Dear Thelma: I am a grown woman but my mother still controls my life

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  • Sunday, 16 Apr 2017

Dear Thelma,

I have just turned 22, and I believe it is time for me to build my own life and carve an identity for myself. I will be graduating next year. Although I come from a conservative family, I have a liberal view of life.

I am an extrovert and I love socialising and outdoor activities.

I grew up in a family that loves me unconditionally, and I couldn’t be more blessed in this matter. However, I feel caged and oppressed because of my strict upbringing. I do not want to be controlled by my mother.

I love tattoos and piercings. I love experimenting with different hairstyles. I love grunge outfits. In short, I love being a wild child. I have no qualms about wearing a bikini. Of course, my family does not approve of skimpy outfits.

I strongly believe that how we dress or live is not a reflection of our character.

I could have my hair dyed pink, cover myself in tattoos and still be a good daughter, looking after my parents and taking part in charities.

I tend to look West, which sets me apart from the rest of my family members. My mother will do anything for me, but she will not allow me to do things for myself.

She does not allow me to hang out with friends, and I have lost almost all my friends because of her. I only get to hang out with my friends twice a year. I have become a lonely person because of her 1960s parenting style. I have lost so many friends and I cry every day because of this.

In college, I am seen as a prude because of my mother’s restrictions. I can’t even go out to do assignments. However, her approach is completely different when it comes to my elder sister.

My sister does not need to get my mother’s permission to do things. She can have piercings. She can hang out with her friends anytime. She is allowed to have a boyfriend, but I’m not allowed to have one. Why the double standard? Whenever I question my mother about this, we will end up fighting.

During one of our fights, I announced that I would be leaving home to live on my own once I graduate from university. Tears brimmed in my mother’s eyes when she heard this. But I am not going to allow anyone to stand in the way of my dreams.

Why should a grown-up seek her parents’ permission to dye her hair? For how long do I have to ask their permission for everything I want to do?

I want to travel around the world and be free like a bird. I have a big ambition: I want to be like Princess Diana who had cleverly merged glamour with social services. To some, my dream is a joke; to most, it is an impossible dream. But I am not one to be intimidated by challenges.

Is it wrong to be a rebel and run after one’s dream and passion? Don’t advise me to talk to my parents. If that were possible, I would have done it years ago. They are too conservative to see things from my point of view. – Shackled

Dear Shackled,

The tension between parents and their children will always be present, regardless of how old the child is. Parents will always be concerned about their children. They often think that with age comes wisdom, and that the young should heed the words of wisdom.

Children, on the other hand, will always think that they know better because they live in the present and the wisdom of elders has no place in the modern age. They think they know what is best for them.

This is a neverending saga and a simple solution is simply not possible. The key to avoiding conflict is to listen, understand and learn how to communicate and compromise.

Now, there is little doubt that your mother may be a little too strict. It would be wise to see things from her perspective. She is concerned about your safety. She worries about the big, bad world and with little control over what is happening out there, her way of managing is to control your movements.

This does not mean that she is right. However, you should take a step back and see that what she is doing is not a result of outdated parenting. It is the only kind of parenting she knows in order to keep you – her daughter – safe.

As to why your older sister is allowed liberties that you are not, no one can answer that except your mother. It may help you to understand a little better, if you take into consideration when your older sister was allowed to do these things. How much older is she? Was she allowed these liberties after she finished schooling? It matters not if she can do it now and you can’t. If she can, it is probably because she is older. It may not make sense, but again, it is the kind of parenting your mother knows.

It is too bad that you have lost friends. But you know that going out and hanging out with your friends is not the only way to build and sustain friendships. There are many other ways to do that. If your friends broke off their friendship with you because they could not understand your constraints, it may be worth re-evaluating the quality of these friendships.

Your mother probably thinks that way because she comes from a time when friendships were built on things like writing letters. It may seem antiquated to you, but there is value in that. You lament that society should not judge people based on their lifestyles. Your friends have done exactly that. This is something you should consider. Perhaps you are sad because of the lost friendships, and not because of what your mother did. True friends would stay with you because they value you and not because you can go out with them.

Dyeing your hair and having tattoos is not so much about wanting a Western way of life. If you look at the history of Asian people, these aspects are a part of our culture. Asian women have, for centuries, painted their bodies. They did it for reasons that are different from yours, though. You may want to do it for its fashion value, or simply as an adolescent need to take control of your own body and do what you want with it.

You should understand first why you want to do it. Tattoos are going to be on your body for life. Are you truly ready for this? Are you willing to take the risks that come with body art? Are you prepared to invest the kind of money and care required for it? How important is it to you? Consider these things. If you can come up with good answers for yourself – more than just because you love the “Western” way – then you can probably convince your mother.

It is the same with a bikini. There is nothing wrong with it. But that does not mean it is not problematic. There is nothing “Western” about it other than the fact that it is more common in that part of the world. But why is it so important to you? What does it symbolise to you? If you don’t think that people should be judged for wearing it, why are you judging people who are opposed to it?

These questions are meant to get you to properly think about why you do what you do. To just say that it is because you like Western styles is a feeble explanation.

By the way, there are many people in the West who are as opposed to these things. These actions come with consequences. If you do not think through your rationale for wanting to do them, you likely will not be ready to face the consequences. You want to be treated like an adult but you are not ready to face the responsibilities that come with being an adult.

As for your aspirations for the future, it is nice to see a young woman with dreams. Bear in mind that your idol was not an extrovert. The late Princess Diana was a shy and introverted person. She understood that she had to get used to the glamour which she found to be a very painful aspect of the reality of her life. She did not want it. Neither did she like it.

If you want glamour, just admit that it is what you want. Do not blame it on being an extrovert. Many extroverts get by with life just fine without glamour.

If you want to help people, then help people. Being a rebel is not an ambition. It is a role that one takes on. It is a phase that one goes through.

Think carefully about what you want in life. This will bring about a discipline that is valuable to your success. It is not wrong to want what you want. It is wrong, however, to do it for the sake of doing it and hurting people along the way. There is value in talking and finding compromise. There is value, also, in being empathetic and valuing your parents’ point of view. – Thelma

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help.

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