Is Fear of Disappointing Your Parents Stopping You From Living Your Life?

First, a story:

Two Gen Y’ers are having a drink at a local restaurant.  Well, one Gen Y’er is. The other one was lured in by the smell of fried chicken. While munching on crispy, fried goodness and sipping a cool ale, respectively, the two twenty-somethings strike up a friendly conversation which (naturally) turns into a discussion about careers.

Gen Y’er #1: I work in finance, but I love to snow board. I wish I lived in California where I can snowboard all of the time. I know I wouldn’t make a ton of money, but I think I would be happy.

Gen Y’er #2: Really? Well, why don’t you move and go snowboard since you know that’s what you want to do?

Gen Y’er #1: Well, how would I explain that to my family? All of my life they told me to get a good job. They won’t understand that I want to snowboard. I’m thinking about applying for grad school in California. My family will support me getting an MBA. Then I can snowboard too!

Gen Y’er #2: You want to go into major debt so that you can justify your decision? Ummm…whose life are you living, here?


This was my Friday night, and I am sure I am not the only twenty-something that had this discussion. In fact, I’m sure this is a conversation between young adults that regularly takes place at bars and restaurants all over the world. I often wonder which is stronger, our fear of personal failure? Or our fear of disappointing our families?

After my new friend shared his snowboarding aspirations, I had my own confession to make: When I moved to New York in 2009, I did not tell my Dad I was here for the long-haul. I let him think that I was just going on an extended visit because I was afraid of what he was going to say.

So while my friends were throwing going away parties for me, and I was running around town boohooing about how I would miss everyone and everything, my father, who is my only parent (my mom died when I was 14) had no idea I wasn’t planning on returning to Tennessee. Why didn’t I tell him?

Straight up: I was afraid of what he would say.

My Dad is great man. But he’s very critical. He always has been. I guess it was his way of preparing me and my brother for the cruel world, but sometimes he just doesn’t get that I need him to believe in me, rather than the stress that comes with him riddling my “kinda/sorta” plan.

I know my Daddy is just trying to protect me, but as a classic first-born child, I can’t help but feel defensive. I really want nothing more than his approval. I want him to think that what I am doing is smart. I wanted him to admire my bravado. But I knew the chances of that happening were slim to none.

Months before I moved here, I tried to find something to do, something that would justify my move. I thought, perhaps I could get my Master’s? Or, maybe I can just sign up for some class. I was willing to do anything that could possibly justify why the hell I was moving to one of the most expensive cities in the world during an economic recession.

But, I didn’t find anything (including a job beforehand) so I kept my move a secret.

And I did not tell him that I was staying in NYC until I starting working my first job  as a telemarketer for an insurance company nearly two months after I arrived.

So, I understood where my new, snowboard-loving friend was coming from. I too was told that going to school meant landing a secure, respectable job.

Some might call it a breakdown, but I really think it is a breakthrough. The moments when your heart speaks to you soooo loudly that it drowns out all other voices. It’s beautiful when you finally make the decision to listen to yourself.

Do you have a secret aspiration you think your family would disapprove of?

*As usual, if you found value in this post, please pass it on to the people you adore. Thank you.*

Author: Amber J.

A thirty-something N.Y.C. transplant, Amber J. is a Southern Belle living in an urban space. She developed The Fab Life Project to create a space online where millennials can celebrate the every day adventures while striving to create a life they love.

39 thoughts on “Is Fear of Disappointing Your Parents Stopping You From Living Your Life?”

  1. I am tired, I can’t accomplish anything in life. I’m a disappointment to myself and my parents. I have wasted my mom’s money in college and she works so hard for me and took out loans in her name as well to get me through school. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I used to love studying and was very disciplined, but it seems I just can’t get back to my normal self. I would rather sleep all week than study for an exam I know I’m going to fail. I hate myself. I just want to die, to stop putting my mother and family through all this pain. I hate to inconvenience anyone especially my family, so if I’m gone life would be easier for them and they wouldn’t have to work as hard. I’m 22 and my last semester of college and feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. It’s too late for me, to start over. I don’t know what to do…I just want to leave this earth. The shame is too much.

