Your Parents Don’t Have All the Answers


For the first two decades of your life, your parents, or an assortment of parent-like figures, define your worldview. During this time, you aren’t in control of where you go and what you do. Who you interact with and very often how you interact with them is determined by your parents’ preferences and biases. Meaning, if your mom doesn’t like the neighbors, you probably won’t be heading there for dinner. For most of us, this leads to taking on the opinions and habits of our parents as our own. For others, though, it leads to some form of rebellion and taking on the opposite opinion from their parents. Usually, it’s one or the other, with no middle ground. You either agree and fall in line or disagree and rebel. Either way, most of us aren’t entirely conscious of this process, even though it determines a lot of the why behind what we feel and how we act.

These forces are inescapable parts of our being.

This is how we develop our unique personality and worldview. At first, the grooves in our brain are light, like scratches on a table. But the more you scratch the same part of the table, the deeper the grooves get, and the more deeply held your opinions and habits become. For example, if you’ve been eating spaghetti with a certain type of tomato sauce and enjoying it for decades, it will be difficult to convince you that tomato sauce should be made differently. Although this is a highly superficial example, it applies in exactly the same way to your most deeply held beliefs. If your parents believed in saving 10 percent of every paycheck, marrying within your religion, or voting Democrat, you’ll most likely feel guilty if you don’t follow suit. Or you will vehemently oppose those beliefs and spend a lot of time, energy, and emotion trying to convince others to as well.

Now for our aha moment: your parents are amateurs.

While they have the benefit of life experience over you, their opinions and habits are the result of the same exact psychological system. Through the beliefs of their parents and their own life experiences, they’ve formed opinions and habits they felt met their needs. These opinions and habits are not the result of some deep intellectual study that resulted in a system exhibiting the best way to achieve personal fulfillment and professional achievement.  They are, instead, a combination of anecdotal advice and trial and error. Not only that, the information they’re providing you was very often learned in a different macro environment and therefore may not apply in today’s world.

This leads me to two very impactful conclusions.

First, because your parents are amateurs, they’re entitled to make mistakes, just as you are. While some of these mistakes are big and life-altering, they’re still mistakes, made by human beings just like you. That means they deserve to be forgiven when and if they do mess up. If they continually make mistakes that have a meaningful negative impact on your life, they may one day not deserve to be given another shot, but generally, once you accept your parents as human beings, you should be able to forgive their faults. This is an incredibly freeing realization and process for most.

The second conclusion I’ve drawn from the realization that our parents are amateurs is that all of us are responsible for our own lives.  While your parents love you, they don’t have all the answers and therefore, it would be impossible to assume they can provide you with all the information you need to live the life you want. It’s your job to test their assumptions and form your own conclusions.  If we hope to realize our full potential, it’s our responsibility, not anyone else’s. We must go out in the world and form our own approaches and conclusions, grabbing as much knowledge and experience as possible along the way. Applying it and sharing it in hope of living the best life we can and giving back to as many people as possible. And one last note: you may one day be an amateur parent yourself. Whatever path your children end up taking, acceptance or rebellion, love them and support them unconditionally. The rest is up to them.

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