Parenting muscle memory: getting told off as an adult | Jack Marshall's column

It’s a very confusing thing to be told off by your parents as an adult. It’s strangely familiar, but you can also smell a distinct lack of genuine threat on their part because you’re now 28 and moved out a decade ago.

By Jack Marshall
Tuesday, 12th April 2022, 9:20 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th April 2022, 8:53 am

After the initial shock, it becomes quite funny. It’s about as sweet a feeling as one can hope to enjoy because teenage-you remembers every perceived slight from your childhood. After all those years of hormone-addled subjugation, you’re now on equal footing.

I was recently told off by both my parents for two different things and, each time, I rolled through a spectrum of emotions: familiar wariness, knee-jerk petulance, realisation of agency, glorious surge of power, amusement.

We’ll start with my dad. Despite all five of his children having numerous tattoos, he is loud and effusive in his frequent announcements of the fact that he ‘just doesn’t understand them’. Doesn’t get the appeal. Fine, we say. You don’t have to get one.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The forbidden hand tattoos

This doesn’t matter. He doesn’t like how they look and their permanence and says things like ‘you’ll never get a job looking like that’ despite us all being in full-time employment. Which brings us to my telling off.

I’d mentioned how I was planning to get the back of my left hand tattooed for some reasons and he reacted like I’d revealed I kicked kids for fun. He couldn’t believe it and, in his frustration, resorted to telling me I simply wasn’t allowed. I accidentally laughed, which didn’t help. I got told off.

Next came my mum. As someone who works from home, I don’t have a car, which is fine right up until the moment when you want to do stuff, which is when not having a car is properly rubbish.

Thanks to the ridiculous petrol prices, I mentioned that I might not get a car and just get a motorbike instead. Red rag to a bull. Not allowed, too dangerous, you’ll kill yourself, no chance. Forbidden. This was a rare preemptive telling-off designed to stop any Evel Knievel-related inclinations in their tracks.

It’s strangely comforting knowing your parents still harbour that instinct to tell you off. And, while I still want a motorbike and a hand tattoo, those facts may change. But one thing remains: parents will always parent.