; they do want what’s best, but they’re not going about it in the right way, and besides THEIR OPINIONS DON’T MATTER. Really, the only thing they have in their arsenal is their opinions. You have your own money and your own skills. You have what you need to make it on your own. They can do a whole song and dance about how they’ll withdraw their love, and if they did that, rest assured that they’d be the losers in that battle. You’ll probably never have to say it, but practice saying in your mind “What a shame. I’ll always love you, and now I’m going home to my own apartment.” –Then wait, they’ll come around because parents always (okay, almost always) do when they realize who’s losing. Be prepared for them to decide they’re coming with you. Just say no, and have only one key made (that you never lend them lest they get copies). I don’t know if this will help, but know that yours is not entirely a cultural problem. It’s easy to imagine that everyone who does not come from a South Asian background moves out seamlessly with parents who help them along the road to independence. Not so. The problem may be more common for women, but plenty of men have it too.
Lovely and clear.
I think sometimes it can be useful to characterise it as their opinions can *matter*, but that doesn’t meant they have to stop you. I don’t know where the LW is on the spectrum of thinking her parents’ opinions are wrong and can be disregarded, versus respecting and loving her parents and wanting their approval and agreement. If she’s in the latter group, then the idea that her parents opinions don’t matter may be very difficult to work with. The idea that they can matter, and that you can not act in accordance and grieve for the gap between what they want and what you want, but that that gap can exist and that you can live with it, can be very important.
(My own experience of this was coming out to my parents as queer. I could never have said that my mum’s opinion didn’t matter: it did, enormously. But not enough for me to choose not to be with someone I loved. And I also had a lot of faith that even if my mum didn’t deal with it well in the first instance, she would get over it and be happy when she saw that I was happy. I hope the same is true for your parents, LW. And good luck!)
This is very well put. As much as I would *like* my parents’ opinions on many things to not-matter to me (because those opinions are ignorant, unhelpful, expressed in particularly hurtful ways, etc), on some level they *do*. Intellectually, they don’t matter to me. I know whose opinions matter to me, and they are the opinions of people who understand and respect me and my life. But emotionally…. not so easy as just declaring that they don’t matter.
And that’s okay, because I am learning how to do things that my parents disapprove of *despite their opinions*.
I would love to someday get to a place where I don’t even think about what my parents would think, but in the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I need to do and sometimes being sad that they don’t approve and feel the need to constantly express how much they don’t approve, and keep doing what I need to do. I suspect that with practice and time their opinions will come to feel like they matter less.
+1, love this, particularly about how that gap can exist and you can live with it but it’s also ok to grieve for it.
Ah, that speech of Ekaterin’s was the very first thing I thought of. I sympathize, LW. It takes a very long time to internalize that, while you may owe your parents SOME things, you don’t owe them ALL things.
Another good Bujold quote for this: “You don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.”
I know people who’ve been bound to their parents by what their parents thought was “owed” to them. But when you have children (and I know this from both sides now) they don’t “owe” you for their existence. You owe it to them to create complete and self-sufficient human beings.
So much this. I’d be horrified if someone told me that my daughter ‘owed’ me for trying to be a decent parent to her. I owe it to HER, not the other way around. If she choses to have children, she can owe it to THEM. It’s a debt that flows only one way.
I had the fascinating experience of watching a younger friend go from wanting his father to respect him as an adult to requiring it. As one might expect, he didn’t get it until he’d made that transition.
Hoo, LW. Are you my mom?
My mother’s mother was mad my mom married my dad for being an Irish Catholic in the USAF and not a Polish Catholic in the 3M plant. Grandma never cared for my dad much, and tried to express her dislike by withdrawing from my mom.
My mom’s father insisted his girls be educated. But he didn’t really understand what education could provide, and kept on mom to get a teaching license while she was finishing her PhD.
They both loved their girls in the best way they could, and the best way they knew how given their own experiences.
My mom, who like you was accomplished and obedient and had aspirations beyond what her family could imagine went to grad school out of state with the support of her academic advisor. She moved overseas with my dad, and they requested a second tour of duty so as to stay out family shenanigans. Her career was what it should have been, and her life is awesome and she is a good mom. My dad both supported my mother’s independence, and supported her relationship with her parents and sisters. He respects family and loves it, but does not sacrifice everything to it, and it makes being the best sil he can be a loving service and not a chore.
Mom’s relationship with her mom would be fraught at times. But they loved each other, supported each other, and were good to each other. What she lost in aiming to please her mom always (which was impossible anyway) she gained in respecting the choices she did make to please her mom. She has lived an amazing life, forged lots of great relationships, been a terrific parent, and is awesome.
The person who lost out, in so far as anyone did, was my Grandmother. And for her even it wasn’t the end of the world, however many snit fits she threw.
LW, you are brave and capable and you can do this. All the women who have done this separation before are behind you now.
“He respects family and loves it, but does not sacrifice everything to it, and it makes being the best sil he can be a loving service and not a chore.”
I love this!!
Your mom sounds a lot like my own maternal grandmother. Now, I didn’t always get along with Grandma or fit her bill of what a good granddaughter was, but she was a grade A badass for her time. (The 1940s.) Great-grandma was dead-set against Grandma going to college. Great-grandma had plans for Grandma, you see, and those plans included a lifetime of taking care of Great-Grandma, cooking and cleaning and cutting Great-Grandma’s toenails. Grandma wouldn’t have time for silliness like a job, a marriage, children or a life of her own. And if a wealthy relative hadn’t stepped in an offered to pay for Grandma’s tuition to a teaching college, that’s probably how her life would have turned out.
Great-Grandma threw all kinds of road blocks in Grandma’s way, including little things like saying, “Well, she can’t go because she doesn’t have the wardrobe for it.” (Which was apparently a pretty big deal back then.) And refusing to let Grandma take any sort of bedding or towels from the house with her to the dorms. Grandma, at this point, was willing to do anything, so she applied for a job at a local department store to pay for the things she needed at school.
And she got excellent grades at college, despite the distractions of a job, enough to graduate early with her teaching degree. Despite the fact that Great-Grandma would frequently call to say she wasn’t doing well, and Grandma should stop this non-sense and come home. Despite the guilt-trips and distractions in Great-Grandma’s letters.
Grandma met a nice boy while she was in school, who Great-Grandma hated and forbid her to date. Grandma not only dated him, but eloped with him after she’d graduated and gotten a teaching job. And for two weeks after the wedding, Grandma snuck her clothes and belongings out of the house, a little bit at a time, and moved them to the apartment my Grandpa rented until she was completely moved out. Then she told Great-Grandma, “I married (Grandpa) two weeks ago. I’ll be living at X Address. Come visit if you can be civil to him. If not, I’ll write to you when I can. I love you but have to have a life of my own.” and then she walked out and lived with as my Grandpa’s wife. Great-Grandma didn’t speak to her for a while, but eventually learned to be reasonably civil to my Grandpa. She was a teacher, a mother, a wife, and had a long life of her own. (And frequently visited wealthy relative, who had basically saved her life.)
I tell you this family legend because I think Grandma handled this as firmly, but kindly, as possible. She cut all of the strings that gave Great-Grandma control over her (supplying her own clothes and bedding). She was willing to brave Great-Grandma’s disapproval. She didn’t let Great-Grandma’s manufactured dramas drag her back home. When she met someone she liked, SHE determined whether she would continue to see him. She also didn’t feel the need to give Great-Grandma opportunities to stop her with the “honesty” trap. Yes, it would have been nice if she had told her mother she was getting married and moving out, but she also recognized that Great-Grandma would do everything she could to stop her. Personal integrity was outweighed by the importance escaping an unhealthy family dynamic. Grandma loved her mother, but she didn’t let Great-Grandma’s need to control her take priority over Grandma’s happiness.
If you have the money for it, a storage unit can be a practical way to start sneaking things out. Rent the storage unit, move a little at a time until all the important things are there, and then announce the move.
Fellow survivor of TigerCopter parents here. I was given a slightly larger acceptable radius to roam by my parents when I was your age (allowed to go to college within a two-hour drive), but I remember, as graduation was looming, that my parents had my whole life planned out for me. I was going to move back home, pay rent, go to graduate school and work part time as a teacher until I could get my masters’ and become a professor, and then go out occasionally on arranged meet-and-greets with the nephews/sons/cousins of their acquaintance who were of Appropriate Ethnic Background.
Except I didn’t. I didn’t want any part of that plan. Not one bit.
After graduation, I talked three friends into coming with me on a cross-country road trip. Now, two of these three friends were Impeccable Friends (my parents loved them), and then I had a third Wonderful Friend (who is now my best friend) who lived in the city where I wanted to settle, 3,000 miles away, and she and her parents were kind enough to give me a place to stay for a couple weeks in Desired City, until I found my own apartment.
Here were a few things that helped me:
1. Fake it till you make it. One of my road trip friends said, “you’re going to need to come up with a plan that sounds rock solid – even if it’s nonexistent right now – and you’re going to have to repeat that plan, over and over, to your parents until the moment we pull out of the driveway. And then you can do what you want, and take your time figuring things out until your actual plans fall into place.”
2. Be proactive about letting your parents know that you’re safe. When I stayed with my friend and her parents, my folks felt like I was being supervised. I wasn’t, really – but they felt that way because there were Adults in Charge. My parents couldn’t control anything because those adults – and I – were 3,000 miles away, but I imagine it helped them sleep better at night.
3. I introduced my parents to a friend’s overprotective parents who lived nearby. This friend was 2 years older and had moved out of the nest earlier, and my mom could call his mom to commiserate. This became especially helpful when Older Friend and I moved into a shared house in our Desired Faraway City.
4. I cannot overstate the importance of getting a secret, part-time job. I called it my ‘economics class’ and it was what enabled me to save up the money for rent and survival before I moved out.
I’m not going to say that my parents ever supported me in this endeavor. They threatened to come out and forcibly bring me home, but by that time I was well over the age of consent and it would’ve been kidnapping. But you know what? 20 years later, they still don’t really support anything I do, they still think every decision I make is a huge mistake, and I’ve come to realize that they prize being ‘right’ over being close. We have an OK relationship in spite of this. But really, you’re never going to have their 100% approval unless you let them choose the exact life they want for you. Since you don’t want that, you might as well enjoy making your own choices.
Good luck, LW. It is your life. It is totally worth the effort of fighting for what you want to do with your life.
“Economics class”! I love this.
Dear letter writer, I too have helicopter/tiger hybrid parents. I. . .did not handle it well. I secretly interviewed for and landed a job in Japan, and had my friends pack a van with my belongings in the middle of the night and take me to the airport. I then didn’t contact any of my family members for a year. In hindsight, it was horribly unkind to my parents, who didn’t know if I was well, or even alive, but at the time, I felt strangled, and like it was the only way to get oxygen. I don’t at all regret the time I spent in Japan, but I do wish I had had the ability to be more open with my parents.
My sister, four years younger than me, did almost exactly what Captain Awkward recommended. My sister is going to be a politician one day, I’m sure of it, but meanwhile, she has happily gone to college and grad school far away, married a boy of her choice (a gora even!), and seems happy. And she has a better relationship with our parents than I do
Also, I wonder if your parents are insisting that all the helicoptering/tigering are cultural values? Mine did, blah blah our culture is superior to white Americans, look at this white tr—, we value family but these white people don’t care about their children blah blah BLAH blah blah. Ugh. But my cousins, both girls, had a very different upbringing than my sisters and I. The older cousin went to college on the other side of the Atlantic with my aunt and uncle’s blessing and encouragement. She didn’t get married until her thirties, and when she did she made a love match. My other cousin went to an out of state college. After working a year or two she decided she wanted the family to arrange a marriage for her, so that’s what happened, but it was very much her choice. Same culture. Same family even, but very different experiences. My parents’ helicoptering was entirely down to their own anxieties and control issues, and not “cultural” at all.
So yeah, LW, you don’t say what your context is, whether you born in the US or immigrated here, and how much south Asian community you have, so all this might be missing the mark. But your situation sounds very similar to mine, and I hope this helps a little bit.
It is hard even for normal non helicopter parents to see their children as adults. My parents were like, the opposite of helicopter. (When I was looking for schools they drew a circle and I was allowed to go anywhere OUTSIDE that circle. And when I started school 600 miles a way I had to make a point to call them and ask them to call me occasionally.)
But even with that, they still have a hard time trusting me to be a grown up. I was out of school for 5 years, owned my own home, and when I bought a lawn mower my father warned me not to stick my hand in the rotating blades. (Dead serious.)
I have to say, having my sister on my “Team” has been so so important. She recently made a big move, and even though I didn’t agree with her choice, me respecting her autonomy and having her back against our parents was SO important. And it’s also important as your parent’s age to try to build those bridges and be Team Kids which eventually becomes Team Taking Care of Mom and Dad.
Parent’s don’t know everything, and sometimes, the things that feel comfortable and safe for them are not necessarily the things that are best for you. Just like sometimes the things that made you happy weren’t the best thing for you, like ice cream for dinner, letting them run your life isn’t the best thing for you or for them.
I think all of the Captain’s advice is great, but I would add one other suggestion. The reason my parents could live without me is because they never stopped having lives without me. They left me home alone 1-3 nights a week growing up, while they were out doing adult things. They have lives, friends, work, interests. Even though my Mom is now severely disabled she has a pretty solid social calendar and that means I only get lonely phone calls about once every few months.
Do your parents have hobbies? Besides being your parent? Are their organizations you could encourage them to join? Craft circles? Book club? Ballroom Dancing? Maybe something like “Impecable Friend’s mom joined this book club/volunteer group, etc” Or maybe you can try to take them to a few different activities as a family, and then phase out your attendance?
As they adjust to your schedule involving a lot more time out of the house, maybe it would help for them to have their OWN schedule involving time out of the house.
The other thing I would tell you is to remember to be patient with yourself as well. “Adulting” is hard, and there are a lot of things that you have to learn and get used to dealing with. So WHEN you move out and live on your own, realize, that sometimes you’re going to fuck up. Sometimes it will be something little like, I literally never remember to get meat out of the freezer so I can cook. Other times it might be something bigger, like that time my moving truck got towed with ALL MY WORDLY POSSESSIONS IN IT.
Part of growing up is learning, and some learning can only be done by experience. So you ARE going to fail at being the perfect adult. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of doing it. It means you are learning how to do it. And part of learning anything is failing sometimes, especially when it it is something hard.
So PLEASE even if you have problems once you have started being independent, don’t let your parents convince you that this is proof you can’t do it. And don’t listen to any voices in your head that tell you that either. You can totally do this, you’ll learn from it, you’ll pick yourself up, get help if you need it and you’ll figure it out. Because you are an independent capable person who can handle it.
I wish you all the best of luck!
Yes, even normal parents have trouble seeing their children as adults. I moved out for good in the late 1980’s and have been adulting since then (with mistakes and recoveries). My dad sometimes calls me up when he sees snow is forecast for our area to make sure I am warmly dressed and wearing my boots. He gets the non-answer, “Thanks for thinking of me, dad.”
And now I am prepping to let mine go; it’s coming soon and I am scared.
Thank you for saying what I wanted to say.
To be clear: Thank you for saying what I wanted to say, but was having trouble putting into words.
😀 No problem. One of my cousins is having this problem now. She was so… coddled? growing up, and now she’s trying to adult and it’s just overwhelming for her. It make me angry on her behalf.
