Are We Responsible For Our Parent’s Expectations? When Is Enough, Enough?
Updated: Feb 18
If you have a parental figure in your life you know that we all want to make them proud of us. Whether we realize it or not, their opinion of us matters. I'm sure there are millions of therapist couch sessions dedicated to the pursuit of detangling the very complicated, and definitely intricate, parental child relationship.
There is nothing in this world that can reduce a grown adult into blubbering mes,s quite like a parent's expectations. The problem with this is, for many families the line between living your own life and your parent's expectations is a blurry one. For some families there seems to be no line, the child never truly grows up and the parents hold on their child has never slipped.
There is are many names for this kind of parent; helicopter, lawnmower, snowplow or the term below, but they all end up in the same place. This is an example of parent that does not know where their parental line ends and their children's autonomy begins:
Are You an Enmeshed Parent?
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
~ Kahlil Gibran
Enmeshed parenting describes a style of parenting that can cause problems in your child’s successful development of their own personality, ethics, and values. There are a number of signs and symptoms to look out for to determine if you may be an enmeshed parent:
Your children’s good or difficult behavior, and successful or unsuccessful achievements define your worth.
Your children are the center of your life — your sole purpose in life.
Your entire focus is on taking care of your children, rather than also taking care of yourself.
Your happiness or pain is determined solely by your children.
You are invasive — you need to know everything about what your children think and do.
For many of you, this doesn't sound problematic, this just sounds like parenting. But here's the problem, as your children grow and start to explore the world around them they need to make their own mistakes. As terrifying as this sounds if you spend their life making their journey your journey, they will never develop the necessary skills to be successful in this world.
Once you go down the enmeshed parent highway you keep looking for an off-ramp but the chances of you finding one is small. Before you know it they're adults and you are still trying to be the deciding factor in their life. Without you realizing it you have developed almost no life outside of them and you no longer have a line to stop at.
I have seen so many cases where young adults and, adult children feel boxed in by their parents expectations. They feel like the only way to deal with it is to either live two lives, fight a constant battle; which very often leads to a break down of both parties, or they become estranged and they both miss out on the love and support that only a family can provide.
I have several friends that struggle with this issue and it is actually painful to watch them struggle with their inevitably damaged sense of self-worth. These friends range from young adults to 40-somethings. The one thing they have in common is breaking the "ties that bind".
One of the biggest feelings they seem to struggle with is guilt. They want their parents to see them as capable individuals who can competently move through this world but they fear the backlash if they step up and speak their mind. I also know some who have lived so long under their parent's expectations that they think that they are living a life independent of their parents but in reality, the majority of their choices center around their parent's happiness.
Do I Want To Be A Disappointment or Do I Live A Lie? -
This is something that seems to happen often with young adults. And to be honest it's expected, they are trying to learn how to be independent individuals and we as parents are learning how to let them go. This is a difficult dance to learn, it has no instructions and what works for one child/parent relationship may not work for yours. We also have to deal with how hard it is to tell when to let go and when to hold back.
All of this very often leads to our children not always being honest with us. As parents, we often believe that we know our children better than anyone else, and for the most part, we do. But what we fail to take into account is the fact that we send subliminal messages to our children all the time. We have spent so long raising them and instilling our "values" that we forget that as they grow we need to curtail the unsolicited advice and opinions because they absorb everything we say.
(Living a Lie) For example: you have a child who is questioning their sexuality and they really want to come to you but they remember all the gay jokes you make. Now, unless you're a complete ass-backwards parent, you want your child to feel like they can come to you. But here's the problem, instead of instilling trust in you, you have paved a road over time that leads them away from you. So instead they hold it in, stuff it down and hopefully, they have other people that they can lean on. But more than likely it won't be you.
(Do I want to be a disappointment) For example: Where you raised in a home that had very little patience for anything other than the "best"? You wanted to be a poet but your Mom and Dad would expect nothing less than a lawyer or a doctor? So you lived up to their expectations and you spent your life wondering what if? Or maybe your parents left their country to find a better life and in that move and the ensuing struggle, they taught you that the only things that have value are job security and your immediate family? So you got a job that you didn't necessarily love but it made good money and then you spent the majority of your downtime putting your parents first and putting yourself last.
I feel like a failure by my parents’ standards.
