Queer Eye season 8 made me rethink our ways of dealing with parents' toxic emotional dependency

Karishma Jangid
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Queer Eye

I never knew that season 8 of Queer Eye will teach me how, as children, we can provide our parents with emotional tools for growth and draw healthy emotional boundaries!

Recently, I was talking to a friend about how Indian parents want their kids to take care of them but aren't able to share their feelings with them. Coming from a dysfunctional family, it's something I've seen very closely. In this conversation with my friend, she mentioned, “As parents get older, they get stuck in their ways, making it hard to change.” That hit home! I've tried to help my dad with medical advice, but he trusts WhatsApp remedies, and my mom won't sleep in even when she can. Other serious disagreements have serious consequences. So maybe my friend is right—parents get set in their ways as they age, which can make it tough for us to help them. But watching Queer Eye season 8 has given me a new way to think about it.

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In Queer Eye, one person gets a life makeover with the help of The Fab Five: Antoni (Food), Tan (Fashion), Jonathan (Grooming), Bobby (Interior Design), and Karamo (Culture). In season 8, three older folks were nominated. In the first episode, Ernest Bartholomew, 68, was nominated by his daughter Ariel. He's become a recluse, living in his man cave, which has strained his marriage. Ariel wants the Fab Five to help him find a new perspective. In the second episode, Tim Keel is nominated by his daughter Melody. Tim has spent his life solely with KISS, the metal band, and caring for his paralyzed brother, leading him to forget his worth and need for love and care. In Episode 3, Dorian nominates her mother, Miss Doreen, a a clarinetist and vocalist. Miss Doreen wants to leave music, reopen her late mother's sweet shop, and honor her legacy, but she feels guilty for prioritizing music over the shop in her youth.

In all three episodes, kids nominate parents who forgot how to care for themselves. These parents got so caught up in surviving that they forgot to enjoy life. They became creatures of habit, lacking a different perspective that left them isolated and unsatisfied. Ernest, for example, stopped being there for his wife Miranda after they got married. They stopped talking, and he spent all his time alone in his man cave. He knew Miranda deserved better, but he didn't know how to change things, so they grew apart. Similarly, Tim was so busy taking care of his brother and family that he forgot about himself, leading to his marriage falling apart. His house was filled with KISS stuff, but that was all he had. Taking care of others was tough, but he never said anything because he felt stuck. Doreen felt guilty about not reopening her mom's sweet shop, a dream she had for years. Can you imagine letting 20-30 years go by without pursuing your dreams? Many of us do this, don't we? So many dreams stay hidden, never coming true. What stops us? Lots of things—time, money, health. For Doreen, it was just herself, something we all understand. There’s a famous couplet that says, “Zindagi ka falsafa bhi ajeeb hai, shaamein katti nahi, saal guzarte chale jaa rahein hai.” And perhaps, this is the reality for most of us.

The Fab Five understand this, which is why they teach you how to balance your past, present, and future. They guided Ernest in sharing space with Miranda and finding a middle ground. Tim learned the importance of vulnerability and the need for occasional rest. People often overlook their own worth, but the Fab Five reminded Tim of his. They helped him realize that his love for KISS is just one aspect of his identity. There's more to life than that. Additionally, the Fab Five gave Doreen the push to realize her dream and celebrate herself in the process while letting go of the guilt.

What’s also noteworthy is that despite witnessing their parents' struggles, the children here didn't assume the role of therapists or try to dictate what to do. In India, children are expected to care for their parents throughout their lives. Many parents have children with the expectation that they will have someone to look after them in old age. In dysfunctional families, this responsibility extends to both physical and emotional care, often leading to children becoming 'parentified children'—assuming the role of caregivers for their parents.

Season 8 of Queer Eye offered a different path. The children sought help from the Fab Five. Tan improved their wardrobe for themselves and their partners. Antoni inspired them to cook dishes they enjoy and find nourishing. Jonathan emphasized skincare and self-care through a makeover. Bobby redesigned their space to suit their lifestyles and priorities. Karamo offered a safe space for vulnerability and healing. Mind you, the Fab Five won’t be there for the rest of their lives. They simply equipped Ernest, Tim, and Doreen with tools to improve their lives. Parents are capable adults who need reminders to take care of themselves and not rely on their children for emotional support all the time. While community support is important, self-love is key. Children shouldn't feel obligated to be caregivers 24/7 or take on their parents' trauma. It's not healthy to become therapists for them. Providing tools for self-help is a more sustainable form of caretaking.

In other episodes of Queer Eye season 8, nominees are nominated by spouses, colleagues, and friends. In episode 4, Denton Mallas, the athletic director at Louisiana School for Deaf, is nominated by his colleague Netalie Delgado. She sees that Denton cannot recognize the impact he is making by helping deaf kids achieve their dreams. The Fab Five then show him his worth and teach him to trust himself. In episode 5, social justice lawyer Allison McCrary is nominated by her church friend Deedy. Despite appearing organized and in control, Allison is internally struggling to find a partner after leaving her life as a Catholic nun. Having been alone for so long, she struggles to navigate the world, especially in dating. The Fab Five teaches her to break free from the cage she's trapped herself in and prioritize her own happiness. In the final episode, Anh Luu, nominated by her partner Sam, is struggling with unexpressed grief following her mother’s death. The Fab Five assists her in opening up and expressing herself. Again, the nominators don't serve as counselors; it's not their role. Supporting others is vital, but it's healthier to provide tools for self-help rather than fostering dependency.

I understand that this article oversimplifies caregiving in dysfunctional settings, which can be highly complex. Not everyone can enlist the help of the Fab Five to turn their life around; some are not ready for change, and others can't afford it. Moreover, imagine Jonathan and a Marwari mother in the same room - a recipe for the weirdest disaster ever. So, I understand it isn’t all that simple. But I want to dedicate this article to the kind people who take care of others, providing emotional support to those who depend on them. It's important to establish boundaries when someone becomes overly dependent on you and help them learn to help themselves. Remember to prioritize yourself; you can't pour from an empty cup. Most importantly, you deserve the love that you readily give to others.

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