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Carolyn Hax: Use different tactic with critical parents

Sun., Nov. 27, 2011

Dear Carolyn: I just got out of college. I have been job-hunting for months, and was recently given an opportunity even before it was advertised. I was happy with my stroke of luck. It’s a small company that just started recently, so the salary is low and the commute takes awhile, but I am excited to see a different aspect of the field I majored in.

Despite my joy, my parents don’t seem too happy about it. They think it’s not good enough, when it’s actually a great opportunity to learn new skills. I’ve tried to reason with them that the pay will get better in a few months and that I can accomplish many things on the job, but they want me to find a “better” opportunity now.

I am just tired of the wave of disapprovals from my parents. Whenever I find something I truly want to pursue, they somehow get in the way, and I give up in fear of losing something bigger or making the situation worse.

Is there a way to deal with this complex of mine? – Tired of Disapproval

I do, too, but wanting it won’t make it so.

Your parents are responsible for their decision to criticize, but the criticism-avoidance strategy is your decision; therefore, that’s what you can change.

By your account, your coping mechanism is to “give up in fear of … making the situation worse,” or to carry on without telling your parents how you feel lest you “make the situation worse.”

Perhaps it’s time to make the situation worse.

Or, more precisely, to square your shoulders against your guiding fear, that wave of disapproval. First, accept that it’s probably coming anyway, no matter what you do.

Then, consider that the consequences of standing up to your parents might be an improvement on the consequences of not standing up to them – also known as “the life you’re living now,” where you let opportunities pass you by, swallow your feelings and await approval that never comes. You’re clearly not happy with that.

It also sounds as if you have dabbled in standing up to them, so you know boldness won’t solve anything in itself.

But your experience is telling you, too, that you need a different approach to standing up to them. In the past you’ve argued the merits of your choices: “the pay will get better,” “I can accomplish many things,” etc.

Yet any argument on that point is unwinnable, because neither party will know what was right until after the decision plays out – years after, sometimes.

That’s why I suggest you grant them all of that “right” territory without argument, and embrace the value in being wrong. “You think this job’s a mistake, I know, and you’re probably right. But if you are, I’ll get a great education – and if you’re wrong, I’ll have a great job.”

That will pre-empt some of their yammering; decide upfront to withstand and outlast the rest.

After all, they’ve proved they’ll badger you no matter what, so what you’re really wrestling with is fear that they’ll have been right. So, last step: Rewrite your definition of “good choice” as one that (1) stems from good intentions and (2) allows you to exercise and inform your own judgment. Period. No matter how it turns out. That way, even the missteps will go your way, whether your parents do or not.

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