14 Jul 2011, 1:50am
your beluga best friend



I have a question about how to relate to one’s parents during that awkward transitional phase between dependence and independence. Wikipedia tells me that as a beluga, you were only dependent on your mother for about two years, but while you may not have firsthand experience of this predicament, I feel confident in your ability to give excellent advice.

I am a legal adult, but I’m still the dependent of my parents. I’m in college, but I live in their home rent-free during the summer and on breaks. When I’m not working, they give me an allowance. I also have a brain disability which means I need a little more help than the average college student — I can’t drive, so they give me rides; I have trouble planning, so they help me make schedules, etc.

Mostly we have a great relationship, but I’m often troubled by how much they nag me. I feel like they’re micromanaging what I do because they’re worried that my disability will keep me from leading a successful, independent life. They alternate between backing off (this behavior is accompanied by warnings that this time they’re going to let me “learn from my mistakes”) and constantly giving me instructions (accompanied by warnings that if I don’t take their advice, I will be a failure to launch).

This is frustrating for me and I have had some success in asking them to take a consistent approach. However, they feel that I’m trying to have it both ways — make my own life choices, while still being dependent on them. Is this an unreasonable thing to want? How can I resolve this situation while I’m still in college and can’t move out of the house?

Sorry for the long ask. Seeing your advice always brightens my day, and I thought I would try it out for myself.

This is absolutely not unreasonable! But I suspect you already know that.

“Adulthood” isn’t something that springs up overnight, much less on a particular birthday. And adulthood as a concept is itself kind of nebulous, defined only by our idea of what we’re supposed to feel when we’re no longer children. Does having a job make us adults? Paying rent? I think we’ve all known folks who did these things but who still behaved like irresponsible teenagers.

I suspect what we mean by “adulthood” is often “independent,” and you note this connection above, but even then the lines are not clear — independence is subjective. As an introvert, I can be “independent” to a fault, swimming off on my own for weeks on end, sharing little of my thoughts with anyone. More extroverted types may require lots of social contact to process ideas and solve problems — but they’re not more dependent than I am. They just function in a different way.

Your quandry above is actually a very adult one. You understand your own circumstances and the conflicts felt by your family, who are caught between encouraging you to fly free on your own, and keeping you safe in the nest. Your family is sorting this out too, you realize — they want you to be self-sufficient, but they also don’t want you to fail, nor do they want you to feel neglected.

Your adulthood isn’t in question here. You are already being an adult by setting forth clear expectations and needs, by recognizing that you need your family to be consistent, and by expressing this need to them. You are working hard to vocalize where you need help, and to recognize where you can handle shit on your own. It might help to ask your family not to volunteer their assistance unbidden, nor to assume that you will automatically fail at a new responsibility without lots of hand-holding and meticulous instruction. If you need help, you will ask for it. If you don’t ask for it, they should assume you are handling it unless you say otherwise. If you succeed, yay! If you don’t, that’s okay too! You’ll do better next time.

Everyone fucks up at this in-between stage of life. Fucking up is natural and inevitable, not to mention necessary and educational. You’re just on the cusp of figuring out who you are as a separate entity from the people who raised you, exploring what you are good at, what you love, and what you want to do with your life. It sounds to me like you’re doing an outstanding job.

Love, Your Beluga Best Friend

Playful BBF drawing by Lara! Send your frolicking BBF artwork to lesley at twowholecakes dot com.

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