Another way to gain free time with minimal pushback from your parents is to de-optimize your class schedule. If you do your own registration without your parents standing over you, you can select a course schedule for future semesters that has gaps between classes that are long enough to run errands but not long enough to come home. (For schools in the US, this is particularly true on Tuesday/Thursday classes, which run for 90 minutes.) And for blocks they argue are long enough for you to come home? “There’s an on-campus study group I want to attend during that time.”
This has been echoed before, but I want to say it myself.
Your parents can’t actually force you to do anything. They can’t actually stop you from doing anything either.
It’s hard. I’ve been there. I’ve been financially independent since 18 and it was haaaard. Frankly, I think you’ll be a lot better at it than I was. But financial independence brings this sense of glorious freedom and no matter how difficult my life may have been, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
When I came back on leave from the Army, my parents treated me differently. They weren’t helicopters but it’s hard for all parents to acknowledge that their kids are adults. At that point, I’d come home from a warzone and I hadn’t needed my parents for anything in three years. I didn’t have to run my life goals by them–if I did, it was by choice and I could ignore things that didn’t work for me. I dated whoever I want. I didn’t justify my spending. My parents had no power to modify my behavior. What could they do? Now that I’m in college, I spend a lot of time ignoring my dad (he got a tech degree so he doesn’t quite get how college has changed since my mom went to school). I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.
You’re afraid of a lot of outcomes, and I respect that fear. But I can tell you that there’s ways around it. For one, you’re not required to tell your parents about your future if you know they’ll try to sabotage it. If your family threatens to move to where you are, you don’t have to tell them where you live. If you move to a big city, it’ll be pretty damn hard for them to find you if you don’t tell them your address (although you should definitely make sure your address and number are unlisted).
Your family might turn on you. I can’t promise they won’t, although what the Captain suggests will help. But life is long and there’s plenty of time for reconciliation. As selfish as it may be, is it worth it to you to maintain ties to a family that doesn’t really care what you think? Is that worth sacrificing your hopes and dreams? It’s up to you to decide–there’s no good answers here.
Right now, you need to dig yourself a safe, quiet space. I can’t emphasize this enough. I think your family is overbearing and controlling because they know, deep down, that if they give you time to think, you might run off. And they would be right. Do anything you need to do to get that space. I hereby give you permission to lie to your parents to make that space for yourself. Tell them you’re in band practice/tutoring/being a TA/anything you need to and just… don’t do any of that. Find a coffee shop where no one in your family goes and do something that makes you happy. Go to a friend’s house. Exercise. Anything. Right now you don’t have anything, not even space in your head, that really belongs to you and you NEED it in ways you won’t see until you get it. I promise it’ll help.
Good luck, LW. I believe in you.
One of the things I’ve found in the past that’s an easy logical fallacy and a horrible trap is that… movies lie. There is no magical moment where you craft the perfect speech and present irrefutable evidence and emotionally evocative music plays and your parents go “You… you were right. You were right this whole time.”
It’s a normal fantasy, and it’s utterly normal to want it, but it’s just as much a fantasy as magical wardrobes and it’s best to squash that fantasy down hard.
Because otherwise you will go through life feeling like it’s your fault that you couldn’t find the ‘right’ way to convince them that you’re an adult and you’re human and you deserve to be treated with basic human decency.
There are tactics to use to try and get around this problem, and ways to minimize the hurt, but at the end of the day it is 100% on your parents how they chose to treat you. They’re the ones making the decision on it, and you can’t change that.
But even with all that, allow yourself to grieve for your mental perfect relationship. The one you craft where the good interactions you get when you twist yourself into knots to be perfect are in fact unconditional. It’s ok for it to hurt like anything when you can’t get that. And one thing you may get when looking out for others to support, be aware they may be very, very angry at their own parents. There may be times when you listen to them unloading rage and you’ll feel the desire to defend your own relationship with your parents and how when your parents do those things you can’t get mad because they love you. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong to want to be a human being, and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It’s just different ways of dealing with it. You may find yourself getting angry about things someday, you may not. On the flip side, your support network doesn’t know inside your head either and if you say you’re angry about something… redirecting it to constructive non-harmful things is fine, invalidating it because “faaaaaaaaambly! They luuuuurve you. They’re *Doing Invasive Hurtful Thing* because they’re trying to protect you and so you’re not allowed to be angry because it’s not as bad as *Hurtful Invasive Thing* that happened to someone else” is toxic and you should drop that.
If you weren’t born here, make sure you have the number on your greencard or certifícate of citizenship. Obama not withstanding, birth certificates aren’t so important. Your entry documents into the United States are or the paperwork that got you a green card are. They all have NUMBERS. Write them down and put them in an offsite place. The problem with trying to get possession now is that you have two years to go and your parents might destroy them. Numbers are everything. Re the issues of kidnapping, my sister had a friend that was kidnapped by her parents over a boyfriend. It was in 1963 but they were good ole American farmers. I cannot stress enough that this is not really culteral. People immigrate here because they want to be free. So they at least understand the concept. For themselves.
Hooo boy LW, do I feel you. I had a tigercopter parent and no siblings (jealous of y’all, having a friend to back you up!) but here are some things that really worked:
1. Do all the extra-curriculars you can manage. Do everything you can do to be outside the house, surrounded with people who validate a healthy “normal”.
2. De-optimized class schedules like Courtney mentioned are key. I’ve currently managed to fit therapy sessions, a paid TA position, and some social groups into the breaks in mine, but back before I managed to set some boundaries it was helpful to make sure I had classes at the day-end and the first-morning time slots so kidnappings couldn’t happen (no, I can’t come home and stay the night today, I have class! Showing up unexpectedly and expecting me to drop all my non-school commitments isn’t going to change that!)
3. Impeccable friend is super important. And make sure you preserve Impeccable friend’s “reputation”. It can be super tempting, when your parent says something anti-feminist/homophobic/classist to scream out “Impeccable friend is a feminist/bisexual/poor and you still LOVE THEM” to get them to shut up, but that’s both outing them without consent which is a little skivvy and also it will diminish their ability to be useful as a savior.
4. Control your personal documents. Some schools require lots of id to do certain things: how about “doing” that thing and bringing all your necessary ID documents to school with you and then just leaving them in your locker (which is actually a secure off-site storage place of your choosing) and “forgetting” to give them back to your parents.
5. Control your money. Make sure the bank knows that they do not have consent to talk about that account with anyone other then you.
LW, this isn’t fair and it isn’t right and I want you to know you are so, so brave to have preserved enough of your sense of self to recognize you want out. We love you.
Hi LW! If you can bake a cheesecake, you can definitely do this. I’ve got a few practical tips for you.
1.) Get your documents and put them in a safe place your parents don’t have access to. If you can’t get them, getting copies isn’t hard, but it’s time consuming. check now as to what you’ll need to get a new birth certificate, SSN, etc. Don’t forget your car’s title/paperwork, etc.
2.) Make your own bank account without your parents on it. This is vital. And don’t make your security question answers that they’d know. The best bet is to use random words–that is things your parents won’t know and hackers can’t guess from a background check.
3.) Expect an extinction burst. Once they’re aware of your plan to get away, their shit will intensify. (Reasonable people don’t do this. REasonable people are all “Oh, you’re moving? Let us know if you want help tossing boxes around.”)
4.) If their shit gets too intolerable or abusive, have a bug-out bag with papers and vital things you need. You can always come back for the rest or replace it. Yourself? Not so much.
5.) Get yourself a burner cell phone. A cell they’ve had access to you can assume is being tracked.
6.) Have they had access to your computers? might be a good time for a wipe and reinstall.
Absolutely right Jen. “2.) Make your own bank account without your parents on it. This is vital.” Our lads (now young adults) had a bank account co-joint with their Mum from early childhood. All their birthday and Christmas money was going into it. We found out at age 18 when they wanted their own money for University and other things that she had been using it for herself. Essentially she had robbed her own children of their birthday money. We set them up with new accounts in their names only at that point, but they are SO ANGRY with their Mum it really exploded their relationship with her.
This happens all the time with parents like these. My dad cleaned out an account of mine under the guise of opening it elsewhere. (I had a nice savings account. It was cleaned out, and I was told there was “nothing left” in it to move. I know it was a lie. This was before the days of electronic bank records, and I was sub-16.)
I know parents like ours will scream about emergencies, but should something happen to me, that’s what a probate court is for.
Wow. That makes me sad, and angry for your boys.
I can see that messing some people up – like this whole ideal of doggedly and conservatively saving money becomes nixed and betrayed because “why bother if someone I’m supposed to trust is going to take it away from me anyway?!” and this whole distrust of having money as security goes KABOOM.
My boyfriend didn’t have THAT happen to him but he developed that notion after his parents repeatedly gave him birthday money and then asked for a “loan” (except loans are REPAID right?) days or a short time after….
It can mess people up even if it *IS* a valid emergency and the parent pays the money back as soon as possible. (This happened to an ex of mine when he was a kid, and he always had issues around saving money after that.
Damn! I guess I appreciate how my parents, in terms of money, were actually very stable and reliable (in not screwing me over).
Things to keep in mind when I’m a parent!
Yup. I recently found out my father has been forging checks out of my account (using his access to my mom’s online banking to check the balance) for the past three years, relying on the fact that I spend very little and that he had me convinced I was too stupid to do my own accounting. Turns out I should have had over $17k in that account.
Parents, do not ever do this if you want to have a positive relationship with your child. If he had just asked me for money, I would have lent it to him. Now I can’t trust him, and our relationship will never be the same.
I will never again let a “family relationship” stop me from turning a thief over to the cops. It’s never just one of them — its always a clan thing. The older gen steals from the younger, and the young steal from the aged. And it stops ONLY when you call the cops and cut the entire clan out of your life.
I’m coming to that realization. My brother has been stealing from just about everyone in the family since a shockingly young age – from intentionally wrecking his cellphone so parents would buy him a new model, to straight up helping himself to cash and valuables. I’m starting to realize how he picked up the habit.
I’m kind of between a rock and a hard place because that money he was stealing was the money I was saving up to move out. Right now I’m starting saving again from square one, plus now I have some credit card debt and I owe money to my boyfriend, both the result of dear dad’s thieving overdrawing my account.
Anonymous: What oregonbird says. You CAN file a police report. If you do, you may be able to recover some of that money from your bank, even. Please, please, protect yourself, but if you can safely do so, filing a report with the cops would help you.
“have a bug-out bag with papers and vital things you need”
Yes! Also, if you have good friends who have the storage space available or a place at school (gym locker?), you can start shifting some items there over a period of time with no one noticing. Essentially build your bug-out bag a few items a time by carrying a small items in your normal bag.
I just seem to be full of advise today. For even a savings account, you might need a credit card. This was ten years ago but I got my 18 year old son his own account with my Old Navy account. I had gotten an extra card with his name on it. Email statements is a good idea but if you’re using your parent’s computer, I would suggest picking your statements up at the Bank. (Yes, you can do this.) And mail? Maybe the university, but there is also General Delivery at the Post Office and at a food bank. Your parents already know you want to fly the coop. You just need to stay focused on school and becoming who you are. And keep this in mind: They wouldn’t be living here if things had been so wonderful in their own culture. They flew the coop.
I don’t disagree with any of the practical advice here, and I very much feel for the LW who wants to do right by her family and herself. It’s rough to be caught between one culture at home and one culture outside of home (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid)–in some ways, I think not being told by the outside/pop culture that you should expect something different would make things easier.
I don’t think it’s necessarily true that “that’s our culture” is always just an excuse. There are abusive families out there, but there are also families who only think of their own way as the right way and based at least on LW’s academic success so far, they haven’t been proven wrong. I think something that’s important to realize is that a lot of immigrant parents are very much driven by fear. They want better for their kids than they ever had themselves, and they got themselves to this point believing in the values that they believe, so it’s very, very difficult to convince them that other methods can also bring about success, or that success should be defined differently, since they’ve worked so hard to get where they are now and being controlling is the way that’s worked for them.
The Asian cultures I’m familiar with often have different goals for parenting–(for example) white American culture believes so heavily that parenting is about helping an individual find personal happiness that it forgets this is a cultural value, while Asian cultures (particularly immigrants) feel parenting is about making sure the kid can take care of themselves and will continue the family line, the life isn’t about making the individual happy. (yes, there are plenty of people who focus on the jockeying for status and being able to brag about their kids as a proxy for bragging about themselves…but you see this everywhere, like the prestige from people working for non-profits or in academia).
My ultimate point is that once all the logistics are set up, if preserving a long-term relationship is something the LW still wants, then communicating compassionately with her parents and expressing her understanding that they do what they do out of love, that would go a long way, I think. And providing them with information about how she is taking care of herself and will be ok if something happened to them, that helps too. Otherwise they will only think that they’ve failed in preventing their daughter from succumbing to bad influences and forever hope she’ll wake up from that, instead of of having some chance that the parents will see that she perfectly understand their positions/values/viewpoints and yet still disagrees with them. I highly recommend reading some books like “Having Difficult Conversations” that help you learn how to make other people feel heard while capitulating to agree with them.
Thanks for this perspective!
I think maybe some of that fear is also not wanting to have their kid go through an immigration-like process, even if they’re not actually moving countries — just far(ther) away. Because moving some place new, where you have to find or build a community*, possibly learn a new language, figure out how to assimilate and how to hold onto your heritage, etc is a very scary and lonely thing. Why move away — go through what they went through — when they have already laid the groundwork here.
*which, possibly I’m projecting here, is where my mind goes when I read this: “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.” I mean, I get that if this is taken too far, it’s controlling (and not something I would be ok with), but to me, it is also an expression of love/wanting their kid to be safe & secure with people who are familiar — having people around who share your culture/values/language is probably appealing to him (as well as his daughter not rooming w/ boys).
My grandparents always ask, “Aren’t you lonely?” because I live alone. It’s not in their worldview to not want family around all the time (my dad was not expected to move out of his parents’ house, even after marriage. my grandfather didn’t talk to his youngest daughter for like a year after she moved out before getting married (I think she was in her 20s at the time. But it just wasn’t/isn’t done. She did it anyway)). And if I make new friends, they want to know if they’re Asian, and then specifically, ‘our type’ of Asian. Not that they mind if I’m friends with other people, I think they’re mainly looking for that connection and recognition, especially as they feel like their children and grandchildren are getting further away; not just in terms of distance, but also language and culture (they were immigrants too and the ability of me and my cousins to speak their language, much less hold the same rituals and customs, goes down every year, it seems). IDK if this is the same for LW’s family. I didn’t recognize this when I was younger — it just felt stifling at the time (and I don’t like being around it a lot even now) — but, with some distance, I understand where they’re coming from better.
/says an asian person who moved to a different country from her own immigrant parents. but they were not quite helicopter parents and didn’t really succeed at being tiger parents either — they tried, because it was the parenting model handed down to them, but eventually/mostly gave up. I don’t have an scripts handy, but I agree that being financially independent certainly helps break ties because you don’t HAVE to abide by their rules if you are able to move out on your own. It’s also harder being the first one to assert independence/do things differently.
