Your Parents Don’t Own You
And you don’t need their permission for everything
If you have a sizable number of tattoos, it’s inevitable that you’re forced to spend a lot of time listening to strangers tell you about all the ink they plan to get someday.
Emphasis on someday. In fact, just about every non-tattooed person I meet who notices mine tells me this. Many of them have the design, the placement, even the artist planned out.
When I ask why they haven’t got it yet (because, you know, all you have to do is book an appointment — there’s no entrance exam) most people say it’s the cost or they’re scared or they need to be sure.
But what scares me is how many people say “my parents won’t let me.”
For context, these are not kids. These are not people who are young enough to need parental permission. These are not people who still live at home or are dependent on their parents. I’ve literally heard this from people in their thirties or even forties.
Yet somehow, they’re stuck in the mindset of thinking they need their approval for how they live their lives. It just reeks of an inability to set healthy boundaries.
Because it usually seems like the control extends way beyond this. It’s symptomatic of a wider misunderstanding of what we owe our parents.
It’s even weirder when people ask me if my parents are okay with my tattoos. My father has, to my memory, never even acknowledged them. My mother appreciates them as beautiful pieces of art. I might discuss a design with her beforehand, but she respects my autonomy and doesn’t infringe on the decision. Nor does she cross boundaries about other stuff.
So when people tell me they can’t put art on their bodies because their parents won’t let them, I always want to say: your parents do not own you. They do not need to ‘allow’ you do anything.
You don’t try to control people you respect.
As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it, ‘ Allow is a troubling word. Allow is about power.’ If you still think that way, you have a skewed perception of how much power your parents can and should have over you.
Your parents chose* to have children. You didn’t choose to be their child.
It’s always going to be an unequal relationship. Once you’re an autonomous adult living independently, you are in charge of your life. You get to step back and rethink how you relate to your parents.
Assuming they are pleasant, non-abusive, non-toxic people, your side of the bargain is to stay in touch, update them on your life from time to time, visit when you can and so on. If that doesn’t feel natural and enjoyable, something is clearly wrong. Any time I start to feel uncomfortable or on edge around my mother, I know the problem is me — usually that I’m slipping back into a childish mindset of worrying about her judging me or feeling the need to act a certain way.
We owe the people who raise us a certain amount. We have to acknowledge that they likely know more about life than us and have valuable advice to give. We can learn a lot from them. We should do what we can to care for them.
Setting boundaries with the people around you is a major component of maturity
That includes your parents. That means recognizing where to draw the line.
It’s one thing for your parents to, say, tell you if they think you are in an unhealthy relationship and they have concerns about your partner. In the same way a friend would. It is quite another for them to blank your partner at family gatherings or openly criticize them to their face. It’s one thing for your parents to present you with an alternate perspective on a decision you’re making, based on their own life experience. It’s another for them to assume their experience is automatically relevant despite them being a different person at a different time.
Suffocation isn’t healthy at any age. Babies need time to be safely alone to develop. Helicopter parenting doesn’t do anyone any favors. As teenagers, our identities develop as a form of opposition to our parents. But ultimately, we cannot expect everything from them forever, and they cannot expect to be everything to us forever. Viewing them as having control over our lives as adults places an unreasonable burden on them too. Excessive attachment is not love.
The kindest thing we can do for our parents is to grow into the strong, autonomous, independent, smart, self-sufficient people they raised us (or tried to) to be.
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*Yes, I’m aware that having children is not always a choice but I’m going to assume that most of the people reading this were not born against their parents’ wishes.