Understanding your parents

Every once in a while, I come across students who really wish to do a lot of things, but face resistance from their parents. Most of them, particularly girls, find it difficult to get their parents to be okay with them travelling. And the degree of the effort required to get parents to agree to let you travel varies with where you’re travelling, with whom and why.

I’ve shared couple of my personal approaches as to how I go about things in numerous occasions, to smaller audiences. This is an attempt to capture my perspectives on the matter. Much to be written in this space. But starting out by capturing few approaches here.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s an example of a student having trouble with her patents.

Hi there,

I wanted to ask you about something. My junior, a girl from first year recently got selected into a hackathon (One of the 6 teams from India).

Her father didn’t allow her to go despite knowing the amount of difficulty she went through to get selected. Since I worked with their team, I got really wild on hearing this and wondered if you also faced something of this sort when you started out. It’s really sad to see something like this happen. It would disgust you if I told you his exact words on several instances.

The emotional turmoil that she has to go through when presenting such things to her parents makes her want to refrain from even participating and its really sad to see something like this happening. Clearly, parents need counselling.

Is there anything you see , that can be done to ease this situation ? A piece of advice on how to approach such parents… Any kind of advice would be cool. I was hoping that I could connect her to you.

Thanks and cheers 🙂

I can understand what she must be going through. I have been through similar issues myself. To be honest, I still face resistance from my parents on a number of things. But over time, I’ve understood that this is because they care for me and are genuinely unaware of such opportunities and their consequences.

During my early years, I used to fight my parents a lot. I used to get downright angry when they wouldn’t let me do something. But over time, I realised that it is of no use. I also played tantrums and emotional drama to get stuff done. But I noticed that doesn’t last too. It may work for you once, by not always. I was also seen as immature and unable to communicate and get things done. I started eventually realising that whining is for kids. If I am to get stuff done with them, I also need to be smart about it.

The key here is to help them understand.

And making them understand takes time.

Your parents have a set of beliefs about the world, they have a particular understanding about you as an individual and when you go to them with the prospect of you travelling to some place or doing a particular something, they’re evaluating the situation based on the data/understanding they already have. You will find below, few tried and tested approaches from my personal experience.

Do note here that I am of the opinion that you should attempt to help your parents understand about what you’re trying and garner support. Particularly when you’re trying to figure things out for yourself, it helps to have their support and buy-in. There are people who believe that it doesn’t make sense to try to even make them understand because they probably never will. I prefer to think that it is upon me to at least communicate my interests and expectations even if they might not understand them today.

Why this approach?

Honestly, I’ve also had times when I’ve felt it makes so much more sense to just do whatever I wish to do and ignore them altogether. Communicating and getting their understanding can really be bruising and I sometimes do feel that it shouldn’t be so hard for me also.

Having said that, every time I have really really tried to articulate why I wish to do something, I’ve seen them go out of their comfort and cushion to back me and figure it out with me.

The first instance I saw this was when I was selected to travel to Google I/O. I saw them really step up to make it happen for me. Getting the Visa, planning the travel, booking accommodation, speaking with few people from the US and understanding how the country is like, getting acquainted to few family friends — they were super plugged in. That is one instance where I saw them come together just to make that trip happen for me.

The second instance is when I saw them come in to get me settles in Cochin. I had just decided to live alone and they really helped put together the apartment and ensured I have everything I need to live a decent life. They did not have to, but they did it anyway.

I’ve attempted to convey to my parents for so long about my work. I find that my mom listens to me but no matter how many times I try to help her understand my work, she goes back to the same questions of getting married, working for an established company, getting settled and so on. And my dad? Until recently, he wouldn’t even give me 2 minutes of his attention when I’m talking about me and what I wish to attempt. Instead, he starts telling me about how he wants me to live without even listening to what I have to say and I get furious. I’ve had numerous walkouts and instances where I’ve shouted at them. I’ve had helpless breakdowns too, where I wished they at least listened to what I had to say.

Each of these instances has been a learning experience for all of us. Now after numerous such instances, my dad’s attention span has increased to about 15 minutes. My mom has started being less paranoid about me travelling and doing things I really want to do. (In fact, this time I travelled to Singapore they were super chill. And now when I tell them I’m going to the US, they’re like let us know if you need money or anything at all.)

And now when we call for a discussion, we come in to discuss and I have started to have a say in things concerning me. This gives me hope. I’ve learned over the years that it may be difficult to get them to understand but once I do communicate and get them on my side, I can expect absolutely strong support I can count on. Aside of all the drama, I know that they wish my well being and will always have me back. I have two people who absolutely care about me and want to protect me without expecting anything in return.

I’d rather choose to figure it out for even those few moments of support than to conclusively decide it’s never going to work.

So what can you really do to make them understand?

Disclaimer before I share anything at all

  • Insights below are from my personal experience. You are different and your parents are different. What worked for me may not work for you. I insist you use your best judgement to figure it out for yourselves.
  • I’m saying getting their understanding may be doable. May be. But is may not be easy.