This is so fascinating to read, because for me, I read “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” and my mind immediately went to “because our religious community in the US is so small, and even in another town in another state, there’s a good chance I know someone who goes to the same mosque as girls my daughter’s age, and I can use that to spy on my daughter/have my co-religionist check up on her and apply the same control as I would.” I guess this is the difference between having good parents and borderline abusive parents 😦
There can be well-intentioned parents that act in borderline abusive ways together, so I suppose it depends on how much you trust the parents’ explanations/rationalizations. Like for mine, I know with certainty that my mom is speaking the absolute truth when she says she wants what’s best for us, that if she didn’t love us, the result would be indifference, and that it isn’t any fun for her to spend all this energy trying to help us course correct our lives either. There’s a funny contradiction in that she wants us to be independent and self-sufficient, but the only way she can see to make things happen in fact decreases independence, but so it goes. The biggest compliment my mom has ever given me was a throwaway, “well with you, I don’t *have* to worry anymore, but with your sister…” (still implied: she will continue to worry anyway because she feels that’s her duty as a parent).
Yeah, when I went away to university, my parents & grandparents have expressed the same thought of only rooming w/ asian girls. But they didn’t care so much who, if that makes sense. Like, on an individual level, it did not have to be someone they knew or even liked, necessarily. I think it was just the thought that if they were also asian, they’d be less unfamiliar (this was for their comfort, not mine, because to them other asian girls are ‘safe’ and that safety goes down if there are non-asians or non-girls). And I had plenty of extended family in the area too to keep tabs on me.
One other mitigating factor w/ my family is that around this time, my parents split up, which was also very much Not Done. So, since they transgressed, whatever I did (and I was a good/boring/rule following child, I think) didn’t matter quite so much (they had other things to worry about). But I do see some of my cousins under much stricter rule or pushing back harder/less (depending on personality/goals/etc).
I feel like I should also add that I don’t really speak to my mother — but it wasn’t, for me, moving out that caused this problem; it just makes it easier to avoid her. so, even though I can understand why she is the way she is and have some compassion for her, I don’t like being around her when she tries to be controlling and emotionally abusive. I will see her if I’m visiting, but only for limited amounts of time and with other people present (and she’ll behave like 3/4 times, but when she doesn’t, it’s terrible). I know she’s hurt by this, but at the same she can’t/won’t make the connection between her kids pulling away and her own behavior.
OTOH, my younger sister does talk to our mom. She lives close by and visits her once a week or so and will do stuff for her, even though she doesn’t like/agree with all of mom’s behavior (and even though mom is in denial about sister having a gf). I’m not sure if sister has more patience or guilt or what, or if mom is somewhat less manipulative/terrible towards her. Sister says she’s ok with the way things are. IDK if things will continue indefinitely like this, but it is (on my end) better than having huge fights with mom (i’m not sure she would agree, but she also very conveniently forgets about these fights).
That’s a really great point about sparing the kids the pain when they already laid the groundwork here, and definitely true too about the parents’ worry that they’ll lose their connection to the future generations in this strange new world.
ugh crucial correction, “make other people feel heard while *not* capitulating to agree with them”
I think maybe some of that fear is also not wanting to have their kid go through an immigration-like process, even if they’re not actually moving countries — just far(ther) away. Because moving some place new, where you have to find or build a community*, possibly learn a new language, figure out how to assimilate and how to hold onto your heritage (how to pass it down to your kids), etc is a very scary and lonely thing. Why move away — go through what they went through — when they have already laid the groundwork here.
*which, possibly I’m projecting here, is where my mind goes when I read this: “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.” I mean, I get that if this is taken too far, it’s controlling (and not something I would be ok with), but to me, it is also an expression of love/wanting their kid to be safe & secure with people who are familiar — having people around who share your culture/values/language is probably appealing to him (as well as his daughter not rooming w/ boys). But it’s also easier to sympathize, even as I disagree, with some time & distance and not having to live with parents like this anymore.
My grandparents always ask, “Aren’t you lonely?” because I live alone. It’s not in their worldview to not want family around all the time (my dad was not expected to move out of his parents’ house, even after marriage. my grandfather didn’t talk to his youngest daughter for like a year after she moved out before getting married (I think she was in her 20s at the time. But it just wasn’t/isn’t done. She did it anyway)). If I make new friends, they want to know if they’re Asian, and then specifically, ‘our type’ of Asian. Not that they mind if I’m friends with other people, I think they’re mainly looking for that connection and recognition, especially as they feel like their children and grandchildren are getting further away; not just in terms of distance, but also language and culture (they were immigrants too and the ability of me and my cousins to speak their language, much less hold the same rituals and customs, goes down every year, it seems).
/says another asian person, who moved to a different country from her own immigrant parents. but they were not quite helicopter parents and didn’t really succeed at being tiger parents either — they tried, because it was the parenting model handed down to them (eye-opening when i finally saw how my grandparents parent my parents), but eventually/mostly gave up. I don’t have an scripts handy, but I agree that being financially independent certainly helps break ties because you don’t HAVE to abide by their rules if you are able to move out on your own. It’s also harder being the first one to assert independence/do things differently.
Hey, thanks for this compassionate perspective!
This is not my experience, but it is very close to the experience of one of my close friends, who immigrated when she was young and has a would-be tigercopter dad and a tiger mom.
She often vents her frustration to me about her dad’s controlling ways — he assumes she and her sisters will move back to their home country eventually, for example, despite never asking them if that was a thing they wanted to do.
Based on what she’s said, she DOES have a lot of compassion for him — in some way, he’s maybe still grieving that he never got to have a good life in his own home and in his own culture. None of his daughters speak his first language, and my friend (the oldest sister) is the only one who even has any memories of their home country. They didn’t leave voluntarily, and he never achieved professional success like he had in his “old life” because: ageism, because: racism, because: starting over.
Mostly I believe my position is just to say “God, that sounds really tough,” when she talks to me about this. To be honest because her dad has been so manipulative I don’t know that there’s much she could really say to him that would create a connection, but. . . do you have any advice for the situation where the parents are not quite so focused on the kids taking care of themselves, but moreso focused on the kids making up for the things that they lost?
That’s really understanding of your friend, an even more advanced level of compassion for thinking of her father as his own flawed human being with regrets.
I think you’re doing exactly the right thing as her friend in being sympathetic without passing judgment on her dad, since that may make her feel defensive. Sometimes people have done that for me, all with good intentions, but it just makes me feel more guilty that I’ve aired my family’s dirty laundry to someone else and pressure to hold them up to a different model of expectations for what the parent-child relationship should be, and in our case it’s not helpful.
If I were to talk to your friend, I would say to figure out ways to show that the kids are happy and fulfilled in their lives as an adaptation of what the parents wanted for themselves. I think there can be ways to assuage those tendencies for parents to live vicariously through their kids by trying to show them that the spirit of them succeeding at life is there, with gratitude for the parents’ sacrifices that gave them that, without having to follow a literal interpretation of what the parents say they want their kids to do. Like, if the dad wants to believe the daughters will move back to the home country, let him–it seems pretty unrealistic given that they don’t speak the language. And speaking of which, I know she probably wouldn’t want to give him false hope that they would actually do that, but making an effort to try to learn the language now (or some other cultural appreciation–I basically always call my mom when I have Chinese recipe questions) might help make her dad happier too. And lastly, maybe gently reminding the parents of what they and their kids have now that they never would have been to have in their old life, while leaving space for the grief they still feel.
The thing is, plenty of Asian families manage to respect their children who pursue agendas outside a narrow box of “success,” and who live apart from their parents. So yes, as a Third Culture Kid myself, I do think the “culture” thing is ultimately just an excuse. Not because differing cultural tendencies aren’t real, but because they are not absolute, they are malleable, and people can and do change and mold them to their purposes. I’m close friends with several other TCKs. All of us are living apart from our parents, some in spite of parental opposition, some with enthusiastic parental support, but none with parents who threw fits about it or refused to speak to their children. (The opposition was more along the lines of, “But I don’t understand why you want to…”)
I think it’s very important to note this because otherwise it’s easy to get sucked into the mindset that this “cultural thing” is an inevitability. Which mindset is very condescending to Asian immigrant parents, many of whom have breached far bigger cultural taboos than leaving your parents’ house. (Possibly someday, LW will be able to bond with her parents over defying parental expectations, since I’d bet good money her parents did so at some point).
Totally agree that cultural expectations are more malleable than people think–which is why I think it’s worth trying to create space for yourself gracefully. There are ways of going about it that are more likely to win the parents over in the long-term, and one of those is recognizing the different worldviews at play. Even the discussion in the comments here about whether kids “owe” anything at all to their parents, *all* viewpoints there are necessarily cultural, there isn’t an absolute right or wrong.
When someone says “they’re just using ‘culture’ as an excuse,” what I hear is a dismissal that the parents are thinking adults, with values that are worth something, who’ve accomplished something in life, so yeah, similar to what you say is a mindset that’s condescending to the Asian immigrant parents who have breached cultural taboos themselves (btw I love the point about bonding some day over multiple generations of defying parental expectations!). It’s hard for people who aren’t yet in that place of mutual acceptance to picture how to get there, or to even realize that they want to get there. Which is why I think it’s important to figure out the deeper undercurrents of motivations here.
Late response, but: the malleability of cultural expectations is also why it may not be worth it, for many people, to try to create space for themselves “gracefully.” Because if LW’s parents are staunchly attached to these particular cultural expectations, it’s not just about their culture. It’s also about themselves individually, their own temperaments and character traits. When I say “culture is just an excuse,” what I mean is that the parents are thinking adults, and their actions aren’t the inevitable result of their cultures even if they reflect cultural values. If they, as thinking adults, have decided to staunchly oppose LW moving out, then there’s nothing LW can do to change that unless the parents want it to change. There are ways to go against their wishes with the minimum damage and leaving open the option of long-term reconciliation, but there’s no “graceful” way to go against their wishes, because in that case *they don’t want such a way to exist*. No amount of respectful honesty and acknowledging of viewpoints will ever change someone who is emotionally invested in throwing up obstacles to change. The only way for them to change is if they alter their emotional investment, and that’s up to them. Furthermore, engaging in “graceful” attempts to persuade someone out of what their heart is set on can itself be damaging to all parties and to the relationship. It can lead to stressful knock-down drag-out fights, silent treatment, and in some cases harassment or abuse. So, LW has to decide if trying to gracefully change things through respectful, compassionate communication is better than simply presenting the parents with a fait accompli and then letting them adjust to it in their own way, on their own terms, while leaving the door open to them if they want positive contact. In her case, I think the latter is the better option, but only she can know.
I am also the daughter of immigrant parents (we all emigrated at the same time though; I was 16 at the time). I agree that cultural values & differences play a huge role in parenting style and in the dynamics between immigrant parents and adult children of immigrant parents who spent most or all of their lives in the U.S. And you hit it on the nail with this too: fear plays a big role in the parenting styles of a lot of immigrant parents. That fear also gets instilled in the children. Fear and guilt. However, there is a divide in families such as the LW’s, between parent and child, that just will not be bridged. There is no happy ending here, unfortunately, and as the adult child you can spend a lot of energy banging your head against the wall with these types of parents. One of the ways you bang your head is trying to find the communication sweet spot. The idea that compassionate communication from the children will meaningfully alter this dynamic is wishful thinking, in my experience.
I relate a lot to the dynamic that LW has outlined. I moved out right after college because I felt like I was suffocating. After I moved out I tried therapy, read a lot of self-help books trying to heal myself. But deep down I was really going for the happy ending with my family/parents. I thought I needed that to live peacefully in this world. I spent a lot of emotional energy trying to understand the patterns and trying to change the patterns. In the end, I feel like all it did was just drain me. It took a lot of energy that could’ve been better spent in other areas of my life where I was flailing.
Because the only thing that parents like this understand is that, like you said, there is a right way and a wrong way. Specifically, their way is the right way and your way is the wrong way. That’s it. Their responses are also largely influenced by their emotional world – again, they are largely ruled by fear and the need to control to manage that fear. There’s no middle ground with them. I think the children often feel guilty or like they are abandoning their parents or their heritage and, as a result, keep getting sucked in. This is partly emotional manipulation from the parents. And partly, it’s true because that’s life and that’s how things change from one generation to the next. The wet dream for these types of parents is that the customs and traditions that applied to them should apply to their children in exactly the same way and they get mad at their children for thinking or doing things differently. They get mad at their children for living in a different time, a different country, a different culture. They want to stop time. They are nostalgic for their life pre-immigration, for their childhood, for their parents. There’s nothing that their children can do to fulfill this wish.
There is no amount of compassionate listening that is going to change this desire. It is unfair to the adult children to ask them to do this emotional labor, especially when they have received nothing but grief from their parents all their life. The adult children need self-compassion and a lot of space to take care of themselves. The adult children have to put themselves first – something that is very scary to think about when you’re raised by these types of parents. There’s no hope (of change or something different is what I mean) for the parents but there is for the children. I’m not saying to cut off the parents from your life – unless you need to, of course. I’m saying find the right amount of distance you can live with. I’m saying use your energies wisely and accept the things you cannot change, mourn the loss, and try to LIVE your way.
Fly away, LW.
You’re completely right. What a great comment.
Great advice from the Captain as always and this great comment by Koffee82 really gets to the heart of it.
I’m a South Asian woman and went through a similar situation to the LW, although I left my husband not my parents. I have found dealing with my parents reaction much more difficult than dealing with the breakdown of my marriage.
No amount of emotionally draining conversations explaining or being honest about how I felt made any difference. It took me a while (filled with guilt and anguish) to come to the realisation they would never see things from my perspective, that I would always be bad for leaving and they would rather I lived in a miserable marriage (or be miserable at home in your case, LW) than be happy and alone.
I’m at the stage of mourning the loss of the ideal parents I thought I had whilst also discovering I’m not a bad person for wanting a better life for myself (therapy has been a life saver).
I wish you the best, LW.
That definitely happens, and maybe even is the majority case (that the parents won’t ever change in their desires)–I don’t have data on that either way, it’s all pretty anecdotal. I disagree that it’s unfair for adult children to do this emotional labor though–that’s their choice for whether they want to take it on, and how much of it, so they have agency here. When I do things for family that I don’t actually particularly want to do, ultimately it’s for my own expectations of myself of what my duty and responsibilities are there, and there’s a satisfaction in that. Whether or not it changes anything, I know that I tried, and I don’t have to feel any guilt over not-trying. There are enough success stories that I think it’s helpful not to head in thinking that you have to burn all bridges in order to survive–that this is in fact a way to find the right amount of distance, as you say.
Completely agree that you have to accept you can’t change other people, but also, most parents aren’t monsters. One of the funniest quotes I heard about Amy Chua touring for her Tiger mom book was that in the U.S., everyone saw it as how to be a stricter parent with your kids, while in China, everyone saw it as how to be more relaxed and American-style with your kids. And that her ultimate conclusion was that parents everywhere love their children and want good things for them.
This is my only quibble:
“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!””
I would, personally, not do this. I would not tell them until the absolute last minute, like, your three besties turn up with a U-Haul on that date, and one of them brings her bar bouncer brother with her whose job is to inform your parents that no, no, you are moving, like, today, bye.
But you know your parents better than I.
I second the having of backups at the move. Even after I’d moved out, I was often dependent on my parent for a vehicle for subsequent moves (there were no other options, believe me, I tried all of them 😦 ) and having a friend or three there made screaming at me an unattractive option because parent would be perceived badly. It still happened, sure, but having witnesses there also helped me process the experience better afterwards: “hahahaha wow Parent really did get super angry I’d packed the towels with the underwear and not the sheets teehee” “yeah storyranger that wasn’t actually funny that was super uncool and we’re sorry you had to deal with that” “oh. Wow. Thanks guys. I guess I just saw that as normal” repeat ad nauseum until I internalized my own worth.