    1. Please, don’t give up… I know your pain, but simply try something different… It’s never too late… Just scream about how you feel. Your mother surely loves you, she’ll try to help you feel better… Try to find out what is the thing you most desire in life, even if it seems impossible, and try to think about what could make it possible, even if those things require luck. Try to make a good personality test. There are lots of them for free, and pretty accurate ones. They might help you understand yourself and they’ll make you feel that you’re not alone. Try to google “16 personalities” and you’ll find a very good one… Please, don’t give up. You’re young, it’s not too late!

  2. Hi Amber,
    I have a gf living in manhattan, we’ve met 3 months ago but i had to leave to finish my studies in my country in Europe. I’m 25 and shes 30, and I’m the only persone close to her, she has no/little family so she keeps me at the phone for hours and from a point of view i dont want to hang up, but on the othher side i dont feel like my parents are comfortable with it since the dont know her and shes older etc etc. Its really frustrating, i mean, i cant spend 1.30 min on the phone every day, its a lot of time. I dont even feel comfortable too with my parents around talking to her.. What do you suggest?

    1. Hi Philippe,

      This is an interesting question, and the first thing that pops into my mind from reading your comments above, is that it seems the guilt of not being there for her weighs on you more than thinking about a future relationship with her, or dealing with your confused parents.

      And I’ll also be honest with you: it alarms me that you say you are the only person close to her and you have only known her for 3 months. Where are her friends? If there is no one else that she is close to even friend wise, you need to wonder why that is so. This could be a red flag, and might be one of the issues that is concerning your parents as well.

      If you feel that convos with her are super long, it’s time to think of how you can put up some boundaries. Maybe you explain to her that your school work takes up so much of your day that it’s difficult to talk for more than 30 minutes (or however long you feel comfortable with) in a day.

      Then take some time to do some thinking about what type of relationship do you want to have with your girlfriend moving forward. See how she reacts to reduced phone convo time, and ultimately go with your gut. Don’t feel guilty and like you have to be some type of savior. That’s not your job. Ultimately, if she has your interests in mind as well, she should understand that you have to prioritize your time.

      I hope this helps!


  3. Mine’s a bit sillier – I am scared to wear shorts again for a while as mum’s still getting over my last tattoo and I have another one. She’s been very vocal about her dislike for tattoos, especially on girls, and I already feel like a disappointment for being a tomboy (at 27 she still seems to think it’s a phase and that I’ll want to wear more skirts/dresses etc ‘when I’m older’). Ironically I’m not overly fond of excessive tattoos on people either but when it’s me I don’t really care cause they all have meaning in some way. Plus I’m kinda addicted now. I’m trying to learn how to not care what other people think but she’s still the main person I don’t want to disappoint further.

    1. Rock your shorts J, and show off your lovely body art. It’s natural to not want to disappoint your mum, but you will have to figure out how to create healthy boundaries as an adult, and have adult conversations with her. It’s always hard for a grown “kid” to do, but you have to assert your ability to choose what you feel is best, and even harder, live with her displeasure. Hope that helps!

  4. My mum is the type that thinks being vocal and voicing her opinion is more important than what I WANT. I’m from an Asian background, and those that know, the expectations are high, she disapproves of my art (despite me being a 2D Concept Artist now) and she expects me to come back every weekend (which includes driving 100 miles) to spend my weekend working the Family Takeaway… it’s not that I minded, but I’ve done it for over 10 years and I’m 25 now. I’ve sacrificed 99.9% of my weekends for it and it’s time for me to move on.

    I’m so tired of all the criticisms, the negativity and the disapprovals I get from both my parents. I actually had to lie about having to work during Easter to get out of working for them, otherwise they would expect me to come back when it’s not money I want, but time.

    Can’t wait for the conversation where I tell them I’m a guy that is into guys. Another reason for them to feel disappointed with me.

    1. Hey J,

      It sounds as if you are in a tough situation that many here have gone through in some variation. I’m guessing that if you try to have a talk with your parents about how you feel, and how you need time for yourself, they will freak out,right?

      I think the only thing that will help you in this situation is setting some boundaries so you can figure out a way to live your life. Perhaps there is a compromise? You pop up for one weekend out of the month? It seems as if your mom will be vocal about it, and I’ll go out on a limb to say you will feel guilty for making her upset, but remember she is CHOOSING her reaction. She can choose to act like an adult with you, or she can be immature. Either way, you don’t impact that choice.

