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Drawing The Lines On Parental Interference

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Of all the relationships we form in our lives, the one with our parents is the most complex. It is the longest, and it can be at various times easy, joyful, difficult, or infuriating.

The great problem is that in those first few years in which your parents nourish and protect you, and the next fifteen or so when they support, encourage, and try to guide you, they come to see you as part of them, as a young boy who is dependent on them for protection and love. Your growth into a man of independent means, emotions, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and relationships is acknowledged in word and somewhat in spirit, but is rarely, if ever, deeply felt.

This often leads to trouble when you enter college and even afterward. Parental interference with your life—or, indeed, the life you’re trying to make—can be a source of tension and distress. It is especially hard when you are just starting out because in many ways you will need their support. You will need financial help getting through college, and you may even need a place to stay after graduating. It is not unknown for well-established bachelor professionals to move back home as a means of saving money while they prepare to launch a new business or some other venture.

The point is you do not, for both personal and practical reasons, want to be constantly at odds with your folks. However, you will, for the aforementioned reasons, need to insist on boundaries—on strict lines across which they must not step.

The spheres of your life in which you insist on having your own way are of course up to you. It may be the women you choose to date, where you choose to live, how much you choose to go into debt, or your views on religion. Most parents would prefer you to follow their advice in these rather sensitive and important areas. But you must do as your mind, heart, and conscience dictates.

So, how do you draw the lines on parental interference?

Any given difficulty can be resolved much more smoothly if you do not conform to childish behavior. If you do not act like a brat, it will be much harder for them to treat you like one. It will require all the patience you can muster, but you must avoid charged, emotional responses when they question your judgment. Take a deep breath and give them your reasons for thinking and feeling the way you do. Speak to them as a rational, mature adult and they will start to see and treat you as one.

Drawing lines is always harder when you are under their roof. If you need to tell them something that you know will be hard for them to hear, do it away from the family home. Have the conversation in a public place or in your home or apartment. Neutral ground or your ground will produce a feeling of equality between you, which will in turn help gain their respect for your decision.

Finally, show them that you have taken their advice seriously; that you are not rejecting it in a spirit of irrational rebelliousness. There is also something to be said for not being flaky. Flip flopping and indecision are signs that you really don’t know your own mind or what you want. Such indecisiveness will only invite more attempts by your parent to interfere with your life.

You have no desire to make mom cry and throw dad into a fit of rage. There will be times in which you will need to tell them to butt out of your affairs. But there is a way of doing this which does not leave hard feelings and a damaged relationship.

About Christopher Reid

Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.

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