My parents treat me like a child

I'm 25, but they don't want me to be independent.

By Cary Tennis

Published May 5, 2009 10:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

As a 25-year-old, I have trust and abandonment issues with my family because I grew up in another country with grandparents and came to the U.S. in my teens. I just realized my emotions (the occasional sob-fest for no reason) are because of my feeling that no one wanted me to exist because I was just left alone.

I can live on my own, but I am still with my parents because I felt that it is important for me to establish a bond with them sooner rather than later, especially when I didn't grow up with them. But my parents get suspicious when I am going out, despite the fact that I explain to them point-blank what I will be doing and where I go, i.e., the bookstore, the movies, grocery shopping, seeing a friend, etc. My parents, first-generation immigrants, mostly keep to themselves. I am not OK with keeping to myself; I become bored, anxious or depressed. Recently I was also trying to convey that sooner or later I may move out. This triggered a large screamish reaction on my mother's part and she subsequently pointed out that I was selfish, irresponsible and immature. I found this laughable because I do laundry, vacuum, cook and clean for the house every week. It could also partly be because a close elderly relative to both my mother and I just passed away. Furthermore, both of my parents take to heart my preference for public transit as opposed to driving -- they feel that a car is essential to survivorship, while I feel like I will drive when I absolutely have to, but otherwise my proximity to public transit is minimal, the walk is great and it saves money.

Am I really being the childish one? I have actually spoken with my mother about my feelings of neglect recently -- and for the first time in a long time, I felt that she listened. Nothing was resolved but it was a start, nevertheless.

How should I deal from this point on?

Many thanks for reading,

The Kid in the Picture

Dear Kid in the Picture,

It's time to build a new life for yourself in America, on your own, away from your parents.

Why must you do this? To heal your abandonment. It will never heal as long as you are living with your parents. The lure is too strong. The illusion that they might finally, one day, give you what you so desperately needed at one time is too strong.  You must learn to give yourself these very crucial things that you missed, that you are longing for -- the feeling that your life is vitally important, that the world welcomes you into its fold, that your birth was welcome, that you matter, that you deserve care and love.

It is natural to be looking for this in your parents -- the trust and parenting and care that you missed. I hear, in your letter, a poignant ambivalence. You have been drawn to spend time with your parents as if they hold the key to something, and yet every action you take is an action of independence. You naturally tend toward independence. Yet you are drawn to your parents. You know you have an adult life to lead. Yet the abandoned child in you sees your parents as people who might finally give you what you need, cure your emptiness, show you how to get on in the world, make some magical gesture that solves life's mysteries and shows you who you are.

But, sadly, they cannot do that for you. It is natural to look to them for some sense of completeness, an answer to the mystery of who you are, but you are going to have to find that yourself, on your own, in this odd, fractured, vibrant loneliness we call America.

You do not have to do it all on your own. You may find someone who can guide you in that direction, a healer or seer, or prophet, or therapist. But you will have to do the work. And the best way to begin that work is to begin taking full responsibility for your own life, your own laundry, your own transportation, your own sleeping quarters. You must divorce yourself.

Decide what holidays and birthdays you will observe, and put them in your calendar, and be sure to send gifts or cards on those dates. Send your parents gifts. Give them things. Make them feel wanted. But separate yourself from their control. Move out.

You may fear that you are breaking your parents' hearts by leaving, but it is what you must do. Do not let their lamentations dissuade you. It is your life; they gave it to you but it is yours now, and you must give to this life all that it deserves.

Your origins may tell you something about your path. But the path is in front of you. That is where your attention needs to be: on the path in front of you.

I wish I could say more, and be more articulate and pointed, but I just have to try to get across this one intuition I have, which is that at this time in your life, you must accept that you are your own parent. You are your own person. It is your life. You are on your own.

This is not a sentence to loneliness and despair. Rather, it is a cry of freedom.

Go forth! Find your path! Embark on your great journey!


What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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