      As for them feeling disappointed with you, I know it’s hard, but you have to remember that you are a person, not some tool or puppet of their creation. You’re grown now. It’s up to you to carve out your own values system to live by.

      I hope that you are able to construct the freedom in your life to live it the way you want to.
      Keep Going!

  5. I really needed to hear this. Thank you for writing it, and writing it with such clarity. I have been doing a job that makes me miserable for three years because it’s the sort of thing my parents want me to do. And whenever I think about doing something else – most things that appeal to me wouldn’t make me much money – I feel guilty and ashamed and scared at the thought of how disappointed they would be. But I can’t sacrifice my whole life trying to please them right? I feel like I can start taking steps towards changing the way I think about their approval. Thank you again, this post was really helpful to me. Lightbulb moment!

    1. Hi Lucy!

      Thanks so much for taking a moment to add your voice to the discussion. As you can see, you are not alone! You are right, no, you can’t sacrifice your entire life trying to please your parents. I think what you said is key: you can change the way you think about their approval. Lightbulbs all around, homegirl! Keep in touch!

  6. Im in the same situation! Ive just started my first year in university to study french and spanish in nottingham and long story short i didnt want to go in the first place. I didnt thoroughly think about my decision and half heartedly chose my university without looking into it. Anyway when i got here i knew i didnt want to be here and as soon as my parents left i couldnt stop crying ( I know this is typical for most students, feeling homesick ) I looked into transferring universities back home and have been accepted. However my parents were really angry about this and told me to give it more of a try. They feel that if i go back home i wont succeed due to distractions (boyfriend,family,friends). Anyway I have tried, ive tried to go out, be more involved went to all my lectures so far and all i think about is home. Im a very outgoing person, love to socialize but here i dont even want to make friends or have a good time because i dont want anything to make me want to stay here. Anyway after begging my parents to come home theyve finally said ‘do what you want’. But now i feel as if i should stay here for a year and transfer after second year just to make them proud of me and happy and with the fact that my dad will lose 6grand because he will still have to pay for accommodation 🙁 Just so lost on what to do

    1. Hi Anna,

      What you said ” i dont even want to make friends or have a good time because i dont want anything to make me want to stay here” stood out to me. It doesn’t sound as if you are giving yourself a fair opportunity to like or even dislike the uni you are at. I think you will feel better about the future decisions you make if you know that you gave this opportunity your 100% all. Then you will know for sure that this place isn’t for you, and you will be ready to move home if need be. Or, you might discover that you are having the time of your life. Give yourself a fair chance to see the difference. Hope that helps!

  7. Glad I found this blog!! I just need to get some stuff off my chest, so I’m going to have a bit of a rant..sorry this is a bit long!! After I graduated from Uni in environmental science, I got some practical work experience in agriculture for a year, then travelled. I arrived home 5 weeks ago and haven’t got a job yet (cringe!!!). My Dad is a Doctor, and has been highly academic his whole life (unlike me) and is a total workaholic. However, his emotional intelligence is lacking and he displays Aspergers- like tendencies. He says very insensitive and sarcastic things daily, is often unbearably negative and is constantly trying to push his own hobbies onto Mum, my siblings and I, and continuously compares us to what he was like in his 20’s. If anyone gets upset and tells him to stop deliberately winding us up, he tells us we are being horrible to him, just turns it all on us, refuses to apologize and storms out. Mum is on anti- anxiety medication because of his behavior, and my 2 oldest brothers hardly ever come home.
    He goes hunting on the internet to find job ads for me telling me its “just the kind of job you want”. That might sound like he’s trying to be helpful, but he gets really passive- aggressively mad if I voice any hesitation as to my suitability to the job. For example, I (stupidly) confided in him the other day him something I don’t think i’ve ever told anyone- that I have felt academically behind my friends my whole life (as school was only in the mainstream class, didn’t do honors etc) and that while I will apply for these jobs at the scientific institutes he wants me to work for, I fear that I might struggle with an academic job and could mess something important up. He suddenly got mad at me, ranted about my student loan, went on about “well what do you want to do then!!” then angrily said that if I was going to have that kind of “attitude” i should just just “go and work at a supermarket then!!!”. I ran out crying, which I haven’t done for years. The next day i said I was offended and upset by his comment, but he put on a innocent voice and said that he was “only trying to help, you can work at a supermarket if you want, we’d be fine with that”. I said “What?? Why were you so mad yesterday then if thats the case?”, and so in his fake- innocent, passive aggressive manipulative voice he told me that I was “just trying to cause an argument”. I ran upstairs and started packing my bags to move to stay with my aunty in another city to look for work. My poor mum though, I don’t want to leave her. Plus, jobs are scarce, so I don’t know what to do. My Dad utterly refuses to face reality, saying there are “plenty of jobs out there”, and he picks out a workplace and decides I should work there, ignoring the lack of jobs there, my lack of experience and lower academic ability than many other graduates. He’s projecting his own insecurities, dissatisfaction and frustrations at his job and not being able to get out to do his hobbies as often as he wants onto me and my family. Argh!!!! rant over, sorry!!

