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How does one push away from parental control while still maintaining a close emotional relationship?
April 26, 2011 11:26 PM   Subscribe

How do i preserve my relationship with my mother while still making decisions she doesn't approve of?

Longish explanation, but more information might be helpful, and I trust all of you to give me good advice

I'm 19. I'm dependent on my mother's side of the family for college money though a quasi-legal trust fund set up by my great grandfather. I do have a job of my own however, which gets me enough money to where I never have to ask my mother for any money. It's also enough to where i can afford to travel.

My mother likes to not only know many things about my life, but also to dictate it's direction. She prevented my sister from perusing her chosen major. We need to pass all of the classes we sign up for past her. She requires that we spend set amounts of time with her etc. For the most part I don't mind this, but naturally, sometimes, our wills conflict to the point of where it's serious.

I know that mom doesn't need to sign anything for me to have the money to be able to go to college, but if mom decided to "cut me off" I wouldn't ask for anything from our side of the family. Mom has always told me that we (my sister and I) wouldn't be eligible for finical aid or scholarships because we would have to include our expected contribution from the trust fund. Furthermore, she says it's unethical to ask for aid from other places because we are taking it away from more needy people.

Also, i should clarify that i adore my mother, and i really want to have a good relationship with her. My father is deceased and my mother and I are very close when I don't have a back bone

I really want to switch schools, but it's further away geographically then my mother would approve of.

So my questions:

1) Should I switch schools and not take family money
2) Is it more important to get a good college experience, or a debt free one?
3) Is there any way of doing this that will not ruin my mother's and I's relationship entirely
4) Would refusing to take family money make for a better relationship? (she has no means to control me, so I have no reason not to be entirely honest with her anymore)
5) Am i being unreasonable in wanting control over my life while still being dependent?


Thank you for your time and answers
posted by becomingly to Human Relations (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
i adore my mother, and i really want to have a good relationship with her. My father is deceased and my mother and I are very close when I don't have a back bone

Oh dear. If your relationship with someone else depends on you not standing up for yourself, it's not a healthy relationship. Your mother is blackmailing you and your sister into doing what she wants by threatening to take away your trust fund money. Not healthy.

I think only you can really answer your first two questions. It's a matter of what you can put up with or what price you're willing to pay to not be controlled by your mother.

3) Is there any way of doing this that will not ruin my mother's and I's relationship entirely

At some point your relationship with your mother is going to be ruined UNLESS you set firm boundaries with her. Whether that happens while you're in school or after you graduate would be up to you.

4) Would refusing to take family money make for a better relationship? (she has no means to control me, so I have no reason not to be entirely honest with her anymore)

Not at first, probably, but in the long run, I think it's your only hope. Unless--and I am not clear on this from your post--she actually DOESN'T have control over your trust fund. What are the legalities around it? Could it be that she actually is just bluffing about being able to cut you off?

5) Am i being unreasonable in wanting control over my life while still being dependent?

No. Your desires as expressed in your post are totally reasonable. It's your mom who is being unreasonable.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:45 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's a tough situation. I can speak to a few things, but only from my own experience:

1) Should I switch schools and not take family money

Your call- you're a grown-up! If you can finance it on your own or through money that your mother does not control, this is totally your decision. Getting further away from her sounds like it might be a good first step in standing up for yourself and setting boundaries. The best choice I ever made was to go to a college 3,000 miles away from home that my parents did not approve of and, hence, refused to pay for.

3) Is there any way of doing this that will not ruin my mother's and I's relationship entirely

Sure. I managed to do this in college with my (then) very controlling parents. I was polite but firm, I disclosed things that would make them unhappy on my own terms on my own time, I refused to argue with them any more- not rudely but in a, "I love you, and I don't really feel like this discussion about my church attendance/dating habits/problem of the week is productive for any of us. Let's either talk about something else or we can try again in a week." kind of way. There was a rough patch while they got to the new-and-improved personal boundaries that lasted about a year and then everything got much, much better.

4) Would refusing to take family money make for a better relationship? (she has no means to control me, so I have no reason not to be entirely honest with her anymore)

This is what made all the difference for me- it was *huge* to not feel like I owed them anything in terms of the life decisions I made, and separating myself from them financially really helped them understand that I was, indeed, a grown-ass adult who was going to make her own decisions. I made a point of getting summer jobs that provided housing and visited them on my own terms, but made sure to provide lines of communication via e-mail and the phone.

