When we’re teenagers, we hate the thought that our parents can limit our decisions. I remember my father not allowing me to stay out late with my boyfriend and feeling utterly defeated. How could he do that to me?
Obviously, parents have every right to restrict their children’s decisions during their formative years. Looking back on high school, I’m grateful for all the decisions my father made for me. Without his guidance, I wouldn’t have become the person I am today.
There comes a point, however, when our parents can no longer make those decisions for us. Once I entered college, it was my decision how late to stay out with friends. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and it felt great – at least when the consequences were positive. During those years, I’d pat myself on the back for acing a test, finding a meaningful part-time job, and maintaining a budget. But when the consequences weren’t so great – hanging out with crappy friends or hating my major studies – I looked to my parents for advice.
The key word here is “advice.” I could have chosen not to talk to my parents about these coming-of-age issues, but I did. They did the best they could to listen and be supportive. I could call at one in the morning (and I did), and they’d hash it out with me for the thirteenth time. Should I ditch these friends? What other major should I study? They had opinions, sure, but they didn’t make ultimatums or use coercion to force me into one singular decision. I asked questions, and they answered, sometimes with passion, sometimes without, but always with me in mind.
Based on those late night talks, I ended up ditching those crappy friends of mine – a good choice. I also tried desperately to succeed in science – a bad choice. I ended up hating college and blamed my parents for getting me to try something I did not enjoy. I became that indignant teenager all over again. During one phone call, I told my parents to butt out of my life, to quit making decisions for me, and it hurt my father. He quit giving me advice for a while since he didn’t know how to give it without upsetting me.
It’s easy to blame our problems on someone else. While some of that is justified (in the case of abuse or crime), many times we simply don’t want to live up to our own decisions. If we lose a job because we never show up on time, it’s not the manager’s fault. If we break the speed limit and get a ticket, it’s not the cop’s fault. And if we receive advice and take it, it’s not the advice giver’s fault. Making the most out of life means owning up to both our successes and our failures.
It took me several years to realize how stupid I was and apologize to my father. Even now, more than a decade later, I find myself sliding into that old habit when I call my parents for guidance (which I still do, sometimes at one in the morning). I have to remind myself that I’m asking for “advice,” not a decision. And when I do make a decision, it is wholly mine, and I take responsibility for the end result – professionally, personally, and emotionally.