Straight Talk Advice

Feb 26, 2013

Hover-parented girl wants help finding herself

Dear Straight Talk: My parents have always dominated my life. I’m a junior at a college I hate. I play college sports and a musical instrument I'd rather not play. I’ve never worked, being too busy being "enriched." I sound spoiled, but I'm actually depressed and seeing a counselor. My parents are not bad people, they are just intent on my success and I feel enormous pressure to not disappoint them. My life has been so hyper-organized, I don't know how to go about finding my own passion. Please help. — “Lisa” in Amherst, Mass.

Kira 20, Moraga, Calif. Ask me a question

If you're really this unhappy, do something about it! Your parents should love you and respect your decisions, ultimately. Think about future work, your dreams, travel, anything. Ban all “dad-wouldn’t-approve” statements. Write everything down, no censoring!

Katelyn 18, Azusa, Calif. Ask me a question

Socializing, studying abroad, or joining a cause will teach you more about yourself than your instrument and sports team — so drop those. They're too stressful! Write down what you enjoy or are good at — and everything else, too! Have your counselor explain to your parents why their actions are subversive, not beneficial, to your life. If they insist on pressurizing you, limit contact.

Molly 21, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

Have you spoken with them about this? My advice is to take classes you wouldn't normally take. Or take a semester off and work. Who cares if you don’t graduate “on schedule”? You might discover what you actually enjoy! After graduation, exploring is harder.

Brandon 21, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

When parents dominate someone's life after 18, that person is usually being financed. But financial help (often to turn us into “little them”) can be helpful. That's where negotiation comes in. Don't break your unhappiness to them like you want to drop out. Have an idea of subjects you like and future work. Be practical, too. For instance, my girlfriend hates college, yet she wants the “house of her dreams” so she avoided majors that lead to Dollar Store employment. I hope you find your passion. My parents stuck me on sports teams I didn't enjoy either. Once in college, I discovered crocheting!

Taylor 15, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

You’ve never felt passion because you haven’t discovered it yet! Start with a goal as simple as “try one new thing a day.” It could be walking a different route, a spontaneous road trip, or an adventurous class (spin, cooking, photography, etc.). Explore and have fun!

Brennan 19, Colorado Springs, Colo. Ask me a question

Travel is an amazing way to turn life around. Your parents can probably afford it and it's an easy pitch since it’s “enriching.” Once you're there, ditch the planned itinerary and just live.

Nicole 23, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

Poor thing! How typical. Your life’s work should involve your greatest effort and focus. Only you can discover what that is. Listen to your heart, pay attention to what intrigues you and/or makes you smile.

Justin 26, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

I was once told that life is empty and meaningless and when you understand that, happiness follows. A blank canvas has only possibilities. Try things you've never tried, hang out with people you never imagined hanging out with. You are an empty vase and can put whatever flowers in there you want. If those flowers get old, throw them out and try new ones. You didn't miss the manual, everyone is as lost as you. Big secret: That's okay! Just try things out and quit over-thinking.

Dear Lisa: Congratulations. In your situation, unhappiness is a sign of good mental health! In addition to the panel’s great advice, have your counselor teach you standing-up-for-yourself skills. Also, take personality tests. They are fun and informative. Your college career center offers them. Good luck to you.

Editor's Note: My favorite personality tests are the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and True Colors (a simpler, highly-accurate derivative of Meyers-Briggs). All have been tried and tested with millions of people. These tests have helped me understand myself more than probably any other single thing. (I can still remember, in my late 20s, the sinking feeling in my stomach when I recognized my Enneagram type.)

Good personality tests identify who you are versus who you want to be (or who your parents want you to be). Who you are is the gift. Trying, usually unconsciously, to be someone else — or hiding, unconsciously, behind addictions — helps nobody. Personality tests help identify and attract the things in life that raise your self-esteem and light up your mind, body and soul. Understanding and honoring your personality is like finding the "sweet spot" on a tennis racket. You can start nailing those serves and have satisfying volleys with others.

A secret about pressure-cooker parents: Most are just afraid you're going to fail or make them look bad if they don't continually buzz around you and keep the heat on. If you show them hard work, boundaries, and personal confidence about your path, they usually will back off while continuing support. Most really do just want you to be happy AND successful — not just successful.

A secret about college and jobs: Yes, some majors are more employable than others, but it mostly comes down to, that’s right — personality. Employers are looking for individuals who display emotional maturity, passion for the job, a light in their eye, honesty, and an ability to get along with others and up everyone’s game. (Yes, these qualities can actually be “seen”). The more you know yourself, the more you will be interviewing for jobs that bring these qualities out in you.

Even the mystics say that the most important life work is one's personality. Start now. It will pay off in dividends. —Lauren

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  1. By Melanie, age , from Citrus Heights, CA on 02/26/2013

    I’m in a similar situation, but for me it’s “Why can’t you be like your sister.” My older sister is everything I’m not: a straight A student, a great athlete, and very attractive to boys.  I struggle to maintain a C average, am terrible at sports, and am overweight and have never had a date.  My parents can’t understand why I can’t be as good as my sister and say I could be if I “just made the effort” and are always on my case.

