You Can Choose Your Friends

I haven’t always been a good daughter. In my angsty teenage years, I stumbled around under the sway of cheap whisky, a formidable tangle of overactive hormones and over-plucked eyebrows. 

Responsibility and autonomy came in floods in areas my parents knew I was ready for. I was encouraged to get a part-time job, to choose school subjects I was truly passionate about, to take driving lessons. It trickled down slowly elsewhere. I’m the oldest sibling, meaning I was the first of their children to ask permission to go to a house party where “my friend’s mum and dad will be upstairs and nobody’ll be drinking, I promise!”

My friend’s mum and dad were, in fact, at an all-inclusive resort on some Spanish island and I drank a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, six beers, and God knows what else that night: but that’s not the point. 

The point is my parents knew what was best for me better than I did. During those terrible teenage years, I was a delightful cocktail of insecurity, uncertainty, and acne. My mental health was — for lack of a better word — a shitshow. I read an article recently about how the parts of your brain that influence rational decision-making don’t start to interact properly until you’re twenty-five and that makes a whole lot of sense now. (I’m nearly twenty-seven and still waiting for that to happen, but that’s a conversation for another day.) 

Naturally, I didn’t want to listen to a thing they said. I took great pride in being an absolute arsehole at every opportunity I got. I thought — no, knew — that I was right. They were being irrational. They were being unfair. They didn’t GET me. 

The transition from being a sweet, chubby-cheeked angel to a volatile, chubby-arsed teenager is an unsettling one. It’s less like a butterfly delicately emerging from a chrysalis and more like that scene from Alien where a gross wee mutant bursts out Kane’s chest and everyone just stands there going, “Jesus Christ, what the fuck is going on?” What comes after, however, is lovely. 

Over the past few years as I’ve gotten older and not at all wiser, my relationship with my parents has evolved into something completely different. Part of growing up is understanding that your parents are human too. You realise they are full, fantastic, flawed people who don’t just fit neatly into the frame of “parent.” They’ve lived a whole life of their own before you were even the slightest consideration in their minds. They’ve gone through hardships and sad spells and rough times. They’ve made the same mistakes as you.  

It’s this understanding — this levelling of the field — that shaped the relationship I have with my parents now. They are the first people I ask for advice about my career, my personal life, my future. They, and my brother, are the first people I go to when something goes wrong. We confide in one another constantly. I learn something new about them, and who they were before us, every time I see them.

I have friends who love my parents almost as much as I do. I have friends who’ve told me they wish they loved their parents as much I love mine. Almost every friend I have knows my parents and my brother on an intimate level (even if they haven’t met them) because I talk about them incessantly. It’s a testament to who they are and how they’ve raised us. 

There’s a phrase that pops up on social media that — as is true for most things on the internet — is a misquote from a famous author: “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” If I got to choose my family, I wouldn’t change a damn thing.

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