Live Through This

The Parent Trap

When your mom and dad love you so much that they won’t even let you go outside.

Collage by Minna

Last month I went on a book tour and gave a poetry reading in an art squat in Baltimore with painted murals on the walls and statues of deities whose names I could not place. There were cats everywhere, paintings propped against walls, and a studio where someone was cutting down huge pieces of plywood to make something that I would not stick around to see. It occurred to me very briefly while I was staying there that this was exactly the kind of place my parents feared I would end up when I was a teenager who imagined running away from home and meeting miscreants on the side of the highway not because I loathed my parents or because they didn’t love me enough, but because they loved me too much and suffocated me with their constant barrage of sacrifice that ran concurrent with demands that my dreams align with theirs. I wanted to run away from home because my parents never let me out of the house, except to go to the school and to attend SAT prep school on Saturdays.

When the reading was over, we danced softly on our tippy toes because it was a Monday and the rest of the building was not going to play host to our antics and when the soft dancing was over, I crawled out onto the fire escape to dangle my legs next to a boy who made me want to stretch out every minute and every second we sat next to each other into a blanket that I could carry with me until I grew old.

“I went on an adventure,” I told my parents on the phone when I got back from poetry tour.

“Will you be OK on making rent this month?” my mom asked me in reply.

Last weekend, my parents drove to Brooklyn to help me move into my new apartment. My new bedroom has a window that opens into a fire escape that looks out onto the street. I opened it immediately, delirious from dragging my furniture up three flights of stairs. “I’m sooooo happy,” I yelled out to the stars, sticking my head out to see what was out there.

“You need to be careful,” my dad said, rushing over to hold the window up with his hands.

It is so easy for me to slip back into being the brat I have always been around my father. “Um, how is this not careful?”

“I don’t know, why don’t you ask your friend Diana’s grandmother? She crushed her fingers opening her window one afternoon. The whole thing came crashing down over her hands.”

“So what you are saying is that I should never open this window in case it comes crashing down on my fingers?”

“You never know,” my dad said.

“She broke every finger,” my mom said.

“Wait, really?” I said.

“She can’t open jars anymore,” my mom said, always the accomplice to my father, whose ability to dream up worst-case scenarios is so impressive that I swear he watches 1000 Ways to Die just to confirm that he’s already considered them all.

“Good god,” I said.

Moments earlier, I’d been dreaming about the summertime adventures I fully intended to have, my head sticking out of my new window over my new street, and now all I could think about was the rattling sound my window made when I opened it and how that probably meant there was a loose screw or an unsteady bar that would send the whole thing crashing down, and how am I supposed to go through life never being able to open a jar again when so many of my favorite things (ALL PICKLED FOODS) are stored in jars?

“So what, I can’t ever open my window if I want to have fingers?” I asked my dad.

“You never know. That’s the point. You never know,” my father said. “If you want to take a chance on breaking your own fingers, that’s your choice. I can’t stop you. You’re an adult now. I can’t tell you what to do and what not to do. I can only tell you that Diana’s grandmother broke her fingers opening the window in her apartment. She has the same windows you have. With these old apartments, you can’t guarantee everything is in working order. So if you want to chance it, that’s up to you.”

I imagined looking out the window to say hi to my friends downstairs and the window collapsing onto my back. I imagined climbing out to the fire escape for some air and the whole thing crashing down and breaking my neck. Oh god, I thought, I am doomed. Must mummify this window shut with tape and never breathe in outside air again.

“You never know” has always been my parents’ motto. Growing up, there was so much I could never know and so much they seemed to know. They knew it all: A girl whose parents allowed her to date boys in middle school and a year later she was a pregnant junkie literally found in the gutter, unconscious and bleeding by some cops. A boy whose parents let him take a frivolous trip to Beijing with his cousin before taking the Gao Kao exam, a test in China that every high school student takes in order to place into college, and then missed the cut-off mark for the school he applied to by half a point, which directly resulted in his becoming a raging, eternally broke and embittered alcoholic. Half a point! Not even a full point, but literally half a point destroyed his life, and my parents knew about it and never failed to mention it whenever I brought home a test score that was less than an A+. They knew about a girl who laughed so much that she literally went mute, another who played so many sports that she messed up her body beyond repair, a kid who ran away from home only to come back to shoot his own parents in the head. They knew about the girl who was allowed to stay out as late as she wanted with her friends, and five years later she took her own life when she was just a freshman in college. They knew about every single horrible thing that had ever happened to anyone ever, and in their minds, it all happened because these kids had parents who were too permissive. And by too permissive, I mean these parents allowed their children to do things like GO OUTSIDE.