That said, it sounds like the trust fund has been set up for you and that your mother doesn't actually control it even though she may be acting like she does. Is that true? It is silly to not use money set aside for your education because she (inaccurately? it is not clear from the question) feels you need to pass your life decisions by her or disapproves of the choices you made; money that doesn't come directly from her doesn't have anything to do with her even if it comes from her side of the family. Likewise, her feelings about outside aid etc. do not matter in the slightest.

5) Am i being unreasonable in wanting control over my life while still being dependent?

No. Becoming an adult is all about negotiating the change between dependence on someone else and dependence on your own resources, skills and capabilities. Good parents understand this and allow you to separate gracefully and help you enforce reasonable, healthy boundaries. Some parents take a while longer to realize what good parents do, and some never get it. Mine came around, and we have a great relationship now. The first step for you is standing up for yourself, even though it may seem scary now.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:57 PM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


How bad is it being the good girl for your mother, in exchange for a free degree? And how far away from your own direction is the direction in which your mother is pushing you?

There's no absolutes here. Throughout your life you'll deal with unreasonable people, and be frustrated by being dependent upon people or circumstances that you'd rather not be dependent on. Your mother isn't the last person about whom you'll ask yourself "should I suck it up, or pay the price and move on?"

If it's a question of just chafing under your mother's rules, and wishing you were more in charge, then I'd say suck it up. A free degree is a huge benefit, and when you achieve real financial independence afterwards, it'll be much easier to assert your independence and say "you can have a relationship with me if you want, Mom, but you cannot make my decisions for me."

Frankly, awesome college experiences are overrated. When you're 40, it's not the wild nights of your early 20s that'll keep you happy; it's the smart decisions you made back then that make your forties easier.

On the other hand, if the direction in which your mother is shoving you is one in which you really don't want to go; if you have specific plans that you want to, and can, pursue, then it's worth cutting yourself off and making your own way. There's a Turkish saying: "No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, turn back." If your mother is putting you on the wrong road, and you know it's the wrong road, then it's time to stand up for yourself. You'll be better for it.

Whether or not your mother and you have a good relationship after you assert yourself is up to her, not you. You're not being unreasonable.
posted by fatbird at 12:02 AM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm going to take the practical approach here and tell you to think long and hard about going into serious debt if you don't have to. You will be graduating in what will likely still be a very difficult job market. A period of unemployment or under employment that can stretch for months or years is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

What are your job prospects like post graduation? Do not underestimate the crippling effects of debt. Do not underestimate that the current job market may virtually necessitate you getting some financial help from your family post graduation. The trope that anyone who is willing to work three jobs can make it on their own is only now sometimes true.

Do you want to pursue an advanced degree? Having undergrad debt will likely make you think twice and I'm putting that lightly.

What your mom is doing is shitty and controlling and wrong. But it sounds like she's manageable. Personally, unless your mom is making younturn down an ivey league or other significantly better school (one that will dramatically effect your future career prospects), I say in a cost benefit analysis you come out way ahead towing the line until graduation and may e even until you are financially independent.

But obviously this is pay to play crazy controlling mom. The day you graduate I'd sit her down and inform her that the rules have changed.
posted by whoaali at 12:15 AM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


If your mother does not actually control the trust fund money, then you should do whatever you damn well please if you can afford it. Unless you're trying to go into some specific and super-competitive field, what you major in doesn't really matter a lick in the real world. I majored in english and I'm a user experience designer. My co-worker majored in history and philosophy, and she's our head of marketing. We're both 28 and have been working in our respective fields for at least 5 years.

However: think very, VERY hard about doing anything that would require you to go into major debt. Frankly, it's probably not worth it. I had a great college experience, and I took honors classes from amazing professors at a very well-respected college -- and now it feels like the most it gets me is I can occasionally tell a quasi-interesting story about some class I took in college that I only half remember. I am extremely thankful to my parents for putting me through college, because I enjoyed it while I was there and it made me employable. But if I were still paying off student loans well into my 20's, as some of my friends are, I'd be a lot more ambivalent about the experience.

As for how to deal with mom being controlling -- when I was in your position I got away with a lot of things by just doing them and "forgetting" to tell my parents until it was too late, such as registering for a class they didn't want me to take. Remember, she's just a person, and you're just a person. There's very little she can actually *make* you do. She wants what's best for you, and it's probably easy for her to forget that in general (and especially with things like this!) there are very few "mistakes," only choices with outcomes that will have both pros and cons. Do what works for you, but try to have compassion for the fact that this time in life is probably as difficult for her to adjust to as it is for you.

