The connections we have to our parents, or to those whom we consider our guardians, run deep, and have profound consequences for the course of our lives. It is natural to be guided by our parents’ approval and live based on their expectations when we are young children. It is after all first from them that we learn about ourselves and our world. However, what greatly limits the quality of our life is if we don’t transition into our own way of living and being as we grow into adults. In this essay, we will explore the challenges of living based on the expectations of our parents, and the essential rite of liberation required for our personal evolution.
This essay is intended for all adults, regardless of your age, and regardless if your parents are alive or deceased, as we can still be under their influence in both cases. The inspiration for it has come from the countless individuals that I have heard from or known, either directly or indirectly through the years, whose lives revolved around the paradigm: what will my parents think. As the observer, I became aware of so much guilt, fear, doubt, turmoil, toxic influences, held back aspirations, dreams limited potential, and more, due to the restricted thinking based on parental approval. So much unnecessary drama, trauma, and suffering that could be alleviated if we could only find a way to liberate ourselves beyond the limits of this self-imposed construct.
From my experience thus far, we are all affected by this to some degree. Whether you are 20, 40, or 60 years old, depending on the choices at hand you may still find yourself filled with hesitation or dread to some degree, as to what your parent(s) will think of your particular decision, expression, or life choice, no matter how big or small. Whether to enter into a new relationship with the person in question or to end a relationship with your current partner. Whether to take a particular job or leave a particular job. Whether it is to travel or move to a certain destination, or not. Whether it be that you are pregnant or that you choose not to have children. From matters dealing with our finances, sexuality, spirituality, and everything in between, we can often find ourselves perplexed or filled with sheer dread at the thought of telling or having our parents know. And this isn’t only about the bigger choices, but even about the seemingly regular things like what you choose to wear, or how you choose to express yourself in the way you think, speak and act. Mild trepidation can often turn into serious anxiety for many, where sleepless nights, headaches, fatigue, weight gain and ailing health can all become a part of the package all too often. Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. There is an alternate path, but like with all things, you need to put yourself on it and take it with mindfulness and confidence.
As you read through this essay, please keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with being a considerate ‘child’, or human being for that matter, who takes into account how their choices may impact others, including parents, animals, our planet, etc. Being a conscious person who factors in the feelings of others before making a choice is a really good thing, but it becomes a big problem when the truth of our being and our decision making skills become governed by what others will think, or when we paralyze ourselves from pursuing our needs, for the sake of pleasing another. It is one thing to consider how your Mom or Dad may feel if they find out that you want to pursue some important to you experience, like being an activist, parachuting from a plane, or marrying a partner that is 20 years your senior. It is quite another to talk yourself out of pursuing an experience, or live with turmoil due to subconscious conditioning that at its essence has your parent’s voices laced with fear, guilt, worry or disapproval. To live with joy and inner peace, in health and harmony with ourselves, we must be free to choose what feels most right to us, and speak or act in agreement with our personal needs, values and soul’s desires, regardless of what others may think.
Expressed or Implied Expectations
One of the biggest reasons that so many of us are shackled and limited in our freedom of personal expression are the expectations our parents put on us since the time we can remember. These can be vocalized or silently implied. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day, because once we become infected by our parent’s expectations of us, we can become limited in our personal expression either way. Unfortunately there is little we can do about this when we are young children, but as we grow and begin to take more responsibility for our lives, we need to realize that we do have a choice in how we perceive and respond to our parent’s expectations.
One of the most important things to take into consideration here is that this is not about rebelling against, negating or resenting what our parents wish or will for us, or taking it out in angry ways with them. What it is about is understanding that you are here to live your life, and make your own choices, the choices most right for you, and in alignment with your soul’s journey. Your parent(s) are here to live out their life, and make their own choices. To be true to yourself, awareness, courage and heart-centered action are required.
