So there I was, 18, pregnant and about to tell my parents. I was petrified. I thought I knew just what their response would be, but I was wrong. Dead wrong. Parental approval was never more vital – or absent.
(If you missed the story of how this blessed pregnancy came to be you can catch up on what you missed here)
When parental approval is withdrawn
The moment I had to explain to my deeply religious parents that I found myself unwed, 18 and pregnant was one of the hardest moments of my life. Watching their faces fall and then watching their tears fall was painful. I watched their faces try to grasp and make sense of what I was saying as I explained that I was planning on keeping the baby and still going to marry my boyfriend. But it didn’t matter what my plan was, they were stunned and only had one thing to say,
“Your life will never be what it was supposed to be. You have ruined your life. Forever”
Talk about getting the wind knocked out of you. I was expecting crying, disappointment but absolute statements about my future success in life? Not so much. It remains the most deeply hurtful thing I’ve ever had said to me.
Parental approval means everything to you when you are growing up and that doesn’t necessarily end with adulthood. So when the approval is unconditionally withdrawn it cuts your sense of self right through. It was at that moment that I knew that my parents did not love me unconditionally. They did not support me no matter what. They did not have my back. I was on my own to try and recover some semblance of a life – a wrecked life – that they were sure would never be worth anything.
What kind of relationship does this leave you with?
I won’t lie. This time with my parents was really rocky. And the rocky period lasted for 10 years. I grappled with believing that I could never make them proud and that they would never approve of my choices. It was hard and I pushed them away quite a bit as I found the strength to be proud of myself no matter what they thought of me.
You see I made choices that they didn’t like but I was making it. And I was doing it on my own. I didn’t ask for their help financially. I didn’t ask for their advice, for rides to work, for anything. I set out, in my naturally rebellious way, to prove them wrong. I was going to make something of my life dang it! I would show them.
And it took many years for me to get to a place of self-confidence and to create a life I was proud of. It look many failures, multiple restarts, terrible decisions and a lot of hard work. Only once I believed in myself could I start to try and repair the relationship with my parents. I had to move past my childish view of their response and dig deeper. You see, my parents never gave up on trying to have a relationship with me. I pushed them away but they were still there.
At first our attempts to relate were super clumsy. I had to set boundaries, they had to learn to honor them. I had to learn to let go of expecting my parents to be perfect and to support my decisions when they could not. And it was worth it.
Why this was the best thing that could have happened to me
When I tell people this story, it is usually followed by comments about how cruel sounding my parents were. That is not my intention. I share this story because it was the best thing that could have happened to me at that time. It changed me and it changed how I approached the rest of my life. I would not say that I am grateful, let’s not be crazy here, but I can acknowledge that it worked out for the best.
Hearing those words, “You have ruined your life,” made me grow up in so many ways. I had to stand behind my own choices, not relying on parental approval to validate anything. I had to provide for myself and my child and do it without that “back-up” support. Many of the ways that I approach finances and life in general came from the learning I had to do during this time. I learned about boundaries, what really mattered to me, how to work hard for very little money and how to maximize that money to create a life I would be proud of.
Now that I don’t need it – parental approval is nice to have
You may be wondering how my parents view this life I created from the broken ruin they foretold. They are proud of me. I have heard those words now on many occasions from them. And while I don’t need to hear it, it’s nice to know. It is always nice to have validation for the life you’ve made. My parents are wonderful, loving people who, when faced with a tough situation, responded in the best way they could. That is honestly how I look at it now. No malice, no hurt, just understanding that we each do the best with what we can in the moment. And that is the best we can do or expect of each other.
I am proud of the relationship that we have built since. I would say that we are quite close and that doesn’t mean that they approve of every choice I make. They don’t. But they don’t have to. I have learned that approval is not love. They love me dearly and disagree strongly with some of the way that I live my life. And I feel the same about them. But we love. We love a lot! And that is what matters most.