When I was in elementary school, my parents were so suspicious and fearful of trick-or-treaters that we once spent an entire Halloween with all the lights turned off, crouched behind our couch, ignoring knocks at the door until it was midnight and the neighborhood children were back in their homes, pillowcases stuffed with candy, while my dad lectured me on the sheer stupidity of going out into the dark streets and accepting candy from strangers that undoubtedly contained all kinds of razors and needles that, once consumed, would travel through your bloodstream and pierce your once-beating heart.

“And for what?” he said. I didn’t speak up, but I knew for what—it was for the happy, careless, childish life I wanted so badly to live before it was too late. I spent so many afternoons alone and locked in my house, pressing my face against the drawn curtains of my living room and watching the other kids on my block play soccer, the dark pit in my stomach growing darker whenever someone passed by my house and remarked, “I think this house is haunted. I’ve seriously never seen anyone go in or out.” When my fifth grade teacher assigned us to write an essay on what we loved about winter, the other kids wrote about snowball fights, building snowmen, and the pleasure of lying down on freshly fallen snow to make snow angels. My essay was a few sentences long and it was about how snowy days were exactly the same as not-snowy days because I spent every day in my house, watching TV, doing my homework, eating the snacks my parents left for me, and waiting for them to come home from work so I could eat dinner and have someone to talk to. Once I asked my dad if I could go outside and play in the snow and he asked if I had brain damage. Another time, in middle school, I asked my parents for permission to go to the movies, and my dad said, “Again? Didn’t you go last year?” and when I whined, “But the other kids in my class go every week, sometimes two or three times a week,” my mom replied, “That’s them. You’re not them. You’re you. We’re not those kids’ parents. We’re your parents.”

My parents grew up a few blocks from each other in Shanghai in the 1950s and ’60s. Their entire world was contained within a 10-block radius. They knew all of their neighbors by name. They were children of the Cultural Revolution, a time when schools were shut down and teachers were vilified for purportedly supporting the oppressive bourgeois regime. My dad had friends who chased after their teachers with glass bottles and my mom knew of some neighborhood boys who tied one of their professors to a tree and taunted her until she went mad. When my parents left their apartment building, they couldn’t put one foot in front of another without running into people who had known them since they were babies. They left that world to come to New York, to raise me in a city where a person could go miles without ever running into a familiar face. The rules they grew up knowing had no place in the new country they lived in, and they were fucking terrified. They read horror stories in the Chinese-language newspapers about how American children were growing up to be high school dropouts and teenage moms and druggies. The woman who lived upstairs from us had been mugged at gunpoint two separate times on the way home from the subway. They told me about their first apartment in East Flatbush and how they lived next to a drug house where they saw young girls in belly tops going in and out with zombie-glazed eyes, and when I told them I didn’t get it, they didn’t elaborate, they just told me not to become one of those girls if I knew what was good for me, and of course I didn’t, because how was I supposed to know what was good for me when I lived my entire life indoors? When my only experience of the world was the same five blocks I walked to and from school on the weekdays? When my knowledge of what went on out there was from inside my parents’ car when they took me along to the grocery store, and from inside my house where I spent every afternoon, peering out from behind my living room window to spy on the kids in my neighborhood who rollerbladed when the weather was nice, and I had to wonder, were they all rollerblading their way to certain death, or was it possible that the world was not as horrifying as my parents had made it out to be?

“We know what’s best for you” is the party line that all strict parents repeat. When I got to high school, I met kids whose parents didn’t care what they did, and it hurt them in a way I could not even begin to appreciate. I, on the other hand, was dying for my parents to stop caring so much. I didn’t know how to fight them, because every prohibition was always “for [my] own good.” I wanted the right to call them monsters when they wouldn’t let me go to my friend’s house after school, but they weren’t. My dad worked 60 hours a week and took night classes in computer science so he could get a better-paying job to save up for my college fund. When we were too broke to afford meat, they bought it for me anyway and watched me eat and waited until I was done to suck on the bones I left behind. Instead of buying himself new shoes, my dad bought me cowboy boots I didn’t need but coveted because they had little bells attached at the heel that jangled when I walked, which meant my dad had to continue wearing his dress shoes with holes in the soles and one icy winter night, he came home shaking uncontrollably from the cold. How was I supposed to hate my parents when they insisted on constantly sacrificing for me? And how was I supposed to be happy when the life they wanted for me, the life they were constantly sacrificing to make happen for me, was not one I wanted at all?

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61 Comments

  • Susann May 8th, 2012 3:24 PM

    Really well-written and so interesting! This is absolutely different from my life and therefore I enjoyed seeing your point of view and reading your story :)

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • PearlFog May 8th, 2012 3:27 PM

    Wow, that was incredible. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your compassion for your parents despite everything is really inspiring.

