I am struggling with an issue of etiquette, and of course it’s all about my parents! Since moving to the west coast with my fiancé, I’ve made a great many changes that no longer reflect the family lifestyle that I grew up in, which means how I exercise, how much television I watch, what I eat, the fact that I no longer go to church- you know, health practices. Recently my parents came to visit for the first time since we settled in and it was kind of excruciating. They turned their noses up to most things, especially my healthy choices. I’m sure that my choices might bring up uncomfortable feelings and I think maybe on some part, my parents think I’m ashamed of how I was raised, but I don’t think I can indulge that shame by not being myself when they visit. So, my question is, how do I maintain my chosen lifestyle, while accepting that they won’t like it, when they are visiting? More specifically, how do I not blow up at them when they act like petulant five year olds when I serve them a thoughtful, healthy meal?
Outgrowing My Parents
You have successfully met your next right of passage. It is not an easy feet to surpass a parent in emotional maturity, but a necessary step in the growing up process. And worse, maturity actually means accepting that they will likely never really meet you where you are. This is not to say that you wont be loved or accepted by your parents, but that your journey has to be yours and you must let them have theirs. The answers to your questions are simple, and yet, they require an incredible amount of endurance and compassion (for yourself and for them) if you are to ever get past the discomforts you face.
First things first, you have to be happy in your choices, and that’s it. Your parents may never be able to get past their hang ups and admit that your choice might be better, more evolved, more adaptable, healthier- whatever; and they may never agree with you. You could endeavor to become everything you think they want you to be and you still wouldn’t be enough because you’d be measuring your personal value by someone else’s value system. It doesn’t work. So lets get real, this isn’t about how petulant they are. It’s actually way more about your expectations of them than it is their expectations of you.
Now, once you take a few beats to digest this and get past that wallop of truth, consider some good ol’ fashion boundary work. It’s not easy, and it’s not really hard, it’s just uncomfortable. We should always operate with some level of sensitivity when it comes to expecting others to step into our worlds. It’s often unfamiliar and will typically bring up a lot of resistance. Start by realizing that whenever you push for your parents to see you for what you are that you are challenging their very ways of being and that this threat builds immediate walls. Practice being you without being attached to their reactions and to the outcome. You cannot create what you are seeking by forcing someone to look at you; their view will always come in a different shade. Instead, be yourself while showing interest in who they are. Share new things that interest you instead of imposing the right way of being. We all want our parents to be healthy, progressive yogis, but reality check, they aren’t- you are. So, access some of that yogi groundedness and stop seeking self-validation or other-compromise. Chogyam Trungpa once suggested that it’s actually possible to become enlightened everywhere except around one’s family. It’s true; that’s what triggers are for, to instill a constant practice. When that next opportunity shows up, take a deep breath and smile to yourself. Remember that it isn’t your job to do your parents work. Yours is chill out and let it go. Their hang-ups are not yours.
As for dinner, kudos to you for your healthy mind-body movements. Make what you like and that’s that. If you feel so inclined to cook a hamburger because you know that this is what your parents like, then go for it. Just add some avocado and Vegenaise and a pile of greens on top for you, and leave the ketchup and mustard out for them. It might be healthier for each of you to enjoy the meals that you choose for yourselves, while also enjoying each other’s company, guilt free. And just maybe, mom and dad will take a queue when they see your new rockin’ bod and light heart in motion. Create change by being the change. Right? It’s a matter of how many breaths you take and how many times you chose not to attach yourself to that infamous parent-child power struggle.
Let’s recap: deep breath. Take one more. Smile. Let it go. You’ve got this! And remember, no one will ever turn their nose up to a little grilled pineapple on that burger! Enjoy.
You can ask Samara and Caroline questions for the Love & Life Advice Column here at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The ideas and advice presented here are not a substitute for professional advice. Talk to your psychologist, counselor, physician or health care professional for situations that warrant further analysis.