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Seeking Approval From Parents (and Sometimes Respectfully Declining)

The struggles that come with seeking validation from our parents is nothing unusual. Everyone wants their family’s approval but often it doesn’t look the way we want or isn’t to the degree we hope for. When we discuss our trials and tribulations, family doesn’t tend to hold back on offering advice unsolicited or not.


A common theme I hear amongst my peers is that their parents nag on them or constantly criticize their actions and decisions even when they aren’t childish choices. Big things like what you’re going to school for or the people you choose to spend your energy on tends to start sparks or some level of discomfort. I remember feeling my dad’s fingers dig into my shoulders when I moved away for college yet when he was my age he was traveling and working across the globe. Mind you, that’s without the incredibly accessible communication we have with technology today. How did my grandparents handle that if this is how my parents are?


I’m always so intrigued how my parents acted and the decisions they made when they were my age. This year I am the same age as my mother when my parents met. (Comparing your love life to your parents is hella daunting but that could be a completely separate blog post.) Observing my life where it stands now and imagining my parents and my grandparents living it fascinates me. What questions did they have about their self-worth, careers, spiritual ideas, and purpose?

It’s important to remember that our parents were our age once and that they probably didn’t know what they were doing half the time either (even when we thought they did). There is something to be said about them having “gone through it” before. However, that doesn’t mean they know everything (even if they believe they do).


Both of my parents never finished college, started at the bottom of the professional food chain, and worked their way up a ladder to running their own businesses. My creative pursuits aren’t quite as straightforward. Promotions and raises are part of the performer life. Music, writing, and theatre are short temporary jobs that don’t necessarily grow bigger. One of my first professional acting jobs was at a regional theatre alongside two cast members with resumes covered in impressive Broadway credits. Yet there we were in a tiny town in Florida doing a show together. By no means am I degrading their work; my point is that this career doesn’t work like a ladder, it’s a pool of water that grows bigger the more you add to it.

Naturally I’ve had a difficult time discussing my industry with my family. When I decided to pursue acting in college they enthusiastically chimed “You’ll be a movie star!” and “Broadway, here she comes!” While I greatly appreciated their support, it didn’t have the effect they intended. My goals weren’t to be the next Emma Watson or Sutton Foster. My goal was to inspire people with theatre because of the experiences that had monumentally inspired me. Theatre makes the world a better place; I wanted to have a hand in that. “But you’d be rich! You could be a famous celebrity! We can brag to everybody that you’re our family!”

That piled on some expectations that, still to this day, I have a hard time shaking off. Am I avoiding the desire for fame because I doubt myself? I don’t think so… Will my failures disappoint them so instead I set lower goals? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I want to be a star like everybody else?


How can we live our own life, achieve our parents’ approval, and yet still make our own individual decisions? If you know, send me the recipe! I only can offer a few of the ingredients…


Communication.

Tell them nothing and everyone is in frustrated darkness. Tell them everything and their voices may overpower your own until you don’t recognize it anymore. There is a balance and it is different for every family and every individual. Many people can’t be their full selves around their family but that doesn’t mean they can’t be active in their life. It is different to share pieces of life and provide an invitation to comment on decisions in the making.


Empathy.

Everyone older than you has been your age. While being older doesn’t always mean wiser, it does often mean more experience. That deserves at least a listen. Try to meet them in the middle. Rather than the age-old accusation “Mom, you just don’t get it!,” maybe a calmer approach like, “I think my situation is different because…,” could help bridge that gap.


Identify it.

Some people strive to be nothing like their parents whether that means a particular trait or everything in relation to them. If you hate something your parent does, identify it and know the reason why. You hate when they force you to show them text messages. Why? Do they have a reason not to trust you or are they overprotective? Do they squirm when they don’t have complete control of you? There’s a good chance they aren’t smothering you just to piss you off. More likely they are scared of being out of the loop. Growing up freaks them out. They just want us to be safe and succeed even though most of the time it doesn’t come across that way, even if that means not being around. Every family has their own combination of weirdness. Try to understand yours before condemning them careless or hateful.

Everybody has their own version of these concerns. Some parents don’t support their kids’ endeavours because they believe there’s a better or smarter option for them. Some parents are so overprotective they never allow their child to make their own decisions. Parents smother and smack us in all directions yet we don’t feel we can survive without their approval, their validation. Some parents aren’t even around for the hopes of fulfilling those needs.


Family is where we come from. We can follow similar paths or pave our own way. But most importantly, you are you. You have the power and capability to give yourself that validation. You don’t need it from anybody else.


Now go rule the world, superstar.

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Cover Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

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