Now moving into few specific approaches

Play the long term game

You can’t surface out of the blue with a request and expect them to understand / give consent to you.

Take baby steps each time to make them understand. You may notice few moments here and there where your parents ask you about your career aspirations or interests. Make use of those windows to communicate because then, they have your attention.

Something I have been doing is be friends with my mother. She is my go-to person — with whom I share my problems, dreams and aspirations. Right from my second year of college, I have been in conversation with her and speak to her about what I want to pursue. Instead of approaching her right when an opportunity comes my way, I try to maintain the communication throughout.

I hardly have conversations with my father because we never get time to sit and talk. But my mother shares everything with my father. So this way, he is also informed.

When a decision needs to be taken, I try to have a conversation with both my parents. It was never easy initially. I’ve also had situations where they are absolutely closed for discussion. In such cases, I try to assess who might be the best person to talk to — my mother or father. In some cases where neither of them can be easily convinced, I reach out to extended family members who my parents respect and value. My mother’s sister understands my area of work and aspirations much better and she helps my mother understand. When she has a conversation with her sister, my mother also feels safe and heard.

Invest in people. Invest in conversations. When they notice that you keep saying the same things, they’ll realise it is probably because you really badly need it.

Understand why they say ‘No’

Another approach you can adopt is asking them why they are saying no to it. This might shine light on areas that you might not have thought about and will create room for discussion and understanding each other’s point of view. Once you know why they are denying, you can work on those areas.

For instance: When I first wanted to travel alone to Bangalore, my parents were concerned about me travelling alone. I prepared a travel document with all information about my travel — trains, timings, stay, contact persons and shared with them well in advance for review. I also got them to speak with a friend in Bangalore so they feel I would be safe. Finally, when they did let me travel, I ensured to keep them updated every once in a while. I called them every day and left messages 3 times a day to let them know I was safe. This process was however needed only once or twice. Soon, they started having confidence in me.

If you can locate the specific reason behind their ‘no’, it would be a lot easier to understand and address their concerns.

Building your reputation

If you are seen as someone who cannot take care of yourself, you might not be allowed to do anything at all. What you need is getting that one chance to show your parents that you can take care for yourself. And then actually making use of that instance to really do well, create a good impression and secure their trust. Once you have that, ask for the second instance. And then the third. Once they start seeing you managing yourself well, they will start opening up.

For instance: My parents think of me as someone who does not complete things. This is because I’ve had a reputation of trying out a lot of things and finally pursuing only few of them. As a child, I’ve tried out everything I had the opportunity to and when something did not interest me, I was clear enough to drop it also.

Personally, I tend to think of this as exploring. But in their minds, I am someone who doesn’t follow through and make things happen.

When I go to them and seek their understanding to let me try out something, what I see is them tell me — You never follow through and make something happen. Then why do it? It would be a waste of time/effort/money.

What you should understand here is that this is their perception of me. It may be true. But it may also not be true. In any case, if I want to get them to give me consent, I should be able to make them feel that what I’m trying to do makes sense for me.

Another instance: My friend is seen as someone who is irresponsible. She somehow has this reputation of not taking care of her own stuff. So when she proposes that she travel, her parents say that you are not equipped to take care of yourself. In the one or two instances where they did let her travel, she managed to screw up in some way or the other — Missed the train, Did not keep parents posted about how she is doing and so on. Now her kayyiliripp is not helping the cause at all.

When you do get that once in a blue moon opportunity where they bet on you, ensure you create a good impression. This will further help build your reputation and get them to be more open to letting you travel/do something.

Secure few wins

If what you’re attempting starts to bring in recognition/rewards, they will start loosening their grip on you. Getting the WeTech scholarship was once such turning point for me. I was seen as backed by Qualcomm and I got a scholarship of 5000USD.

Google I/O was another instance. Fully sponsored by Google.

With Jagriti Yatra, I went out and did a crowd funding campaign, I got few backers, particularly some familiar names like Mathrubhumi and then they started believing that I might be doing something sensible.

And while I tried to do all these through college, I ensured I studied well and got good grades. My parents never once had the chance to point fingers at my academic performance. I really had to put in the effort to figure out academics along with everything else. But that was once of those best things I could do for myself.

You can’t bullshit your way into everything 🙂 Yes, there may be few hacks that work. But it is also in your best interest that you really do invest in doing things.

This is like the Catch me if you can segment where Frank finally clears the bar exam by actually studying. Sometimes you really do have to put in the effort.

It takes time to develop trust. And there is a LOT you can do to win their trust. Be seen as someone who puts their actions behind their words. Focus on you doing your part and they might just start believing you.

In conclusion, there is a LOT that you can do to fix this equation. Have an open mind, be prepared to stay the course and see it through and actually go down to doing things that can help your cause. Go in with an intend to understand them and their position as against just trying to make them understand.

And don’t worry. You’ll learn the ropes in a while 🙂 Until then, stay patient and keep figuring it out.

I’ve spoken in detail about my Crowd funding experience and how I secured support from my parents in my TEDx talk. Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nna1B8s9XnA