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Leaving the nest (and those who raised you) behind

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By: Sasha Dhesi

A few weeks ago, my mom left the country to visit some relatives. With me in Hamilton and my brother juggling university, work and a research job, neither of us are home particularly often, leaving my dad by himself. My dad started calling me at least twice a day, and began asking me what he was supposed to do for fun now that his wife and kids were too busy for him. I had to confront something I’d never really considered before: my dad’s just as needy as I am.

I never really viewed my parents as people who needed me in any way. Sure, I help out around the house and take care of my parents, but it always felt more one-sided, and that I needed them for support and care. After all, while they’re a constant in my life, I’ve only been in theirs for a fraction of the time. I was lucky enough to have parents who nurtured a healthy environment for me to grow in and I saw them as superheroes, making it difficult for me to see them as people who may feel insecure from time to time.

Chances are, growing up, you saw your parents as superheroes in some sense. If you were lucky enough to live in a healthy and stable home, they took care of you and most of the problems in your life. Your parents most likely hid most issues that were affecting your family so that you could continue living a carefree childhood. But, as you grow up, this changes. Now that you are an adult, you have to face the reality that your parents are just normal people who happened to have raised you. As your parents age, you may feel the onus of their care fall onto you, their next of kin, but if you’re anything like me, that also conflicts with your growing desire for autonomy.

It’s well known that university marks the beginning of a slow break away from your parents. Even those who opt to live at home for their undergraduate degree find themselves staying later and later on campus, usually juggling school, work and a growing social life. This usually brings forth the inevitable internal dilemma of leaving your  older parents on their own. My parents are both in their fifties and suffer from several chronic ailments. They both have histories of heart disease and have lost close friends and loved ones to cardiac arrest. One particular reason I have to go home sometimes is to just make sure that they’re doing okay; something I’ll admit is a little irrational. But as we get older, the dynamic between our parents undeniably changes.

I’m going to level with you: I have no idea how to deal with this. Do I give up on all my dreams of traveling and living abroad one day on the assumption that my parents may one day need me to care for them? Do I jump the gun and leave them in the lurch now, and only contact them when I need something? No matter what decision I make on Friday when I decide whether or not I want to visit them, it feels like a decision between these extremes. There’s a double whammy of guilt going on here, where I’m losing out on what I want or being overly cold to the people who raised me. It’s an odd place to teeter.

As someone who’s South Asian, a cultural clash also comes into play. For those who are unaware, many South Asian cultures stress familial bonds, and it’s not uncommon for people to live with their parents for their entire lives. I personally grew up with my dad’s grandma, who lived with us until her death in 2014. Now, my parents understand social contexts, and by no means are forcing me to stay with them for the rest of my life. But every time I mention going abroad, or looking at grad schools even a few towns away, my mom always deflates ever so slightly as she remembers that our relationship isn’t nowhere near as close as hers was with her mom.

Now that you are an adult, you have to face the reality that your parents are just normal people who happened to have raised you.

Ultimately, it’s just come down to taking it day by day. I call my mom in the morning, and my dad in the evening. I haven’t thrown away my autonomy just yet, but I’m not willing to completely separate myself from my parents. I can’t tell you some magical way to maintain your familial relationships, but I can tell you that a call goes a long way and that even just telling them that yes, you’ve eaten, and yes, your friends are fine, and no, you’re not doing drugs, can go a long way.

 

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