I’ve read that writing (especially on Medium) is like therapy. Hence, this is more a personal therapy session than a post.
It’s about something few people address. It’s an observation about living a life that’s disappointing to your parents.
And I am not talking about extreme things like drugs, alcohol, and sporadic sex with strangers.
Rather, I am talking about choices that we all, inevitably, make in life.
Sometimes these choices conflict with what out parents wanted for us and that creates a certain distance (a gap) in understanding. And if you want to have a deep and meaningful relationship with your family, you’ve got to be the one making the step forward.
How They Expected Me To Be
We are raised to be good children. However, the word “good” has as many definitions, as there are families in the world.
In some families, being good means following the “way of God” or living a sinless life, helping those in need and not being too greedy.
In other families (like mine) it means doing what is expected of you. And that oftentimes correlates with either being like one of your parents (e.g., a replica of your dad or mom) — or behaving a certain way (e.g., making money if you’re a boy and studying well until you find a husband if you’re a girl).
Until a certain age, this is your world. You aren’t to blame, because you have no other to compare with.
In my family, I was given a certain set of instructions to follow:
- Do well in school, especially in maths
- Go get a prestigious education abroad (I am from Russia)
- Do “manly” sports, like boxing
- Become a businessman like your father, uncle, and both of your grandparents.
- It also shouldn’t matter to you what you do as long as you make money (you are a “provider” for the family). As they say in Russia “money doesn’t smell”.
- Have a lot of girls early in life, and don’t settle until you date enough to call yourself “experienced”
This is a typical post-Soviet “alpha-male” upbringing. As you can imagine, because I was a boy — I was mostly raised by the male side of the family.
This set of instructions was never voiced as systematically as I described it to you. But it didn’t have to be. The way you spend time with your family, as well as having living examples 24/7 of how you should live your life — communicates it instead.
Kids never learn from their family as they do from school. You can’t have a family constitution or a textbook of “rules to live by” (although some families try to).
Rather, kids learn by imitation.
As a teenage boy, I tried imitating the male side of my family, thinking for a long time, that I was doing the right thing for me.
Again, you know no other world besides the one in your family until you make a separation and depart somewhere far away. Like college. That’s where the fun begins.
Needless To Say, I Failed To Meet All of These Expectations
I am serious. All six.
- I studied well, but I switched 8 schools during 11 years of education. I also got expelled from a hardcore maths school for misbehavior. To this day, I hate math.
- I got accepted into pretty much all the best universities in the world (my test scores were good), chose to go to a business-school and dropped out after 7 months.
- I tried doing boxing, but couldn’t continue due to spine problems. I found joy in running and completed a half-marathon.
- I started multiple businesses before 21, only to see them all fail, and realized that what I love to do most is write. I wrote a book and started blogging daily. And did I mention that I dropped out of a business-school?
- I got into debt in order to continue doing what I love. I value what I do more than how much money I make. For me, money does smell.
- I hate parties, clubs and Tinder. I had 1 serious girlfriend before meeting a person with whom I want to be together for an indefinite amount of time. We recently moved to London together and are very happy.
I want to say that it started all with me dropping out from college, but the reality is, it was always this way. As you grow older, you know about yourself more. And you start to see gaps in understanding between you and your family. That’s an inevitable by-product of maturity.
Deciding to quit studying boring business concepts in college and instead, find my own way — was my first personal decision (needless to say that it went completely against my parents’ will).
Looking back, I realize, I couldn’t help myself. It’s possible to neglect that you are a different person for a while – in order to “fit in” the idea of what your parents want you to be. But at some point, that facade breaks.
The real you comes into play.
At Some Point, I Started To Feel Misunderstanding
Or, if you put it more bluntly, disappointment.
Parents say, that they want all the best for their kids. Their desire for their child’s safety is irrational and, oftentimes, unnecessary. But what they really want — is for you to fit into the picture of their “good child”.
They’ll forgive you your craziness for a while. But there are certain things that are sacred for your parents. If you step on them or (what’s worse) neglect their value, you’ll meet misunderstanding (and disappointment).
I started to notice this during talks with my dad. Every time we talk, I get nervous and say stupid things, trying to show that I am doing something that he wants me to be doing.
I know that he wants me to find a job — to pay the bills, and to survive in another country. For me, I don’t think it’s a problem, because I am able to support myself through small freelance gigs and, I hope soon, through my writing.
But for him, having a decent job at a startup, or a big corporation — something, that makes money (and that doesn’t smell, remember?) is important, if you want to be a respectful man.
So I heavily filter the description of what I do during our calls, getting rid of the important stuff for me (like writing and getting recognized, etc.) — and focus on the stuff that’s important to him (like going to conferences, networking, sending job applications, etc.)
The same goes for any other male in my family. “Living in London and trying to build a creative career” in their minds, sounds like “doing nothing and waiting for a miracle to happen”.
Your family responds to your choices, too. They’ll forgive you your craziness for a while. But there are certain things that are sacred for your parents. If you step on them or (what’s worse) neglect their value, you’ll meet misunderstanding (and disappointment).
In The Beginning, You Feel Cool
Once you break free from the shackles of your parents’ expectations, you feel free. You feel like a maverick. An unorthodox. An innovator — of your life.
You are living by your own rules and laws, and you are doing what you want.
But as time goes, you start to realize, that the fact that your parents don’t get you — is actually sad thing. That’s what one thing they don’t tell you in self-help books.
Your parents have an expectation of you to be a certain person, and no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to be that. Because if you decide to be the person they want you to be (the “good child”), you’ll lose the most precious thing — you own identity.
It’s fascinating how much I crave my parents approval
Even though I don’t want to live by their model of what it means to be a “good child”.
If my father’s “sacred thing” is work, my mother’s is family (and kids).
Recently I started contemplating the idea of not having a kids at all. I do want kids — someday — but I realized that not having kids is OK, too. That’s a choice.
For my mother, this would be impossible to understand. So if I decided (for example) to never have kids at all, it would be met with huge resentment and disappointment.
I guess that craving your parents approval is something that will stay with me for a long time.
Maybe, forever. Maybe, even, long after they’re gone.
You Have To Let Them Know
Instead of living with it, letting this sadness of not having approval eat you inside.
You won’t change — because you are who you are (regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity or lifestyle preferences, like myself).
So if your parents want to build a connection with you — they’ve got to accept that. You can’t change who you are (by definition, you won’t be yourself anymore) — but they can change their attitude.
They can accept you for who you are. Having this conversation might open a new level of depth in your family relationship.
Real separation from your parents (no matter your age) comes when you both are ready for it. It’s not when you stop calling them every day, or stop thinking about what they would expect from you.
Real separation happens when you accept that you are a different person (i.e., you are not your parents), and when they accept that in return. Separation is a two-way street.