    1. Hey Cat,
      I’m glad your found my blog too, if for nothing other than you can see that you are totally not alone in fighting this internal battle between deciding if you should shove your ambitions aside for the sake of doing what will make your parental units happy.

      I’m no psychologist, but it sounds to me as if you would be happier in a more peaceful living situation. Establishing your independence could be an important first step. And you are right, jobs are scarce. Is there anyway you can use your education and experience to find a position that would allow you to move out?

      Let me know if I can ever be of any help to you. AJ

  8. Omgoodness, the feels I am having after reading this! I’m 19 and am from California. I go to school in Hawaii and I love it there, I want to move there after I graduate from college. Like many of you, my mom wants me to have a stable career, go to grad school, and a great life with a house and white picket fence. My mom gave me two ultimatums: go to grad school or come home. But my heart is screaming to stay in Hawaii. Right now I’m pretty much torn if I even want to venture to grad school (because one, it’s super expensive, and two, it’s super competitive, and three my GPA isn’t graduate school material right now.) My mom is also a single parent and it’s just me and her. SO I feel like I have to please her. I cannot bare to disappoint her anymore, but I really don’t want to go to school if I’m not prepared, and I know she tries to give me a check on the harsh, realities of the cruel world, and I understand, but still… I’m stuck 🙁

    1. Hey Cierra,

      As you can see, you are totally not alone! This is always a sticky situation, but I will give you an idea to ponder: what happens if you think of disappointment as your mom’s choice? As in not thinking of it as a reaction to the decisions that you make about your life, but thinking about it as a choice she makes. As in she chooses to be disappointed, and to express those feelings to you. So, on the flip side, it’s possible that she could also choose to be happy and supportive, right?

  9. Thanks for posting this. I am 22 year old male in the UK. I have just quit my well paying job to return to university so I can study towards becoming a teacher. My parents really don’t understand and just want to buckle down and get on with work so I can support myself but I refuse to work somewhere I’m not happy and sure as hell don’t intend to wake up every morning disgusted at the thought of another 9 hours in my shitty office. I quit my job, no notice no nothing. Not the most professional move but it was that moment my heart said to me, if you don’t do this now, you’ll back out when it’s time and you will end up here for at least 1 more year so I did it. I have interviews lined up already for part time roles to see me through college but I knew I wasn’t returning to that desk. If they don’t want to support me, then it’s up to them but I know that one day in 5-6 years time I will make them proud but most importantly I will be happy in MY life.

  10. I studied abroad in Tokyo (I’m half Japanese) for a year and had the best year of my life. For once, I felt alive and independent. Just as you said, “my heart was speaking to me so loudly”. I’ve been back for 2 years now and I can’t even begin to describe the loneliness I feel back in Arizona. I love my family and know that they want only happiness for me, but what they don’t know is that my heart belongs in another country. I just visited Tokyo again and my heart broke when I had to come back.

    I’ve been having this internal debate on whether to just go and move there. The crazy thing is that it’d be ridiculously easy for me; I have enough finances to last me at least 6 months in quite possibly the most expensive city in the world AND I have dual citizenship so there would be no need to obtain a student/work visa. What’s not so easy is imagining the disappointment on my mother’s face if I were to tell her. I don’t want to stereotype (but hey, it’s my culture so it’s ok right? ha), but Asian mothers aren’t so understanding of nontraditional “life plans”. Perhaps the scariest thing is realizing that if moving ends up being a terrible mistake, how could I possibly begin to explain my actions? I’m so lost.