Oh, and if she's anything like my parents: if you don't do what she wants, she'll scream and cry and bitch and moan and make you feel like the worst daughter in the world, and then in five years she'll brag to her friends about how independent you are and how successful you've been and how clever you were to have figured it all out yourself. ;)
posted by roscopcoletrane at 12:43 AM on April 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was in a similar situation going through university. I let my father help me with money for my first year and it was a disaster. I felt I couldn't do anything with my life because he wanted to know how I was spending what was his money (both socially and workwise) all the time. I had no freedom.

The second year I started working, literally every moment of the day time I wasn't in school, including all day saturday and sunday and during holidays. It earned me enough to not have to ask for any money, once I factored in loans as well.

I suspect my grades may have suffered a little because I was working when others may have been studying, but I still did well, because I was so motivated as I was working hard to pay for my own education. The debt shouldn't be an issue. Once you are in the real "job world" and a little older you can pay off the debt. Think about how much more in debt people are when they get a mortgage - and a good education is far more valuable.

You're not being at all unreasonable. Refusing to take money is initially awkward, but in the end your mother (as you say you have a good relationship) will respect you for striking out on your own. Being further away from home at a new school is also likely to be better for you as it shouldn't impact on your closeness, but your relationship with family is likely to feel less stifling.
posted by inbetweener at 1:13 AM on April 27, 2011


I'm 19. I'm dependent on my mother's side of the family for college money though a quasi-legal trust fund set up by my great grandfather.

Presumably your mother also had access to this trust fund in a similar manner as you do and hence had the right to squander her share. Personally I think that your mother has no right to stop your great grandfather from assisting you. Its not like you had a choice in which family you were born into.

I don't see any quandry with changing schools and continuing to accept the funds my great grandfather had the foresight to put away for me.

At some point your mother will have to accept that you are an Adult.
posted by mary8nne at 2:32 AM on April 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know that mom doesn't need to sign anything for me to have the money to be able to go to college, but if mom decided to "cut me off" I wouldn't ask for anything from our side of the family.

That's all your choosing, not your mother. It sounds like your great-grandfather wanted his great-grandchildren to have an education, which is a bond between you and and your great-grandfather and has nothing to do with your mother. If your mom decides to "cut you off", you should feel free to take the education money because it's not her money to begin with.

Also, your mother's side of the family is also your family too. She doesn't have propriety because she's older, they're as much your blood as hers.

At the end of the day, you dictate how much control your mother has; you let her approve your class schedule, tell her about things you don't want to and let her be overbearing. If you stood up and said "mom, I love you, but I am an adult and can make my own decisions", you'd be joining the millions of other normal kids who have done the same.
posted by dflemingecon at 3:28 AM on April 27, 2011 [20 favorites]


She prevented my sister from perusing her chosen major. We need to pass all of the classes we sign up for past her.

I suppose this may have changed since I was in college a decade ago, but it's my understanding that most universities do not require parental involvement in choosing a major or registering for classes. Even if it's your parents writing the checks. Just make whatever decisions you want about majors and classes and such and don't even tell your mom the details about how such things even work at your school.

Obviously it would be difficult to just neglect to mention that you are an English major and not a Business major, or whatever, but this is where the growing a backbone part comes in. When your mom protests about something big like what you'll major in, just... tell her your decision and that it's not up for debate. If she threatens to cut you off, call her bluff. There is almost a 100% chance that she would be happier to have you in college, period, even if you're studying something she doesn't like, than not in school at all.

Any parent who would honestly deny you the chance to get a college education because she wasn't happy with your choice of subject is not a parent you want in your life, anyway.

About transferring schools. This is hairier because it will require your mother's cooperation. In this situation, you have a few options.

1. Ask your mom about your options for transferring schools with her continued financial support. Have important reasons. Express yourself in an adult manner. Work to convince her that this is the right decision for you.

2. Inform your mother that you will be transferring schools, period, even if it means taking on student loan debt due to her refusal to support that decision. Lots of people carry student loan debt, and if it's truly vital to your education that you transfer schools with or without the support of your mother, I don't think the debt factor should necessarily stop you.

3. Just stay where you are without rocking the boat. Sometimes in hindsight this turns out to be the best option. I had a conflict not unlike yours with my father, who completely disapproved my decision to transfer schools so that I could move to New York to live with my boyfriend. I defied him, moved to New York, and our relationship eventually recovered. But looking back, I know I would have been fine at the original school, the relationship tanked of course, and I'm not sure whether it was worth the conflict with my dad, which was a defining aspect of my early adult life. Going along to get along would have made the last decade or so of my life a lot easier.
posted by Sara C. at 3:54 AM on April 27, 2011


You can not control your mother - or her side of the relationship.

