“I love you, but-”, is a strange statement coming from your parents. Theoretically, these are the people who have raised you, seen you through thick and thin and have been there as guides throughout your life — the good ones at least. If not them, who would love you unconditionally? But there’s this strange phenomena where the love of parents becomes tied not to their child but the idea of what an ideal child is.
It can manifest in minor things. They tell you they love you, but you should probably try harder academically, whatever their definition of academic success may be. They tell you they love you, but that you should really clean your room, even though you swear you deep cleaned it literally two days ago. These tensions in parent-child relationships seem natural, a result of the authority and subsequent obligation that parents feel in correcting their children and guiding them towards what they believe is the correct path. But what about when it isn’t something minor?
I love you, but you cannot be queer. I love you, but you cannot marry someone outside your racial identity. I love you, but you must follow the career path I want for you. It’s a sentiment quite common, particularly in Asian communities, but one that is by no means exclusive. On one hand, can you blame parents for thinking this way? Oftentimes, parents who say this come from extremely socially conservative backgrounds, or are extremely poor. They have not been exposed to views that differ from their own, and simply cannot accept differing identities. The fear of the unknown is too great, and they simply do not understand. What parent doesn’t want their children to be socially respected, or financially successful, even if it means they have to “tough it out” and do things they don’t like?
That’s the argument made to excuse the behaviors of the parents in such instances. In discussions
of this nature, the child is often overlooked as a simple extension of, or worse, property of their parents, even after adulthood. What is often not mentioned is the power dynamic between child and parent when such conflict arises. A queer person cannot simply choose to stop being queer, and when a parental figure denies the existence of their identity in such a fundamental way, there is a primal fear created within the child. Why is their love now conditional? If I continue to press them, will I lose their support? Do I just hide who I am from them for the rest of my life?
In societies with strong notions of communal ties and family bonds, this becomes an almost existential crisis of identity. Parents in such communities are vested with so much responsibility for their children and are harshly judged by their peers and wider society that they feel almost bound to try and regulate every aspect of their child’s life. Their education, their careers, their friendships, their sexualities and their very identities. For some, I am sure it is a means to prevent the social stigma that often comes with deviating from social norms in any way. But this form of coercion appears to be an abuse of the position of a parent. The child had no say in being born in the first place and is now expected to be nothing but a carbon copy, formless epoxy in the mold of society designated for them. The role of parents when faced with a “deviant” child becomes less supportive and more akin to a jailor.
It is important to iterate the almost total dependence of a child on their parents, even when of legal age. They do not control any form of capital, are still navigating many social systems unfamiliar to them and so are uniquely vulnerable. The statement of conditional love, that the support of who is frequently the only form of support in one’s life, is really no statement of love at all. It serves as an imposition of will, an attempt to create a blank slate onto which a visage of the parent can be neatly carved. Maybe these parents rationalize it as their way being the “proper” way to live, and the children not knowing any better, but the universal dissatisfaction of people forced to live in ways they hate speaks strongly in opposition. When faced with the option between total abandonment and an unhappy but tentatively secure life, what choice is there really?
The queer person puts on a visage of cis-normativity, hoping desperately that one day they wake up and the performance becomes reality. But it never does happen, and they struggle each day with reconciling their basic survival with their fundamental identity. The artist tries to convince themself that art would never work out and that their parents’ idea of finance would be better for them anyway, and so they sit at a desk for decades and wonder what could have been had they had just a bit more support.
The use of conditional love as a mechanism of control of children is not an indictment on the children themselves, since they are left with actually very little choice. It is up to the parents to account for and support their children through the difficulties of a rapidly evolving world and the nuances of their own path through said world. It is time for a rethinking of what is and is not acceptable parental behavior, and how that behavior can be changed to produce actually happy and productive people, as opposed to a populace forced to contort themselves to please the gaze of others.
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