Overcoming the effects of being raised by overbearing parents: There are other kinds of lives just waiting to be discovered! (guest article)
Guest article written by D.P.
January 2010 (perspective of a Ph.D. student)
In this guest article, the author explores some possible causes of overbearing parenting and offers advice for young adults who want to free themselves from the burdens of their parents' expectations.
This is a guest article written by D.P., a Canadian woman in her 30's who sent me some great insights via email after reading my Attention: Overbearing Asian Parents article. I have re-formatted her article into a webpage and made some minor edits, but the writing remains largely unchanged. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
Possible causes of overbearing parenting
Why are some parents overbearing, imposing unrealistic or unsuitable expectations on their children? An understanding of this issue does not necessarily excuse the behaviour, but exposes it as stemming from some fundamental weakness, character flaw, or particular societal dysfunction. An understanding, and ultimately, an acceptance of the root causes makes it easier for the victims to face this issue head on without fear and turn their life around. The key message is that it is not the children who are to blame, nor even the parents, but some larger social entity.
In many cases parents are overbearing because of their own unrequited dreams, although this behaviour could also go further back to previous generations. It is worth briefly examining why people throughout the ages have raised children. A pragmatic reason, in agrarian societies, was for extra labour. Another big reason was for security, someone to look after them in their old age. As populations became more urbanized, and states became more powerful, institutionalized welfare, elder care and other social support systems gradually began to fill the roles traditionally taken over by family members. As a result, the raising of children has lost its traditional purpose. It continues mainly as a result of social expectations, blind adherence to tradition, and fulfillment of parents' selfish needs. Regarding the latter reason, what better way to continue a set of values, an agenda, an ideology, than by inscribing on a blank slate? What better way to justify the abandonment of their own dreams, than to give in to convention, for who can withstand powerful social forces? People who have children in order to micromanage them into resuscitating their own abandoned dreams do so under the guise of performing a noble, self-sacrificing task: a great cover for their own cowardice, and one which gains them social acceptance among the majority population who is also engaged in perpetuating this moral corruption.
But how do overbearing parents differ from more laid-back parents? All parents have dreams for their children but the overbearing ones really make it obvious that their love is conditional upon the fulfillment of their expectations. Which social groups tend to have above-average concentrations of overbearing parents? In North America, that would be immigrants. People immigrate for all sorts of reasons. The biggest delusion that immigrants have is the "for a better life" myth that they chant to whoever they're pandering to, and this is otherwise known as the "American Dream". The people who feed their children and others this lie don't have a concrete reason for immigrating, such as an educational or occupational opportunity (in other words, their own life fulfillment), but rather some vague dream about rainbows paved with gold. These are hurt people, disenchanted with life in their homeland, and this hurt could go back several generations. Often they do not know the exact reasons for their distress. They could have been from a fallen family, whose wealth or status was lost by tragic means, such as those stemming from political winds of change. However, these families' values and high standards remain intact, and as a result their offspring are doomed for generations to carry out the plan to regain what was lost. Children of overbearing parents should try to find out more about their family background, by speaking with relatives, travelling to the ancestral homeland, in order to gain insight into what social or familial forces shaped their parents' behaviour. These lost immigrants also tend to be very insecure about their own social position in the new land. The more their native culture differs from the adopted one, and the less they have worked to assimilate, the worse their self-esteem is and the more they tend to rule their families with an iron fist. It is the children's bad luck that they were brought up under such circumstances, with un-enlightened self-serving parents. But the sooner the children realize this, the freer their future becomes, because they will no longer feel obliged to appease their parents.
How to free yourself from overbearing parents
Regarding how to rebel against overbearing parents: The all-or-nothing approach is risky and dangerous for one's well-being. A gradual adjustment, biding one's time, is the best approach to avoid catastrophic failure. The slow approach enables strong defences to be built in order to resist family pressures. During the preparation stage for freeing him or herself from one's parents, one should ensure that his or her own independent safety net is established. Such a safety net could be access to student loans, a steady job, a marketable skill, a professional credential, or a promising path for career progression; it does not need to be complete. A safe and boring job will become tolerable if it serves a meaningful purpose and steady progress is achieved either through savings of income, or increased currency in terms of career, reputation, networking, or other prospects. The safety net should be strong enough to handle the inevitable downturn and turmoil induced in one's personal life as a result of the dramatic change in personal circumstances from the process of freeing him or herself from the grasp of overbearing parents. These circumstances usually involve moving out of the parents' home, but beyond that, cutting them off psychologically is important as well and may take even longer. That is why it is important for one to feel secure in another, significant area of his/her life. There is nothing worse than trying to change the course of one's life when the basic requirements of survival have not been met or are in jeopardy.
What can one do in order to live a life of their own? First, with little guidance or experience about how to do this, one needs to accept that it will take longer than for most people. It's like re-raising oneself from scratch, but working against strongly ingrained values and forces. When being force-fed certain messages, certain models of behaviour while growing up, unlearning these, or more correctly, unlearning the "wrong" parts while retaining some of the good values, will take time, nevermind choosing which of the outside values to adopt. It is a long and painful process, but the journey is rewarding because the path leads to freedom. Each small success will be sweeter because it was obtained by hard work and free will. It is essential to have the safety net referred to in the previous paragraph to minimize tragic and costly mistakes. It also prevents one from falling in with manipulative people.
Finding a group of people who shares your values of self-actualization is important for mutual support. It is often useful to change one's physical environment in order to do this. Getting out of the environment one grew up in is the best way to discover and experiment with new types of lives. Cutting ties with peer groups which may feed the behaviour one wants to get rid of—overachieving, conformity, etc.—may be necessary. The new environment should be significantly dissimilar to the old one, e.g. moving from a big city with lots of pressure and rudeness to a much smaller one where you can concentrate on making friends, or moving from the east coast to the west coast to see another lifestyle. Invariably this move will entail culture shock, and that is a whole new set of challenges, but these are usually worth overcoming because every new place has something to teach you. Try to find a way to develop your existing career or educational prospects in the new place (some fields are more mobile than others). Some steps towards discovering the real you while building a social support system include:
i. socializing with the types of people that you believe have something to teach you, e.g. artists, punks, etc., who may have been forbidden to you when younger
ii. taking up an outside interest, e.g. a sport or a musical instrument. With your safety net in place, there is no risk, nor any desperation involved in these soul-searching activities.
Don't expect any of these attempts at independence to be easy: Some people might be very uptight and resistant to change, or have strongly internalized the uprightness of a particular type of lifestyle, like me; but looking back, it was and continues to still be worth the effort. I may not ever actually go to live in some exotic place and learn to play one of their native instruments, but I sure admire those who feel free enough to do that. Above all, good humour, a humble nature, and a willingness to learn from anyone and any circumstance are essential.
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Last modified: 2010-01-03