Culture

Craigslist Confessional: My parents ruined my life

A son struggles to live up to expectations.

Culture

Craigslist Confessional: My parents ruined my life

A son struggles to live up to expectations.
Culture

Craigslist Confessional: My parents ruined my life

A son struggles to live up to expectations.

This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Dea Bala started meeting people via a Craigslist ad in 2014 and has been documenting their lives ever since. By listening to their stories — anonymously and for free — she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. In sharing them with you, she wants to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. To share your story with Helena, e-mail her at helena@craigslistconfessional.com. Read prior Confessions here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

“The thing is, from day one, I felt like I didn’t have a say in my future.”

Omar, early 30s

My parents came to this country with a few dollars in their pockets and a big dream: that their kids would have a bright future — that we’d go to school, make something of ourselves, and make them proud. With every step that I take, I feel the weight of their sacrifice. I feel their eyes, watching me, compelling me not to let them down.

The thing is, from day one, I felt like I didn’t have a say in my future. It was a foregone conclusion that I’d go to medical school. It was drilled in my head from when I was a little boy. My parents would tell me, “when people ask what you want to be when you grow up, tell them you want to be a doctor.” And of course I didn’t know better, so I did. And this became a story that I told so many times that eventually it became an unquestioned reality.

The pressure I felt in high school and college to succeed and meet their expectations was so extreme. My father, especially, acted like a drill sergeant. I remember that I’d have this extreme anxiety every time I had a test because if I got anything less than an A, there would be hell to pay. If I tried to unwind by watching TV or going out with my friends, I was “setting myself up for a life of failure.” If I dared tell them I wanted to play a sport or get involved in some sort of extracurricular activity, I was wasting my time. If they didn’t see me studying or reading or asking people for advice on how to get into medical school, I was a disappointment.

Nothing I ever did was good enough. I constantly gave maximum effort, and yet they never once praised me or told me that they were proud of me. I was always being compared to so-and-so’s kid, the Harvard-trained lawyer, or so-and-so’s kid, the finance wiz making bank on Wall Street. And most of it wasn’t direct conversation but rather this tediously underhanded running commentary that pointedly highlighted other people’s accomplishments, I suppose to put a fire under me to do better, to exceed them.

Throughout the years, they wore me down so much that I didn’t dare question the narrative they’d already written for me. It never occured to me that I had a choice in my life. So I did what they wanted: I majored in the right thing in college, I took the MCAT, I applied and got into medical school, and I was a doctor by 25. And I was burnt out and depressed. I started drinking and self medicating because I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life; I totally lacked agency. And every time I heard them tell someone that their son is a doctor, I honestly felt like throwing up. I was just this trophy for them to parade around, this proxy for their own accomplishment. What they did every time they boasted about me was, really, boast about themselves.

I’m in my thirties now and I honestly can’t tell you about a decision that I’ve made on my own. They’ve dictated every detail of my life, down to whom I chose to date and eventually, marry. She had to be perfect, to meet their checklist. This just makes it so very easy to blame them when things go wrong, which makes me feel even more like I don’t have control of my own life — it’s easier to not hold myself accountable.

Now matter how much I recognize how controlling and one-track minded they’ve been in their dogged determination to have a son who just follows commands on his road to success, how can I resent them? I have a good life and everything I could ever need. I have money. I’ll never have to worry about wanting anything. The thing is: I’m not happy. And I blame them. They’ve just made it so easy to blame them.

Helena Dea Bala is a former lobbyist turned professional listener. She lives in New York with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Stanley Zbornak.
Hey you! We want to know what you think about The Outline (and you can win some cool swag too). We know you love to answer questions, so take our 5 minute survey.