“No matter what, you’ll always be my little [girl, boy].”
In most quarters, that is taken to be an endearing sentiment. At weddings, when toasts like that are given by the parents’ of the bride(s) or groom(s) or newly wedded partner(s), there is always a chorus of “awwws” from the crowd. Look at how sweet those parents are; look at how much they love their children.
I may be in the minority, but that statement always makes me cringe.
Because, I can think of no worse fate, to always be seen as a child by my parents, whether I am one and twenty, three and thirty, menopausal, or one foot in the grave (and assumably, my parents would have been long dead by that point, but perhaps they still gaze upon me from somewhere?)
No, no, no, there is no worse fate than to be permanently a child, to be permanently infantilized, expected to suck at the teat as if I am not ready for solid foods, to be beholden to accept, to submit, to obey, to be put on timeouts, or to be told I must share my candy, to say sorry, and to ask forgiveness for speaking ‘out of turn.’
No, when I hear parents say that, especially in front of their children’s peers or partners or, dare I even say it, coworkers! every part of me shrivels up and wants to die a little.
That is because for your parents to maintain that vision, to live that sentiment, does mean that you die a little. You, as you, die a little so that they can live more a little. There is an exchange of energy, an exchange of will, that takes place, as you must become smaller for them to become larger.
It is a zero sum game, this living underneath this vision of eternal childhood.
It often plays out in ways that are unintended, but true:
- Parents who show up at their children’s workplaces, demanding fair treatment
- Parents that demand their adult children’s report cards
- Parents that interfere with their adults children’s methods of raising their children and running their household
- Parents that interdict themselves into their adult children’s sibling relationships
- Parents that must be rendered their due again, and again, and again, until there is nothing left over to pay – it stops when they say it stops
We live longer today. Easily into our 70s and our 80s. Even our 90s. Healthcare and nutrition are better. The social security safety net still exists.
Adulthood takes longer today. Easily into our late 20s and our mid 30s. More education is now required, economic stability is harder to find, housing is more expensive. There is little-to-no safety net.
Therefore, too many young people who would have been on their own earlier on, are not. Therefore, too many older people who should have been on their own for later years, are not. And together, we all remain locked in this horrific cycle, so tightly wound up with one another that it becomes a subversive act to say:
No, you do not get to decide where I live, who I marry, whose name I take or do not take, how many children I have, if I have children, where I vacation, what I do for work, and how much money I spend.
No, you do not get to live your life twice at my expense.
No, I can make my own dinner; I can do my own laundry; I can wipe my own butt. Yes, I will fall down, I will hurt myself, but you raised me right, didn’t you? Therefore, I can help myself up, I can heal, I am resilient, let me do it.
Let me live my life, let me grow up.
And if you won’t let me, well… I will anyway.