If she requires obedience, and is willing to end the relationship if she does not get it -

well, you can not control her. you can only do what you think is right for you, and hope she will come around
posted by Flood at 3:57 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know that mom doesn't need to sign anything for me to have the money to be able to go to college, but if mom decided to "cut me off" I wouldn't ask for anything from our side of the family.

I don't know what a 'quasi-legal' trust fund is, and the first sentence above suggests that you might not either. It seems important to know whether your mother actually has the power to 'cut you off.' In your position, I think I'd consult a lawyer of my own and get my facts straight.

Mom has always told me that we (my sister and I) wouldn't be eligible for finical aid or scholarships because we would have to include our expected contribution from the trust fund. Furthermore, she says it's unethical to ask for aid from other places because we are taking it away from more needy people.

This sounds to me like manipulation masquerading as altruism. If she actually cared about funding the educations of the less fortunate, she could easily use her surplus cash to do that. Is she a big donor to some need-based scholarship somewhere? It's more likely that she's aware that other sources of funding threaten her control over you.

As has been said by others, the relationship you describe is really unhealthy. Your mom is not evil, but she's abusing her power over you to soothe some personal anxiety; to some degree she's lost sight of you. You need to find some way to be loyal to her while rejecting her corruption of your great-grandfather's generosity. She will find any move in such a direction very threatening. She will not make it easy. I suspect she will use your affection for her to preserve the status quo. But in the long term, boundaries are indispensable.
posted by jon1270 at 4:06 AM on April 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


This sounds to me like manipulation masquerading as altruism.

I don't know about the altruism angle, but it's true that if becomingly is a traditional 18-22 year old full time undergrad student who isn't married, a parent, or in the military, he/she would not be eligible for financial aid under his/her own steam. I've been down this road before, and it's definitely true.
posted by Sara C. at 4:19 AM on April 27, 2011


You're right Sara, of course. I was looking at the 'unethical' claim rather than the practical one.
posted by jon1270 at 4:22 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can u clarify what the money situation is? Because it sounds like you have a trust fund and job, so you don't need financial assistance from mom.

As to the larger question of preserving the relationship, that's not your call it seems. If you and your mom can only be close when you have no backbone, then you've already done a lot. It's time for her to give up that control. Actually, it's waaaay past time. Your mother is emotionally abusing and manipulating you.

If someone's love for you is based on you following their orders, they don't really love you. The hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, everything that makes you a lovely individual mean nothing to your mother and that is fucked up.

I am a parent with a child in college. My job is to help out for these last few years, not dictate what my child should do or have them report to me.

If a parent doesn't their child grow up and find their own way, the child will be forever stuck mentally and emotionally. What sort of parent would do that?! It's morally wrong and fucked up.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:58 AM on April 27, 2011


This sounds very frustrating. My one piece of advice is this: Examine your motives. Why do you want to switch schools? Why do you want to major in something your mother doesn't want you to? It's only natural to push back when someone is being unreasonably controlling. However, to give up a free education and burden yourself with student loans merely (or even partially) to make a point is classic cutting off your nose to spite your face. The unfortunate truth is that you can't always have it all, so you'll have to balance the advantages and disadvantages of your current position against what would happen if you rock the boat. I would try to start that assessment with the understanding that you're lucky, objectively, to have your college education being paid for, and think about what it's worth to you to pass that up.

I also notice that it sounds possible you haven't vocalized much of this to your mother. You should, if you haven't, and firmly and clearly. You really have nothing to lose by taking that as a first step; she isn't going to cut you off just for expressing yourself (or if she is, then you'd be doing yourself a favor, because that is a truly unhealthy level of manipulation going on). It sounds as though you may really be as mad at yourself for not taking a stand as you are at your mother.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 4:59 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mom has always told me that we (my sister and I) wouldn't be eligible for finical aid or scholarships because...

I'd recommend you talk to someone else about this--someone not trying to control you. Talk to the financial aid offices at your school and your intended transfer school. And ignore your mom's comments about the ethics of taking financial aid--if she won't give you access to the money, you don't have the funds to go to school and are therefore morally in the clear to pursue financial aid and scholarships.

