Personal Essay – It’s Not a Phase, Mum.

It’s 2010, and I cannot believe how wrong my parents are about things sometimes. I am wearing my new white stilettos, a tight shirt I’m pretending is a dress, and enough kohl eyeliner to supply the middle east, and they simply won’t let me “go to the year 9 dance dressed like that.” My mum stands behind the kitchen bench, calmly repeating the reasons why that outfit will get me a triple date with detention. My dad, not looking up from his newspaper, nods and occasionally offers his usual inputs of “exactly” and “out of the question”. They are once again bored audience members of my regular Friday night show, lets-do-what-I-want-even-though-mum-and-dad-said-no, featuring special guest-stars raging hormones and door-slamming.  It was a very famous show in my family, one which had appeared at many family events, most notably my 16th birthday party when a scooter I was not allowed to own was ridden by a boyfriend I was not allowed to have over the family letterbox.

As they predicted, I was kicked out of the year ten dance before it even started, and my new found love for stilettos proved not so great as I tried to run away from Lorrin Smith and her gang of popular girls that chased me down the street yelling ‘try-hard’ (high-school, what a time to be alive). My rebellion to their advice had yet again left me in the same way that it did every other time: heartbroken, embarrassed, and silently cursing myself for not listening to my parents. That night, I made a secret vow to never again defy their wishes, to always take their advice, and be eternally grateful for these two powerful sources of wisdom I was lucky enough to have in my life.

It’s 2016, and I cannot believe how wrong my parents are about things sometimes. I am standing in the front doorway stuffing my brand new adult passport into my handbag, as my sister loads up my suitcases into the back of her car. My mum is standing behind the kitchen bench, chopping onions, and saying nothing. My dad reads the newspaper in his usual spot. No one is yelling, but the tension in the air is thicker than a bowl of oatmeal. My decision to, “once again”, as my mum had muttered, defy their advice to not quit the job I couldn’t stand, or sell the car I couldn’t afford to backpack across two continents on my own had caused many tantrums and tears from both sides. Even after my flights were booked, I would still hear their muttered objections of “Karen from down the road’s friend’s daughter said that the customer service in Spain is shocking” as I walked past mum, or “Uncle Steve knows for a fact that India doesn’t have toilet paper” as I walked past dad. My teenage rebellion had, in their minds, been something I was yet to grow out of, and I needed to simply come to terms with the my fathers reality that, “You can’t throw your life away for a holiday, kid”.

As I sat alone on 13 hour flight, I wondered if this was going to be a much more expensive, and life ruining re-run of the year ten dance. Was their prediction that I was going to end up broke, jobless, and alone in 2 months time, crying on their kitchen floor and wishing I had taken their advice, going to come true?

Two years on and that year still remains to be the best decision I had ever made in my life. From travelling I was able to see a world outside of the suburban dream my parents, out of all their love, had in mind for me. I was able to see the other ways that people live, met some of my best friends in the entire world, and have most of all achieved a sense of independence, resilience, and love for life I simply did not have before I boarded that.

Was I finding myself, 5 years after putting hammer to nail in mending both that letterbox and my relationship with my parents, going back to my old days of teenage rebellion? Or was this the first time in my life that I was actually right about something which my parents, whom I have loved and admired for 22 years, were wrong about?

It is a realisation that is equal parts empowering and disorientating which only a 90’s kid like me can understand. The realisation that the world we find ourselves living in now could not be further then the one our parents found themselves in at 22. The realisation that maybe the advice we have been taught to take our whole lives may just not work for the direction this generation is going.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I grow older and their instruction is turning from curfews to career choices, skirt length to smart investments, and overall life direction, what else were my parents wrong about?

This is not to say that the age-old life lessons of my parents which include treat others how you wanna be treated, you only get what you give, and you can’t avoid the tax man forever (thanks dad) don’t apply anymore just because the century has turned. My parents, as well as many other’s, were strong enough to install in me a wonderful moral compass which I still use to steers me in the direction of truth and kindness as I journey through life.

The right compass to steer ourselves through the unexplored lands of careers, relationships, and technology in the modern day is, however, something we millennials are left to navigate all by ourselves.

Take success, for instance.

