What To Do When Your Parents Don’t Support Your Goals

A guy alone, looking at the sea

(Image: Noah Silliman)

“Hi Celes, I recently recovered from what my college counselor referred to as an ‘identity crisis.’ I went to school for a teaching degree for the majority of my college years with hopes to pursue a ‘stable’ job and have a decent life, or at least I was told by my parents (I have very traditional and authoritative parents).

However, during the last semester of my senior year, I made the decision to quit and graduate with a non-teaching degree because I realized how unhappy I was trying to enter a profession that I had little to no passion for. I do not regret this and am relieved to have made the decision for myself. However, this led to a series of conflicts between my parents and I. They feel that by not obtaining a degree with a “professional” title, I was giving up the opportunity for a stable full-time job and I will never be financially stable unless I return to school.

Currently, I work in two part-time jobs that I really enjoy with an income of around $1500/ monthly but I feel the pressure financially, having to contribute to my family’s new house, which I still live in.

I am currently doing Live a Better Life in 30 Days to rediscover myself, reading career books, saving money, etc. with the hopes that one day I will discover what I want to pursue in life, and move closer to my purpose. However, I feel stuck by the fact that my parents have an agenda of their own for me…. Go to school — Earn money to support the family — Marry…

I am at a point in my life (22) where I want to see and experience more of what is out in the world, moving away from the obedient child I once was. But what can I do about my parents’ limiting behavior towards my plans and vision? I have communicated numerous times of my plans and visions but every time they just brush me off…. What is your advice on dealing with parents who hold you back and disallow change when you want to make a change?” — Ting

Hi Ting, I can empathize with your situation. What you’re going through is something that many in their 30s and 40s, and not just their 20s, face. While we may face restriction from our parents growing up, for others this restriction can come from others, such as an unsupportive spouse, unsupportive teachers, and naysayer friends. But unlike negative friends we can distance or cut off, cutting off family ties isn’t exactly logical. While most of us love our parents, it’s very demoralizing when your own kin is unsupportive of your dreams.

When Your Parents Don’t Support Your Goals

When I told my parents I was quitting my job to start my business, my parents objected strongly. Their initial reaction was,

“You won’t have any income, NO!”

“Starting a business is very risky, you shouldn’t do it!”

“Your job is so good with a great pay, why do you want to quit???”

“Having a job gives you CPF; CPF is good!” (CPF is a compulsory savings plan in Singapore, partly meant for retirement needs.)

Their comments didn’t faze me since I had already made up my mind, and I wasn’t looking for approval. I told them that I knew what I was doing, that I wasn’t sharing my plans with them for their approval, but to inform them. At the same time, I understood their concerns regarding financial stability, which I had already factored into my business plan.

After 9 months or so, my parents stopped dissuading me. After my first or second year, they roughly understood that I was doing this for life. It’s been 10 years, and for the past 8 years, they’ve never probed nor asked me to do anything different. In my family, when you don’t get negative criticism or vehement discouragement, that means acceptance.

Similarly, when I told them about my plan to travel around the world, to switch to a vegetarian diet, among other plans, they would disapprove vehemently at first. But after a while of pushing forward, asserting myself, and moving forward with my goal, they would come to accept them.

So what do you do when your parents don’t support your goals? If you have unsupportive parents, here are my 9 tips:

  1. Understand your parents’ concerns. Even though our parents may seem like a nag, they usually come from a good place, with a good reason for objecting vs. them objecting for the sake of it.

    For example, say your parents object to your career choice. Try to understand why. Ask yourself, “Why?” Why do they object to your new career path? → Because they feel that you won’t earn a good and stable income. Why is this important? → Because income stability is important in life. → Why? Because many things in life (housing choices, day-to-day living, and life options) depend on money, at least in our current world. Your parents, being older, have likely seen the problems that come with financial instability, which makes them resistant when they see you walking down a potentially negative path.

    In another example, say your parents are fixated on you being a banker, accountant, or engineer, and become disapproving when you opt for a different degree. Why? Because they feel that these careers will give you financial stability. Is it true? Maybe not entirely, but they probably think this way because of what they hear from other parents and from reading the news. This mindset is very common among Asian parents. It doesn’t mean that banking/engineering/accountancy are the only financially stable careers, or that everyone in such jobs are financially stable (no to both), but that these are simply careers that your parents were taught to associate with financial stability.