Also, consider speaking with a lawyer (your college may have free legal resources for students) about this trust fund. It may truly be in your mother's control, but she's been manipulative and dishonest about it, so it couldn't hurt to double check.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:50 AM on April 27, 2011


I may be misunderstanding things here, but it sounds like you have access to your trust fund without your mother's interference/intercession, and you would simply be choosing not to access that money if you defied your mother. If that's the case, you're creating a false dilemma. Your great-grandfather set up that trust for you. It's yours to access whether your mother likes what you're doing with it or not. And you say you can support your non-tuition needs with your own income.

So it sounds like you can make and carry out decisions independent of your mother. Do it. Apply to the school you want to apply to, take the classes you want to take. Be kind but clear with your mom that you are an adult now (hint: you are an adult now) and you will make these decisions for yourself. You appreciate her perspective and her concern, but it's your call to make.

At some point, you'll need to start being your own adult. You've reached the point where you want to already. So now is the time to do it.
posted by adamrice at 6:03 AM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wait, is this a real trust? As in, the money is going to your education and your mom doesn't have the ability to cut you off from it? What would it mean for your mom to cut you off if she isn't giving you any money in the first place?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:20 AM on April 27, 2011


Regarding financial aid, EVEN IF your parent refuses you money (trust fund or otherwise), while you are under 25, financial aid at most places automatically requires your parents' information and calculates in an expected family contribution. If you are entitled to the trust, the trust will be calculated in whether you accept the trust or not (you'd probably have to go through a whole legal process to repudiate the trust, and I'm still not sure how financial aid considers that). Chances are decent you'd be looking at "bad" educational debt ("private loans," not federally subsidized loans, high interest rates, few borrower protections) rather than "good" educational debt (federally subsidized loans and federally-controlled unsubsidized loans (Stafford sub and unsub), low and controlled rates, many protections). Basically you would be taking out consumer-type debt to finance your education rather than educational debt, but it would still be non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Your school's financial aid department can give you an outline of how the process would go and what you'd need to do to be considered "independent" of parental contribution. Some schools make their own rules about parental contribution. (And some make up the difference out of endowments or whatever.) But make sure you understand that while your mother's thing about it being immoral to take financial aid away from someone else is just a guilt trip, she's probably right that you will have difficulty qualifying for "good" financial aid. I had a friend who was actually emancipated before 18 and was trying to qualify for financial aid without a family contribution and they still wanted his parents' tax returns to even process the paperwork, which of course he couldn't get, and it was like a six-month nightmare to even get the paperwork turned in. Even if you completely cut yourself off from your family, you may still need their cooperation to file your FAFSA, and you can do nothing without the FAFSA.

If you have access to the trust fund money without your mother's approval it is, in a word, dumb to reject the trust fund which was set up for YOU simply because you're rejecting your mother's control of your decisions. It sounds very noble and romantic -- "I won't take anything from you so you can't control me!" -- but in fact she has no legal right to control you if she doesn't control the trust fund and you'd be putting yourself in a totally unnecessary financial hole.

I actually generally agree with whoaali here; be practical here and consider what a cramp on your independence 30 years of student loan payments would be -- surely a larger cramp than putting up with your mother for 2 more years to maintain a harmonious relationship while taking the trust fund money even if you're entitled to take it without going through her approval process. (and I do certainly understand wanting to maintain a good relationship with mom while also being independent of her.) So I guess I come down on the side of a debt-free college education, unless the "good" college experience you're looking at his significant, significant benefits, like you're at Lower-Tier Directional State U and she's preventing you from going to an Ivy League school AND you want to work in a field where that Ivy credential would matter. If we're just talking, "there aren't enough hippies here for me" or "I'd prefer more of a binge-drinking culture to a weed-smoking culture" or "I hate Division I football and I'd rather be at a tiny liberal arts college," well, suck it up and find a niche where you are.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:21 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


(also consider -- are you covered on parental health care under the student exemption thingie? That matters. Where would you get health insurance and what would it cost, if you cut yourself off from family and family money?)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:24 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mom has always told me that we (my sister and I) wouldn't be eligible for finical aid or scholarships because we would have to include our expected contribution from the trust fund. Furthermore, she says it's unethical to ask for aid from other places because we are taking it away from more needy people.

Neither you nor your mom can determine if you are eligible for financial aid. That's up to the school, FAFSA, or who ever will be giving you aid.

It doesn't cost anything to apply for financial aid and most scholarships, so I would go ahead and do it anyways. If you don't apply for financial aid, then you are guaranteed not to get any.

