When I left for college, my parents made me promise to call them every day, and I do. Sometimes these calls involve me delivering a monologue at 6am; other times, I’m moderating disputes between my sister and parents at 1 am. Despite their diversity in content, my calls home leave me with a lot to brood over about how I’m — slowly but surely — reforming my parents’ once-ubiquitous influence on my life.
Schoolwork is a staple of any conversation with my parents, if my dad can help it. Whenever my mom’s questioning delves into my search for a future husband, my dad swiftly interjects to inquire about how my classes are going, if I ever do my work and whether I’ve finally seen the light and decided to study economics. Don’t get me wrong, my dad’s advice is always brilliant, even if I only realize this in retrospect, and economics is a poppin’ major, but these conversations leave me strangely conflicted.
When I talked my parents through my winter quarter courses on the phone two nights ago, I found myself annoyed at their interjections. When are you taking math? Do you think that will make you employable? Can you double major?
I wanted my parents to affirm my choices, to give me their stamp of approval. When they didn’t, and even when they did, I wanted them to stop what I perceived as attempts to micromanage my life.
When I started college five weeks ago, I had expected to be suddenly struck by a fierce independence and self-knowledge. I thought the 8,600 miles between Stanford and Singapore would obstruct both parental micromanaging and my subliminal desire to be subject to this micromanaging. Grainy FaceTime calls are dismissing me of this delusion, and forcing me to confront whether or not I am really adamant to find my own way, or am just indulging in pretense while having my parents propel me along.
A similar dilemma extends to the student organizations I join and how I choose to socialize. While the husband comments are jokes, my mom’s insistence that I find high quantities of wonderful friends during these four years is always at the back of my mind.
When I told my parents my glamorous plans for the past weekend — grind for a midterm in the dinginess of Green Library — their well-meaning encouragement to make sure I also have fun was discontenting. Of course I want to have fun at college, but I also need to set personal priorities. Or do I? Are my priorities the ‘right’ priorities? Part of me thinks it would be nice for someone to answer these questions for me when I call home. It’s constantly tempting, at a time when everything is in flux, to fall back on my parents’ beliefs.
The one exception is talking to my sister and being on the giving end of advice. Regardless of whether I’m giving her IB Spanish hacks or venting in the brazen way I can only do with family, I feel oddly independent when I deal with issues back home. Rather than feeling depressing, being on the outside looking in is fun. I get to be a vested third-party in family drama, a point of objectivity in disputes about whether my sister is studying enough for the ACT (she is) or how my family should spend their holidays. In a strange turn of events, my home life provides for me some of the independence I sought for my Stanford experience. Maybe if I were as objective and self-forgiving about the latter as I am about the former, I could extend incisive autonomy to the rest of life.
At the end of the day, talking to my family reminds me that I’m confused. This is not a Big Revelation for most frosh, but I’m grateful that my parents are a sounding-board that helps me be more self-aware about where I’m going and what’s propelling me in that direction. I’m not sure how I’ll address said confusion, but I’m keen to strike a balance between my parents’ wisdom and my own. My current approach is to just keep picking up the phone, listening and screwing up.
Contact Megha Parwani at mparwani ‘at’ stanford.edu.