I’d also recommend pre-moving small important things out over time, if you can manage it. Photo albums and favourite clothing and the teddy your auntie gave you before surgery when you were 7 and other small trinkets that you’d forget/not prioritize if forced to do a rapid emergency clearout but would miss and regret for ages if you left them behind.
I love your friends. And the pre-moving kit with the “nonessential” (not!) trinkets and teddy bears. Or even just a list so you don’t forget them.
I agree. Kind of like the writing advice to “start as close to the end as possible.” If you announce something that will throw them into a rage when you still have to live with them for a week or two, that could be a highly unpleasant week or two. That just gives them more time to guilt-trip you or sabotage your plans. The time to announce is when you are on the doorstep about to get into your friend’s car which has already been packed with your stuff. Or preferably, when you are installed in your new apartment whose address your parents do not know and whose key they do not possess, such that you can hang up the phone when the conversation gets bad and they cannot force you to continue the conversation one instant longer than you want to.
Let me address #6, arranged marriage. The term is used to mean 2 very different things.
One is what I would call forced marriage. That’s where the parents negotiate to have their daughter marry someone she absolutely does not know or does not want to marry, usually someone much older. This is for the parents’ benefit. If she objects, she’s threatened with being cut off financially (if she’s lucky) and beatings or death (if she’s not). Sometimes the threats involve being sent to the home country for the forced marriage to take place there. If this is your situation, run to authorities immediately. Authorities could mean the police or definitely a women’s shelter.
The other is what I would call arranged dating. This is where the parents screen men for acceptableness and arrange meetings in a rather formal style, ie, both sets of parents are there, and the prospective couple can talk in a rather stilted way. Or maybe the 2 are sent out to a public place to have coffee together. In this case, both have veto power to say that a particular date is absolutely not to their liking- please find someone else. This is still awkward, and you shouldn’t have to go through it, but it’s not horrible in an illegal run-for-your-life sense. If you get trapped in one of these situations, ask if you can write to the young man privately or phone him. Explain to him that you’re not interested in marrying at this time but that you thank him for being a good sport. The chances are good that he’ll understand. If you do meet someone you wouldn’t mind seeing again, say so. Then enjoin him to date you in a normal western way, ie, go out for dinner and a movie if that’s something you’d like.
” Then enjoin him to date you in a normal western way…” Errrr what?? Why does the western way of dating get to be ‘normal’?
I think “normal” is modifying “Western” here rather than the other way around, as in “date in a way that is normal for Westerners”.
As someone who was on the receiving end of arranged dating, tho, I do want to say that for many people, in many families and cultures, the ‘optional’ nature of arranged dating may have a distinct expiration date. There may only be so many times you get to say no to candidates your parents think are perfectly acceptable before you get labeled difficult/rebellious, and the mandate shifts to a forced marriage. It’s better than a forced marriage, but depending on the dynamics, it can still go really badly.
I know two couples who married due to the “arranged dating” scenario. One was made up of two people who were being put under more and more pressure, who married basically to please their parents, and broke up terribly within three years. The other was made up of two people whose families genuinely made it clear that their kids could say no/back out at any time; these families did the arranging just because that’s what they knew, and who looked for potential mates who were not only “suitable” but also shared interests, etc., with their kids. That second couple has been together for more than two decades and is possibly the single happiest married pair I know.
There are of course a lot of differences between the individuals involved, etc., but I don’t think it’s coincidence that the bad result came from parents who saw arranged marriage as a rule, and the good results came from parents who saw arranged dating as a tool.
I didn’t think I could love Captain Awkward more, until you quoted Bujold.That has always been a favorite line of mine. ❤ ❤ ❤
Coming from another adult child of a helicopter parent, who is also trying to move out for the first time, I can offer you some advice that my therapist gave me.
First of all, Captain’s response is spot on: I would avoid this until it’s closer to that time so as not to give them two years to withhold things from you.
Now, I only recently started standing up to my mom. She has always been extremely anxious over my safety, won’t let me walk places alone, makes me text her an unnecessary amount of times to let her know where I am, and insists that I can’t ever drive on the highway until I take lessons for it specifically (I’ve had my license for over 5 years). A lot of my problem with moving forward is that she has essentially crippled my ability to make decisions on my own by injecting her own anxiety over my safety into me. I’ve had a hard time doing things my way because when I try, she will attempt to make me feel guilty (not speaking to me, telling me how nervous she’ll be if I don’t contact her, etc.).
It’s very unfortunate that your parents are keeping you from finding a therapist, but I’ll pass on to you the ways my therapist has been helping me. First, it is important to come into these discussions with a firm but non-hostile attitude. Don’t broach the idea as a question, but as a fact. Bad: “I was thinking of maybe moving out? What do you think?”. Good: “I’ve decided I need more independence and I’m going to move out and start my life as an adult”. Remind yourself: You are an adult. You are capable of making these decisions. You don’t have to ask for permission because, now that you’re an adult, they don’t get to control what you do and where you go anymore. It’s not up to them. Try as hard as you can not to back down no matter what they throw at you, since that shows them that they will always be able to control you.
Furthermore, stop giving them the fuel they want. For example, my mom used to make it so that I had to force my boyfriend to meet me at the train station to pick me up (an hour out of his way) just so I wouldn’t have to take the subway alone. After talking about it in therapy, one day I simply said to her, “I’m going to take the subway by myself tonight. And I don’t think it’s necessary for you to text me at every step of my trip, so instead as a courtesy I will just text you when I am safely with my boyfriend.”
It helps to compromise. Throw in small things that could help make it easier for them: “You can help me move in. You guys can come over and have dinner some time my first week– I’ll cook!” This will not only show them that you can do just fine on your own, but it also shows them that they can be involved in yourself without totally controlling it.
This is such a difficult, anxiety-inducing situation and I so hope you can get through it and that you’ll eventually be able to find a therapist who can be an ongoing support for you.
I wish I’d had this post with me 10 years ago. Thank you, Captain.
P.S. for LW — it gets better. Just keep in mind that when other people assert they know what’s best for you, what they really want is what’s best for them.
As a university advisor, I second the motion to use campus counseling services. You may also want to look for an Asian/South Asian campus cultural center, and South Asian cultural clubs. They will have even more hints and tips for how to free yourself from the helicopter tigers.
LW, be careful about overseas trips. This may not be a necessary warning, but I have known someone from a culture where independence in daughters was Not Encouraged, and arranged marriages was A Thing. When she started talking to her parents about leaving home for school, her parents seemed unhappy but not oddly so. Then they arranged for her to take a trip back home to “visit her relatives.” When she got there, her family stole her passport and basically forced her into marriage with some guy. She eventually got back home, and divorced, and she’s okay now.
You know much better than I whether this warning is applicable to your parents and your culture, but keep it in mind.
I would avoid any sort of South-Asian organizations in your town/school.
My reasoning is twofold– First, you live in your hometown. The people in these organizations probably know you/your sister/your family. It only takes ONE person to go home and say to their mom/aunt/family friend “Oh, did you know LW is doing X thing” and your plans are sunk because it gets back to your parents. This 3rd person would do this totally innocently but it has terrible consequences for you. I had many ‘secrets’ outed to my mother this way.
Secondly, your parents are claiming “culture” as an excuse for their feelings and choices. This is likely total BS as said above, but. Isolate yourself from anybody who could reinforce that crap. “Oh, that’s just how parents are” or “That’s what everybody does, why not you” are sentiments you don’t need to hear from anybody else right now. You need people in your circle who have not been indoctrinated by your parent’s culture. What you need is “I don’t care if that’s what girls in your homeland do, LW is doing what she wants”.
(I have experience with abusive/helicopter/tiger parents although I am not South Asian.)
Wow. “You need people in your circle who have not been indoctrinated by your parent’s culture.” Is this really what you mean? I respect your experiences and I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through, but I’m uncomfortable talking about “indoctrinating” into a culture as a whole. I think we’re really talking about a very specific belief about the agency of women here. LW should try to avoid people who will act as apologists for her parents’ abuse, sure. In any new group, there’s the risk she’ll meet people there who normalize abuse. Like anything else, LW should test the waters, see how the new social group feels, and decide of this is a safe space for her.
Re. your points about small social networks and privacy– yes, absolutely, proceed with caution there.
Oh LW, I feel your pain. On a lesser degree, but I feel you!
CaptainAwkward had some AMAZING advice. I cannot second this part enough:
“Practice asserting yourself in small, daily ways with people inside and outside of your family.”
I have been doing that for 2 decades (well before I turned into a legal adult) and now, just hitting my thirties, I still am. It consistently helps to reinforce my boundaries and remind my first generation Asian parents that they are not allowed to trample all over it, despite how much they want to or how often they try. They haven’t quite “gotten it” but they are a lot more careful with how they ASSUME or EXPECT things of me now.
This is really something I’ve been grappling with in the last few years – I suspect that you, not unlike me, are seeking their approval/permission/blessing. Not even financial support or enthusiasm at your awesome goals and ideas. Just a blessing. A damn blessing – is that so hard?
Apparently it is. I’ve been working with a counselor for years and eventually, one of them told me that I will never have the kind of parents I hope to have (the ones that will give me blessings and emotional support in who I actually am with all MY goals and dreams) and that this is grief of a different sort. It kind of is like death, putting aside my idealistic dreams of somehow getting my parents to BECOME that sort of family. I’m sorry if this is blunt, but….stop asking for blessings and stop unconsciously seeking approval. You are amazing the way you are. Your parents are NOT the only ones who determine your worth. Never let them shake your faith of how competent or amazing you are! (And as someone who DID fight her way to studying abroad twice despite all backlash from other relatives as well and eventually moved the hell out of parental HELL, I know where you’re coming from. I do.)
To commiserate, after my first study abroad session in Paris for 5 weeks, I came back and my mom had lost a ton of weight (this is not a good thing as she was already slim to begin with). My aunt had the audacity to inform me that she lost weight because she was busy worrying about me so far away from home! During my semester in London in one of my “down” periods (as I was fighting depression too), my mother “supported” me by telling me I was free to come home ANYTIME (because never mind staying strong and working through problems…). During both of these (and before and after), I was repeatedly reminded of how much money I am wasting (even though it was money I saved up from high school/college jobs and from childhood birthday money and loans and NONE from them).
The sad but good thing is….like you, my parents made me feel incompetent. I was repeatedly reminded of how helpless and worthless I was. I ignored them but believed them – when you hear the same thing for years on end, it’s insidious and creeps into your brain. And I THRIVED when I reached Paris. I thrived more than I had my previous 19 years in my home state, even though I was in a foreign country with no friends (well, the school-arranged group but none of us were friends previously) and had no idea how to speak French. This was the first blow to my whole self-belief system – I WAS ACTUALLY COMPETENT OH MY GOD WHAT A REVELATION. And the more I stepped away from their clingy hold and into my own life, the more competent and strong I felt.
I believe in you. 🙂
Oh and personally, I would actually NOT lay the groundwork for your plans so early, just from experience. You are going to spend the entire time up until then FIGHTING for your dreams and goals. You will be on the defensive ALWAYS. There will never not be a moment you think you can sit back and relax because just as you think it is okay, they will waltz into your room and strike up some way to convince you otherwise, to convince you you’re wrong. Just as you think dinner was going well and peaceful, BOOM they will bring it up. Just as you are walking out to the door, late to something or other, BAM here it comes.
I thought I would give my parents a year’s notice in advance to get them “adjusted” to the idea (I was no longer asking for approval, although I wanted it, but wanted them to get used to the idea) for my London semester (mentioned above) and I spent pretty much that entire year fighting them the whole way. So much so that at one point, I wanted to call it quits from all the guilt trips and shit I was getting from them and other family members. I was always reminded of how terrible of a daughter I was, amongst other things. So if I were to go back in time, I wouldn’t have. So I’d advise you not, either.
Being on the defensive 24/7 is no way to live if you can help it.
Another thing to consider if your parents are paying for college tuition (and they use this as a means to control you) is to go through the process of having the college or university declare you to be Financially Independent from your legal parent or guardian. This would allow you to receive school loans and to qualify for other grants (in addition to any scholarships) to cover tuition, books, housing and/or other needs as needed.
Quick Story Time: I went through this process during my sophomore year of college. Things, which helped to have my petition approved by my college included:
— Completing a petition with the college and submitting it to the Dean’s office
— Providing documentation, which supported my petition up to and including, physician’s statements, counselor’s statements, advisor’s statements, letters/notarized statements/affadavits from Impeccable Friend(s), colleagues, Team Me, acquaintances among student and community groups, and other witnesses
— Access to my birth documents
— Access to my tax documents and/or wage statements (as proof of income)
— A pretty good academic record
While gathering all of the required materials (and then some), I followed much of the Captain’s advice. Having Team You in place, having a mental health counselor in place before, during, and after the decision, having my own bank accounts, having a secondary address and a secondary means of communication were really important to help me through such a difficult (and transformative!) time.
My petition was “reluctantly” passed (my family was really good at keeping up upper-middle class appearances and were not above more than a little social engineering), I severed ties, I leapt into the arms of my new Team Me Family and Me Support, and went on my merry way.
I’m not going to lie though. I lived in poverty for a while, which was a big shock after having everything materially (but not necessarily emotionally) provided for. If I could go back and talk to that version of myself, I’d encourage her to locate classes on budgeting, couponing, being responsible about credit, negotiating for good deals on insurance, and ways to put a little something away for treats or for a “rainy day”.
This story has a bittersweet ending: I eventually reconciled with my family about a decade later after learning from my financial mistakes (spoiler alert: see the above paragraph) and processing some really important stuff with a mental health professional. I have had to draw and to be firm about certain boundaries during that awkward “I’m an adult now, please treat me as such” child-to-adult relationship transformation. And yes, it stings when they have their Opinions About How Things Should Be and Should Be Done in my general direction… And yet, I know I have the power to chose how I will react and what I will do in the moment and what I will do longer term.
There are things my family will never understand. There are things I have lived through that are difficult to hear. There are things we will never, ever agree on. And this is okay or at least something I can accept.
One last thing and on the subject of finances & possessions:
Is there anything in your possession, which is either in your parents’ name and/or jointly held? For example: The title on the car, who is listed on the car’s insurance policy, any cards associated with jointly held bank accounts and/or jointly held credit cards, etc.
Take care to ensure these things are either returned, closed (in terms of closing out credit cards with a zero balance if jointly held), or transferred to you as sole owner if possible, once it is time to execute your set of plans.
Another Quick Story: In my case, my parents went to the authorities to report me as stealing from them. Depending upon the value of what is considered “stolen” and the laws regarding theft and/or financial fraud in your jurisdiction, this can be A Felony.
The authorities showed up at my doorstep. I had a copy of all of my Petition documentation along with my side of the story. I was lucky (and more than a little bit Privileged) and the authorities didn’t pursue the matter any further.
Had I less Privilege, had I not planned, had I not have extensive documentation, my life might be very different now. Trying to move on from a Felony record is very difficult.
And controlling parents can do some really mean things when they panic at their loss of control.
If you don’t own it completely and in full, with impeccable paper, don’t take it with you!
Hey LW 🙂 You can totally do this. The Cap’s and much of the above advice is very good. But I want to emphasize that there’s no way you can convince them you’re an adult. Every time you try, you are just reinforcing their framework of the situation, which is that they own you and your life and get to control both of them. You have to just take yourself back. What form this takes for you only you can decide, but you can do it.