    It’s so important to be able to take ownership of your life, no matter what the expectations your parents or anyone else might have for you. I’ve learned myself that trying to please others at the expense of what you really want will never make you happy, and if they truly care about you, it won’t make them happy either. Three cheers for your bravery :o)

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/PearlFog

  • Abby May 8th, 2012 3:41 PM

    This was beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank you.

  • phoebelouise May 8th, 2012 3:55 PM

    I know your pain. Believe me, I know your pain. My parents are exactly like this, to the very dot. I did some bad, bad stuff as ‘revenge’, they found out and this basically culminated in a complete breakdown of trust (very little existed in the first place) and an on-going depression / PTSD which I still have and won’t shake until I’m gone from this house (2 more years). With all but the very select few people, I have enormous trust issues, paranoia and a distinct lack of social skills. To any parents who honestly believe that this is a good way of parenting – please don’t ruin your child out of love. It’s not worth it. I wish I’d been allowed to make all the mistakes in the world, rather than end up where I did. I sympathise with both the author of this piece and any other kids in the same situation.

    • Jenny May 8th, 2012 9:14 PM

      Oh girl, I’m so sorry you are experiencing depression and PTSD. I know what it’s like to have “trust issues, paranoia and a distinct lack of social skills,” and I also had a moment when my parents found out about some of the stuff I was doing behind their back and I think we all lost twenty pounds collectively from the stress and the hurt feelings and mistrust and too many dinners left uneaten. It’s really, really, really hard when you have strict parents who have already made up their minds as to what is right for their children. I wish you the best of luck in the next two years and hope when you’re finally free from the house that you can do all the things you want to do and explore until your heart is full. xo

  • SweetThangVintage May 8th, 2012 4:13 PM

    WOW. This was incredibly written!
    It reminds me of a series of unfortunate events.

  • eliselbv May 8th, 2012 4:32 PM

    Your situation is really special and I hope just a few teenagers have to face it but I kind of live through this. When I arrived in Paris after living in a little town of France then Africa, my parents were really worried and they forbid me to go outside because as you said it’s a wickied world. Now they allow me to do quite whatever I want but I still have this feeling that even if they don’t tell it, they would be desappointed. Therefore I don’t go out that much.
    But next year I’m going to move in my own appartment maybe so now I’m just waiting

    http://www.iloveyourjokes.blogspot.com

  • soukiine May 8th, 2012 5:04 PM

    I could’ve wrote this piece , story of my life. It literally made me cry ,i’m 16 , and 10 years do seem too long for me . The sacrifice part is shit , i AM grateful , they don’t have to remind me every single time. And it will never justify the life i’m living right now.

  • soukiine May 8th, 2012 5:09 PM

    One day , the teacher didn’t come and i went out for one hour with friends to the beach , if they found out they will never , ever , ever trust me again. Even without them knowing , culpability is killing me every single day , and i DON’T wanna feel like this for such a stupid thing ! It’s the first time i go out with friends alone , it was so freaking good , but i’m sure i’ll never have the courage to do it again.

  • hollz May 8th, 2012 5:12 PM

    I feel this pain. The repeated lines from my Mum are “At least I care about you! Would you rather it be the other way around! Some parents out there blah blah blah” and “You’re the eldest, the first teenager out of all our family and friends”. I developed bad OCD out of this. I’m 17 1/2 just and I feel like I’m going a bit crazy now. I live in a little claustrophobic village and I’m dying to get out. I’ve started to smoke and lying to my parents. I just feel it’s a bit late for me. There’s so much stuff I haven’t done. I’m so excited for the summer when I’m just gonna run about with fake ID and get high all the time and have sex while “I’m staying at my friends house”. I can’t wait.

    • ladyjenna May 8th, 2012 6:18 PM

      Honey child. My black-lady alter ego has a message for you. CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF. You’ve got ages to do whatever you want, so find better, more constructive, more convincing ways to show your mum you’re a GROWN WOMAN.

      Or, just go crazy this summer. Use protection.

  • Runaway May 8th, 2012 5:14 PM

    I’ve lived through something similar. This is my last year at college and I’m afraid that I’m on my way to become what my parents wanted me to be. I had to get treatment for depression a few years ago…Honestly, I’m so lost right now.

    • brianne May 9th, 2012 1:14 AM

      Your comment really hit home for me. I have one more year left on a degree that I have come to hate but my parents convinced me to finish it instead of switching. I also have depression and I can really relate to the feeling of being lost. Thank you for making me feel not so alone.