When I was growing up, going to university and getting a degree was taught by my parents to be the key to a very large range rover of success, speeding 120km per hour up Triple Figure Salary Street and Owning Your Own Home In Your 20’s Way. My parents were in their early 20’s during the 1970’s, and the visualisation of them at university annoys me for reasons other then the ludicrous hairstyle my dad had, or the fact my mum didn’t seem to wear a bra in any of her ‘Class of 1977’ photos. Its the fact that they went there for free. Thats right, while people my age had probably more then one job, were most likely forced to live at home, and racked up at least a $40’000 dollar debt during the three-to-four years of their degree, my mum was actually paid to learn how to become a nurse, and my dad happily walked his mullet out of teachers college completely debt free. Financial publication The Simple Dollar exposed the tantrum-inducing statistic that there has been a 994% increase in the cost of a four year degree from 1970 to 2010. ‘But you kids are so lucky these days’, my dad still says, ‘Our uni didn’t even have a pub.’

Say you do take your parents advice, go to uni, and are now looking for a full time job so your range rover of success can start doing wheelies up the Mount Everest of debt currently blocking your access to Triple Figure Salary Street. Nothing made me want to scratch mums crockery more then reading the points Careers NZ used to describe the labour market back the 70’s as opposed to that which I am trying to break into. While ‘plenty of work’, ’no need for qualifications’ and ’job security’ were the descriptions my parents could enjoy, I was left with the ever-so-positive ‘higher rates of youth unemployment’, ‘increase in training costs’, and ‘90 day work trials’. Not to mention the fact that a home today costs approximately three times as much as a it did in 1970 compared to the average wage of a single person, so there goes that trip to Ikea. Going to uni and finding a full time job, while being financially self-sufficient and debt free like my parents were, while not impossible, is a trillion times harder for us millennials then it was our parents. Yet we seem to only become aware of this after wearing our horrendously overpriced graduation gowns and collecting our degree, because we were good children who listened to our mum’s and dad’s advice. Fire up the old Matador 50cc kids, I’m taking the letterbox out for another spin.

‘Do you think maybe if you spent as much time studying as you did on that bloody phone, maybe you would be a millionaire?’, is hands down one of my mums favourite questions to ask me, after ‘is that a dress or a top’. Nothing widens the generation gap more between young people and their parents then technology. “You keep looking at that computer too long your eyes will go square,” my mum would say. Maybe not squares, mum, but dollar signs, perhaps.

The reality is that social media sites like Instagram and Youtube are now the platforms people my age, or even younger, are using to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from. Bloggers and product influences, jobs that didn’t even exist before the turn of the century, upload their photos or videos to their large social media following and rake it in with lucrative brand sponsorship. The reality is, according to founder of the social media startup for marketing teams Zaapt, Jenny Woods, an influencer with more than 1 million followers can expect to earn between £5,000 ($6,104US) and £20,000 ($24,406 US) per post, as the markets from fashion to travel are rapidly moving entirely online. This is something my parents, like many others, have not nearly come to grips with, as they continue putting things like iPhone and Instagram in the ‘waste of time’ box to join gameboys and playstation.

Fine, you say. So business and careers may be something they cant help me with anymore. But surely mums endless relationship advice stands for something though, right!?

In the beginning of this slightly demoralising quest to criticise the two people that have fed me for 22 years, my mothers relationship advice was one of the first things that popped up in my head. Her advice to ‘know your self worth’, ’don’t be afraid to say no’ and ‘don’t date him for his dollars’ are all things I obviously still try and apply to my dating life now, these tough financial times making the latter admittedly the hardest.

What she doesn’t understand is how hard technology is making modern day relationships work. Millennials like me have never known a relationship without its great enabler and destroyer, the internet. The internet was where I met my first ever boyfriend, Stephan. We were 14 and met on instant messenger website, MSN. We would talk on the internet for hours, hardly ever meet up in person, and call it a relationship. The kind of relationship which to our parents was unthinkable, but to us as normal a thing as washing your car. The 1970’s had my parents and their friends getting to know their partners at parties, concerts, even the deli down the road, before they even thought about dating them. Today has gals like me swiping through candidates I’ve never met before faster then a windscreen wiper through dating apps like Tinder, which work hard to ensure your worth for dating is judged entirely on the attractiveness of your photos. You could be the ripest peach on the tree, but if the only photo you have to upload is one from 2009 family fishing trip, you’d be chucked straight in the compost bin. My parents don’t understand this, however, so my decision to not even bother with dating is still a decision seen by my parents as a rebellious one, rather then an education one.

In knowing all of this, it still hasn’t stopped myself from looking at my parents as the superhero’s they are. Their love and support has given me the strength to be myself, work hard, and when needing to, draw my own lines in the sand. However, the differences between our world and theirs, despite them being on this earth around 25 more years then us, is something we both have to stop ignoring.