You can officially eat Easy Mac for breakfast, Ben & Jerry’s for lunch, and use the leftovers for dinner without anyone telling you not to. But just because you’re in college now doesn’t mean there aren’t some things you still have to answer to your family about, and more often than we’d like, the answer they come up with is ‘No.’
As we grow older, not only do we have to make more decisions, but we have to make bigger decisions. Instead of deciding who to take to Homecoming or what color nail polish to buy, a lot of us are deciding what major to pursue, who we choose to be in a relationship with, and what we do with our bodies, and a lot of the time our families want in on those decisions, too.
So what do you do when grandma tells you she’d rather not have a granddaughter with a nose piercing or when mom and dad aren’t entirely convinced by your decision to come out of the closet? While there is never a black-and-white answer to these scenarios, Valley sat down with Dr. Claudia A. Hutchinson of Hutchinson Counseling and Consulting in State College to get some advice.
1. Ask yourself the hard questions
According to Hutchinson, taking the time to weigh the pros and cons of your decision before even bringing it up to your family is essential in deciding whether this is a battle worth fighting. Not only will a well-thought-out decision make you more confident in your choice, but will also make your family more confident in your choice, as well.
“Their fear is that you just didn’t think this through,” says Hutchinson. “You have to show them that you’re mature and that you’ve given it some thought instead of just haphazardly making these decisions.”
2. Build a support system
We love our families for a lot of reasons, but sometimes their opinions don’t make that list. That’s why we have outside support systems, better known as friends.
Accepting disapproval can be difficult, but that’s why Hutchinson says it’s important to have a support group to fall back on.
“Sometimes you have to let people go with different preferences and views because they no longer fit with where you’re going and what you value,” she says. “We are social beings, we need people in our lives, and it’s a lot easier to give your family space to think if you have other supports.”
Hutchinson recommends listening calmly to what your family has to say without interjecting and going on the defense right away.
“When you’re talking to your parents about these sorts of things, it’s sometimes best to sit back and listen quietly, mostly because you’re not trying to convince them of anything,” says Hutchinson. “You’ve already done the internal work. You’ve already reflected and made these decisions so that when you go to your family you’re not concerned that they’re going to try to talk you out of something.”
It’s important to listen carefully to discern between disapproval and preference. When we feel people disapprove of us, we feel like they’re judging us, says Hutchinson, which is far different from asserting their opinion or preference. Knowing where we stand on the spectrum of disapproval helps us formulate a response and cope with the consequences of our decision.
4. Learn to cope
“In life you’re not always going to be able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it,” says Hutchinson. If you are met with a firm ‘No’ that leaves you with little wiggle room, it’s often best to express your feelings openly and honestly to your family, but then step back to give them time and space.
But if your decision requires what you feel to be immediate attention, regardless of your family’s approval or preference, sometimes it’s important to remember whether we are choosing to please ourselves or other people.
“When we feel people are judging us and disapproving of us, we fight to get that approval back and we become people-pleasers,” she says. “But at some point in time, you can’t be a people-pleaser and gain your independence or start your own journey.”
Sometimes our family’s disapproval manifests from their inability to come to terms with the decisions we make as the people we truly are, rather than the people they think us to be, says Hutchinson.
“We just need to give them time to understand that we may be coming into our own finally and what they saw before was us being people-pleasers and now we’ve finally moved into a place where we’re more comfortable with expressing ourselves in different ways.”
Photo by Skylar Yuen