      • Runaway May 10th, 2012 3:16 PM

        Thank YOU, brianne! You made me feel the same.
        I hope we’ll somehow find our niche after our degree is over. Better late than never…but what a way of wasting our youth! I can’t help thinking that way.

  • DANNI May 8th, 2012 5:21 PM

    my mom also grew up in a really small town in china. she like, doesn’t totally trust me anymore and gets really freaked out when i go out/have sleepovers because she’s like “HOW DO YOU KNOW SHE’S NOT SEEING BOYS???????” psh, i wish.

    also, the high school i want to go to is a liberal arts school and she has this idea that if i go to a liberal arts school, i’ll go to a liberal arts college and if i go to a liberal arts college i won’t get one of the top paying jobs on wall st. like her and be poor and lonely and miserable.

  • jwt May 8th, 2012 5:27 PM

    Jenny, I love everything that you have written for Rookie. Your writing has really struck a chord in my heart, it feels like I lived through a very similar adolescence with my Chinese parents.

    I now have a 14 year old daughter, and while I try to be the exact opposite of what my parents were (I vowed a long time ago to be a cool, fun, supportive parent), I can’t help but be filled with terror every time my kid leaves the house. While I’m not saying how my parents acted was right, I do understand more what was going through their minds when they tried to be protective.

    thank you again for putting some of my old feelings into words.

    • Jenny May 8th, 2012 9:32 PM

      Wow–I can’t believe you’ve lived through strict Chinese parents and now are a parent yourself. I often wonder what kind of parent I will be, and if I really will be the kind of parent I always wished my parents could have been, or my parents fears, paranoia and anxieties have found a permanent occupancy in my heart/brain/spirit. Anyway–you are welcome, and thank you for sharing a bit of your story!

  • Flower May 8th, 2012 5:32 PM

    This made me feel guilty in a weird way; I often complain about y parents being overtly strict, but it seems they’re more lenient than I thought.
    http://www.bobblyrainbowsocks.blogspot.com

  • myy May 8th, 2012 5:43 PM

    Beautifully written . . . WOW. Just wow. I think I’m going to read this again.
    (Oh, and, on a side note, your story really reminded me of Lane from Gilmore Girls! :) )

    http://mygenerationmusic.blogspot.com/
    http://highway61vintage.blogspot.com/

  • ravenflamingo May 8th, 2012 5:55 PM

    This is really interesting. Your parents were unbelievably strict, but it’s cool that you understood where they were coming from. My parents are total opposites, they don’t care that much about what I do. It isn’t that great though, because of course I sometimes want them to pay more attention to me and appreciate what I do.

    http://ravenflamingo.tumblr.com

  • kwan May 8th, 2012 6:16 PM

    Thank you so much for this article, I got to read this at the most appropriate time possible. My prom’s on saturday and afterwards everyone’s going to a party and a sleepover but I’m not allowed to go because of my parents. I was just saying last night how I would get them back for not letting me go but this helped me see that it was only because they cared.

    • Jenny May 8th, 2012 9:35 PM

      That’s a very compassionate and generous way to think about it and I’m glad you you are both of those things. You are also allowed to be angry and annoyed… I certainly was!

  • ladyjenna May 8th, 2012 6:21 PM

    Great piece!

    And, OH MY GAWD IS THAT DON DRAPER/LIZ LEMON’S EX AND ANGELA LANSBURY ON THE SAME FREAKING PAGE?!?!?!! IS THAT FROM BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS!!?!?!?! ROOKIE YOU ARE THE SHIZ!!!!!!

    • Jenny May 8th, 2012 9:36 PM

      I HAD THE EXACT SAME EXCITED REACTON TO DON DRAPER/LIZ LEMON’S EX & ANGELA LANSBURY. Such, such good company on this dreary Tuesday.

  • lilkitten May 8th, 2012 6:34 PM

    For such a long time, I had the exact same weird revenge mentaility, like I was going to “get back” at my parents by telling them all the “bad” things I’d done. Now, that just seems so unnecessary – I understand that they were really just doing the best they could, not actively trying to torture me! And this way I get those experiences all to myself anyway c:

  • lylsoy May 8th, 2012 7:16 PM

    My Mum was exactly the same and I hated her for it!!! Everything in her eyes was bad. We didn’t even had a TV! But when I was 15, she died and I moved to my Dad, who I never really knew and he was the total opposite. I told him I’d go to a club and he was all like, “Go ahead, that’s what I did when I was young” and in the early morning hours I’d come back and pretend nothing ever happened. I went to parties on schooldays, even in the week I had finals and slept at my boyfriends place, took a taxi to school and borrowed paper and pens from classmates. The only thing he cared about, was me having good grades and going to uni. But I won’t go to uni. Instead I moved to my bf’s and work now :) I party less. I miss and love both, my mum and dad, because they both did so many things for me. It’s better for them and me not to live together, though.
    OH and I totally loved this article, Jenny <3 you are great!
    http://lylsoy.blogspot.com.au/

  • Amy Rose May 8th, 2012 7:38 PM

    This is exactly what I needed today.

