Between the “Quotes” & Control

“Not needing a family member for support or because you plan to inherit the family farm means that who we choose to spend time with is based more on our identities and aspirations for growth than survival or necessity,” he explains. “Today, nothing ties an adult child to a parent beyond that adult child’s desire to have that relationship.”

Increased opportunities to live and work in different cities or even countries from our adult families can also help facilitate a parental break-up, simply by adding physical distance.

“It’s been much easier for me to move around than it would have been probably 20 years ago,” agrees Faizah, who is British with a South Asian background, and has avoided living in the same area as her family since 2014. 

She says she cut ties with her parents because of “controlling” behaviours like preventing her from going to job interviews, wanting an influence on her friendships and putting pressure on her to get married straight after her studies. “They didn’t respect my boundaries,” she says. “I just want to have ownership over my own life and make my own choices.” 

-Maddy Savage, “Family estrangement: Why adults are cutting off their parents.” BBC.December 1st, 2021.

From a language perspective, I found this article interesting because clearly the “quotes” are direct quotes, but because of the way “quotes” are frequently used elsewhere, I read the “controlling” in the above as possibly questioning whether the behavior of preventing a child from going on job interviews, influencing their friendships and applying pressure to get married counts as “controlling”. These behaviors are incredibly common. At the same time, they are obviously controlling.

But, it’s a sign of a new line being drawn. Influencing your child’s choice of friends when they are children is probably prudent. But, is it prudent when they reach the age of maturity? And, even asking that question has bias. In many cultures, there is this idea that older people have wisdom and should be influencing those younger than them throughout their lives. The counterpoint is that much that counts as wisdom are like mesofacts: something that was true at one time but is no longer true.

This can also be true of life strategies. In a particular time, it may have made sense to get credentials and look for a career with one company. Or, it may have made sense for women to get married and have children young. But, does that value square with a woman getting a university education first? Financially, it’s a difficult argument to make. It doesn’t make financial sense. But, it may make sense from other perspectives. For example, educated women may, arguably, do a better job educating their children. Or, perhaps, a university education can be used as a proxy for ability or intelligence, and increase someone’s value on the marriage market.

When you think this through, it’s clear that the social environment and values are changing. Older generations like the way things were because they had more control. And, reading through this article, it’s clear that much of the topic of estrangement is about control. It’s also about what we will tolerate. We tolerate more when incentives are lined-up to support certain lines of control. But, if you are bringing less to the table (or negatives in the case of abusive people), then you get less control, no matter how old you are or how much wisdom you think you have.