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Do Parents Really Know Best? Discerning Between Your Wants and Theirs.

by Kavina Rajendran. |

The parent-child relationship, although beautiful, nurturing, and positive in many aspects, has the potential to be toxic and negative. The love between a parent and a child is definitely a singular type of love that is hard to replicate in any other relationship model. This is a love, which has its roots, not in mutual understanding or sex or deep conversations, but rather in self-sacrifice and devotion. This obviously differs from household to household and varies across cultures, however, it is universally acknowledged that being a parent would require learning a new kind of love. The kind of love that drives people to perform heroic acts of sacrifice as well as terrible acts of greed. The kind of love that causes one to emigrate to another country or bribe their child’s way into university.

In her second best-selling novel, A Little Life, Hanya Yanigahara discusses a key parenting skill and expectation that is often not discussed and is buried under the usual rhetoric of unconditional, self-sacrificial love. A character in the book, Harold, has a son who suffers from a rare neurodegenerative disease and who later dies at the age of five. Throughout the son’s battle, Harold has to come to terms with the fact that his son may not go to graduate school or university or even school for that matter. He struggles to do this and acquiesces that we humans are very unimaginative when it comes to parenting. We want our children to be like we are or better than we are. A turning point for most parents would then be realising that the point of a child is not hoping what he or she would achieve in your name but rather the pleasure they would bring to you and in turn, the pleasure you will be privileged to bring to them.

Image: Boundless

Unfortunately, this turning point is one that would occur in the later stages of the child’s life or not at all for some unlucky individuals. For the first 15 to 25 years at least, most typical Malaysian parents would project their fears, desires, hopes, wants and dreams onto their child. The parents are not to be blamed of course. When you look back at it, their parents did this to them. And their parents’ parents to their parents as well. What this births is a never-ending intergenerational cycle of not pursuing your actual dreams and not being able to envision or craft a future of your own. This is the status quo and often goes unnoticed until the child is making a major life decision. The fear of taking a risk is no longer one which is an individual choice, but now one that is compounded by guilt and heavily dependent on your parent’s sacrifice and expectations.

Hence, young adults in Malaysia face great parental and societal barriers when deciding to take a risk or do something out of the norm. After years of having things decided for you or having your thoughts and dreams influenced by your parents, many children will be unable to separate from this extra parental limb and will find it difficult to locate a sense of self and self-identity.

So how then do we discern our wants and needs from that of our parents? How do we let go of these default mind-setting that is so intertwined with our upbringing? Here are a few steps in doing so.

1. Find yourself.

You would have probably heard this espoused by every career talk in school but it truly is the core of discovering your self-identity. Make lists, read books, and go to places. What would you buy or do if money was not an issue? What would you do if the consequences of your actions could later be erased? For most people, the answers to these questions reflect one’s underlying desires and wants that have the potential to be realised, but lay dormant due to cultural or parental boundaries.

2. Stay true to your culture, but do not let it govern your life.

Culture is beautiful and culture is important. Culture is an amalgamation of your family’s history, migration, food and rules. However, it can create barriers that impede your personal growth. The contentious nature of culture is evermore apparent now due to the cultural rift between generations. Growing up in an age of technology and the Internet, we are aware of different norms and rules that are commonly regarded as hedonistic from an Asian point of view. From debates on abortion rights and the sanctity of a woman’s virginity to same-sex marriage, the pervasive influence of media has led to a liberalisation of the youth’s mindset. However, this growth is not reflected in the older generation and there exists a cultural and intellectual gap between these generations that is hard to circumvent. This later manifests in life choices and decisions by the child which may be viewed with disapproval and discontent by the parents. This discrepancy, albeit uncomfortable and overwhelming, is a necessary part of taking ownership of your life and dismantling cultural barriers that repress you.

Of course, this is not to encourage everyone to abandon filial piety or tradition, which is the hallmark of the Asian culture. Instead, you should recognise when your culture limits your potential and consequently make decisions to your benefit, despite it going against your culture.

3. Keep in mind the consequences of living a life that is not yours.

One important thing to remember is that you will not be happy living a life that is not yours. Cliché as it is, it is important to follow your dreams and your wants. It is not fulfilling to live a life that has already been crafted for you. You will feel uninspired and unoriginal. You have to decide the version of yourself that you want to be in every stage of your life and you should pursue that particular vision. It is extremely difficult to go against the intrinsic current of tradition and norms and expectations, but it is a battle that one has to face so as to achieve self-actualization.

Ultimately, this article does not encourage parental nihilism or a cultural rebellion. Instead, parents should create a healthy environment that nurtures their children but they should not influence this environment. The burden of carrying the weight of all your parent’s expectations and dreams and hopes that you are not living is far too heavy for one person to bear. Therefore, find ways to disentangle yourself from these expectations and locate your self-identity and live a life of your own manifestation and creation.

You may find out more about the writer on Twitter.

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