There comes a time in life (actually it comes many times) where we will disappoint those we love simply by choosing to live honestly. We all will have to make choices that leave the people closest to us flabbergasted, worried, perhaps even angry.
Replace “How Tell Your Mother You’re Not Pregnant” with “Leaving My Job With the Awesome Benefits” or “I Will Never Get Married (and don’t want to!)” or “I’m moving to Mexico and writing my novel”.
And yes, while we may know we are not the center of anyone’s universe, it can be difficult to act as if this is true and just live our lives.
YOLO is easier sung than practiced.
I believe the only thing we can do is prepare for these kind of conversations, the talks where we assert or announce who we are in some way.
So. Here are my top five preparations, touchstones I am coming back to when I want to renege on living out my inner truth, guideposts which remind me to step into the Unknown with more trust:
- Prepare to be misunderstood. Your family and friends will most likely not understand or like this new direction. You may erroneously think you can convince them that you are right. You may have strong desire to assemble statistics and an arsenal of information to “prove” that you are Making a Sound Decision. Save your energy my friend. Part of growing up is learning to let go of people pleasing and truly living the life that most aligns with your inner truth. No amount of reportage and numbers will soothe that discomfort of becoming unknown to your close family and friends. We have to learn to accept being illegible to others. We have to learn to live with people cocking their heads in confusion at who we are. Especially those we love. We will find people who get us and the life we wish to lead. But it may not be immediate.
- Prepare for backlash. You may be reminded of how So-and-So in your family has already Had the Baby, Gotten Married, Acquired the Right Degree. People may yell at you, complain bitterly, remind you of past missteps, give you the shitty seat at Sunday dinner. And in some very unfortunate circumstances, people may be estranged from their family and friends. Know you can survive it, even when it sucks. Think of the worst case scenario of what may happen. Write it out if that helps. Be honest about your fear(s). Refuse to waste precious energy obsessing about these fears (easier said than done), still I will say when I’ve had to make a “big” announcement, the outcome wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. What you are afraid of? Not being the Favorite anymore? Setting a reckless example for your baby cousins? Grandma being very, very disappointed? Write out the worst reactions and assure yourself that yes, you will make it. Remind yourself of how you’ve managed well before.
- Prepare to listen. They will advise. They will pull out all the boogeyman reasons you should fall in line. They will remind you of your no-good Uncle who also Made The Wrong Choice Once. A majority of this kind of talk isn’t mean-spirited. Most of the time your mother and your aunty and your big cousin just want your happiness. Unfortunately, they may confuse your idea happiness with their own. Listen anyways. What fears do you share? Which fears land hardest because you believe them deeply as well?. Being willing to listen does not mean following or pleasing their litany of directives. Listen as much as you can and make sure to balance this act with heavy doses of support from people who encourage your inner truth.
- Prepare to set boundaries. It’s not easy to act in true assertiveness, especially when it’s our close family loudly calling the shots. After listening, we must be willing to assert which is ours and which does not belong to us. Setting boundaries feels like a tough, impossible language in the beginning. Oftentimes it will sound scripted and awkward. But if you are to live according to your inner truth, you must become a master of this language. Accept imperfection (what I’m working on). You may falter, apologize, acquiesce in ways that disappoint you later on. Applaud yourself for getting better with each time you practice. As an immigrant daughter, I often struggle with how much of my life is mine and how much is for the greater service/cohesion of my family and community. Boundaries remind me that I am my own person and that I can acknowledge my needs and the needs of others without absorbing them in totality.
- Prepare to reset the status quo. I think this is one of the hardest ones for me right now. There are certain stories in our family lines, in our communities at large, that have almost become law, ideas that seem as if they would result in criminal prosecution if we were to violate them. I am an immigrant daughter, a first daughter, a black woman and someone who was far too invested in being The Good Girl. Most of the people pleasing directives fall to women. It is we who are always expected to gladly discard our individual desires for the “greater good” or else be loved a bit less. We must confront our fear of non-conformity. What are the stories in your family line that you are terrified of breaking? Are women only Women if they are married? Is it okay to be childless over 30? Divorced? What kind of jobs are prized in our family and community circle? We must look at these storylines and do the brave thing of doing what our heart is calling to do. We look for stories which reflect people who went down different paths and produced a new kind of beauty. Maybe you are the Grace Jones of your family, destined to usher in an era of reinvention and daring. Maybe you’ll set a new precendent for all the late millennial babies in your clan who want to live and love differently and they’ll be so grateful for your rebellion. Maybe it’s okay to choose you this time.
I hope that whatever you are struggling with carrying out in your life because you are afraid of judgement and isolation is able to shape shift into the perfect opportunity for bravery. I hope you can find communities or just a couple of good friends or mentors who can support you during this time. In my own life, I am being asked to really live out loud and this means I may very well disappoint those closest to me. I am being asked to stop asking, “Is this okay for me to do?” I am being asked to be unapologetic and non-explaining about being my type of black woman.
I am more and more prepared and it’s only in writing this stuff out that I can remind myself over and over again: it is okay to be Different.
Tell your mother you’re not pregnant.