It used to be that when you graduated from high school that within a short time you would move out of your parent’s house and proclaim your independence. Whether that meant going to college, joining the military, or going into the workforce, you were out in the world on your own. This drive to be independent is something that has diminished considerably over the years to the point that today, it is not uncommon for children to live with their parents well into their 20s or 30s. I have never understood why my generation lacks the drive to be independent. My entire life I have been trying to be as independent as possible and break away from my reliance on my parents. To this day, I still feel a drive to make it on my own and not rely on the assistance of other people.
I want to say up front that I am so incredibly thankful that I have the parents I do. Even as an adult I know that if something goes wrong, or I need help in any way, that I can call my mom and dad, and no matter what it is they will help me without a second thought. That being said, I also hate having to ask them for help. There are lots of reasons I feel this way, but the biggest one is that I want to be independent. I live a life where I have to have assistance to do almost everything. From eating to washing my hands to putting a stamp on an envelope, I have to ask for help. So when it comes to things that are not physical, but more emotional or mental, I do everything I can to make it on my own.
This desire to break away from my family and make it on my own is something that was ingrained in me very early in my life. When I was little my parents always had me do things on my own if at all possible. Even with simple, trivial little things like brushing my teeth, which they could have done for me in half the time, they would make me accomplish by myself. It would take me longer and require more effort for everyone involved, but I would get the job done. They did not want me to develop a mentality where I expected things to be done for me. They would always say to me, “Scott, there are going to be a lot of things that you cannot do. Don’t give up the things that you can do.” This has stuck with me and created this desire to be independent that drives me today. They instilled this sense of independence in me so strongly, that now I am probably more independent than they would like me to be at times.
A perfect example of my drive to make it on my own is when I was accepted to graduate school at the University of Kansas. I received an email one evening in February telling me that I had been accepted into their quantitative psychology program. I was so excited since this was my first acceptance, and it meant that I would be going to grad school. In my state of bliss, I called my parents to share with them the good news I had just received. My mother answered and listened to my good news. At this point, I expected her to be as excited as I was, because this is what I had been working for the last 4 years, but that is not what happened. After I told her about my acceptance, she said “How will you live so far away? How will you find nursing? What if you get sick and need family when you are so far away?…” She did not seem at all happy for me, and instead she was raising every possible obstacle I would have to overcome to make this happen. Obviously, I was aware that making this transition to graduate school would be difficult to figure out, and it would require a lot of time and effort, but these hurdles could be discussed later. For that one night, I just wanted to enjoy how happy I felt at being accepted. I told her how hurt I was that she did not share my excitement at achieving this huge goal, and that I felt like she didn’t support me. I went on to say, which I probably shouldn’t have, that this was my life, and I was going to do this with or without her. After saying this, we were both pretty upset, and we didn’t talk for several days.
Things remained tense between my mother and I for the next 6 months or so. I worked diligently to arrange things so that I could live 300 miles from my family, in a way that I was safe and could function. My mother would passive aggressively make remarks or raise questions about various issues that could arise. Looking back now, I understand her behavior as a response to her fear of what might happen to me, but at the time I just couldn’t comprehend where she was coming from. My whole life she had taught me how to be independent and make good decisions on my own, and I had shown an ability to live on my own over my 4 years at Notre Dame. Now that it was time to actually cut the apron strings and use the skills she taught me though, she didn’t think I could do it. This greatly confused me, and it was the cause of most of my frustration with her during this process. Eventually though, after I had lived out here for a couple of months she came to terms with my decision, and even though she still wishes I lived closer, she trusts me to make good decisions and live my life as independently as I can.
My mom’s reaction to my news and her lack of support in my decision to move to Kansas was in no way motivated by her not wanting me to achieve my dream of going to graduate school. She supported and admired my desire to live independently on a hypothetical level, because this is what she had been preparing me for throughout my life. A large part
of her wanted me to go because it was what I wanted, but this part of her was overshadowed by her feelings of worry and fear. She was terrified that something would happen to me, and she wouldn’t be around to help. This is a response that most parents have when their children leave the house, but with my mom this feeling was so much stronger due to the nature of our relationship. For the first 18 years of my life, she was my primary caregiver. She essentially did the work of raising an infant for 18 years, and the bond created between a mother and her baby is one of the strongest there is. She didn’t get the gradual breaking away that most mom’s get. Taking care of me was a huge part of her life, and she had done an amazing job of keeping me healthy and preparing me for the world. Me moving away and becoming independent meant her letting go of this large part of her life, and at the same time trusting me to take care of myself. That is a ton of difficult emotions to work through, so there is no wonder that she had a hard time with my decision.
Fortunately, she and my dad had done such a great job of raising me to be independent and take care of myself, and I was stubborn enough to make the best decision for my life despite my mom’s protests, that I could create the life I wanted. They had given me all of the tools I would need to live on my own, and the mindset to not even consider settling for less. It is only because of the way they raised me, that I can live the life I do. I have seen so many disabled people who have no drive to try to make it on their own, or don’t even know it’s an option, that they feel like they have no other choice but to rely on the help of others. I am so thankful that my parents would not let me settle this way. My whole life they raised me as if it was a given that I would graduate and move out just like my brother and sister. They refused to let me use my disability as an excuse for not living my own life as independently as possible.
Even though my mother has struggled with it at times, I know that my family is extremely proud of how I have worked to make an independent life for myself. They may worry about me being so far away, but they admire my courage and determination to live the way I have always wanted to. I am always confused when I hear that someone I knew in high school still lives at home. I cannot imagine not wanting to live on your own and start your own life. You have the opportunity to be completely independent and live any life you want, which is a gift that not all of us have. Take the time to be thankful for your independence and enjoy being able to make your own decisions, because you never know when the time will come that you may have to give up some of it.