Also, if you have a reasonable concern that after moving your parents will attempt to kidnap you, put in place an escape route (I will call so and so, who will drive me to other friend, who will put me on the train to still other friend in far-off place). This is going to sound kind of extreme to people with normal parents, but I had one of these after I left, and even though I never needed to use it, it comforted me when I was anxious about being able to make my getaway stick. (I was raised by obsessively controlling and abusive parents, in a cult, so I was actually rather concerned.) Definitely make sure you have possession of your personal documents. Consider a safe deposit box in the bank where you keep your secret account. One of the ways my parents tried to keep me “in check” was preventing me from learning important life skills, and I still managed just fine, with some trial and error.
And yes, if you can make cheesecakes, you can totally live on your own. Living on your own is way easier than making a cheesecake that doesn’t crack. 🙂
First, I had a friend who lived by himself for four years in college away from his parents and literally can’t cook rice or bake chicken or take the trash out reliably. I promise you that you are already more competent at household skills than many people who have been living by themselves for years. Moving out seems very frightening, but in fact it’s not that hard. Your parents are making it sound much harder than it actually is because they want you to stay with them.
Some of these comments may feel weird: it’s often difficult to see how are parents are being difficult because they raise us to see things from their viewpoint. But there are millions of young women who live on their own, and you deserve to be one of them.
If you want to move out, then you deserve the opportunity to get to move out. You parents will probably not recognize that you have a right to move out until it’s actually happened and been happening for a while. That’s okay. Doing this sort of lying to them may feel bad, but if they were being reasonable, than you would be able to be honest with them. Think of it this way: it’s only in countries where free speech is oppressed that newspapers are passed around secretly. Your parents have created an environment where you can’t be honest with them.
All of the advice in this thread is really good. I recently moved away from similar parents: it was a pain, but I did it. You can too.
How about this. Are they taking orders from any of their own parents or do they make their own decisions? You don’t mention a brother. does your mother never leave the house without your father? Re the overseas visit, not a good idea. Get your documents together or the numbers on them, money in a secret account and don’t do anything to cause a confrontation until you’re ready to leave. If you are pressured about a trip back home, figure out a way to screw up the visa(like inconsistent information on the application.) Your parents are unlikely to catch it and the airline won’t let you on the plane unless everything is in order. If you are only a permanent resident with a foreign passport, now would be a good time to become a citizen with possession of your own American passport. If you read English well enough to attend college, you don’t need a lawyer. I have only a high school education and I did some immigration petitions. Here’s the thing. These are only backup plans. If the situation doesn’t get too intense, your parents never need to know and you can still have your relationship with them. The best way to prevent disaster is to have precautions you may never have to use. The main thing is not to panic.
I didn’t see anything in the letter about LW’s parents trying to send her overseas (quite the opposite: she *wants* to travel abroad and they won’t let her/finance her).
But for any women who are US/UK citizens whose parents are forcing them to leave the US/UK who are afraid they’re going to be forced to marry or not be able to return: hide a spoon in your undergarments before you head to the airport. It’ll set off the body scanner and give you a chance to tell the screening agents you’re being forced to leave. They can help you recover your travel documents and connect you with social services.
Caveats apply. This is risky. This is not a ‘preserve relations with family’ option. It is a ‘preserve your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’ option. But it is an option.
Yes! SO much good advice here. I grew up with extremely controlling parents, to the point that I literally did not realize I had bodily autonomy from my parents until I was in my mid-twenties. It never occurred to me that I could make choices they didn’t approve of until then. I have a vivid memory of suddenly realizing that there was no reasonable way for them to force me to have kids if I didn’t want to, and it was like I’d taken off a pair of sunglasses I didn’t know I was wearing.
LW, you can totally do this. *Jedi fistbump*
When I was a freshman in college I had never had a gynecology appointment and when I read about the details of what happens in such appointments, I started crying in terror. (Dear high school sex ed class, that might have been a useful addition to the curriculum.) Mid-sob it occurred to me that (unless I happened to have a wildly unethical doctor, which I realize does happen) nobody could FORCE me to have a gynecological exam until I was ready, and a great wave of relief swept over me. It was such a novel and liberating thought to realize that my parents could not force me to do this thing against my will.
A thing that may be useful for you to know: some therapists will provide sessions via Skype! Mine does. (Not to me, but to the client with the time slot ahead of mine. I see her fold up her laptop when I come in.)
Thus is not an easy thing to pull off because money/insurance/paperwork, but its a thing you may want to consider.
Also, LW, you seem more prepared at 19 for adulting than I was at 22 or… hell, even now. I mean, I’m still crap at housework.
I’m sorry and good luck.
*Get a PO box of your own. UPS has them, so do other places. Your parents never need to know. And don’t keep the key anywhere they can find it.
*Get any documents you need- birth certificate, passport, whatever. And a safe deposit box to store them in. A small one isn’t that expensive.
*Get a savings account they don’t know about.
*Go read A Civil Campaign. Take Kareen Koudelka as your role model.
My family didn’t prevent my physical separation from them, but I will say that emotional and mental separation from parents can be a long, long process. My parents expected my independence, but also expected me to grow to reflect their values absolutely, and in a way they didn’t always do with their own parents! (Their values aren’t necessarily negative at all, just that there are some I find I disagree with). It’s taken a long process of trial and error to figure out what I will share with them and what aspects of my life are closed to them – and I’ve been on my own for nearly 20 years. Be forgiving of yourself at messy moments, and all that.
The mental aspect of knowing you want to achieve this enough to take practical steps and stay on track can be the toughest part. A friend of mine with a big family and clingy parents used to talk constantly about being a “real” adult once she moved away from her parents’ place, and how her family’s expectations derailed that because of their fear of her being an adult. At some point, I think their fear became HER fear – all her cousins, even the unmarried singles, eventually did move into places of their own throughout their 20s and 30s, always with difficulty from their parents. But the big scenes blew over and their parents recovered and got used to adult children living in the same region, if not in their house. In my friend’s case, I think her fears of leaving, causing a scene, being, independent, whatever it was – led her to leave that possibility of moving out behind. She has definitely done some things that were good for her: getting a college degree and working her way through, paying for it herself, and so on. But she let her onetime dream of moving away become unachievable, partially by letting her parents take the blame, I think.
My mum is a devout Catholic and growing up we were also committed members of a Christian “community” (read: cult).
There was a lot of similar expectations and pressures that you describe.
One of my siblings wanted to study out of state but was convinced not to by the cult. When another sibling moved in with their (unwed) partner my mum was all kinds of angry – and she copped a lot of flak from the cult (my mum, that is. Sibling had already left).
In the end my mum loves her kids more than she loved the community that imposed such horrible expectations. The sibling who didn’t move to study still found a valuable and rewarding career that they love. The sibling that moved in with unwed partner went on to marry them and have beautiful children – they just celebrated their 10th anniversary. My mum is as close with them as ever and incredibly supportive.
I was 19, pregnant, unwed, still at uni, had no savings – only debt. The blowback from the cult was horrible but I managed to move on (thank you lots of therapy). My mum was always supportive because – as I said – she loves her kids more than the community that imposed and fought for controlling, restrictive, shameful expectations.
It will probably be really hard for your parents to reconcile their values/culture with your life choices. But parents should love their kids more than their culture. I really hope that is the case for you.
Absolutely true about identity documents. I have helicopter/tiger hybrid parents as well, and they kept my social security and tax docs, birth certificate, and passport under lock and key. I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to get married as a result (but luckily my state only requires a driver’s license as ID). I had asked for my documents before getting the license, and my parents refused!
Adding to the chorus to say get your personal documentation in a safe place. I helped a young man recently get his IDs set up; for various reasons he didn’t have any and his parents didn’t have copies either. Turns out you can’t get a certified birth certificate copy without state or federal ID, and of course you can’t get a state ID without a birth certificate. Getting out of that circle is arduous, to say the least.
LW, if my best friend hadn’t just escaped her own tigercopter mother 6 months ago, I would swear this letter was written by her. A lot of the above practical advice of getting your documents and squirreling away money and finding places that are outside the house to be and making secret plans that you spring only once they are fully formed are spot on. I have only this to add:
Make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who recognize your desire for your own life as reasonable. Have someone who knows what is going on in your life, who you can call or text of facebook chat and say, “OMFG my mom is going off again about how I wasted my parent’s money going to college because I didn’t find a rich husband there, and if I keep taking Tae-Kwon-Do, I will be too muscular and masculine and no one will ever marry me*” and they will respond with, “Your mom has the brainworms. You are awesome. Keep awesoming.” Because there are only so many times you can hear that stuff before you start to wonder if it’s true. Not because they are right, and not because you are foolish or weak, but simply because that’s how humans work. Feeling like your goals are reasonable is much easier when you have a steady stream of people reminding you of that.
*These are actual things that my best friend’s mom tells her regularly.
Holy love of teddy bears,
Replace “if I keep up with Brazilian jiujitsu, I’ll look too muscular and ugly and no guy likes a big woman” and I could be your best friend!!! My mom and aunt tells me that on occasion and I swear I turn red and my eyes want to pop out of their sockets in outrage.
But I do have an amazing BJJ crew full of amazing women who LOOK amazing that I can follow in their example and a boyfellow who does reassure me that I look great – so yes to brainworms from family!!!!
I’m definitely aware of this. Mum keeps telling me I’m fat and need to lose weight. For a long time I ignored her on this but recently found myself thinking I could stand to lose a few kilos.
As long as you want to lose weight because YOU truly think it is a good choice and healthier choice for YOU, then we all support you! Don’t let someone else’s idea of “perfect” or “ideal” influence you (although it’s hard, I know).
You know…I recently came to realize that even when I was a size zero (which is pretty much the smallest you can go other than go to kids size here in America) or size two back in high school (I was a runner) and weighed 105 (too lazy to convert that to kilo – I suck at math, sorry), I still didn’t look like the IDEAL East Asian girl that all the slim types you see walking around look like. Fast forward 12 years later and I only just figured out that I have a bigger bone structure than my entire family (maternal and paternal) in terms of the women and I will NEVER look like that unless I go seriously anorexic. So I decided that my family is full of b.s. and they can shove it because I am starting to look amazing with the new muscle build from martial arts.
And points to me if my “ugly, muscular” body is competent and manages to survive any potential crisis in which I need to defend myself and others.
Off topic, but this is a trick I just learned and wanted to share: to approximately convert pounds to kilos, divide the pounds in half and then subtract the tens digit from the result. So for 105 pounds, divide by 2 and get 53 (we’re rounding, since this is already an approximation). 53 – 5 is 48 kg, give or take.
BORING MATH REASON WHY THIS WORKS: The actual conversion is to divide pounds by 2.2 to get kg. That’s obnoxious. Dividing by 2 and then taking away the tens digit is almost as good and a lot easier for most folks.
Going the other way is simpler: double the kg value and add it add, shifted over one place (that’s x2 plus x0.2). So if you start with 48 kg, double it to 96, add 9.6, and you get 105.6 pounds (or just say 96 plus 10 is 106, which is easier still).
END OF MATH DIGRESSION
Fwiw, after I moved out (well, I left for university, which was ok with parents (I had a lot of extended family near) and never came back (we’ve never really discussed this part)) and sort of stopped speaking to my mother, my self-esteem (wrt to appearance/weight in particular) went up GREATLY. My siblings, all of whom also fled the nest, have expressed similar feelings.
Seconded. I had to create LOTS of space from my mother to really regain my self-worth and self-confidence. And now I’m fighting to hold onto it since I’ve moved back home due to financial reasons.
“Holy love of teddy bears” makes me so happy. I hope you don’t mind if I start using it.
Spread the love!!!!!! Spread it far and wide! My teddy, appropriately named “Beary”, will be delighted.
,,,because no guy in the history of ever looked at an Amazon and thought, “Oh, wow, I hope she is into me, because I would love to climb her like a tree every night.” *looks at couple she happens to know quite well who fit this description* *they’ve been married for umpteen years* *and are quite well off* *just sayin’*
I keep thinking of Wash from Firefly saying, “Have you ever been with a warrior woman?”
I love these. And I love Wash so even more yay.
I am wondering if there are any other commenters feeling kind of, “no way no how” on the whole, “make your decision and do it and sorry if your family doesn’t approve” advice?” Because I feel like that.
I am very lucky in that my family has been incredibly supportive of my independence. But I would never do something that my parents were adamantly opposed to. I often do things that my parents are not terribly supportive of – but never things that they are adamantly opposed to. Consequently, I am not sure how to *do* anything with this advice.
It does not make it bad advice for the LW, whose parents appear opposed to much more simple things (sleepovers! trips to neighboring towns!). Assertiveness is good. My parents are not at all helicopter parents, and I have lived in the same state as them for 2/10 recent years. So my circumstances are entirely different. I just cannot imagine doing something big that my parents actively disapproved of, and I wonder if the LW or some of the commenters feel the same way.
I would never do something that my parents were adamantly opposed to
Probably because you’ve never had to, right? Sounds like you’re thinking “I couldn’t do that, I’m a good child, I’m a respectful child!” . Guess what though? You’re really a lucky child.
Parents aren’t all like yours. People here have parents who abuse(d) them, manipulate(d) them, fuck with their minds, their lives, their sense of self. They are denied bodily autonomy, freedom of (or from) religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement. People right here have suffered financial abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse. They’ve experienced homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny and other torments from their family.
People here have parents who’ve “adamantly opposed” their choice to eat what they want,, to not partake in fundamental religion that reduces them to a walking uterus, to question why they are beaten or r*ped, to get any education, to leave the confines of their walled-in enclave, to live how they want and love who they want.
LW has sad she’s in an intolerable situation, many Awkwardeers feel her pain and, trust me on this, NONE OF US wanted to have to go against our parents but, sometimes, it’s do or die and we have no choice.
Agreed – those who haven’t had to live in our sort of situations with our type of parents (who are a child’s whole world and provides most of their basis for values and such) can’t fully comprehend HOW expansive and insidious toxic parents can be.
Independence itself IS what a lot of the parents referenced here are PREVENTING and FORBIDDING – because yours, Tonia, was VERY supportive, it formed the basis of them giving you that space and time and respect NEEDED for you to become an individual and an independent adult. Our parents actively PREVENT us from becoming responsible (for some of us), assertive, competent (definitions vary), self-sustaining. My parents and many parents actually subconsciously actively sabotaged our efforts to become independent and a self-sufficient adult. One example was consistently harping on our lack of cooking skills, but when we’d try, nitpick over EVERYTHING (especially HOW we chopped the food) and then TAKE OVER THE DAMN operation and shoo us out. Or if we got far enough to cook the food, complain incessantly about the taste.
Parents are not always right and even if they are, the rest of us need to make our own way in the world with our own mistakes. Big Pink Box has it right and reading it made me sad – “people here have parents who’ve adamantly opposed their choice to eat what they want” – and I am now 30 years old and my mother is STILL doing this and making comments about how certain foods are “bad” for me but not ONLY bad because it’s fattening (or whatever). It’s bad because THAT MEAT IS THAT ANIMAL WHICH IS OPPOSED TO MY CHINESE ZODIAC ANIMAL AND YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO EAT YOUR ENEMY BECAUSE THAT BRINGS BAD FORTUNE. I wish I was exaggerating but I promise I’m not.
Exactly. I escaped. I’m unable to get out of my bed and my wife has to do pretty much everything for me, but I’m freer than I ever was in the 26 years I was trapped at “home”. Sure I have depression, anxiety and PTSD but I can’t complain too much about that, because I’m free.