Apply to all the schools you want to attend and be sure to include your FAFSA, SAT scores, high school grades, and recommendations. The school can offer you grants, which can be anything from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand dollars off your tuition.

Once you've received all the acceptance letters and rejection letters, along with the total cost you will be responsible for at accepted each school, you can finally make a decision. Right now you're making many assumptions based on what your mom tells you and what you think you know, so you might as well get all the answers straight and know all your options. Heck, you might be able to afford school on your own without your mom's help. And if you're accepted to several schools, and purposely don't apply for the school your mom wants you to, you're basically cornering her into picking a school that YOU want. At this point, she would be denying you an education if she refused to let you to go to school, which would be against your grandfather's wishes.

If she still refuses, you might be able to go to court to fight for the grant money. I'm inclined that this would be an easy win, especially if your grandfather specified in writing that the grant money would go towards your education.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:26 AM on April 27, 2011


a quasi-legal trust fund set up by my great grandfather

This is key. You are going to have to do some detective work here. Is it an actual trust fund, in which you get control of the money after a certain age? Is it a checking account your family members control, but with an informal understanding that it's for your education? Which family members? Whose name is on the checks? You probably don't even know the answers -- but to accurately assess your situation you are going to have to find out.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:29 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


She checks what classes you sign up for? How the hell does she know what courses are required for your major? Try this one "Well, I haven't screwed up too bad yet, have I Mom?". I'm 30 and had to use that one in the last month.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:41 AM on April 27, 2011


I have a controlling mother. I also had friends in college who had to take out loans and financially support themselves 100%. Their grades were crap and I think they would have sold their souls to the devil if they could have had someone else pay for college. And that was BEFORE the recession. I know enough people graduating now who have had to move home because they can't get employment for anything. In the long run, your major won't make much of a difference. Ditto your choice of college, most likely. But college debt lasts nearly forever.

You can put up with your mom's issues until you get out of college debt-free. Seriously. You're already well used to it by now. It's a lot easier to act independently when you're 22 and out of school (and hopefully can get a job someday) than it is at age 19, especially with the FAFSA stuff.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:45 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rather than scheming and conniving to somehow subvert your mother's influence over your life while maintaining nominally friendly terms, how about you talk to her about how this makes you feel?

Thank her for her support and guidance and oversight. Tell her how important your relationship with her is to you. Talk to her about why she doesn't trust you to make your own decisions. And ask her when she thinks you will be ready to make those decisions for yourself. Tell her you are excited to become an adult, and that you look forward to being captain of your own ship someday. Assure her that she'll always be one of your trusted advisors, and that her influence will always be with you simply by virtue of what she's taught you. But ultimately put the burden on her to give you a roadmap out of adolescence.

All this is better than throwing a temper tantrum and drawing a line in the sand with some defiant ultimatum. When parent-child relationships turn into pissing contests, nobody wins. This option puts the burden on her to explain why she treats you the way she does. It might be as simple as "You're my baby and I have to protect you - - even from yourself!" or it might be a more complex answer such as "Remember those three DWIs in high school? And how you're failing all of your classes? Seriously kiddo, you're not giving me a lot to go on in terms of trust and assurance that you'll be fine on your own!" Listen in a non-defensive way. Ask her to approach this issue from a non-defensive way. She knows, deep down (even if she's batshitcrazy) that you'll be an adult someday and you'll have to make your own decisions free of her approval.

Bonus: this is an entirely adult way of going about a problem like this, which can only count in your favor in asking her to consider relinquishing some control.

I wish this was the approach I had taken with my parents, who were both overbearing in their own ways. Instead, I took one of the routes that this thread is suggesting. I lay low, steamed and stewed until I was miserable and looking for any ready escape hatch. I graduated college early with a fairly useless degree, and I ran for graduate school at 21 where I knew I was safe from their influence (because they wouldn't be paying for it). I had no effing clue what I was doing. I talked myself into an expensive graduate program that led to a profession I wasn't actually in love with, I moved across the country and asserted my independence... and now I'm paying for it with monthly student loan bills of $1000/mo. Now, instead of dreaming of independence from my overbearing parents, I dream of how independent I would feel if I didn't have that cost hanging like a millstone around my neck.

The greatest impediment to having the kind of adult conversation that I suggested above was my own fear. I was terrified to hear what I knew they would tell me about myself. I was feckless and lazy and didn't think things through to their logical conclusions. I was a mediocre student. I was a procrastinator of the greatest degree. I didn't really seem to know what I wanted to do, and if I did, I was doing a terrible job articulating it. I know this all now. But I couldn't get up the courage to admit it when I was your age, and I certainly couldn't get up the courage to hear it from someone else.