Awareness to know what you need and how external influences may be trying to limit you (consciously or unconsciously) from pursing your needs and desires, or how you are limiting yourself based on false beliefs and assumptions related to your parents. Courage to take action, but action that is heart-centered. If or when communication is required, it means that you engage in clear, honest communication to express what you need/want and clearly communicate your course of action with the other party, in this case your parent(s). They may not like what you have chosen, but you need to be true to yourself, and when you express yourself in the most calm and loving, but firm way possible, you are that much more likely to be heard and taken seriously. We will address this again in more detail in the last section of this essay.
If you are also a parent, the more consciously and mindfully you parent starting right now, and the less you judge your child according to some rule set or set of expectations, the higher the probability of your child successfully expressing themselves and honoring their life in a liberated and fulfilling way. Yes, you are their guardian, but you are not their owner; ultimately it is their life. It is your job to keep them responsibly safe, especially the younger they are, but it is not their life purpose to live out your expectations. We each come into this world to evolve and express ourselves in the most appropriate for us ways, and when something or someone stifles the necessary growth and expression. It is then that all sorts of physical, mental and emotional turmoil occurs.
Expectations are one of the most problematic elements of this physical reality that are the cause of so much of our suffering. As you expand your consciousness (as a child or parent), and grow in mindful awareness, you will minimize the frequency of being on the giving and receiving side of expectations, causing yourself and others unnecessary suffering. It may be helpful to know that there is a certain probability as to who is most or least likely to be affected by what their parents will think, or their expectations, when it comes to making personal choices as an adult. The more you know who you are, what you stand for—what your personal standards and priorities are, and what your evolutionary needs are, the less likely you are to fall into childhood ways of thinking and being that are based on parental approval. Therefore those of us who wish to lead effective lives must take our personal growth, evolution and self-actualization seriously.
Childhood Environments and Culture
We are unique. The parents we came through into this lifetime are each unique. Each family has its own unique existential approach. None are perfect, and at the same time all are perfect. Some of us have come through parents and into families where love, abundance, support, joy and upliftment are the predominant themes. Others of us, where fear, lack, insecurity, grief and destruction are the predominant themes. With respect to the topic being addressed here, neither is the better or worse situation in which to find one’s self. It all depends on what we take from our familial environment into our personal, adult lives.
Take for example a child who was brought up by parents (or in a family) where the first theme above—what many would consider positive—was prevalent. Our initial observations would conclude that surely they will have a better quality of life as an adult. However this is not necessarily the case at all. If that child grows up into an adult who has strong attachments to their parents, in the sense that they live to please their parents, it is a crippling situation. I will discuss further as we go along. On the other hand, a child may be brought up in a challenging environment, one which many would consider negative, and grow up to be a successfully functioning, independent adult who is able to make their own choices with a sense of inner peace. The point here being that how we function as adults, and how fully and freely we live our lives is not dependent on whether we had a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ childhood. It is much more complex than that, and greatly deals with the above section of how the expectations were laid out in our family, and even more importantly, how we perceived them. Although there is no doubt that some parents foster constructive relationships with their children, and others destructive ones that can be devastating to the child’s psychological health, including self-esteem and ability to thrive.
The second major factor that shapes how effective and enabled we are to freely express our being is our cultural background. There is no question that some of the ethnic and cultural influences we still have on our planet to this day increase the degree by which we are affected by our parents’ input or approval. These factors are in fact some of the most paralyzing on our freedom of personal expression and evolution, and have expectations as their underlying foundation. Some cultures sternly disapprove of, or out right punish any violation of the parent’s will by the child, usually regardless of the individual’s age. If you are forced by your parents into an arranged marriage, religion, or line of work for example, that you do not want to experience, this is what transpires or you face being punished in some way. At the very least trying to live your personal path in these situations will result in some family turmoil, stress and drama, and on a more serious note parents threaten or follow through with disowning the child.