Little bro though? He’s 35. He’s physically able, but he’s trapped in their house. He’s boomeranged back and forth since he was 18. Due to our mother’s excessive control of everything (from how many blankets we were allowed to have on our beds, what and how much we ate, what setting our bedroom radiators were on, when our bedroom windows were open/closed, and so on) he seems to have little in the way of executive function, her financial shenanigans won’t allow him to move out, the buttons she installed in him (and me) are jabbed at wildly whoever anyone gets close to us, and he drank and took drugs for years to self-medicate (what we now know to be) his wildly unstable bipolar disorder. As she’s the only one allowed to be ill in that house, he’s alternately ” lazy” and “stupid”. I have been known to ask my wife “You can’t fake [horrific and very physical symptom] can you?”, because I was always told I was feigning illness for attention.
The abuse, control, belittling and self-negation never really go away. Some of the buttons she installed in me run deep, and have been used to tank many a friendship when people I trusted witnessed me “being mean and disrespectful to [my] poor mother” because her apparently innocuous words were actually trip wires. So yeah, people with “supportive” and loving parents take her side, when they believe that they’ve seen their fun, cool friend “disrespecting” their mother, and I’ve ended up alone, while she acts as smugly as a dog with chocolate flavoured balls.
Jedi hugs to all of you in here and out there, who know that sometimes the only choice is flee or die, whether that’s literally or mentally.
“Guess what though? You’re really a lucky child.”
Once upon a time, a friend of mine was reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the first time. This is the one where Harry completely snaps with the adults in his life and starts yelling about damn near everything. My friend commented that zie found that part of the plot completely unrealistic, because zie didn’t remember having any need to be shouty at 15. I said, “Wow. You must have had a really great childhood. I found it unrealistic because he didn’t start shouting in earlier books. Most of the kids I knew growing up who had horrific childhoods got shouty between 11-14. The ones who had horrific childhoods who didn’t get shouty until they were older didn’t feel safe enough to get shouty, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t feel it. Harry has endured consistent abuse and neglect from his parental figures and has survived other traumatic events. He has a cadre of adults he trusts who are treating him as if he has never had to deal with these things and also as if he’s several years younger than he really is. Of course he lost it with them.”
Oh god, that part. As someone who wasn’t allowed to express any negative feelings on pain of punishment, I completely panicked when I first read that scene. WHAT ARE YOU DOING HARRY ABORT ABORT YOU’LL GET INTO TROUBLE SHUT UP AND HIDE. Imagine my surprise when nothing bad happened! Because he was among friends who were not unreasonable or abusive!
I agree that the LW has said she wants out, and that’s enough.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that my initial reaction to this answer is “no way no how” and the LW may be feeling the same way, if she is trying to hold on to her perfect scenario (where she gets what she wants, and her family isn’t upset by it).
My NEXT reaction is that, wow, this is incredibly painful but probably really good advice. But that first reaction? Makes this advice feel very very hard to take. And makes me feel very fortunate that I don’t need it.
I guess I’m trying to say that if the LW, or someone in a similar situation, does not feel capable of following this advice, they are not alone.
And what I (and others) have tried to get over to you is that you apparently have zero frame of reference here. A child of loving and supportive parents declaring “Well I could never go against my parents!” is the cishet person saying “Why do LGBTQ people have to shove their lifestyle in our faces? I don’t feel the need to shout about my sexuality!”, it’s the white person saying ‘Racism? But the US has a black president!”, and the financially secure person who says “Well if people have no money, why don’t they just get better jobs?”
You can’t understand how people like me feel, what informs our every reaction and decision, because you haven’t lived our lives. LW is already planning her escape. The parental opposition is to her having a say in her future, deciding her own fate, and allowing her freedom of movement and association. When she “disobeys” them they HIT HER. Let that sink in. LW -right now- is in exactly the position I was in at her age, where physical punishment was so bloody normal that I would (as she has) mention it without thinking.
I will still relate an “isn’t childhood funny?” anecdote now and again that makes my wife react with “WHAT THE F***?”. I’ll be lying here, as confused as all get out, as she explains patiently that “No piglet, that isn’t funny, it’s not normal, that’s horrible. Parents aren’t supposed to do/say things like that”. And so, once again, I’m forced to reevaluate everything I thought I knew.
You can’t imagine going against your parents because you’ve never had to. Of course the thought of saying ” Nope, sorry guys, this isn’t happening” makes you feel weird, but that means that you have good parents, not that we (anyone who understands the need to “defy” our elders) are bad children.
Be glad that you were raised in love, that the word “home” has happy memories and positive connotations, rather than invoking a tumult of inner turmoil and conflict.
It’s clear that there is more information coming out in the comments that I haven’t been following, and that information irrevocably negates the point I was trying to make. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to make the point in the first place. I don’t know anything about abusive families. I know a lot about “traditional” families (of the immigrant variety). Clearly, I wasn’t reading the abuse through the lens of the traditional.
I’ll stop here because you’re right and I don’t know.
Tonia – just give your parents a call, or a hug, and thank them for their love and support. It’s a good thing that you don’t know all this stuff, be happy! I’m actually glad to find out (for once, it seems) that not everyone can relate to family badness. I mean that genuinely, it just irritates me when people say what amounts to “I haven’t experienced [X] but I could never react like [y]”, y’know?
I wrote the comment above before I saw this one, so I apologise if it seems too harsh. Take care of yourself, and feel glad that you’re not part of the ” Shit Parents Club”!
I think what Tonia is saying is that even people who DON’T have good parents have trouble going in opposition to their parents. Sometimes especially then. I don’t think she said anywhere that people who can or understand the need to defy their parents are ‘bad children’, just that there’s a big difference between understanding the need to go against parental wishes and feeling emotionally comfortable with doing so.
Do me a little favour. Scroll up to my first reply to Tonia, and see where I literally state (maybe even in caps) that nobody actually wants to have to “defy” their parents. Nobody. And, while the lucky children of loving and supportive parents may feel a lurch in the pit of their stomach at the mere concept of saying “No”, guess what? It isn’t easier for the rest of us to say no, in fact, knowing that the response to your (long suppressed) “NO!” could literally mean you’re at risk from anything from homelessness to a beating, being shunned by everyone you’ve ever known, all the way through to r*pe, or to being killed, tends to flood you with so much cortisol and adrenaline that you’ll be feeling like crap for days.
It’s like abortion, nobody wants to get one. Nobody ever Wakes up and says “Gonna get myself knocked up today, then poof that foetus away!”. But there’s always some bloke who pipes up with ” I’d never do that!”, just like there’s always that one person who, on learning that I am severely neurologically disabled, says “ONG I had to wear a cast once and t was the worst eight weeks of my life!”. It’s like comparing apples to iPods.
When people have controlled your every movement and oppressed you since birth they tend to react very badly to “No”. Begging these people to be allowed to control your own body/finances/future is a high-staes gamble. This isn’t like saying “Parent/guardian -I don’t want to study English literature at Newcastle University, I want to study Drama at Liverpool Uni instead”. This is ” I must reject your idea of what my life will be, of what and who I am, and it has to be this way because you’ve left me no choice”. LGBTQ people (like me, and like LW) know this feeling so well.
Again, none of us ever wanted to have to go against the people who shaped and moulded who we are and how we think, because (as hard as this may seem to believe) we still love them. We still desire their love and approval, no matter the twisted form it comes in.
The Captain’s advice isn’t sought by an LW who wants things to change, but by a young woman who desperately needs not only to escape, but (if she’s anything like a lot of us) is also seeking validation. She’s seeking reassurance that her situation isn’t healthy, that even loving parents who mean well can overstep boundaries in ways that are damaging. She wants to know that she’s not a disrespectful, ungrateful child, but a woman who deserves autonomy. So I hope you can see why someone commenting about how awesome her parents are, and wondering if any other lucky kids would balk at saying “No”, might raise some hackles.
I think I get what you’re trying to say. A friend is going through something like this — the knee jerk reaction of ‘no, i cannot defy my parents’ — because her parents found out she was dating a woman and they do not approve. She was almost kicked out, but the parents didn’t go through with it. She’s in her early twenties, lived at home all her life, parents paying for university, has job but not enough to support herself. She’s probably thought about leaving, but right now, she can’t/won’t. Her parents text/call to check up on her (and she always replies), she is in the habit of asking for permission to do stuff, and gets very stressed out over lying to them when she knows they won’t approve (like her being out w/ gf).
The thing is that her parents are on the helicopter side, but until this one major thing, she hasn’t felt like her parents were unreasonable or unsupportive or didn’t love her. idk that she ever wanted to leave for university, but her parents have let her travel for school/sports, so not as strict as LW’s parents in that regard. It’s like she has (or HAD anyway) just enough freedom/agency(? idk if these are the right terms) to make moving out difficult.
IDK what she’s going to do. IDK if her parents are going to come around. From the outside, it seems much easier to say ‘you should leave/find a way to support yourself/lie to your parents’ (or even, ‘I left my family and I turned out ok’) but it is such a hard thing to do. She doesn’t want to upset her family or be cut off from them and has had no real practice at being defiant/standing up for herself.
TBH if it were me, when I was early 20s or younger, I would also have a very hard time defying my parents, who were not even THAT bad*, I think (though, yeah, somewhat emotionally abusive, occasionally manipulative, difficult…very tense atmosphere at home…my parents eventually divorced). I don’t think I’d have it together enough to come up with a plan of resistance. It is much easier to defy my parents’ wishes when I don’t live with them and when I don’t feel like I have to inform them of everything I do, but I think until one actually moves out or gets to the point where you just can’t anymore, it’s sometimes a very hard thing to imagine.
*My sister likes to say that “it’s not as bad as it could’ve been”, which bothers me, because that still doesn’t mean it was good. but at the same time, I’m not at the point of cutting off all ties with the parents either. I just have limited contact with them. And sometimes I forget or am too hopeful, and I spend a bit too much time with my mother and she does something controlling/manipulative/gaslighty which reminds me why I talk to her as little as possible. So IDK.
Thank you for this response.
Thank your lucky stars. Thank your parents. And then, take notes so if you ever are the parent of an adult child, they will thank you, too.
If my parents were adamantly opposed to something I wanted to do, I would probably take a step back and seriously reconsider that course of action…but that’s precisely because they’re NOT controlling and they do support my independence. I can’t even remember the last time either of my parents offered an unsolicited opinion on any of my life choices. That means that if they were to express serious opposition to something I wanted to do, I would take it seriously.
Also, I think that they basically have good values that I agree with. In short, I respect their moral judgement, and I trust them to stay out of my business unless something is very dire. Other people are not as lucky as I am wrt parents, so they may not be able to do either of those things. If you can’t trust your parents to be good people who will behave with your best interests at heart, your choices are either to disappoint them or to destroy yourself.
I’ve lurked here forever and thought I’d never post, but as a South Asian AFAB person I felt compelled to let LW know that tiger parents are survivable and that there are a lot of us who have done it and are waiting for you on the other side. I thought I was completely alone in the world, but I found a community of my own online that really helped me muster the courage to break free of my own “traditional” (though I don’t think abuse is a tradition, and I refuse to believe that this is the best our culture can offer women and AFAB people) home situation. I hope LW finds that, too.
Anyway, if LW wants to talk to someone who’s been there, there are a whole lot of us out here. It really can get better, you know?
I think there’s an elephant in the room here. People have kind of circled around it but I think it needs to be out in the open: LW needs to calibrate her response to the level of risk involved with moving out. Do she risk nothing more than parental disapproval* or does she risk honor killing when she moves out? I’m not sure it’s possible to give good advice without knowing LW’s level of risk.
Obviously the LW’s strategy for handing the situation must be based on her judgement of the above question. In one case she can move to the town next door and block her parents on Facebook. In the other she needs to get to a women’s shelter a thousand miles away and get completely new identity documents.
More generally, how does LW assess the likelihood of her parents using some kind of force either to prevent her moving out or punish her for wishing to do so? From reading LW’s letter, I don’t get the feeling that there is a large level of risk, but there may be some cultural assumptions on either side of this divide. Can we hear from the LW on this, or is there someone reading who might have some insights?
* I don’t want to underestimate the toxicity of parental disapproval – it can be a horrible thing to cope with – but we still need to learn about the elephant!
LW here, thank you for your concern! My biggest worries would probably be a lot of yelling (A LOT), and, post moving, I would not be surprised if my parents called the police because they hadn’t heard from me in a day. But I don’t think they’d go down the honour killing route or any sort of physical harm. The most they’ve ever done is the occasional smack (and they would not hesitate to smack either me or my also-an-adult sister if we’d particularly infuriated them).
The fact that your parents would use physical abuse like smacking on their adult daughters is a sign of a risk of violence, even if honour killing is not likely.
Do they also “smack” friends and business associates who disagree with them? Of course not. They understand boundaries. Its time to draw another one.
Make bodily autonomy a deal-breaker. It should be! You’ve been trained not to see abuse for what it is. Your parents (and all future companions) have no business grabbing, holding, or using any even the suggestion physical restraint on anyone during any conversation. To strike you or threaten you in any way — because you are family — is absolutely unacceptable. At the very least, take a moment to remind yourself that you are being *abused*, not corrected, reminded or “smacked”. It is a BIG DEAL.
This isn’t a problem you’ve brought up to be discussed, but the solution will offer long-term help in resetting your familial relationships. I spent a lifetime watching my dad’s hands very carefully, as he never had a tell — he’d be perfectly calm and friendly, and then strike. I put up with it even as an adult; until the day he began abusing the next generation. If you allow your parents to continue to physically abuse you, they will abuse your children. You will then either have to accept that abuse or allow your children to be used as a battleground over the issue. Or worse, you won’t have dealt with the issue and you’ll turn to abuse yourself.
It’s always something.
I feel like, at least in mine and several others that I know, my parents don’t believe boundaries exist. In fact, a part of me questions whether they even understand the concept of BOUNDARIES in general. I know that with my mother, she does really think I’m an extension of her (because y’know, I came from her body), and thinks she has free right to touch, poke, or criticize and make demands on how I should look.
My mom and aunt had this really annoying-as-shit habit of telling my young cousin to grab my boobs in order to see “how big it can be” if only she’d drink X soup or Y tonic they’d concoct. Don’t get me wrong, I swallowed those sometimes-vile drinks as a kid too but I’m fairly certain it had nothing to do with it AND HOW IS IT OKAY TO TELL YOUR KID TO TOUCH SOMEONE ELSE’S SEXUAL BITS?! I’M NOT YOUR MOM, DO NOT TOUCH MY DAMN BOOBS. Only my own kid (if I ever spawn) is allowed! And the boyfellow! Guess who got the job of teaching boundaries?
I used to think that my mother just didn’t understand boundaries, but I have since learnt that she does understand them, intellectually.
It makes me want to ask shy she thinks they don’t apply to me. Like, either she doesn’t quite believe that i’m actually human/a separate person to her, or she thinks that i’m so incompetent that normal rules of how-to-treat-people-and-respect-their-autonomy don’t apply (although she’s fairly sketchy on the whole other-people-have-autonomy thing in general, if she thinks that they’re not doing what’s “best” for them). Both versions have been relevant at different times – she literally can’t believe that i genuinely enjoy [x], because it is so alien to her own experience, but also “you make bad decisions so you need to let me make them for you” while simultaneously judging parents of other young adults who she considers over-involved in their child’s life.