But the shield that I hid behind that prevented me from having this conversation was that I knew they were insane and unreasonable. (When I was in 7th grade, I got my first cold sore and they very solemnly told me that it looked like the burn from a crack pipe and that they were concerned that I was smoking crack. No. Seriously.) But for all the insane unreasonable things parents might say or think, it's highly unlikely that it is all insane. Refute the insanity, and don't be afraid to hear what she has to say. That will serve you better than any scheme will.

posted by jph at 7:16 AM on April 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


1) Should I switch schools and not take family money

How much do you really want to switch schools? Does the new school have a substantially better reputation? Are you friendless and unhappy at your current school? Are you at an engineering school and have realized that you want to get a degree in English literature (or vice versa)? These are all good reasons to make transferring a big priority.

That said, are you sure your mother would disapprove so strongly of transferring that she would cut off your tuition payments?

2) Is it more important to get a good college experience, or a debt free one?

Moderate amounts of debt are eminently dealable. Don't fear it, but don't go over $25k-$35k unless you're going to be a doctor, attending a top-tier law school, or have a job in investment banking lined up. You should look into what financial aid options are available rather than simply taking your mom's word for it.

3) Is there any way of doing this that will not ruin my mother's and I's relationship entirely
4) Would refusing to take family money make for a better relationship? (she has no means to control me, so I have no reason not to be entirely honest with her anymore)


Probably yes to both. Eventually, a relationship with parents transitions to one in which you're more like peers. Without money to control you with, it's possible, if not probable, that your mother will simply try to find a different way of interacting with you in ways that don't involve pulling strings over money.

5) Am i being unreasonable in wanting control over my life while still being dependent?

This isn't unreasonable at all. In an ideal world, your mother would just assume that you have "made it" by getting into college and having a sense of direction and won't micromanage your life. It's a reasonable expectation, just one that your mother has chosen to opt for.
posted by deanc at 8:54 AM on April 27, 2011


For your relationship with your mother, read Harriet Lerner's Dance of Intimacy. Really.

For the money - do not refuse money that's yours, from your grandfather, because of a difference of opinion with your mom. (That's my reading of your unclear description of your financial situation). That's dumb and prideful and perpetuates the same confused mixed up family values that your mom is perpetrating on you. Lerner's book will help you figure out how to handle the money and the relationship as an adult and not an emotional child.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:57 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like everything else concerning your mother, the person who controls what your relationship with your mother is like IS your mother.

You are 19. This isn't going to get better with time. Your mom will always depend on whatever lever she can pull to control you and your siblings.

- PLEASE PLEASE CONSULT A LAWYER ABOUT THE TRUST. It's foolish not, not noble, to refuse the trust money for school. I say this as someone who made the EXACT SAME CHOICE at your age for the exact same reason. If it's legally yours - take it. 20 years from now... just trust me here. Memail me if you want a more detailed discussion on this issue. You've got the wrong angle on things, but I really really do know where you are coming from.

There are times when being responsible for yourself is very important, YES. And walking away from what's legally yours because you've been convinced by false arguments that's the only "honorable" choice is PATENTLY irresponsible of you. DON'T FALL FOR IT.

- I'm going to gently suggest that you become neutral about whether or not your mom maintains a relationship with you. This might take therapy and lots of planning, but she's built all of these triggers into her relationship with you, and you must disarm the weapons pointed in your direction. The best way to do this is to see that she both created the weapons and wields them, therefore, using them or not is entirely her choice - not yours.

"Mom, I love you and always want to maintain a good relationship with you. I understand if you must cut me off for XYZ reason. Just know my door is always open if you change your mind."

That's it. She wants all the control? Let her have it. If her demands and threats paint her into a corner, let that be her problem to deal with. You just keep making the right decisions for you. Pretend her threats don't matter, because at the end of the day, they really really don't unless you let those threats control your life and happiness.


I wish you the best. Please memail any time if you want to discuss things further.
posted by jbenben at 10:51 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


OP, you wrote:

"How does one push away from parental control while still maintaining a close emotional relationship?"

As you may have groked from many of the responses above, you've asked a false question here. There is no way to maintain close relations with someone who seeks to dominate you once you reject the domination and control.

In other words, you can't force a close emotional bond no more than your mother can successfully continue to force control upon her now adult children.