    Everything you’ve said resonated with me. I realize that to act on these emotions is easier said than done, but I truly appreciate the advice you’ve given. Thank you so so much.

    1. Hey Vivian!

      I’m so glad you shared your story. So many people have found themselves in this post, and I am so happy that you all have shown them that they aren’t alone. Another reader wrote in from a (South) Asian background, and she had a similar issue (also wants to travel). You know what my insight is- life is too short to not do the things you really want to do. Sometimes I stop to evaluate decisions based on regrets.

      Do you think you will regret it if you never make the move to Tokeyo? And secondly, is there any kind of way you can mitigate the decision? Maybe say to yourself,you will try it for four months and see how it works out?

      Keep me updated!

  11. My my my, where do I begin!

    Thanks for posting this! I’m getting married in August and if it’s not the date then it’s the man and if it’s not the man then it’s being single and it’s not being single then it’s grad school–basically I can’t seem to do anything right when it comes to good ol’ pops and it doesn’t help that my family is split into a million pieces so I’m feeling tugged from all angles.

    I had just gotten off the phone with my step mom when I read this post and was in tears reading. Just what I needed to hear! Point is, I’m getting married in August to the man of my dreams whether anyone shows up or not.

    God’s got my back and it helps to know that there are tons of other people out there who know what it feels like!

    Blessings girls

    1. K,

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. So many people have written to me about this topic. It’s amazing that no matter how grown we are, we still have this need to please our nearest and dearest. It’s def hard to make decisions that you know others won’t like, but the empowerment that comes with standing up for yourself is awesome!

      Glad you’ve reached that point. Congrats on your upcoming wedding!!!

  12. GREAT post. Thankyou for your honesty around this topic, it’s much needed.

    I too have had moments where my heart has just given me the strength to do what I know is right, and overriden the parts of me that worry about what other think

    What I notice though is it the times where you haven’t yet reached breaking point that are the “silent killers” – the times when you know you’d probably benefit from taking a leap or following your intuition, but the emotional leverage isn’t there so you just play it safe or limit yourself ultimately because of what others may think.

    There’s so many small choices where I’ve done something that just wasn’t right, or I skirted around or took a long or inefficient or expensive route, because I was trying to cover the base of what other people might think.

    Right now for example. What I SHOULD do is look around for basic jobs or temp work that could tide me over for a couple of months while I build up my writing business and really target the clients and meaningful projects I want.

    But – the thought of my parents seeing me working in a shop when I’ve told them all about these grand writing plans I have though is too much. I can’t bring myself to go through with it. So instead Im scrambling for any writing work I can get and treading water and barely paying bills.

    I also want to go back to Asia – and it’s the same thing.I get the sense I’d be judged by friends and family (“he can’t hack it here.. he’s just going for the easy life..”), when actually I think it would be a big next step for me personally and socially.

    Weird isnt it. I know the answer isn’t to fight it, that doesn’t work.

    My intuition is, real freedom comes when you a) allay your fears by making plans for how you’ll handle whatever it is you’re afraid of, and, ultimately, b) heal whatever shame or embarassment is underlying the excessive “caring what they think”. Easier said than done, of course.

    1. Thanks Rich!

      Man, I can’t even begin to say how much I identify with your situation. it’s hard when you are trying to live up to expectations that you create for yourself in the name of keeping up with expectations that you think everyone has for you!

      Think of temp work as building a bridge. You need to figure out how to get to the next spot right? Why make a dangerous leap, or risk falling into the beyond when you can build a bridge?

      The freelancing thing does take time. What steps are you doing to build up your biz? Email me if you ever have any questions. I’m a writer too!

  13. I want to embark on a RTW trip. I am currently working. I love my job and I have a great relationship with my family. But this is not what I see myself doing for the rest of my life. All I want to do is save for 4-5 years and then travel and see the world. But I know my parents strongly disapprove of this plan. They want me to settle down with a husband and a stable job, have kids and lead a (what they call) ‘normal’ life. I understand where they’re coming from. They are worried I will not be happy if I’m not working a financially stable 9-5 job. There will be no one to look after me after they’re gone. But what they don’t seem to get is that I may not be happy and will be lonely all my life if I am traveling all the time but I will DEFINITELY not  be happy if I settle for a husband and a secure job now. 
    I want to listen to my heart but I am scared of disappointing my parents. The guilt is eating away at my mental peace. Since when did life get so complicated? Since when did living your life and making your parents happy become so mutually exclusive? 
    Sorry for ranting. Thank you for this post Amber. It struck a chord with me.

