13/ 12/ 2007

Cutting the umbilical cord

Growing up and away (physically) from my mother was hard. In our house, family is always top priority and we’re all very much attached to one another, for better or for worse. After years of screaming battles however, I won my geographical independence (we live in two different countries now, and she’s fine with it), yet somehow have managed to stay close. I love my mom more than ever.

So I thought the worst was over, until a few years ago when I realized my boyfriend was still attached by the hip to his parents, and no move on either side was being made to push him out of the nest. Sure, he defied their wishes and for a time even chose to move into his grandparents’ home, then eventually moved into mine. But they were still babying him–taking care of his finances, waking him up in the mornings, making his doctors appointments, ironing his shirt, you name it–and had every intention of staying that way forever.

My being in the picture just meant they would have TWO kids to keep on a short leash; of course, to their dismay, soon into our relationship they realized that I wasn’t as easily micro-managed. As a result, they generally knew not to boss me around too much, though we did end up in some conflicts ranging from the unimaginably silly to the lifestyle-altering let’s-just-end-this-relationship kind. The silliest one I can remember was when his mother insisted on coordinating what I would wear to a family wedding, and tried passive-aggressively to buy the most horribly ugly dresses hoping I’d eventually give in and stop turning her down (I didn’t). The most serious was when he started a new job and they insisted I move out of my apartment and into their home “if I loved him” because they wanted to be there to wake him up every morning for work. (?!?!)

To be sure, they are lovely people. Lovely, meddlesome, controlling people who are relaxed, flexible, laid back and cool about just about anything except where their son lives, what he eats, how he does his laundry, and when he should give them grandchildren (in case you’re wondering, it’s yesteryear). You can imagine the unmasked horror on his father’s face when I told them I wanted to move out of the country–disappointment would be an understatement. “I’ll tell you the truth,” he said. “I’m very concerned. ***’s mother and I–we’re very traditional.” Whatever that means.

So that moment in my life is what I thought of when I read this:http://lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/couplesandmarriage/articlerb.aspx?cp-documentid=5682345, the story of a 37-year-old woman (37!) who could not break it to her parents that she wanted to move a mere 300 miles away to be closer to her love. I feel her pain, I really do … but I think I feel worse for her boyfriend.

Going through a rocky teenager-hood is healthy. By doing it, I got all those screaming fights and differences of opinion out of my system, effectively “training” my mom as I grew older and more independent. The fights were ugly, yes; but eventually her orders grew into advice, and things settled down.

If things DON’T happen that way, however, you’ll grow old without ever growing up, and your parents won’t either. I mean goodness … how awful must it be to still live in fear that your parents will disapprove of you when you’re already will into your adulthood? It’d mean your life has pretty much been at a standstill since you hit 18! What’s worse, your perfectly wonderful significant other with a perfectly healthy relationship to his/her parents will be dragged into it with you, perpetually having to please your unreasonable parents who (and it’s really not their fault) are accustomed to ordering you around for almost four decades. Habits are not that easy to shake. This will have been a 37-year-old habit.

My advice: cut the umbilical cord as soon as you realize it needs to be cut. One in 100 families won’t be able to get over it, but their chances of getting over it sooner depend on how early you decide to claim your independence, and your life. You can still be traditional and filial and loving toward your closest family for the next 50 years; but that doesn’t mean you have to live under their supervision or approval. If they love you, they’ll get over it. And if you love your significant other, you won’t put them through that kind of hell.

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I'm a 30-something multimedia creator from New York. I do videos on Youtube centered on open discussion and co-mentorship. Once a month, I host a Q&A with inspiring people from entrepreneurs to athletes and more on The itsme Podcast. Be warned: I can be opinionated. But it's all love! Please follow and subscribe, it would mean a lot! :)

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