    Of course, many parents tend to miss the other half of the picture. A career is more than just about the money, but about your interest too. They may think that you can’t earn good money with your new life path, but maybe they are wrong and you will be even more successful doing this. They may think that a particular diet is inferior but research may indicate otherwise. But understanding your parents’ concerns, and making sure that you address them in your plans, is an important first step to bridging the gap.

  2. Talk to them. Perhaps you tried talking to your parents to no avail. But try again. This time, apply these tips:
    • Understand, don’t accuse. Don’t start off with an accusation, but focus on understanding. For example, don’t go, “You are so close-minded” or “You’re always objecting to everything I do!” Rather, ask, “Can you let me know why you disapprove of [this goal]?” Then listen without bias. Understand as best as you can, by asking questions and listening to their side of the story.
    • Allay their concerns. After understanding the full picture, allay their concerns. If they object to your career because (a) they are afraid you’ll face financial stability and (b) they don’t want you to suffer in life, let them know your career plans, how you plan to safeguard your finances, and your backup plan if things don’t work out. Let them know that you are not doing this on a whim, but you have things mapped out. (If you don’t, work out a plan first then!) If they object to your new diet because they think it is flawed, then let them know why this isn’t so. If your parents are close-minded, this will likely not be wrapped up in just one discussion, but at least you can get the discussion going.
    • Educate your parents. We grew up in a different era from our parents. My parents grew up in a world where there were no computers and internet. They are fluent in Mandarin and Hokkien; they don’t read/write English. On the other hand, the internet is part and parcel of my life. My entire business is built online. 90% of my daily communication is in English. Because the world has changed immensely, it has naturally led to different behaviors, mindsets in just one generation. And that’s fine, because it’s about educating your parents of these changes. Even though our parents may be outdated in their thoughts, it’s about updating them on what’s happening.

      As best as possible, explain to your parents what you are doing, why you are doing this. Let them know that a career is more than just about financial stability, and there are other things like personal happiness and fulfillment involved. Let them know why your career choice isn’t scary, and show them examples of people who have pursued similar paths and succeeded (gather newspaper clippings, print outs from news sites, etc.). In fact, do this regularly. If they only read Chinese/Malay/Tamil/other languages, then look for stories in these languages and print them out.

      Similarly, if they object to your diet, educate them on the benefits of this diet, and people who have thrived on this diet. Show them examples of Olympian medalists and body builders who actually consume such a diet 24/7. Show them the scientific health benefits of your new diet, and examples of people living to ripe old ages, with great health, following such a lifestyle.

      The more you do this, the more they will realize that there is a whole different world out there, and there is more for them to learn.

  3. Get a third party to chime in. When it’s just you vs. them, your parents may not take your words seriously. This is especially so with Chinese parents, where the implicit belief is that children know nothing and wisdom comes with age. If your friends have met your parents before, and/or you are on good terms with your parents’ confidants (like your aunt, uncle, grandparents), talk to them. Explain your goal and why it’s important. Have them chime in about it to your parents, and the pros of doing so, so they can get an alternate view. When it’s a different person speaking, your parents may be more open to listen.
  4. Assert yourself. If your parents keep objecting, draw a line and make a stance. Let them know, “I understand you are doing this for my own good, but I have done my research and I have addressed the potential issues. I want to try this out. I hope you can support me, Papa/Mama.” If career is the area of conflict, let them know, “While money is important, it’s also important that I do what I like. I want to discover my path and I will work hard to earn good income at the same time. So please don’t worry, Papa/Mama. I know what I’m doing and I will make you proud.”
  5. Know that you don’t need your parents’ approval. To begin with, the success of your goal is not contingent on your parents’ approval. Unless your parents are cutting you off, like throwing you out of the house or cutting off your allowance (if you’re still financially dependent), you can still pursue your path without their blessing. If they constantly discourage you, assert yourself. If you work from home, work in co-working spaces (where you can get good support). Or in very severe objection cases, move out if it is an option, to get some space until your plans take off.
  6. Less talk, more action. All talk is pointless if there are no results. If you’ve tried talking but your parents don’t listen, devote yourself to your goal. Let your results speak for themselves. With each discouragement, use it as ammunition to spur yourself to achieve more results. You want your parents to trust you, so show them why you deserve their trust by bringing your plans to live.
  7. Update them on your little successes. Your parents won’t know the merits of your choice unless you show them. Whenever you get what I call “success easter eggs,” show them to your parents. For example, when you get your first check, show it to them. When you get a great customer feedback, let them know. When you positively change someone’s life because of your work, let them know. Same for when you get new clients. Or say if traveling is your goal, show them pictures of your different travels, and what you learned in each travel. Or if diet is your goal, and you’ve lost weight and improved on your health metrics since embarking on your new diet, show them these results.