As you can imagine, fear and guilt play huge roles here. In fact next to expectations, fear and guilt are the toxic emotions that underlay this entire topic. The adult child wants the love and acceptance of the parents, not much differently than when they are small, and thus will commonly act out of guilt and fear to keep that at all costs. Even if this means not being true to the Self. To add fuel to the fire, parents commonly throw in statements like “how can you shame or disrespect me/us/your family like this” or “if you loved me/us, you would never do this to me/us”. Many humans still hold the idea that to disobey your parents’ wishes is nothing short of a sin. However, if and when, we do anything out of fear and/or guilt we deny the Self—our soul and spirit, and that is perhaps the greatest sin, or more correctly termed, mistake, that can be made. Either way, in such situations parents all too often act out with disappointment, consciously or subconsciously inducing guilt in the child. But we need to be clear: if you are a parent who ever finds themselves in a situation where you feel disappointed by your child, remember that you have a choice in how you choose to respond based on a higher or lower expression of emotional maturity.
The external world does not make us miserable, we make ourselves miserable because the external world does not align with our wishes, and expectations.
Whatever your childhood was like, whatever culture or part of the world you grew up in, if you are reading this right now you can liberate yourself. We must engage in the triad mentioned above: awareness, courage and heart-centered action. Each person’s circumstances will be unique. Each person’s personality and character traits will be able to handle situations differently. Some will be easier than others. Whatever the situation you find yourself in, know that you are not only worthy of living your own life, but you deserve to live your own life. No one owns you, or your life, but YOU! It is one of the very reasons you came into this physical incarnation in the first place. This does not mean that you need to detach from your parents (physically, emotionally or geographically), although you may need to at times. This also does not mean that you cannot coexist in some cordial and respectful way together, where each individual is heard and respected. But for any successful and peaceful resolution it takes all parties to be on board and on a certain level of emotional maturity. Not everyone is capable of this on our planet at this time. We have to accept this. Therefore you have to focus on you, regardless of what the other individuals choose to say and do. This is not about irresponsible selfishness, but about responsible self-care. Be sure that you are always acting from a loving and compassionate space, because to offer love and compassion to others, you first have to know how to offer it to yourself. Appropriate self-care means you give yourself permission to liberate yourself in the ways that are most appropriate for you to authentically express who you are, and what you wish to experience during any of your physical incarnations.
Gene Bondage and Soul Evolution
Another aspect that needs to be considered in this discussion is the relevance we give to blood relations. We are all one from the same Source. We come in and out of incarnations many times, and have many individuals be our mothers and fathers, or our children, and other relatives. Yet we act within isolated lifetimes like the family we have now is all there is, was and ever will be. In our limited physical perspective, we forget who we are at our essence and the purpose of this entire experience. I am not saying that we should not love and respect our parents, children, or relatives, but we should love and respect EVERYONE! Everyone is part of our human family and playing favorites or getting absorbed by the illusory genetic bondage does not serve our human species. It is one of the biggest reasons for the separation we experience on this planet, the ‘us versus them’ mentality. ‘My’ family, ‘my’ children, ‘my’ partner, etc. Our possessiveness is consuming us and we attach way too much significance on our genetic ancestry and blood relations. Of course it can work beautifully when individuals within families are loving, caring, understanding and respectful to each other within their family, and extend that to the rest of the world. This is what we should all aspire to. But it is a whole other story when family units shut down in that ‘us against the rest of the world’ mentality, or when family dynamics just don’t work. Think about how many relatives you can think of that you would never consider taking on as a friend or having any kind of relationship with if you had the choice. Most humans feel ‘forced’ to have a relationship with many family members solely on the basis of genetic connections. Remove that obstacle and we’d be making much different choices. And guess what? We should be free to make those choices anytime, and we are. We stand in our own way the majority of the time not realizing that some of us came to learn through some challenging relationships, but some of us came to learn by lovingly letting go and knowing when to detach, or move on. It doesn’t make us ‘mean’ or ‘bad’ people if or when we do. It simply makes us emotionally mature enough to understand that certain energies and personalities just don’t mix well, and rather than existing in friction, we can co-exist in peace letting each to their own path. Our planet Earth is also a repository of souls that come in at largely varying stages of evolution. To a large degree it is a miracle that we get along as well as we do at times. We do not need to fear or negate this aspect; we simply need to understand it, how to navigate through it and find our place in it.