  • angelicanism May 8th, 2012 8:48 PM

    This is so inspiring and beautiful and honest and I almost kind of cried.

    Also that part with the boy and the Swedish Fish in his pockets is wonderful.

    • Jenny May 8th, 2012 9:10 PM

      I really love Swedish Fish <3

  • fullmetalguitar May 8th, 2012 10:11 PM

    I REALLY love this piece. My parents were not nearly as strict, which made it easier to see that when they were strict it was because they thought everyone would want to kidnap me because in their eyes I was The Best Child (oh parents, your faith is empowering). I love that you showed both the overwhelming frustration that this can cause, and the insight you have now that you’re past it and have a better relationship with your parents <33 I really hope this inspires other people in your situation to assert themselves, without hurting their parents too much out of pain!

  • May 8th, 2012 10:39 PM

    Very well written and heart-felt piece. My parents are strict as well, for example this year one of my classmates passed away and they wouldn’t allow me to go to school and grieve with my friends until they knew that whatever caused his death wasn’t cathching, even though the school had assured us numerous times it wasnt! Now I know that this is because they love me but it doesn’t stop me from having a large attitude around them, which makes me feel very guilty.

  • clocksheep May 8th, 2012 11:07 PM

    “That’s them. You’re not them. You’re you. We’re not those kids’ parents. We’re your parents.”

    This is almost word for word what my own Chinese parents told me growing up. I relate so much. Thank you for writing this Jenny, it makes me optimistic that one day I’ll be over my regrets about high school and I’ll find power and freedom of my own. <3

  • Mags May 8th, 2012 11:42 PM

    I just hope I’m never the kind of parent who thinks that her kids “owe” her something just because I gave them “the gift of life.” Some gift! Ha, just kidding, that’s my pessimism talking. But seriously, kids do not ask to be born. It’s so backward to put all this insane pressure on them. Children are not toys or some kind of malleable substance you can mold into your fantasy of what a person has to be. I’ve seen it happen too many times.

    Honestly, I don’t know if I ever want to be a parent. :/

  • thekidsarealright May 9th, 2012 12:22 AM

    Thank you for articulating my experience with the eloquence and emotional nuance that I can only strive for. It’s amazing how blanketing some experiences are in small communities – my parents were also both literature majors in college only to become computer science students in the U.S.
    It took me a while to realize that their protectiveness was only the expression of their lived experiences and their fears for me, that in the face of such instability in their own lives as immigrants they wanted safety for me, whether it was the physical safety they wanted in middle and high school or the financial safety they want for me now. Though they have grown looser in their tactics as we have lived longer in the states, I think the process of growing up in an immigrant household has fundamentally shaped my view of the world, and I now live in two halves – one reaching for this promised American freedom and another to devote to my parents the filial piety they deserve for having loved me so much.
    I think a lot of people, especially Western, wealthy people, don’t understand the complexities of the mentality of immigrant parents and villanize or pity them, so thank you for painting the full picture that they so, so deserve.

  • awesomecats May 9th, 2012 12:50 AM

    i’ve had about the same experiance comng from an oriental background & your parents love you tooo much.
    i used to spite them by always trying to disobey them. I’d not do well at school and always sulk in my sadness. I couldn’t be the one to stick up for my decisions because that would mean disrespecting my parents (cause they gave you life & food). But, I realized how wrong it was of me to try to hurt them because in reality i was only hurting myself. You really don’t chose your parents but if they do love you too much there are ways of implanting sense into them at times when you stand behind your choices full heartedly. It sucks at the time, but freedom does come eventually! and you’ll laugh and cry….and you’ll be stronger for it! jenny youre the best in the west&east& so on!

  • Polaroid Boo May 9th, 2012 1:53 AM

    I really loved this article, because my parents are perhaps a little too over-protective, but maybe not that much. I think it made me realise that there are other people in my ‘situation’. One of my mums most commonly used phrases is ‘ I don’t care about [insert name here], all I care about is you’

  • Caden May 9th, 2012 3:54 AM

    You are an incredibly talented writer. Thank you for sharing such a meaningful and heartfelt story.