Ivymere, I’m so sorry about your mom and your aunt (and your cousin) – that is so very not okay. :s
Agreed with the boundaries. My mom, whom I actually have a pretty decent relationship with now, did use physical punishments more than I would with my kids. She stopped when I reached my teens and I was roughly the same size as her. I didn’t realize how angry I still was about this until I was 21 and I was getting married. The gifts were mailed to my parents’ house because that’s where I was staying until the wedding. I was opening a package with my mom and there was a gravy boat from my china pattern inside. I’m naturally pretty clumsy and of course, I bobbled the damn gravy boat, clinking it hard against the little plate it rested on. My mom smacked me on the back of my head with her palm and said, “Watch it!”
I was filled with such burning, acidic rage, I actually saw a red haze. It was all the helpless anger I felt as a kid bubbled up and I threw the gravy boat against the wall and smashed it. I told my mother, “DO NOT EVER HIT ME AGAIN, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” I think she was almost as horrified by her actions as she was by mine, because she just kind of nodded, numbly.
And then I went to get a broom and sweep up the broken china bits.
My relationship with my mother was very different afterwards. It was like standing up to her like that finally made me an adult. I made clear what I would and wouldn’t tolerate. It took a while but we finally found even ground and we’re OK now. But it took me being what would be considered unforgivably rude and disrespectful in my family, to get there.
I’m so sorry that an otherwise happy time in your life is associated with something like that. I know what you mean though, once that repressed pain and anger is tapped into it can make you feel like that defenceless kid again.
In my case it involved another child. My brother’s stepdaughter was at my parents’ house when Wife and I visited one time. Kiddo was 4, had only known our family for about eight months, and had just been declared in remission from cancer. She’d been anorectic after literally a lifetime of food meaning pain and puking. An appetite had finally been stoked in the little ‘un,, and she was catching up on all the fun kids foods.
Anyway, she bounced into the living room and my mother told her to get herself an ice lolly for being such a good girl. She came back, purple lolly in one hand, and then it happened. She asked “Nanna, which one has most calories?”
Red. Mist. I heard my wife stop breathing, I waited till the kid took one of the lollies back to the kitchen, and leaned across to my mother (she was on her armchair, we were on the sofa at a slight angle) and hissed “If you do to her what you did to me, constantly talking about calories and weight and food and diets, causing a lifetime of shame and self hatred, I swear to god I will f*cking end you“. She went white. I’d never stood up to her on my behalf, never asked why she did what she did to me, but that? No way was I going to let that stand. I stage whispered “She’s coming back, straighten your face up”, wife and I played with the (now very sticky!) niece, then made our excuses and left.
I lost it in the car. I was a shaking, sobbing, snotty mess, exactly like the Little Pink Box I once was, who was scared of what would happen when her dad came home, in bits because of the potential for another round of smacks and screaming. Took a three hour debrief from my ever patient beloved just to stop the shaking. She never did it to the kid again AFAIK though, I made sure my bro supervised whenever possible. This sounds terrible, but I was glad when (after about 4 years) he broke up with his fiancée. That kid had a rough enough life in the awful aftermath of her cancer, without my mother in it to screw her up.
I hope you’re in a better place now, Jedi hugs if they’re wanted.
Once you have moved, you may want to consider calibrating your contact with your parents based on how well they behave. Haranguing you or wailing about how worried they are would mean downgrading from regular phone calls to texts, basic emails, or even nothing. Calling the police would lead to less contact, not more (as well as some very irate police people). As Dan Savage says, ‘Your leverage with your parents is your presence in their lives’.
I don’t know if this is just your speaking/writing style, but the way you phrase this is really worrying me. “I don’t think they’d go down the honour killing route”? My relationship with my parents has been rocky and they’ve done things that have shocked my friends, but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they would never try to kill me under any circumstances. If that is not something you can state with certainty about your own parents, that makes me afraid for your safety.
No, it’s my writing style. I speak in shoulds/don’t think and so forth. I’m actually really uncomfortable talking in definitives. Possibly comes from studying law.
Honour killing is not in our culture, as far as I am aware. It’s not a thing that I’d even considered before it was raised here.
Thank you so much for the advice captain and everyone.
I had been planning to just announce my new job and that I would be moving (mostly as someone mentioned, otherwise I’d exhaust myself fighting). I’d just prefer to not have the huge fight that would result
To clarify, my sis is younger. We live in Australia and my parents are first generation immigrants. We don’t have any family apart from one aunt/uncle and cousins from another of dad’s siblings. And a lot of our family friends are first gen and similarly strict? I think? And yeah if I did anything it would go back to my parents (a friend was spotted out with her white (!) boyfriend and it got back to her mother).
I already have separate accounts and the Australian equivalent of 401k. My parents find my independent finances amusing and cute, I think. They also tend to question my financial decisions only for me to justify it to their surprise.
I do also have scanned images of my id documents on my computer and my licence stays with me. Most of my id is in my personal folders, the only is my passport and I know where that is and could lift it before telling them of my plans.
I kind of have an impeccable friend but there’s not really anyone who I’m close to and who my parents wouldn’t justify judging on something.
My parents have indicated they’re not going to expect marriage until after I’ve graduated at least. And I thought about having a de-optimised enough timetable to fit in counselling but I don’t know how to continue maintaining the lie during all three months of summer holidays – the stress of doing so would be counter-productive? (like dad will expect to see my resume when I apply for jobs and if I say I’m doing something useful he’ll expect to see it?)
Definitely de-optimize your school schedule enough to make room for counseling during the school year. As for the summer months, talk to your counselor about your concerns around scheduling – there are many ways to keep a regular appointment without raising alarm bells for your parents. I used to work with people who were in various stages of leaving abusive partners, and who would’ve been at serious risk of physical harm if the fact that they were working with us was discovered, and there were definitely workarounds, like meeting during lunch breaks or immediately before or after someone’s shift at work, or even using “class mom” duties at a child’s school as cover. (New social obligations that are parent-approved can also help here – “Oh mom, I finally joined that sewing class you’ve been saying I needed, and I like to go early to help the teacher set up” – when really, you’re going to counseling and then sewing class, or maybe not going to sewing class at all). You will not be the first person to want to hide your sessions from someone controlling, and your counselor will likely have good suggestions for how to do it.
For the summer months, you can get a job. Part-time student jobs frequently have de-optimized schedules. You could volunteer for a split-shift, for example. Also, someone mentioned Skype appointments. Once you have an established relationship with a counselor, they may be willing to do Skype or phone appointments over the summer.
I straight up took my passport without asking (though I was in somewhat more immediately dire straits at the time). I would guess that most people don’t check up on the family passports on a regular basis. If they ever do notice, you can always say you needed to rescan it and just figured you’d hold on to it in case of needing to apply to stuff.
Honestly, if I couldn’t take my passport without it being noticed, I would report the passport stolen and request a replacement. Because if it’s yours and they will not give it to you. It is, effectively, stolen.
If avoiding notice was that important, then getting a replacement would require renting a PO box or getting a friend to be the C/O. Mail in a household shared with hovering parents is not private.
It’s an option, but once you do that a) you are no longer in control of what happens in any way and b) you are going to need your entire game plan to be good to go because the party is starting the second your parents are contacted by the police.
So, report it lost. If you don’t know where they keep it or they keep it in a place where you can’t access it…then it is lost to you, the rightful owner of said documentation.
If you’re Aussie, I assume you’re on HECS for uni, yeah? You could always say you have taken up a class or two in summer school, as many places just add the cost to HECS, so it won’t turn up on any bills or anything. I know where I work, our summer classes run from early December to mid-Feb, so there is only the exam period coming up, and a week or so between the end of summer school and the beginning of autumn semester. Plus, the summer programs have different timetables to regular semesters, and no one outside of them really know how they work, so it might be easier to say it’s more intensive-classes/longer ‘lectorials’ rather than tutes, etc
When you weigh the summer break stress it against the future stress- of possibly two years of being manipulated, yelled at and hit, the stress of keeping some of your plans private should be put in perspective.
See a therapist for sure- fit it in your schedule where you have an extra hour. Schedule in another hour or so in the week to get yourself a support system and make some plans. You should not have to deceive them to do this, but if it is the only way, then you have to just accept it. Accept you will never be all that they want. Realize how selfish that idea is!
I had similar parents, and once you are out it does get easier. You probably do not realize now how stressful the status quo is because you have been living with it forever.
Gosh, that sounds like a really good reason to have two copies of your resumee to me. One that has… whatever your dad wants to see on it. And one you actually put in envelopes and send.
Parents who don’t respect your need to do things surrender their privileges of truthful information at all times.
I agree with the two resume approach. Most universities will have a career-placement department that will help you polish your resume and get it in front of employers. As an added bonus, they won’t push back if you tell them, “I’m looking for a job in Xville or Ysburg or state Z.” Additionally, non-local employers who go through universities will sometimes conduct interviews on-campus (as compared to you having to go visit wherever they’re located).
Just be careful that the Father-Approved resume doesn’t actually get submitted anywhere. (With as much influence they’ve exerted in trying to keep you local, I wouldn’t be surprised if your parents ‘helpfully’ decided to send your resume out on your behalf.) Two drastically different resumes for a single candidate is a red flag for HR departments.
I work in such a department, and yes, people in your careers office will help you find a job in whatever place, help you with your resume, all these things. Also yes, on-campus interviews are definitely a thing, at least in the US. Your careers office can also help you find paid internships and such even while you are still at university. Visit your careers office! We want to help!
Most people have several versions of their resumes, and it’s recommended to tailor your resume to each job application. If you’re found out about having more than one version – just say that this one is tailored to a specific job or that it was edited based on recommendations from the college career guidance office.
Hi LW! I’m not South Asian (I have a “white tiger” mother). But, I see a lot of the same behavior from my mom, and my best friend is like you, an ABCD with strict parents. First thing: identity documents and money. Go immediately, as soon as you won’t get caught, to the family safe or drawer or whatever they keep passports, etc. in, if you don’t each keep your own. Take them. You have a right to them. My parents kept all my documents until I was 23 because I was too “irresponsible,” but really it was a method of control, because whenever I would start a job, I would need to contact them for the documents and then give them back. Then, when I wanted to get married, I asked for my documents (thinking I needed more than my driver’s license as ID to get married), and they refused. Probably because it was a same-sex marriage, but they couldn’t outright disapprove without seeming homophobic. But at the time, I was in law school, so I threatened to tell everyone they were witholding them and get a court order making them give them to me. My mom is a respected teacher in my small hometown, so she caved rather than risk her reputation. I could have gotten replacements, too, but I couldn’t afford the costs (money and time) of doing so.
It’s great that you have independent finances. I didn’t, and had to open a separate account behind my parents’ back. But whatever happens, don’t allow any access by them to your finances, even to give you money or help with a snafu.
Like the Captain said, get in the mindset of telling your parents what’s going down, rather than asking permission. You can even practice this in tiny ways, like “I am going to the store” and “I am having coffee with Friend.” Also, I know you don’t want to lie, but for your safety, here’s some tips. When you lie, maintain eye contact, use active voice language, don’t pause or fidget, and maybe insert an embarrassing detail or two.
Have you thought about making up a “study group?” Like yours, my parents are really focused on achievement, but also want me to make friends (of the right sort) and network, because introvert in a family of extroverts. So they were happy to let me do that, and it was a cover for things like counseling/meetings with the campus LGBTQ group/other relatively harmless stuff they didn’t approve of. Another excuse I used was “I am meeting with faculty” to cover counseling. Not a lie, if you go through your university, and surely your parents want your professors to know/like/help you? That’s my other idea. Find a professor that you like, in a subject you’re interested in, and just talk with him or her about your goals and ideas. My parents never made me feel supported, like they took me seriously, or like they were proud of me, so my favorite undergraduate professor was instrumental in giving me the confidence I needed to go further in school/my career. It’s not that I don’t love my parents in a way, but that professor was basically (still is), like a father to me.
Finally, immediately up the ante on the studying you need to do. Like, complain about how hard the classes are and how much work there is, and bury yourself in books etc. at your desk at home. Then, when you need time alone and/or time out of the house to do other things, just complain that you have to study SO MUCH! This worked well for me. I have a significantly above-average IQ and near-photographic memory, so I literally never studied hard in my life until the bar exam. But, I pretended to have to study all the time in college! Bam, sympathy, less bothersome frequent texts/calls, and being expected home a lot less!
Hi, LW. I’m an immigrant to Australia, a pleasant 15000km from my own controlling and abusive family (quite different situation, though). A lot of very good advice here for getting out, as well as reiterating that you have the right to live your own life as you see fit and that your parents’ disappointment is survivable (if extremely stressful). The only thing I’d like to add is that I don’t know where you are in Australia or where you’re thinking of moving, but I know at least Sydney (and maybe Melbourne) have queer groups specifically for people of South Asian descent. I know you’re not leaving home specifically because your parents don’t approve of you being bi (this was discussed upthread, right? I suddenly had a fear I’m making this up), but that sub-community is from my limited interactions with them full of people who’ve fought tooth and nail to be themselves in the wake of extreme family and cultural pressures. (And also people who are still closeted to their families, trying to figure out how to best navigate a semi-secret life). I don’t know if you’re interested or if it’s feasible, but thought I would flag this as a resource/possible group of people with possibly similar situations to you, who might be a source of support both emotional and logistical.
I haven’t been on the Friends of Captain Awkward forums in a while, but there are a handful of us across Australia. FOCA is always a good source of support or even just jedi hugs if you need it. Feel free to PM me there if there’s anything I can do to help. Best of luck to you, hon.
Definitely yes on the campus counselling in Australia. I’m enrolled at ANU in Canberra, and they have free counselling for students, which is basically saving my life right now, as it gives me the ability to talk about things that are bothering me with someone who isn’t affected by it! ANU also has a student services division devoted to assisting students acquire skills with things that they’ll need at uni. They do workshops on things like note-taking, referencing, academic writing and research skills, and also do individual appointments. These workshops and appointments are irreproachable reasons to be out of the house!
This sounds more like the honor thy father and mother so thou canst be my slave and take care of me when I’m old. This is what my immigrant parents dumped on us; code word ” respect.” But kidnapping is just as bad and isn’t keeping the documents of some one over 18 under lock and key a form of theft? The problem is: who takes a parent to court? If LW is in fear for her life, I don’t think she would write CA. She sounds like she is afraid of losing herself or her family. She wants advise on not losing her parents as she pursues her goals and I for one am not sure that’s possible. Only time can tell. All we can do is tell her to follow her heart.
This is what I want to say directly to you LW regarding your ability to take care of yourself. Your heart can sometimes lead you astray, but following your heart is NEVER the wrong thing to do.
This was basically me six years ago. I’m also from a (helicopter) orthodox South Asian family and it caused me such debilitating anxiety I went on SSRIs — which my mother later stole from me. I eventually left, but it took a lot of work and planning on my part.
I second everything the Captain said. Be an absolute ninja about getting out. Take copies of your documents. Make sure your friends are out there for you. They’re likely watching from the outside in, chomping at the bit to help you. Take help if you have to. There’s nothing shameful about that.
I have an ABC friend about your age who has been going through some similar stuff. Her mother went beyond tiger into actively abusive (also neglectful), so she is not trying to maintain a close relationship. She is safely away at college out of state, and is trying to negotiate a future where she still has a relationship with her father and brother (both of whom she loves dearly) without exposing herself excessively to her mother. It’s been an interesting process.