“One theme I hear related to the parent-child relationship is not feeling good enough. Millennials grow up with parents who have high expectations, and failure is not only discouraged but it’s not even allowed in some instances. While parents want their children to be successful, the overall message has become if you aren’t successful by your parents’ expectations, then you’re a loser. A failure. You’re not good enough.
Fighting a Constant Battle -
This option is exhausting for all involved. You love your parents and you want them to be a part of who you are but they just can't seem to understand you at all. They, in turn, love you and they only want you to be happy, that's why they don't understand why you don't follow their advice.
Does this sound familiar? It should because we all go through this at some point but what we the majority of us don't do is, live like this constantly. For some adult's the thought of going over to their parent's house leaves their stomach in knots. They have to gear themselves up for the inevitable fight that seems to happen whenever they buck their parents' advice, ideals, comments, or their offerings of help.
How can someone who raised you, not know you at all? Why do they choose to see you through narrow lenses? Aren't they tired of the fight? These are some of the many questions you ask yourself whenever you think of talking to your parents about something they don't agree with. There comments can very often be directed at how you parent. Forget the fact that for most of them they haven't raised a child in 20+ years. But they seem to think that they know how to do it better than you.
But because they didn't raise a doormat, you fight back.
The problem is this takes a toll on both you and them. It can present itself physically, mentally and emotionally.
Then there are times when it's all too much and the adult child has to step away from the parent. This is painful and usually only happens when all of the child's efforts have been exhausted. Children have an unending supply of forgiveness or so most parents think.
What they don't realize is once your child grows up they are aware of their own limitations and the need to move away from parental expectations. For some adult children, they have a short line of tolerance which can lead to no longer allowing themselves to be bullied by their parents unwanted and often unwarranted advice. Once they feel as though they have exhausted all of their options, many will choose to leave the relationship.
Abusive relationships are not just for lovers, a parent that refuses to stop stepping all over their child can be classified as abusive. But like an abusive significant other, the parent thinks that it is their job to keep their child in check, because they are incapable of doing it themselves. Mental and emotional abuse knows no familial lines.
For some people walking away is the only option especially if they have a parent that ties their own happiness to their adult child's life.
When you raise your children to be so afraid to speak their mind, they will become adults who do not know how to tell you or anyone else, no. I have seen so many people in their 30's & 40's that would rather rearrange not only their lives but the lives of others in order to accommodate their parents every whim. They become their parents' valet, maid, administrative assistant, personal assistant, chauffeur and in some cases their parent emotional punching bag.
Parental guilt is a powerful thing that unless you truly have a sense of self it is nearly impossible to get yourself out from under.
If This All Sounds Familiar But You Aren't Sure It Applies to You Take A Look At The Questions Below:
I am by no means telling you to not be there for your parents but ask yourself these questions:
*this only applies to non-emergency or non health-related situations
Have I canceled plans simply because my parents refuse to handle a situation that they are capable of handling?
Do I put others in my life in compromising positions because I am incapable of telling my parents no?
Do I commit other people to situations that they are not aware of because saying "I don't know, let me check with ___________ and see if they can make it." seems to elicit too much time-consuming backlash?
When I have pushed back do my parent(s) seem to immediately become defensive, make me feel as though I have been too harsh with them, or behave as though dire consequences will come about from my decision to stand up for myself?
Have I become angry with my significant other when they ask me to draw a line with my parents?
Do you feel pulled between my significant other's expectations and my parents' expectations?
Do you feel as though it is easier to compromise your significant others happiness and comfort?
Has your significant other ever complained or accused you of putting them to the side so that your parents weren't inconvenienced?
Lastly, do you honestly feel in your heart of hearts that your significant other should feel the way you feel about your parents and you are secretly resentful if they don't?
What's the answer?
For the parents - they need to learn to let go, see you as an adult who is capable of making their own choices. They need to realize that your mistakes are not a reflection upon them. If you have parents that are afraid of how the world, society or the neighbors will view them then this is a hard battle to win. Their egos are involved and when that happens to depend upon their generation it might be easier said than done.
For the child - Learn to let go and not expect compliance from them. Sometimes the best thing to do is let someone know that you love them but that they no longer have a hold over your life. Be proud of the person that you are even if they don't agree. No one wakes up to live your life but you, so never be ashamed to be who you are or who you want to be. Most importantly, don't hold resentment in your heart. It will only eat away at you and it will never affect them.
Be the glorious you that you were meant to be!