If your mom decides to be emotionally close with you under a new mutually respectful dynamic - great. Be prepared for that to take a long time, tho.
posted by jbenben at 10:59 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing about the financial aid. You may not be normally qualified, due to age, and financial situation, etc. Most financial aid offices have a procedure for filing for an exception. I had a friend who had to do this. Her school required she have three letters from adults stating her family situation. So, even though you can hope things don't go that far, there are avenues available.

Have you considered doing some counseling at your school? Most places offer some type of low-cost counseling for students. Talking to a professional might help put this in perspective for you. Comsider the legal services, too, as Meg_Murry suggests.

This is a natural time in your life to start being more independent. Do that,
posted by annsunny at 11:27 AM on April 27, 2011


Research the trust fund. If the money was left for you by your grand parent for your education, then it is yours. It might greatly piss your mother off to look into this, but better to know.

Don't take on a huge financial burden for college if you don't have to do so. If you go out of state to another school, you'll be taking on the added burden of tuition, perhaps on your own. Is it really worth it? Would it be far enough away if you were to go to school in a college on the other side of the state? Do you absolutely need to be somewhere else?

Exactly why do you want to go away to another school? Is it because they have a degree program that you want, or is because you're trying to get some distance from your mother? Even if you and your mother are in conflict about your major, there are core classes required in all majors, and students change majors, and schools, all the time. Nothing says you can't enroll, take the core, and then change your major or transfer. Even if you only use the trust money for two years of school, that is a significant lessening of debt for you.

You didn't say if you were living at home. If you have a job with money that allows you to travel (!) then you should be living in your own apartment. If you want to be independent, why aren't you saving money for school? You could wait a year to start college, live with roommates, and sock money away so that you don't have to go into debt for school. You could work days and go to evening classes. You could work your tail off in the summer and take semesters off if you have to. That's how independent adults do it, without going into major debt. It takes longer, but it's possible.

You say your mother dictates that you spend time with her. If you have a place of your own, a job, and are going to school, then you can control the amount of time you spend with your mother simply by saying that you have studying to do, go to the library, do laundry, etc. If your grades are so important that she wants to see them each semester, that gives you the automatic 'out' to decide what you do with your own time. You'll be studying. Be polite and regretful that you can't be where she wants you to be at that time.

But if you want a close relationship with your mom, you'll still need to spend time with her and talk to her. Rather than get into a conflict of wills, be an adult and side-step the conflict. Voluntary share information that you don't mind your mother knowing, and if she has issues with what you share, than smile, nod your head, and change the subject. Let her know you're willingly spending time with her, and find things you can do that take the focus off you. Play games, go window shopping, go to a movie, cook together. Focus on her day and talk about other things. Listen to what she says about your life, and ask questions. She may even have good points to consider. Tell her that you'll think about what she says. Reserve the right to privately disagree. Change the subject if it's problematic. Do your own thing.

There are three things to remember: you can say the word no, you can say I love you without giving in, and you can smile agreeably, nod your head, and then go your own way. No is a magic word, especially when it's used politely. Don't use it unless you have to, but be firm, polite, and unemotional. Sorry mom, no. Repeat as needed with no excuses or explanation needed. Don't engage. If things get fighty, then sorry, gotta go. My grandma said it takes two to tango. So don't. When you leave and are away from her, you can shout, swear, kick the door frame, whatever, but don't get into it with her.

Fighting with parents is what kids do. Kids like to make a decision and rub an parent's face in it. Adults make a decision, stand by it without excuse or necessarily giving explanation, and live with the choices they make. Be firm, decisive, polite, and loving. It will all work out.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:33 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


To pick up on something that jbenben said, check into counseling and therapy at your school. (It's confidential.) You might not think it would be helpful for you, but I have a feeling it would be. Complex parental relationships like this are actually a pretty common thing to go in and talk about. Memail me if you'd like.
posted by wintersweet at 2:38 PM on April 27, 2011


A lot has happened since I asked about this.

My mom and I have talked a lot and resolved a lot of the issues. I learned that she went through something similar when she was my age, and has been very helpful and nice about all of this. I've stopped accepting money from her/the family, and have a VERY good job, living situation and social life lined up in the city I want to go to school in. One year of this job will have almost enough to pay for a full year of college (with in-state tuition I will get after working there a year.) Taking a year off of college may seem like a bad thing, but I think it will end up being very good for me. While going to college for free was very awesome and let me do a lot of things, I think I will be living in accordance with the values of self-made-ness that my family is so proud to have.


Thank you for all of the help and advice!!!
posted by becomingly at 1:04 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


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