    1. shreyasighosh Rant on! That’s what we’re here for. I’ll share some thoughts with you: 
      First, is the overly simplistic, yet thought we totally tend to forget: Life is really freaking short. And there are two ways we can look at this. First, your life is too short to spend only doing things that please your parents.  Secondly, you parents life is too short to not be able to get over you doing your own thing for awhile. 
      I think one of the issues us (grown) kids have, is that we haven’t had a lot of practice talking and reasoning to our parents like mutual adults.  Whenever I go home, I feel as if I drop at least 10 years! LOL 
      Do you think that you will need 4-5 years to save? I just followed you on Twitter and I see you are interested in teaching abroad. Great way to get your travel on. Don’t know if this will work for you in India, but check this Groupon deal out:
      Keep me updated!

  14. I totally feel you on this one! I’ve wanted (amongst other things) to be an actor since I was a kid, but math and science oriented youngster that I was, always pursued those activities. I skirted around the edges of acting (was in a few shows in high school) but never really dived in head first. I had EXACT SAME thought about going to school in California. I went to film school (in part) so that I could be out in Los Angeles. Granted, I really do love film production, and USC has an amazing film program, but there was definitely a part of “this will get me close to the action without having to tell anyone.”

    The best of being a multipotentialite (see: for more info) is the ability to pursue a variety of interests and find them all fulfilling. I went to film school, produced countless hours of television, worked at a network, moved on to do web development, now veering more toward marketing and communications consulting. …

    All of that to say, those deep down dreams never go away. You can live someone else’s life and let it eat at you or you can live your own. I went on my first audition a few months ago and just yesterday penciled in my first paid acting gig.

    You only get one life, live yours. Thanks for the reminder!

  15. It’s funny because I am currently working a temp job where I really like the people, however the actual job is not something that excites me. For the time being I feel like this is where i need to be. I came out of a terrible work environment at my previous job and it’s nice to see that there are offices where people respect each other. However I’m starting to get that pang in the back of my head and heart telling me I need to start soul searching again and find my true calling (whatever it may be). Thanks for the wonderful post and keep ’em commin!

    1. Thanks Amanda! Sometimes you do need to take a break between environments. I worked this one temp job where the boss went around yelling at people. I was so shocked! I couldn’t believe that there are people like that in the workplace, and that people actually put up with it!

    2. Chase Night has a great post on good reasons to keep a traditional job. There’s so many ways to skin the proverbially cat. Every experience can be valuable, it seems like what you’re learning at your current job will be super valuable as you move on to the next big adventure.

  16. Amber,
    Every time I read a new post of yours I feel significantly better about my life and my decisions. One reason that it took me so long to decide that I didn’t want to do grad-school anymore was because I didn’t want my parents to be upset with me or worry. Partly because of that fear, it took me an additional semester to finally make the decision and move on to the unknown. Thank you so much for being a strong voice.

    1. Thank you Marin! I can see how you might have struggled with this. This actually crossed my mind when you told me about the new path you are creating for yourself. But you are so wonderful, I know that whatever you decide to do will be awesome. You aren’t what you do, and I know your parents are proud of who you are.

  17. Great post, Amber. I don’t think I have any hopes that would disappoint my family, but the message to stand up for yourself and fight for your dreams is something I’ll always need to hear.

  18. Girrrrllll,

    U hit it right on the money with this one. My last day at work was Friday. I still haven’t told my mother. In all actuality I was just going to tell her I got fired. Wow! This post has me set on just coming clean. My heart is YELLING AT ME! LOL, and I am not sure that my plan will work. But I do know that my website makes me happy. It gives me joy and fills me with passion I have never felt. This alone forced me to make the decision to pursue what made me happy. Thanks for the confirmation.

    1. Whooo hooo to listening to your heart! The only way you can know for sure if your plan will or will not work, is to just try! Congrats on being brave enough to just try! That is worthy of patting yourself on the back.

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