Family guilt – do we ever stop being our parents’ kids?

There are only a few weeks until the holiday season starts. For me, it not only means feasting, time off work, and heading to the beach (yes, it’s summer Down Under!) but also spending quality time with my family back in the neighbourhood where I grew up.

For some of us, being in such close proximity to our immediate and extended family is a pleasure. For others, spending prolonged periods of time with our families can be more of a chore and a product of obligation and expectation from our parents rather than an enjoyable occasion. In addition, the cordial holiday vibe may only last for a couple of days before family tensions arise, or indeed only a couple of hours if there’s alcohol involved and Uncle Pete decides to start cracking onto your 16 year old niece. Regardless, we suck it up every year in the name of family duty and guilt.

The fact of the matter is that, for a lot of us, we will always be our parents’ children. Even after you are married with a family of your own, you will always be or feel obliged to spend important holidays and celebrations with your parents and siblings. God forbid, if you choose not to, be prepared to face a massive guilt trip and to be the topic of family gossip for years to come!

Sopranos family dinner

Outside of these times, you may also play piggy in the middle between your mum and your brother about his latest divorce, and most significantly, continue to be on the receiving end of parental advice through every stage of your life. It seems that no matter what your age, your parents will always be inclined to impart their pearls of wisdom to you in an often hopeless effort to improve your life. Even if they haven’t actually had direct experience with what you are going through, they will still insist that they know what’s best for you so you should really take on board their advice about your relationship (whether you may or may not be going through a rough patch), how to raise your children, where you should be shopping to get the best deal, why you shouldn’t be going out so often, why you aren’t as successful in your career as you should be, or why you are still single and dateless.

The thing is that your friends may not be so candid and honest with you, but your parents are always going to be blunt with the truth, or at least their version of the truth, all in the name of your best interest. In the spirit of family obligation, you will listen to them, nod, and try to politely disagree with them even though all you want to do is scream at them, “what the hell would you know!?”

As children of our parents, we will be eternally conflicted between wanting to help them, spend quality time with them, and also never wanting to disappoint them, and then wanting the freedom to live our own lives and learn from our own mistakes. Sometimes I think they secretly know this and take advantage by guilting us into spending holidays with them, visiting them and bringing the kids around more often, and taking their unwanted advice.

In the end, our love and sense of duty and obligation to our parents will more often than not prevail, and we will indulge them their wishes. It may not be ideal that sometimes our decision-making is dictated by guilt, but hey, if we were to do whatever we wanted without consequences we would no doubt always be eating that last piece of cake, having all night sessions of Sex and the City reruns, and blowing all our money on shoes instead of groceries. We will always be our parents’ kids, and we will always be thankful when there is a warm welcome at their front door, and the occasional hot dinner!

* Image courtesy of HBO

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