    Caden x
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/pinkpoppies1991

  • Hannah. May 9th, 2012 6:32 AM

    Cool to hear about your life, I think it’s beautiful to love your kids that much, but I get how it’s suffocating. I couldn’t help but think how much your dad sounded like Mr Weir from Freaks and Geeks.”You know, I had a friend that used to smoke. You know what he’s doing now? He’s dead!”. Your like Lindsay, breaking freee.

  • EmmaB May 9th, 2012 6:59 AM

    I am experiencing a somewhat familiar situation.
    The thing I probably find most frustrating is how my mother cannot trust me and I have no idea where this mistrust stems from.
    Something I can’t help but hold against her is her paranoia towards boys. Boys are the greatest threat to me living a safe existence according to my mother.
    When I was 12, I used to catch the train sometimes to meet my close girl friends from primary school. Even when I was just 12, my mother believed I was meeting with boys on the train, I still thought boys had weird germs at 12. She was thrusting the strange concept of boys being a threat when I was too young to even understand why. She constantly yelled at me for going so I eventually stopped. I still see my school friends around and I just can’t help but wonder, if my mother let me go meet them once a week, would we still have been close.

    The perplexing thing is I don’t know why she mistrusts me so much and the male gender in general. I’m 17 and have never even held hands with a guy, let alone, dated or kissed. There was no great event, or situation that led to the distrust. I think the distrust would be more understandable if there was.

    Whenever I’m in social occasions I’m extremely awkward and always saying the wrong things. I am worried that I won’t be able to socialise and network in the future, a skill I’ll need in the career I’m interested in.

    Your article has been incredibly insightful and has made me more thankful. I just have to look forward to the freedom in the future I guess!

  • JessieD May 9th, 2012 10:37 AM

    What a great article. Really well written.

    I identify really strongly with this article. My parents were very strict when I was a kid, adhering to a strong set of christian morals and expecting me to follow them as well. I never realized just how strict they were until I started pushing back and making choices that didn’t align directly with their beliefs (namely becoming sexually active at 18 when not married) and they decided that I was a failure. It put an incredible amount of strain on our relationship; my mom actually stopped talking to me for about 6 months because she was so unhappy about the decisions that I was making. Despite their “having my best interest in mind”, I decided that I needed to live for myself and make well-informed decisions that were true to myself and my beliefs rather than theirs. Fast forward 6 years to now, I’ve completed an undergrad and masters degree program in what I wanted to and have a job in the field I love. Because I continued to stand by my beliefs, trusted myself, and worked hard, they’ve slowly but surely come to realize that I have the ability to make smart choices for myself, and have come to trust me to act in my best interest as an adult.

    Point being, it gets better!!! Hang in there! Continue to stay true to yourself. Don’t do stupid things along the way just to get back at your parents; do things you care about and believe in because YOU believe they are right and they will make you a stronger happier person!

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini May 9th, 2012 10:49 AM

    I’m currently living through a similar situation, though less extreme. Also, only my mom is extremely strict, so it helps a lot. In January I went to a birthday party (all-girls, parents present), and my mom has been using it against me for five months now. I think I may be developing a depression, as I recall starting having suicide thoughts when I was only ten.
    However, I guess I’m lucky. I’ve never got physically abused, and even though my mom is pushing her religion on me, it’s not like she’s threatening with hell for my sins or anything like that.

  • wandergirl May 9th, 2012 10:53 AM

    My parents were maybe like…10% this, but I still can relate to a lot of the feelings you are having. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through this, and I think it’s incredible that you can still have a relationship with your parents. I still struggle with feeling suffocated and wanting to just run away from them (and I’m a married adult and don’t even live in the same town as them!).

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini May 9th, 2012 10:56 AM

    Sometimes I just feel like a combination between a house elf and a chihuahua dog- Only there to assist with chores and to be an accessory. A pretty, proper child with perfect grades.

  • Jesss May 9th, 2012 1:38 PM

    Thank you so so much for this. So beautifully written.

  • helenzzou May 9th, 2012 3:44 PM

    Having also been raised by extremely protective, extremely loving, extremely suffocating Shanghainese parents, I can relate to so much of your article.

    I was especially moved by the paragraph where you write about your dad buying you the cowboy boots with the bells; everything in that paragraph resonates with me in such a deep and familiar way– it reminds me of the overpowering, overwhelming love that my parents have for me and that I have for them, the way it’s always there as a backdrop to all the other millions of frustrations and misunderstandings we have with each other.

    Anyway, now that I’m older and no longer angry toward my parents for whatever I was angry about when I was younger, most of what I think about these days about when I think about my parents is how hard it is to be a parent, and how difficult it would be to raise a kid like me.