Luckily today, thanks to the consciousness shift and spiritual awakening on our planet, many of us are beginning to see things differently. We are coming to understand that our genes are just one piece of the puzzle, and quite a small one at that. We don’t have one lifetime, but many. We don’t have one family, or one set of parents, but many. Each time we incarnate on this planet we choose the specific people and conditions which will serve our personal evolution in the most valuable of ways. We have been each other’s mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers. We have been each other’s friends and enemies, and today we are coming to a fuller understanding of our unique roles on this planet. Part of our very healing and evolution in fact, is to liberate ourselves beyond the limiting labels and roles. From this expanded perspective, we can begin to appreciate that the parents we have in this lifetime are not all there was, or all there will be. Yes, they are special and unique and amazing because we chose them, and they us, but we do not owe each other some unpaid debt. If you have a child, you may have picked up the identity label parent, but that is not only who you are, you are much grander and also need to acknowledge your soul’s evolution in this lifetime. If you are reading this, you are someone’s child and again you may have picked up this identify label, but that is also not who you are. That is just one of many roles that you are playing. And as part of your soul evolution, you need to connect with your core—your truth, your essence, and live liberated enough to walk your personal path without any fear or guilt related to your parents towering over you and sabotaging your life. I am reminded here of the words of Indian Yogi and Mystic, Sadhguru, who shares as follows about genetic cycles and how to deal with toxic family members :
Genetics means repetition. Repetition means cyclical nature. Cyclical nature means you’re going in circles, you’re not going anywhere.
You make blood more important than your intelligence, when intelligence should be your number one thing. The first step on the spiritual path is to transcend the limitations of genetics.
Sadhguru ~ Author, Yogi, Mystic
Rite of Liberation
In ancient societies, and some Indigenous ones to this day, youths had a rite of passage that was a literal symbol of their entry into adulthood and liberation. Today we have lost these rites, and what remains in the industrialized world are vaguely symbolic traditions that have little daily life meaning or application. If anything, they are done to appease the parents or for social appearance, having little practical value for the actual child. In order for you to grasp the potential of YOU, you need to stand on your own two feet, courageously and independently of your parents. You need to liberate yourself from any binding cords that keep you stuck, or pull you back from the fullness of your expression. To help you do this and live the highest quality of life possible, I invite you to put into practice the following rite of liberation. This rite of liberation has three elements, which we mentioned above— awareness, courage and heart-centered action—and unlike other rites of liberation it is not a one-time event. The three elements that I have included as part of this process should be practiced as often as you need to, in order to have the chance to live as a self-actualized human being.
Awareness: You need to figure out who you are, and what you want. You need to become aware of what is important to you and the life you wish to experience. What are your passions? talents? hobbies? What attracts you in life? What repels you? What are your personal standards? priorities? What are your personal views about life? God? religion? science?….and every other topic possible. The more you know about yourself, the more certainty you will gain with which to act, to accomplish what you most need or want at any given time effectively. The more certainty you hold based on your awareness, the more your courage will grow, allowing you to follow through with the choices most right for you.
Courage: It is essential to do step one first, as courage will usually not come on its own, unless there is an appropriate motivation. In the case of our topic that motivation revolves around you leading a liberated, healthy, happy, meaningful and fulfilled life. Remember it is YOUR life, not your parent’s life. Love and acceptance must come from within, not from the external environment, namely other people. We handicap ourselves when we depend on the approval of others. Such a life can have no other basis but that of hardship and challenges, for you can never control what others will think, say or do. And living to make others happy is a futile task, as again, true joy and fulfillment can only come from within. So your parents need to learn how to make themselves happy, not depend on you making the choices they want, just as you need to learn how to make yourself happy by making the choices that are in alignment with your truth and needs.