    I DO try hard, but I’ll never be what my sister is and our parents will always be disappointed in me.  The room my sister and I share is full of her academic and sports awards and trophies and I have nothing to show for myself, so I’m surrounded by reminders of my inferiority.  Seeing her nude reminds me so much about how much more attractive her body is that I feel ashamed when I undress in front of her, my own sister.  I still love her as my sister and wish I could be proud of her success, but the way our parents compare us, it just makes me resent her.  I just wish they would let me be who I am and not expect me to be a clone of my sister.


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  2. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 02/27/2013

    Melanie, I’m sorry your parents are treating you this way. You may not be able to change them, but you can change yourself.  You are as valuable as anyone else. The Native Americans believe that each of us brings our own special “medicine” to this planet. We did a column specifically on this issue a couple of years ago. It is in our topics list under Family, then Sibling Issues. Here is the URL, though you’ll have to paste it in. I hope it is helpful to you.  Love, Lauren

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  3. By Honale, age , from Oakland, CA on 02/27/2013

    I know how Lisa feels as my sister, brother, and I have it as least as bad if not worse.  Our parents come from another culture where the parents totally dominate the kids’ lives (especially girls)  until they become adults.  Girls can’t even go on a date without a male relative as a chaperone which means that no American boy will date us.  They must approve of any friends outside of our immigrant community and are very suspicious of any American friends we try to have and drive them away with the “third degree” they give them.  Kids also make fun of our foreign names so we would like to Americanize them, but our parents won’t allow it.  We were born here and want to be Americans, but our parents are making it almost impossible.

    Also, where our parents come from, all the kids sleep in one room even if they’re opposite sexes.  I’m 16, my sister is 15, and our brother is 12.  At our ages, it makes my sister and I very uncomfortable to have to share a room with a boy, especially when it comes to undressing.  It didn’t bother us that much when we were younger, but it does now especially since we can see that our brother has reached puberty.  We’ve even noticed him sometimes getting erections when he sees us naked.  Our parents won’t even listen to us when we try to talk to them about these things and say that it was not a problem for them for all the kids to sleep in one room.  We could afford a 3 bedroom apartment, but our parents see no need to go to the extra expense.  My sister and I would have no problem sharing a room with each other and undressing in front of each other, but at our ages we are very uncomfortable sharing a room with a boy and lately it seems like our brother is also uncomfortable.


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  4. By Alexis, age , from Orange, CA on 02/28/2013

    In my case, it’s my stepmom who thinks she knows what is best for me with everything from how to do my hair, what clothes to wear, how to spend my spare time, and what friends I should have.  Luckily, I’m only there every other weekend, and since she has no real authority I am able to ignore her attempts to tell me what to do.  My stepsisters are not so lucky, and I really feel sorry for them.  Even though they are teenagers, she practically tells them every move they can make and it drives them crazy.

    She also doesn’t believe they are entitled to any right to privacy whatsoever.  They can tell that she searches every nook and cranny of their room when they are not there.  The door to their room, which I share with them when I’m there, does not have a lock and she thinks she can just barge in any time she feels like it without knocking.  Even though she’s their mom, they still don’t appreciate being barged in on without warning when they’re undressed, and since she’s not even my mom, it REALLY bothers me.  Last weekend she barged in right after I had taken a shower and was naked.  She couldn’t understand why this should bother me since “we’re both females” and I was already naked in front of my stepsisters.  Even my own mom has the courtesy to knock before coming into my room at home.  I don’t care if she comes in when I’m undressed, but I appreciate the fact that she knocks first and asks if it’s OK to come in.

    My mom may not be perfect and we have our conflicts, but being with my stepmom makes me really appreciate her!


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  5. By Brandon M, age , from Mapleton, ME on 03/06/2013

    Just an extra tip to any other students who may be in this boat, PLEASE be wary with taking a semester off or a break from school. If you’re in your first semester you may not have serious financial burden, but I know a few individuals who “took a break” and didn’t realize that their federal student loan “grace period” (the 6 months after school ends allowing you to wait before making your first student loan payments) began during this break. These people had $30,000+ in student loans and were “trying to find themselves” AKA under/unemployed. That 6 month grace period can only happen once in your lifetime, and it’s best use is finding your “dream job” or something pretty close to it after graduation. Unless you have a job already set up right after graduation, please don’t get suckered into blowing your grace period, especially if you have high student loans.

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  6. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 03/08/2013

    Dear Honale—I’m glad you wrote in about this. We have had so many boys write us in great shame for becoming inadvertently sexually stimulated by their sisters who they are sharing a room with and who they see naked. It’s really not their fault and they are horrified by it. The best thing to do in your situation is set up some kind of room divider or privacy screen behind which you girls should change. Just do it, even if your parents squawk about it. Sometimes kids need to take their rights, and it’s perfectly reasonable and within your rights to pin up a sheet in the corner of the room to change behind, or even divide the room with a sheet or blanket. Do it for your brother’s sake!  Here are 2 columns from boys about this issue.  Love, Lauren and

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