I'm 20 years old and the eldest child of a family of 5. We are very close-knit and I am very devoted to my family. Over the past few years we have gone through a series of difficulties, but have continued to stay strong.
My parents are somewhat very possessive of and dependent upon me. They acknowledge that I am growing older and would like to be more independent, but their actions don't reflect this. I don't socialize very much and have never had a real boyfriend. About a year ago I met this guy whom I really care for and until recently had a very discreet relationship with. My parents know that we see each other but have no idea of the extent to which we care for or communicate with each other. Since I expressed my feelings towards this guy to them, my parents have been adamant that my being in a relationship will result in failure in my academic pursuits (I am currently a senior in college and intend to pursue a BS degree). I know that they're concerned about my welfare, but I can take care of myself (at least my emotional problems). I know this. I have tried to explain this to them but they continually ignore this. They seem to want to plan out my life for me and not want me to go on my own path.
My boyfriend has been very understanding and patient, but he seems to have reached the point where he can no longer tolerate this situation. He told me that he thinks I'm not ready for a relationship because of my attachment towards my family and that he would like to remain just friends. I can understand how he feels because he's 26 and completely self-sufficient. He has never had to deal with girlfriends who aren't independent. I'm so heartbroken by this entire situation. I'm unhappy, losing weight, and crying all the time; all while trying to put on a brave face. I don't know what to do anymore.
I love my family and want to always be there for them but I need to start living my life for me. My question is what should I do? If I tell my parents that I need them to lay off me a little would that mean I'm ungrateful? I love this guy and it hurts me so much to lose him like this. Why won't they stop clinging to me and trying to dictate every aspect of my life? Why can't they see that there's nothing wrong with my being in a relationship? I don't know how much more of this I can take. Please help.
It's not easy being the oldest child, especially if the family (including your parents) have become, as you say they have, dependant on you. The way out of your dilemma is for you to cut the dependency cord. In this case your parents' and not yours.
I'm guessing that you are a fairly strong person (you say you can take care of yourself emotionally); you would have to be or your parents would not have become dependant on you. Do you have the ability to tolerate the guilt that your parents are likely to send your way if you declare your independence? You sound as though that may be your weak spot, but I think if you know it's coming, you may be able to get through it. You need to! Otherwise you'll be stuck in a caretaker capacity to your parents for years to come. That would not be good for you and it would not be good for them.
One question that you need to ask yourself will probably give you the strength to move forward. If you "leave home", will your parents survive? Are they capable of getting along without you? (In a practical, day by day sense - not an emotional sense). If the answer is yes, then you should sit them down and tell them that you love them very much, BUT the time has come for you to stop being the parent in the home. It's time for them to take on that responsibility for themselves and for your younger siblings.
If your boyfriend is the man you want to build your future life with, go for it. Your parents will not, in all likelihood turn their back on you, and even if they were to do so, you've got to make a break for it or you'll find your self living with your parents (alone) at 67.
Jerry Button, L.M.H.C.
This question was answered by Jerry Button. Jerry is a psychotherapist, personal development trainer, workshop presenter and relationship coach practicing in Delray Beach, Florida. He believes that the key to quality of life lies in relationships. His approach to interpersonal and emotional problems is relational and psychodynamic. Jerry is experienced working with individuals, children and families and welcomes challenging opportunities.
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