We don’t owe our parents the life they want us to lead
Emma Mendez // Culture Editor
Valeriya Kim // Illustrator
I have always found it unrealistic for parents and guardians to expect us to do and live how they want us to; to let them set all the expectations in the relationship, just because it will satisfy their ego. It’s unfair, damaging, and a recipe for disaster. Don’t get me wrong, one can be grateful for what they did for you — and still want space, firm boundaries, and acknowledgement that they hurt you.
The two can coexist, relationships, like people, are complex and full of contradictions. Appreciating certain things your parents or guardians did, does not mean you have to justify or excuse their toxic behaviour or ways they hurt you. They must be able to hold themselves accountable and respect your boundaries and way of being, because we deserve to heal, as well as grow, in whatever direction feels fulfilling.
I used to think about who I would be if I hadn’t grown up being told that being self-sacrificing in the name of family was something to aspire to. Growing up in an emotionally abusive environment, with an enmeshed family, as the parentified eldest daughter, I was expected to do everything and be everything in the name of my family. Want to go to a New Year’s Eve party with your friends? Sorry you can’t, someone needs to help make dinner. It turned out all holidays are a family thing no matter what. Want to be honest about leaving Catholicism? How dare you! You’re a bad influence on your siblings!
It never seems to end, and this is just the smallest taste of it. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve met countless people throughout my life that also grew up feeling trapped, guilty and ashamed of wanting something different for themselves.
I’m not sure when the sentiments about family became all or nothing. Although it depends on one’s cultural background and social context, the common thread I’ve found is that a lot of parents have this mentality that we’re either with them or against them — that our decisions in life revolve around them. And, that by choosing to prioritize one’s own happiness and mental health, that we are betraying them and that we owe them our happiness.
This idea is reinforced within media, and through other cultural expressions, in a variety of cultures around the world. But what many parents and people don’t realize is that this mentality and behaviour is a form of intergenerational trauma that exists in our lineages, in our communities, and our cultures. Because of the fear of scarcity and the need to survive in a capitalist, colonial, patriarchal, and heternormative world — one that does not want us to thrive as a collective. By choosing to break these patterns, we are choosing to reclaim our sovereignty as people, communities, future ancestors, and individuals who deserve to thrive and not just survive.
In the past year alone, since I began to seriously embark on my healing journey and return to therapy, I’ve noticed the rift between my parents and I growing bigger. My family dynamic had never been smooth, let alone healthy. Throughout the last few months, as I began to learn to set boundaries, prioritize my (very neglected) dreams, needs, as well as those of my inner teen and child, I noticed the anger and resentment towards me from my parents. I wasn’t the obedient Mexican daughter they had tried to create, and I was, and still am, excited about that. Even if it means I disappoint them. I’m beginning to realize that unfortunately parents don’t always want you to heal and grow or be the best version of yourself. And it’s a heart-breaking realization to accept.
We have the right to want to heal from our trauma and break the toxic cycles that our ancestors and family members have clung onto, they do too. We deserve better.