    When my parents started seeing my success — checks coming in the mail, my media interviews and appearances, my continuous work assignments, etc. — they stopped asking me about my new business. They began to understand that I got the ball in my court, and there is no need to worry about me.

  8. Get them on board. Show them what you are learning/doing to get them on board. If running your business is your goal, keep them posted on your latest projects, next steps, and upcoming milestones. If becoming a travel writer is your goal, show them your travels, your assignments, pictures, etc. We tend to resist what we don’t know, and when we know more about something, we start to understand that it’s not so scary. When your parents learn more about your path through your actions, they’ll start to be less judgmental and negative, and become more understanding and supportive.
  9. Show that you can thrive and realize your needs despite following a different path. The ultimate step to showing the merit of your path is when you show that you are still alive, day after day, despite doing what they thought would be immensely dangerous. Or better still, thrive in it. Being happy every day. Being in charge of your life, and being clear on your goals and plans. Achieving financial success. Being recognized for your work. Making positive change. Not doing anything that would make your parents worry. Showing that you are a wise adult who can now do well in his/her life without any intervention.

Remember, Your Parents Love You

At the end of the day, remember that your parents love you. If they don’t care about you, they wouldn’t bother objecting to what you do at the risk of jeopardizing your relationship with them.

So don’t hate them. Don’t rag on them. Use their objection as an honest source of feedback. I have many articles in my Goal Achievement section on how to achieve your goals in a systematic, strategic manner. If pursuing your passion is your goal, I’ve written extensively on this in my How To Pursue Your Passion (series).

It will take time for them to change their mind, but when they see you succeeding in your path, and feeling happy and fulfilled doing so, they will realize that you are no longer a little boy/girl who requires their constant intervention, worry, and control. They will realize that you have matured into a wise adult who has blossomed and created his/her path in life and knows what he/she is doing. That’s when they start to be more hands off and give you the space to grow and come into your own. ♥

Also check out:

New Release: Be a Better Me in 30 Days!

I’m excited to announce the launch of the upgraded version of Be a Better Me in 30 Days, my 30-day character transformation program! The material has been hugely upgraded, with the guidebook expanding from 230 pages to 308 pages, over 100 participant verbatims added in, workbook updated, and many parts heavily rewritten. 

If you haven’t gotten the program, read about 30BBM hereread the FAQs, or head straight to checkout. Just some testimonials from past 30BBM users:

“Celes, I just want to say that the simple methods you offer in 30BBM have been transformative for me, and I’m in my 50s. People are seeing more change faster than I can imagine.” — Carlene Byron, U.S.

“…The best part was when two separate family members, who had no idea I was doing 30BBM, commented on how much I have changed. The fact that they noticed a change proves that 30BBM has really worked for me.” — Kimberly, Canada

“My boyfriend said to me last night, ‘You seem so much happier recently. Do you think it’s the Personal Excellence work you’ve been doing?’ I told him it almost certainly is. He told me how I seem so much more balanced and calm, and just generally happier. I was so happy to hear that! :D ” – Sarah, United Kingdom

“The whole experience was far beyond my expectations, and I was expecting a lot. From this program, (1) I have learned to use a lot of powerful tools and learned how to face my fears and overcome them. (2) Made huge strides in overcoming negative traits. It is truly amazing to see that I have begun to earnestly be organized, disciplined, focused, purposeful, and a better friend and family member. (3) I am truly striving towards my ideal self and embodying ideal traits. AND, I do not see this as done. I am so looking forward to seeing myself step up the ladder and become a better me.” — Claire R

Thank you to everyone who has purchased the upgraded 30BBM — enjoy the program and your character transformation journey! :) Any questions on 30BBM, let me know here!