  • heartcity May 9th, 2012 5:12 PM

    this is so so awesome jenny. i’m curious- have your parents read it?

    • Jenny May 9th, 2012 8:07 PM

      I’m not sure! Although I know they have read other things I’ve written about this topic. Oomph. It scares me to think about it, actually.

  • SWIZZLEFAIRY22 May 9th, 2012 5:20 PM

    My mom is african and she is exactly like this. This is scarily accurate.

  • smurfjuo May 9th, 2012 9:43 PM

    I loved this, it’s very similar to how I was raised (one of my parents is a West Indian immigrant, and made up all the rules in the house).

    My parents were so strict though that even when I developed an eating disorder I was not allowed to go to treatment- they tried to “treat it themselves”. It got to the point where for a few months in 12th grade my mom had to come pick me up at lunch hour during school to make sure I wasn’t exercising or “off doing drugs”.

    Being this strict on kids is fucking traumatic.

    • Jenny May 9th, 2012 11:11 PM

      Oh my gosh–that’s awful! Yes, I know strict parents who ignored their children’s physical as well as mental health issues and that led to a lot of sad stuff happening : ( Delusion and stubbornness are powerful and can be awful when put together. I hope you were able to find escape?

  • taste test May 9th, 2012 11:47 PM

    I relate so much. my parents aren’t as protective as yours, but they’re close. your anecdote of standing against your window and watching kids outside especially hit home because I remember doing the same thing- leaning against the screen and staring despondently at my yard on nice days, watching kids play in other yards and wishing I could too. I have never met anyone else with that experience. it makes me happy I’m not alone.

    for most of my life, every social activity has been banned unless it was planned a month in advance and my parents could background-check the friends and their families and possibly also go with me. I couldn’t go outside because I had allergies and there were pedophiles everywhere. they especially worked the pedophiles angle, until I would run and hide when anyone rang the doorbell. and like you, I couldn’t get mad at them because I knew they thought they were doing the right thing.

    in high school, they finally bit by bit started giving me some freedom. now (senior year) I can do things I only planned a few days in advance, which is amazing even though it’s something most people could do in 8th grade. I am dropped off instead of followed and I can even go to prom. it’s getting better slowly. thanks for reassuring me that this experience hasn’t fucked me up for life and I will still figure out life on my own.

    • Stacey May 10th, 2012 1:02 PM

      Ahh! I ran and hid when people rang the doorbell too.

  • Arden May 10th, 2012 3:48 AM

    This article actually got me crying. I don’t come from the same background as you, but growing up, I was constantly grounded and purposefully taught to be afraid of the outdoors. In the 5th grade my parents grounded me for an entire year because I got one failing grade, and consistently every year since, I’ve failed all subjects. My parents “tried everything out of love” but it was always extremely harsh punishment. I was never allowed to go to dances, to sleepovers, to anything social. My mother would always tell me I would get abducted if I went outside, as well. I have extreme social anxieties now because of it all. I suffer from long-time depression, and have been in mental hospitals a few times. They actually grounded me when I first went to a hospital for attempted suicide (for 6 months!).
    All through high school, I blamed them for my sadness and anxieties and rebellious acts, and constantly wished either myself or them dead. But now that I am 20 and am out on my own (guess who cut me off? and guess who has never been happier in a new city and with a new life?), I know they only did it because it was the best they knew how. They loved me so much, but just executed it in the wrong way.
    To all of you going through rough times with strict parents: I know it sounds cliche, but it all really does get better with time. Just use your time under their rule wisely, and let out your aggression in the healthiest ways you can.

  • Stacey May 10th, 2012 1:00 PM

    My story is quite similar, and a tad bit different.

    It’s so hard. My mom is crazy sometimes. My parents have home schooled me since I was seven, and I’m sixteen now. They often shelter me from being with other people and then wonder why I have social issues. They do let me do a lot though, and I know kids with stricter parents.

    But it’s so hard when they get angry over the little things. Sometimes I want to party and do drugs like the other kids my age just to throw it in there face.

    There are things I haven’t and will never tell them. But I do always imagine my revenge tell all.

    Also, my mom had a crazy life, and I know that she’s just trying to protect me, but it’s so hard when she’s telling me how much I don’t care, when I really do.

    I’ve totally heard the “You’re not like them” and “We’re not their parents”. What’s worse is also hearing “Why can’t you be a normal kid?” and “Look how well they’re doing in school” and “They are driving and have a job, what are you doing?”.

    Oh and the story about the window, I can totally relate. My family was driving the other day and were were going from one store to another, and we only had to cross the street, so I wasn’t going to put my seat belt on. “Oh, if you don’t put your seat belt on, I bet it’ll be the time we get in an accident. But you can take your chances”….needless to say, I put my seat belt on.

