Ask Andrew W.K.: Understanding Our Parents

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Credit: Nickie McGowan
[Editor's note: Every week New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]

Dear Andrew,

I love my parents, but I feel like they've filled me with a lot of self-doubt. Often when it's time to make big life decisions, I talk with them and they try steer me towards some other direction rather than the direction my heart has told me to go. Do I need to stop asking their advice, or is there a way to respect my parents while developing the independence I've struggled to find?

- Self-Doubt Dude

See also: Ask Andrew W.K.: "How Do I Overcome Being Self-Conscious About My Body?"

Dear Self-Doubt Dude,

There are all different kinds of parents, including the kind that aren't even around. So for starters, be glad you're parents are alive and part of your life. In addition to their general presence, parents can also have an unbelievably deep impact -- or lack of impact -- on their offspring's choices.

Some people's entire identity is formed by reacting against their parents and defying them. Some people specifically look at how their parents live, and then try to do the opposite. Others seem to follow in their parent's footsteps exactly and -- consciously or subconsciously -- recreate their parent's life. The fact that you have a good enough basic relationship with your parents to tell them about your hopes and dreams is valuable and I think it's definitely worth maintaining that foundation.

But as far as turning to your parents for life advice about your dreams, maybe you're better off asking me (or as we discussed before in this column, not asking anyone about the dreams of your heart). Parents don't know everything, and as surprising as it may seem, they often especially don't know "what's best" for their children. Parents tend to want their children to be safe, and this impulse has positive and negative outcomes. The parental desire to protect their child lasts beyond the earliest stages when the child still lives at home and relies on the parents for every aspect of their survival.

After a child moves away and begins their own life, parents can have an increased amount of anxiety and concern over the child's well-being precisely because they have less physical control over their day-to-day survival. Because of this lessened direct control, it can become confusing as to what exactly the parents role is at this stage, and for some parents, their confusion manifests as perpetual nitpicking, worry, and concern that the child's life isn't "going in the right direction". This "right direction" can often mean a copy of the parent's own direction in life, or a version of a societal and cultural standards that "most people" choose to follow.

Parents want to be able to understand and grapple with their child's life choices, and what easier choices to understand than the same choices they or the general public have already made? It's more common to find a parent pushing their child to recreate their own life than to venture out into some uncharted waters. This impulse isn't always purely based on a belief that the parent's own way is the best way, but simply because it's familiar and predictable.

A parent's own life is their area of expertise, and an area from which they can offer wisdom. It's what they know, and when you create your own child, the idea of them drifting into the unknown is especially distressing. In the worst cases, the parent expects to maintain some sort of control and influence indefinitely -- even if it means holding the child back from its full potential and passion -- just because it's easier and less frightening than having the child brave the raging waters of the unknown.

So, with all this in mind, do your best to try and understand where your parents are coming from. Try to develop some sympathy for their point of view, and how they're probably just longing for your safety and security, even if it seems like they're discouraging you. Even though they love you, their love can take shape in uninspiring feedback. Some parents are just jerks, but most are just afraid.

It can be hard for us to imagine that this superhuman parent who created us and brought us into existence can be just as full of fear and terror about the world as we are, but they're just people -- and they're not as powerful as we sometimes believed them to be. This in itself can be an intense and upsetting realization for a child, but it's part of ultimately becoming your own independent person. Respecting your parents as individual human beings means also respecting yourself and your own individual identity that sometimes might have nothing to do with your parent's identity.

For now, I'd recommend not turning to your parents for any more advice, at least when it comes to following your heart. Turn to yourself and listen more deeply to what your heart is telling you. Ultimately, only you can hear your inner voice accurately. And consider this: Perhaps you've been telling your parents your dreams precisely because you want them to discourage you. Maybe it's not your parents who are afraid of you following your heart, maybe it's you who's afraid.

Be courageous, take big risks, and break away from everything holding you back, including your parents, yourself, and your own need to ask others about following your dreams. If you can hear what your heart is saying to you, you already have the answers. And then you can have a nice relationship with your parents that's mostly based on eating food.

Your friend,
Andrew W.K.

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12 comments
smilers
smilers

I thought what you said at the very end about maybe the reason self-doubt is turning to his parents because he wants to be dissueded was super interesting. I find it most helpful to write down my thought process about things—make a pros and cons list, and think of reasoning behind my leanings in one direction or another, and pick apart that reasoning. 

dustindadams
dustindadams

I am very fortunate that I (for the most part) had supportive parents. I can look back and think of numerous examples where I perhaps was not encouraged to do something but I was never forbidden. I look back now and thank my parents so much for the upbringing I had and I wish everyone's parents could be as awesome as mine. That being said I couldn't agree with Andrew more. You gotta do you!