As other people have suggested, make some room in your schedule for random contingencies which you don’t have to explain away. If you develop a fondness for walks, or for studying in the library for an hour or two after class, they may well get used to that. Then when you have to go take care of an errand you need to not explain, you can do it under the guise of a walk or studying.
When you are out but not in class, do your parents call or text? If they do, start weaning them off immediate responses. It will not kill them to wait an extra five or twenty minutes for a response, and this will train them that if you don’t answer or text back immediately, you’re probably just busy and not dead in a ditch. No, you turned your phone off vibrate to silent because you were in the library and everybody kept staring at you when your phone buzzed. Yeah, you didn’t feel it that time, but you learned a really interesting thing when you were studying. The fact that you didn’t jump immediately should be the most boring and normal thing in the world, followed up with something much more interesting. If they say they were worried, of course you’re sorry that they were worried (you’re not sorry you didn’t call earlier though) but as you can see you’re just fine.
Keep talking to them regularly, but start deflecting from the details of what you have been doing to other topics like politics, art, science, history, family history. Allow yourself to be distracted down conversational tangents that stray from what you have physically done to things you have learned and found interesting. Ask after their days and interests.
Cultivating a schedule that is obnoxiously off-kilter from the rest of the household will get them used to you not being there for meals, or leaving early and coming in late. If it’s inconvenient enough, they may revert to their normal and let you fend for yourself with less supervision. Apologize for the inconvenience, but don’t offer to accommodate your new schedule in order to meet theirs. “Oh, it must be so inconvenient to wait for me for dinner, it’s okay if you start without me.” Make some days “normal” — for example, if the family is used to eating together at 6pm on the weekdays, be home at 5:30 on 2 of them, 6 on a 3rd, but not until 8 on at least one.
College health centers are generally required to keep their patients’ details confidential, even (especially) from students’ parents.
It sounds like you already have the basics of householdery down and then some. Cheesecake is some serious fourth-level stuff.
Start taking notice of all the things you use at home, and make a list. You don’t have to get them all at once, and you don’t have to get them new, but it’s good to know what things you want before you move out. Also, get scissors. Scissors are very useful and often overlooked.
Take stock of all the things your parents are paying for that you depend on. One thing that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned is phone service. Depending on your situation, a phone on your parents’ plan could either be an annoyance, a lever, or a security hole. They will have the number, and will call you, possibly repeatedly. If your mom is anything like my friend’s mom, there will be texts and emotional voicemails and maybe constant calling, and sometimes you just want to switch the phone off. If you have a second phone, you can do just that without losing contact with other important people. They may threaten to cut off phone service, which can be critical if you have given the number out to prospective employers. You probably also do not want job or apartment related calls coming onto a phone account that they can monitor. A benefit of prepaid phones is, their numbers are recycled enough that 10 other people may have had that number in the last 2 years, which provides a great excuse for random incoming calls (as long as you don’t have to answer them in front of your parents). If you feel you’re in danger from your parents at any point, do not have a phone that they pay for (or have access to the plan) on your person when you leave.
Even if you don’t feel you’re in danger, get a second phone when you’re closer to moving. (If you have a smartphone that sucks juice like a bunch of thirsty kindergarteners, a cheap prepaid phone with a powered-off battery life of a month or two is a really sensible thing to keep in the car, in case it breaks down and you’re out of smartphone battery.)
My friend has found that calling her mother once a week and mentioning that she is very busy with her studies staves off the worst of the lectures. She never answers the phone when her mother calls, and lets her mother vent her feelings to voicemail, then deletes the voicemail without listening. She then calls back with a clear mind not clouded by guilt trips and maternal crying. She has also managed to talk her mother out of making thousand+ mile plane trips by mentioning what a waste of money it would be when she’s got these perfectly nice friends there already to keep her safe and keep her from being lonely.
You can start expressing preferences about the space that you live in that are incompatible with your parents’ home. For example, in your mother’s blue kitchen: “When I have my own kitchen, I think I would like to paint it yellow.” “Someday I would like a huge bed with enough room for ten pillows and SO MANY books.” “I would like a rocking chair, but there’s no room for one here. Ah, someday…” It establishes that you have very firm ideas about what you would do with your own home, while perhaps eliding the part that you see yourself alone there for the moment.
“College health centers are generally required to keep their patients’ details confidential, even (especially) from students’ parents.”
But verify this before assuming it to be true. Better safe than sorry.
(And triple check… Especially manipulative and affluent parents can use social pressure and social engineering to get around privacy safeguards. Mine did.)
Yes. Also do not assume that just because you repeatedly impressed the importance upon the people you spoke to on the phone at Centrelink of calling your mobile and *not* your parents’ home phone, that they will actually do it. /bitter experience.
Yep, this is why Centrelink and every other business and government agency doesn’t HAVE the landline number. “In our area, it’s just not reliable”, and “it’s so much easier to get me on the mobile, it’s not worth your time to put it down!” This worked, even before I moved out of my parents’ house and into a place with no landline, or to where I am now which barely has internet access (damn you NBN! Arrive here already!)
Nothing to add, I am just delighted that the inspiration for my username got a reference in my favorite blog!
All the responses on this thread are just amazing and I wish I had them when I was working on moving out of my mother’s sphere of control.
South-East Asian woman here. I can relate VERY STRONGLY to your letter, LW. The whole asking permission for everything even until my 20s is something I experienced. Never had sleep overs, etc. etc. It took a lot of courage for me to just *tell them* that I’m going to be sleeping over a friend’s house versus asking if I could (I was 25 when this happened!). For a long time I blamed it on culture, but now I’m thinking they’re just being really controlling. This control is their form of love. I was suffocating because they loved me. I don’t really have anything to add, lots of great comments here! Also, sorry that this message is just all over the place. I just want to point out that I went through this struggle. You are not alone. You have shown that you are a kind, gentle, capable adult and your parents will love you even if you don’t agree with them 100%. Let yourself be you.
I wish this advice had been here when I needed it. I left uni halls of residence after a few months, when I was raped by my hallmate. This was a terrifying thing to do and although my family didnt support me, now, many years later, and everything was all “how could you do this, what will my friends say?” it is now irrelevant.
LW, please stand firm. Be your own person. I wish Id had the advice to say what I was doing and expect people to share my excitement, rather than to feel I had to ask permission for everything I did.
Please, be brave and do it. I can tell you, though it frightened me to go my own way, right now, years later, Im so glad I did and any family arguments are done. In fact, when my mother realised I was an adult who she could no longer control, but who was living their own life, and she could accept that or miss out…
It took a while. But once my mother realised she could not control me, and some things I do will overlap with her systems, some wont… Once she stopped *trying* to control me… That is when I could begin to ask her opinion when I wanted to hear and respect it, but still be myself, without stress.
LW, it took me years. Be true to yourself and listen to what the Captain says. As ever, but especially today, she is wise.
This isn’t exactly something I’ve had to experience myself, but others have told me this in different contexts and I think it would serve you well, LW.
You want to ease the blow for your parents, which is understandable. However, here’s the thing: you cannot do anything about their feelings with this. Their feelings belong to them and are theirs to take care of. YOU CAN NOT TAKE CARE OF THEIR FEELINGS FOR THEM. You can only take care of your own.
Yes, this. Even if they are behaving this way while thinking solely of what they believe to be the best for you, even if they aren’t going to regard your leaving as an attack, there is still no loving way for you to separate from them without upsetting them. It’s going to be a big change, and big changes are upsetting.
This is tough for kids who come from an abusive family environment because, especially in circumstances where one parent is an abuser and the other an enabler, we are trained that we are responsible for our parents’ feelings, that we can and must police our actions, speech, and thoughts at all times in order to ensure peace in the household. Breaking out of that mindset is *super* hard, and most people make a couple of abortive attempts at it before they figure it out.
This might be a long shot, and maybe not even worth considering if your parents will not be at all receptive to the idea, but do they have anyone their own age who would be on your side? For them to talk to, to get a different viewpoint? I don’t think you have to confide in them or anything like that, but I find that even in my parents’ age group of friends, they have varying views on stuff like this.
I have USian cousins with helicopter/tiger(ish) parents who don’t want them to leave their state for university (would be even better if they stayed at home and in the same city). I don’t think they’re completely unreasonable, but they Very Strongly Prefer for their kids to remain close by. I have two other aunts in nearby cities whose (older) kids went off elsewhere to university who’ve been discussing this with helicopter aunt. IDK that they’ve necessarily changed her mind, but if the kids did want to go somewhere else/not stay at home, I feel like it might help a little that other (similar background/culture/upbringing) parents are ok with it?
But I don’t think they’d go down the honour killing route or any sort of physical harm…
That is kind of a red flag for me because as much as I disliked my mother’s Biblical entitlement, if someone had asked me that question, my answer would have been HELL NO!!! Maybe none of us should be advising you and you should be seeking help from someone with the training to determine if you’re in real danger or not.
LW, you rock.
Be prepared that moving out – just like any major change in your life (relationship, job, university, move to another city, move to another country) IS a major change and will have its difficult/lonely/stressful moments, which isn’t a sign at all that you can’t cope, just that you’re experiencing a perfectly ordinary Major Life Event. (You sound more than ready to move out and enter the next stage of your life. Go you.)
I hope that all the great advice here will add up to a definitely plan. Are there stipends or loans you could get for transferring universities? Programs that include study abroad? You might be closer to being able to move out than you think. Also, depending on how valuable your car is, you might be able to move to a place with public transport in the knowledge that if things go badly on the job front, you can sell the car and support yourself while you look for better opportunities. Scary – especially if your car is your safety blanket (mine is), but maybe an option? You’ll find a way.
Best of luck!
Do you have your own Medicare card? If not, that’s probably something you’ll want to sort out at some point, too. I think it will be obvious to your parents once you’re removed from theirs, so for now you might want to stay on theirs but just get your own copy of the card, and have the paperwork ready for when you want to get your own. http://www.humanservices.gov.au/spw/customer/forms/resources/3170-1308en.pdf
Another things to keep in mind is that your uni might have services available to help with stuff like this, either through “student services” or the student union (they’re called slightly different things at different unis, but afaict they all do pretty similar stuff).
I don’t have my own yet, and mum insists on going to all my doctor appointments so she definitely know if I removed myself.
Definitely something I’m planning to do when I’m out though, and thanks for the link
My mother was one of those sorts, too. I eventually made her wait in the lobby, which she was highly unhappy about. She insisted I didn’t know what questions to ask the doctor (true at that time, but I wasn’t going to learn with her hovering, was I?) and there was always something I neglected. I just ignored her. She’d badger for days grilling me on the conversation.
I’m 30 and just started to TRULY take over my own health decisions (ie make decisions that are entirely based on my own and with NO consultation or even warning to her and *gasp* even SWITCH DOCTORS). Needless to say, she is fit to burst and I’m just going my merry way because I feel much more confident now rather than feel like everything is out of control and like I’m a useless body.
LW, you do have autonomy, and the small steps you take now, will help a lot in reminding yourself that you are an autonomous body and it feels GREAT! 🙂
It would definitely be worth contacting your student union or student services, as they’re likely to have experience with other students in similar situations. Also giving Centrelink a ring to discuss your youth allowance eligibility could be beneficial.
With the semester ending soon, I echo other’s suggestions of finding somewhere to volunteer, as it gives you legitimate time away from home and is definitely something that looks good on resumes if you need to convince your parents. If you can find something with flexible shifts, or somewhere that always appreciates people turning up to help, it may give you leeway to schedule appointments.
I do already have a part time job at a very big famous law firm, one that would likely offer me a job after graduation (incredibly inconveniently). Luckily it gets me out of home at least two days a week, unluckily it’s a 9-5 job (at best, sometimes more).
That said, the job offers free telephone counselling 24/7 and I pilfered the business card. Gonna call them when I’m home alone.
Don’t use the house phone.
Long time lurker, first time poster I wanted to say a couple of things to you and I hope they’ll help.
I’m a fellow helicopter-parented second-generation bi desi. I was almost exactly you 10 years ago, except (and this is not to belittle myself, I’m rather pleased with who I’ve become), WAY WAY less multi-talented. So jealous of your cheesecake skills, among other things.
First: I am so so happy for you that you recognize that counselling may do good things for you. I know this is true in many cultures but I can certainly vouch for the fact that in my family the possibility of anything *like that* within *our family* was unthinkable. And sadly it got to me: despite what I recognize now as depression, I was certain I couldn’t possibly be depressed (shockingly, I have had very, very few episodes since leaving home. SPOILER ALERT I left home!). So first off YAY YOU! for recognizing how important it is and how helpful it might be to seek help when you need it.
Secondly: I basically got out using one of the Captain’s suggestions… I applied and got into, (over the course of years) local academic programs that ran into the late evening, then local-but-a-bit-further-away summer programs, then transfered college programs, then very-far-away graduate programs. With each of these, I made sure that (1) it was very prestigious, (2) it came with a scholarship and/or stipend so I needed to use very little/none of their money, and (3) was further away, and longer, than the previous.
I asked about the first, but subsequently told them what I was going to do. I also leveraged (and sometimes overstated) pronouncements from professors: “Prof XX says this is a once-in-a-lifetime, career-making opportunity!”. Because they really, really respect academic authority (didn’t hurt if the prof was also Indian, which was the case more than once). It became easier and easier to do these things, since I was building on past experiences that were demonstrating to them, and to me, that I could do it. It also did wonders for my confidence.
Thirdly: I agree with the Captain that practicing being kind but assertive as a daily exercise is wonderful practice. It IS much harder to be firm and even-keeled with parents who’ve made you feel so many feelings over the years (in particular: GUILT), but over the years I’ve gotten to the point where I can tune them out, and shut them down, as well as I can any other person.
As for the arranged marriage part — for me the details played out like a super hackneyed soap opera, but after a few years (gah) of drama, my family actually loves my not-south-Asian partner. I think it’s for the same reason that they accepted my academic decisions, however grudgingly: they either get to have me as their daughter on my own terms, or they don’t. By the time it got to the point where I felt ready to discuss my romantic life with them, they were very well aware of the fact that I was going to make my own decisions whether they liked it or not (they didn’t) and whether or not they chose to support me (which they did, but it took time). And though it’s taken years, on good days they actually will admit that I’m a happier person for the decisions I’ve made for myself. And I of course know that I am.
And while I’ll say that for me things have for the most part come to a point where all is well, there are some things I wish I’d done that the Captain suggests here (and which at the time I may have thought of as over-cautious): I think it’s a great idea to have all of your documents, bank info, email accounts, etc. inaccessible to them and ready to leave with you at a moment’s notice. Personally I don’t think I would have ever used them, but I feel like it would have been an enormous confidence booster to know that I could have, if I’d needed to.
Also, if it helps in any way: many larger towns and cities have a sizeable South Asian population, which means they also have a non-negligible QLGBT South Asian population, and an even larger South Asian population that will not judge your life choices or police you on behalf of your parents. Should you wish to move out while still keeping the peace, I highly recommend seeking out these folks beforehand, finding out if any of them would make good potential roommates and friends, make plans to live with them, and then tell your parents that you’re leaving and look at all the wonderful South Asian women I’ll be living with! YAYs all round!
TL;DR: Fellow south asian who got out, is so proud of you for knowing yourself so well, thinks baby steps towards full independence is a good way to go, and like-minded South Asian women exist everywhere, it may help your cause to seek them out. GOOD LUCK!
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