  • appleski May 10th, 2012 6:48 PM

    “The reality my parents lived through doesn’t necessarily make up for how helpless I felt when they denied me my own reality, but it’s a context, at the very least.”

    That says it all. Thank you, Jenny, for another vividly realized account of childhood.

  • rachele May 10th, 2012 10:45 PM

    this is wonderful. aside from the truth about childhood that’s here, it is also powerful to hear about your parents’ experience in China.

    my dad is Chinese and also grew up during the cultural revolution–my grandparents were high school teachers, which made life especially scary for them with riots and stuff going on. i know my dad still deals with a lot of demons from that time in his life, and it feels like something unresolved to me, like it’s still “my problem” too.

    but that period of time is so seldom discussed, and it’s been hard lately that none of my friends can quite relate to this odd sense of connection i have with it. so thank you for sharing a tidbit of your parents’ experience. it’s good for me right now to know you’re out there with a similar story.

  • Selle May 11th, 2012 9:19 AM

    This is a wonderful, wonderful story and I am so happy you’ve shared this with us readers.

    Though I think this type of experience rings true for nearly all of us raised by Asian parents, not just immigrants . I could totally relate to that overwhelming capacity for them to sacrifice anything to provide for their children, and the complicated and irrevocable strings attached to that. I am far from ungrateful for the intention behind such actions, and as I grow older I’ve learnt to let some of that resentment go. Besides, I suppose the point of it is eventually we learn from the mistakes they make and try not to pass it on, whether to our children or anyone else who touches our lives. I suppose at the end of it all, if we eventually can realise the compassion and love and meaning behind all the no’s and messy fights and tears, they’ve raised us pretty OK after all.

    And really, I’d rather have parental figures I can complain about than none at all.

  • Lolly May 12th, 2012 8:26 PM

    Excellent article. I hope your parents do get to read it one day – you’ve done a lot to try and understand them, and maybe that way they’ll understand you a bit more.

    I was kind of the opposite. I had a much, much milder experience, but my parents pressured me to go out and explore and socialise, and I was terrified and spent all my time in my room. I think it was because, in my own company, I got to make the choices.

  • meowool June 3rd, 2012 11:29 AM

    I’m in the same boat, as my friends are all a half hour’s car drive. The furthest I’ve been by myself was 10 minutes down the road cos we all had to go on different buses for a day. I’m not trusted with anything, never been out by myself in nearly 16 years. My mum says jokes that I can’t find my way round my own town, mainly because all I’ve seen of it is the main road through it, cos that’s the route my school bus takes. Whereas my sister knows her way round the area of the stables cos she goes on a hack 5 days a week (in the holidays) with my mum, so she’s trusted a lot more than me even though she’s 11 and I’m 16 in…17 days. Then she comes home all grumpy, I’ve never thought of revenge or getting back at my parents. I do go on Wednesdays for 3 hours to do a theartre group thing and for one week I’ll be in Brighton dancing, but apart from that one week (theartre group’s only on during term time) I will not have anything to do (apart from voiceacting which is just a hobby), and my mum wonders why I’m bored. I just feel like I’m pushed to the bottom sometimes.

    I can’t even see my keyboard anymore, now.

  • kudosfolks July 29th, 2012 10:41 PM

    I love your writing, Jenny, and thank you for sharing your experience. Reading this came at the perfect time, since I’m in a similar situation that you were. I’m 16 and an only child, and my parents are really over-protective. I think they love me more than they should, they have me idealized as if I could do anything; my mom is really nervous and my dad is so stubborn about everything. Since our family is really small, as long as I can remember we’ve been “unbelievably close”, I’d tell them what was going on in my life and we’d share everything.

    That was then, this year I’ve changed a lot, and so many things have happened that my relationship with them is so strange. I’ve realized that I’m a pleaser, all my life everything I’ve done has been to make them happy. Now I can’t deal with it anymore, I’ve realized that the stereotype of daughter my parents want is the complete opposite of what I am, and I’m unable to please them now.

    I tried keeping a diary, just like you did. Except that they found it. And read it. Because of it, my mom ended up having a nervous breakdown. They sat me down, and told me that they knew everything. That I hated my life, that I didn’t want to sleep so that I didn’t have to deal with the waking up, that I was throwing up on purpose, about my anxiety and paranoia, etc. To make things worst, my dad yelled at me for being depressed, so it’s not like I can allow myself to be sad once in a while.

    These are just my escapes, and I’m sorry if this is way too long or out of place, but I need to know if waiting to grow up is actually worth everything.