Brownd27
Brownd27

Last year I decided to leave my then-current studies and switch to a videogame development carreer. I was initially hesitant about it because my parents would've needed to pay the fees, and it really took a lot of talk (well, most precisely with mom) to fully convince them that it wasn't as ridiculous as it might initially seem.

In the end, my dad offered me to work where he does and I began the carreer paying for it by myself.

Now I'm willing to switch again to a musical production carreer (not feeling very confident with the current state of the vg industry) and it's a relief that I won't need to go through all of that again. Affortunately, they are comprehensive, and realise that I'm building my own path consciously now.


It's not about asking them for directions. It's about explaining to them "this is the direction I want to follow"

SeeUNext2sday
SeeUNext2sday

AndrewWK has given the soundest piece of advice that anyone could ever wish for… listening to your heart!!! Hindsight is always 20/20 & advice from AWK's vast experience is the best. Parents don't always have the answers… but your heart knows what you want & need in life. The answers & experiences will come to you when you need it most… let go of what you have been taught… & learn from those you respect & from yourself.

AndyBee
AndyBee

Okay I'm here as a fan of Andrew W.K. I tend to agree with the advice in AWK column. I know it applies to people in different ages and phases of their lives. Yet since I've been many different ages and in various phases I think back as to when the advice would have been good. Party in the form of optimism and do the right thing, do what we need to be done and have a good time doing it!


CharleyParty
CharleyParty

Well done, Andrew!  In my experience, my parents always wanted what was best for me, but they not only come from a different generation, but also from a different country.  Their life paths were radically different from mine.  In my own way, I've had to prove to them that I'd be OK following my dreams.  It wasn't always easy, but looking back, I'm happy I listened to my inner voice.  I didn't always have their support, but with each year their support and belief in me increased as they saw me work hard to make my dreams a reality.  I'm grateful for their love and concern, but I'm also grateful that I focused more on their love than their concern.   

NotAfraidOrAJerk
NotAfraidOrAJerk

If the day comes when my relationships with my kids become "nice" and "mostly based on eating food," I'll know I've let them, and myself down. Of course parents want their kids to be safe - but "safe" is an incredibly broad term, as is 'hurt' & trust me, until you see your own kid hurting, you have *ZERO* idea of what that will feel like & what you might want to do to take that hurt away.


That said, any parent worth half a damn ultimately wants one thing for their adult child - peace and happiness; in whatever form that comes.  And whilst *some* parents might think, consciously or unconsciously, that following in parental footsteps is the way to go, I think parents deserve a little more credit than that in terms of how they handle the challenges of relating to their child as an independent adult, whose journey belongs to them and them alone.


Having someone share their heart's desires with you is a gift and an honour, no matter who you are. Sure, that deep primal urge to protect your own child will never leave you, but if parent and child can acknowledge and respect that, then maybe a parent can share some thought, some wisdom to widen the perspective of someone who's been on the planet for considerably less time. Doesn't mean the child isn't wise or capable of navigating their own journey - simple fact is they've just had considerably less time to experience stuff! 


And of course it doesn't make parent, or child, right or wrong! Just different; and trust me, different can have enormous value.  So how about this, "Self-Doubt Dude" & Andrew - instead of limiting what could be a rich and loving relationship to being mostly food-based - what if next time a parent starts down the path of what feels like discouragement, why not call them on it? Get to know them a little. Find out what they've been through; tell them what's it like for you. Agree to disagree if you have to. But don't shut the door; 'cause we aren't all either (a)jerks or (b)afraid. We're part of a rich tapestry and a parent's greatest joy is to share in your journey, no matter what that turns out to be. It's yours for the taking!

hgavin
hgavin

Thanks so much Andrew, it actually means heaps that you've answered this and given such a thoughtful and helpful reply. These columns have been great. Given us a bunch to chew on, and spread some great positive ideas. 


Your parents sure done raised you well.

piratejames11
piratejames11

I just want to say that every "Ask Andrew W.K." that I have read, I have been able to relate to. But this one even more so than the rest. I don't know if Andrew will read this, but if you do, thank you. Your words run deep in my thoughts and I'm very grateful for your intelligent words. It seems like every article is speaking directly to me. Even if I'm not having the same issue as the asker, I find great advice in every one. So again, thanks Andrew. I hope I meet you one day so I can hug you. Keep on partying.

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