The Parent Filter

There was a time when I told Mom everything. There was really nobody around me who understood me better, who was more compassionate and who had better advice. This lasted through high school and college, through friends, boyfriends and career choices. She’s a good listener, and while her advice didn’t always sound popular at first, it usually worked.

But lately, my brother and I have started many conversations by saying: “We really shouldn’t tell this to the parents.” It’s not that we’re doing anything illegal or shameful, but as we have become more “grown up” our issues have also grown more complicated. We’re finding it harder to talk about our problems without feeling like we’re letting our parents down or causing them to worry unnecessarily. They raised us to be able to take care of ourselves, so we don’t want to show when we waiver in our independence.

For example, if I have a fight with my husband, will they think that we’re having major marital problems? If I complain about my brother, will they worry that we’re not that close anymore? If I talk about my thoughts about having a baby, will they just think it’s silly and we should just get on with it? If I tell them what keeps me up at night, will I just give them something extra to worry about, without the power to be able to help? My brother and I already know not to complain too soon if we don’t feel well, or need to see a doctor, because then the worrying might go into overdrive.

My brother and I also run into this parent-filtering problem because we live half a world away from our parents. While they might remember what it was like to be 30, they really don’t know what it’s like to be 30 in the United States, in the 21st century. When they were 30, they had two kids and lived in communist Hungary. It was a very different world from the one my brother and I now inhabit and we sometimes find that while their advice is wise, it doesn’t always apply to our situation. I think it must be just as difficult for them to not be able to help us with problems because they’ve never experienced them.

Do parents want this kind of filtering? I assume they don’t — most parents want to know what’s going on with their children; they want to help and they want to worry. They think that they can always come to our rescue, even when the problems are the kinds they never had to deal with. And secretly, we do want them to come and help us.

But the reality is that they can’t. We’re the ones who have to stand our ground during a fight with a spouse or settle a disagreement with a sibling. We have to go to the doctor alone and deal with the poking by ourselves. We have to decide when and how to have a baby and whether we’re ready for it. We need to deal with difficult bosses and impossible in-laws and the mortgage company. There is nobody else to do it for us; we can only count on the fact that our parents have prepared us well for these battles.

It is good to know though, that if we REALLY need to, we can always pick up the phone in the middle of the night. Our parents really won’t mind a sleepless night.

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