Finding yourself / How to become a leader

Your parents are no longer in charge

Here in the States, you occasionally see a public-interest marketing campaign on behalf of a marginalized and misunderstood group, with the tagline “X are people too.”  As in: Women are people too. Prisoners are people too. Sex workers are people too. Palestinians are people too. Mathematicians are people too.

They’re references to “Kids are People Too,” a 1970s-era TV variety show for kids which ran on Sunday mornings.  Back then, we didn’t watch TV at home,  but at school I’d always hear about which movie stars had been on that week.

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Dave and our daughter Pip

In the words of its catchy theme song:

We may be young and not full grown
but we’ve got problems of our own
Kids are people too
And so we hope you understand
and try to lend a helping hand
Kids are people too
Wacka doo wacka doo

Well, parents are people too.

That’s what I sometimes think when I receive emails from blog readers complaining about your unreasonable, sanctimonious, spying, domineering, dear parents.

My own experience with parenthood

The moment I became a mother, at the first sight of my precious baby, I experienced pure joy and love, just like in the movies.

But my tears also included an emotion I didn’t expect: terror. I thought: “My God, how in the world am I going to keep this tiny life safe until someday she can take care of herself?”  I realized that I had no idea how to be a mother.

It’s not because I’m such a selfless person that I now invest more energy on caring for my kids than I do for myself. Perhaps it’s biological: when you have kids, they simply become your focus.

Last month in my neighborhood occurred a sickening traffic accident. A mother walked out of her home, leaving the door ajar. She got into her car, put it into reverse – and crushed her 2-year-old daughter who had quietly followed her out of the door.

It was a brief news item in the local newspaper. The article didn’t include a photo. But I tend to think visually, and when I read the piece, my mind instantly recreated it as a horror movie played in agonizing slow motion.

In the weeks since, that movie has continued to infiltrate my consciousness at random moments.  It strikes at the most elemental fear of every parent. Being a parent means constantly living with your heart outside of your body. You just want to know that your kid is going to be OK. You’d do anything to make her life easier and happier.

So when you email me that you wish you could tell your parents, “Hey Mom and Dad, butt out of my life and get your own life!” I can relate to you, but I can also relate to them.

Your parents are people too

Your 20s are when you learn to see your parents as people and not just your parents. In the same way, they learn to see you as a person and not simply as their child. You all are adults now.

I share with you my experience of being a parent because, as you evolve your relationship with your own parents,  it’s important that you learn to empathize with them.

In fact, the major relationship in your life that will change during your 20s is the one with your parents. You need to begin seeing them in a new light. In your mind, they need to shift from being the primary authority over your life to being one piece of a broader support system which now includes your friends, colleagues and everyone around you.

Don’t just rebel. Simply being contrary is worse than letting their expectations rule your life. They’ll always have more experience than you and can offer valuable perspectives, so allow them to love and support you and give you their opinions.

But recognize that you are now 100% responsible for your own life. Stop blaming them for what’s wrong in your life, and stop blaming them for the pressure in your life.

They’ve done their job, and now you’re  officially an adult.

You now are responsible for your own life decisions

The process of becoming an adult is all about learning to separate yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually from the influences around you. This is an evolution that you’ll have to sort through in your own way.

After all, what does it mean to be “independent”? Implicit in the term are your parents, since they’re the “from whom” you’re releasing your dependence.

Your 20s are when you learn to see your parents as people and not just as your parents. In the same way, they learn to see you as a person and not simply as their child. You all are adults now.  This new relationship can allow you and them to establish an even closer of intimacy and friendship.

Go easy on your parents. As hard a transition as is for you, it may be even more difficult for them. They’ve spent over two decades taking care of everything for you, and while your drive for independence feels natural to you, to them it may seem sudden.

Parents don’t get a manual on how to let go

To be honest, when it comes time for our own daughters to take responsibility for their own life decisions, I’m not sure that Dave and I will take it any more easily. Recently, we were at dinner with another couple when they shared that they expected their daughter’s longtime boyfriend to soon request permission to marry her.

Dave asked the father what questions he planned to ask of the young man.

His question surprised the rest of us. Our friends and I all regarded as old-fashioned the ritual of a young man asking a girl’s father for her hand in marriage. If a father were lucky enough to have this happen, he should not interrogate the young man, we felt, but rather he should bless the union, and possibly, offer a few words of wisdom.

Dave disagreed. Like any father, Dave sincerely believes our girls to be the two most beautiful and adorable creatures on the planet. He said that if and when any young man asks his permission to marry either of our daughters, he would properly interview the young man. And, he added, an interview is an interview, and his granting of permission would not be a foregone conclusion.

We all laughed and poked fun at Dave until he reluctantly acknowledged that in truth, he will have no control over whether or whom our daughters someday marry.

I expect that in the coming decades, Dave may need a few more reminders to restrain his naturally overprotective instincts when it comes to his daughters and men.

In this respect, Dave is just a tad old-fashioned. But he’s a parent! Parents are supposed to be old-fashioned. That’s what makes them parents.

Does not make them any less lovable.

** Happy Fathers’ Day, everyone!  (ENGLISH NOTE:  8 8, or August 8, sounds like “father” in Chinese so today in China is unofficial Father’s Day.)

I welcome your comments, in English or Chinese, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.