As mentioned earlier, there are many things your parents will not like or be happy about that you say or do. Again, it doesn’t matter how old you are, or whether you have the best of intentions. What we have to accept, is that this is okay. Your parents have their own view of how they would like to see you live, or what they feel is appropriate but it may not coincide with your views. Every human being experiences reality in a unique way to them, having their own perceptions and opinions. To live with inner peace, you need to find comfort within this discomfort. As long as we are not directly or intentionally hurting another human being through the use of violent, hateful or demeaning words or actions, but rather peacefully choosing our path, we are entitled to that. It is okay for your parents not to like the school or job you choose, the partner you marry, your sexual orientation or your religious preference, or lack thereof. These are things that define you, and the choices you need to make and live with for your personal soul evolution and human experience. So find the motivation through awareness to have the courage needed to proceed to step three and liberate yourself by taking appropriate action.
Heart-centered Action: The final step in this rite of liberation to live an authentic life is to take action on your choices or decisions. However as mentioned earlier, this isn’t just any action. You have three choices of action and only one of them will lead to meaningful and sustainable joy, harmony, and inner peace.
If you know, feel, or perceive that your parents will not approve of a particular choice/expression/experience you feel right for you, you have the choice to let fear, guilt, or similar emotions hold you back from proceeding with it. In such cases, we suppress our inner being, and it hurts—emotionally, mentally, and often even physically. We can literally make ourselves sick. As you can easily deduce, this action of inaction is not what leads to personal liberation or fulfillment. It is neither optimal for you, or your parent(s), as it just postpones bigger problems.
Your second choice is to proceed with your choices/expressions/experiences, and whenever your parents offer any kind of feedback you don’t like or resistance, you can choose to become enveloped by emotions of anger, resentment, and hostility, including shame or guilt. This usually involves raised voices, defensiveness, blame, name-calling, and all sorts of other, similar elements. It can scar, weaken or even completely destroy relationships. As you can also see, this action will not lead to liberation, joy or inner peace for anyone. Usually, such resentments are held onto for years, and also tend to impact our physical health, not just our emotional wellbeing.
Your final choice is to proceed with your choices/expressions/experiences, and before or after (as appropriate) your parents offer any kind of feedback you don’t like or resistance, you can choose to engage in heart-centered action. This can mean many things, and will depend on your personal needs and circumstances, but what it always includes is effective communication. It means taking time to have an honest, open, calm, conscious, and hopefully loving dialogue with all parties involved. Of course your parents are free to choose their own path and may not wish to participate, or may express negative emotions as those listed above during any communication attempt. That is okay. Allow them this as honoring choices goes both ways. Of course, you too can feel that you should not have to explain yourself as an adult, but be mindful of what you need to do if you would like to keep good relationship dynamics. It does not however mean that you need to fall into inaction or negative, fear-based, defensive action. Communicate openly and authentically why this choice/expression/experience is important to you, or how you feel it will benefit you or make you grow. Acknowledge their care and address any concerns. Share a further plan of action as may be appropriate. In the end, this may still mean they are not happy, but that is their journey to take. Our individual true happiness comes from within, and if we truly love and care for another individual, and they make a choice we do not agree with, we need to either learn to support them or accept their choice without negating it or participating in it, as may be most appropriate for us.
As we come to the end of this essay, please remember that its intention is to help you become a more effective, not destructive human being. Human history and our personal experience will prove over and over that neither sacrifice and victimhood, nor anger and violence are what lead to better lives, better human beings, and conditions on this planet. The only thing that can “save” us is for each person to take responsibility for themselves—their own evolution, needs, joys, and fulfillment.
As a parent, you can add to the joy your children experience, but you cannot derive your joy from it. Otherwise, it will be very conditional and you will always be vulnerable to your children not making the choices that lead to your happiness. As a child, you need to be true to yourself, first and foremost. In order to lead a liberated existence, which is the natural state of being of our soul and spirit, we need to act on the needs of our hearts and souls. Just remember to first learn what these are, so you do not confuse them with the needs of the Ego, which no matter what you do will always lead to some kind of pain and suffering. This is where a journey of consciousness expansion will propel you forward, providing the right awareness and courage to proceed with further heart-centered action.
It is time to be YOU—fully, authentically, unapologetically YOU! It is time to celebrate YOU—your needs, desires, and potential. Enjoy!