No Support from Family
May 1, 2011 1:44 PM   Subscribe

My friend needs some advice on how to handle family that is not supportive of the positive changes she is making in her life.

She was born in Mexico but now lives in Southern California within 50 miles of most of her extended family. When she was young, she had to deal with alcohol/domestic violence issues with extended family that she spent a lot of time with.

In high school, she could not get into the University she wanted, so she decided to go to the local city college as it has a high transfer rate to that University and also because it was save her money. When she graduates, she will be the first of her family to go college.

She also recently moved out of her parent's home. Her parents were very controlling and annoying, often calling her right after her work or class was scheduled to end to see where she was and when she would be home. They were also distracting her school performance and making her very depressed. Any of these choices she has made have been met with ridicule by her family and extended family. In reference to her college, they will say things like "I thought college was supposed to make you smart" and other extremely mean and insulting jokes. Unfortunately, she is having a very hard time ignoring all of this. In fact, it is causing her massive amounts of anxiety and stress because she is constantly trying to prove them all wrong. Most of her stress and depression can be linked back to how her family is treating her.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Many are in similar situations with cultural and/or idealogical differences between themselves and their family. She is trying to not just "deal with it" but make changes or take advice that will help her come to terms with it. She doesn't want this to be a issue that will be manifesting stress and depression for the rest of her life.

She went to family counseling during high school but did not get anything out of it. She said it was effectively "How does that make you feel?" every session and that it would just depress her further.
posted by mungaman to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think a mentor would be an excellent idea, OR finding a group of young people who are enduring the same sort of obstacles. Not sure how you would find either. Most colleges do have some sort of counseling, and might be able to point her in the direction of these or other positive things.
posted by Leah at 1:53 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Build a solid network of caring and supportive friends she respects and who respect her.

Try another counselor - through her college she should have access to free counseling services. If the counselor's approach isn't helpful, she should say so. "I know that's supposed to be helpful but it makes me feel worse. Could we try something else please?"

Her family will need some time to adjust. They *will* adjust. Eventually, it boils down to this: she can be in their lives or not, and if they make it unpleasant for her to be around them ... she won't be around or in touch that much. This doesn't need to be said, but it's implicitly understood. She has the all the cards here - *they* need to please *her*. I think they realize this and are trying to twist the power into their favor. If they can keep her feeling upset, they maintain some sort of control in what probably seems frightening to them - her moving into a world they don't understand.

She needs to clearly show that she loves and cares for them and that her education does not make her think less of them, and that she also has firm boundaries. The book "The Dance of Intimacy" has a lot of good ideas on ways to gently but clearly draw those lines. If they say mean things, she can end the conversation. She doesn't have to put up with it.
posted by bunderful at 2:00 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

My previous career involved directing my college's TRiO program. TRiO is an umbrella term describing several different federally funded higher education programs for first-generation students administered in nearly every college in the country. At most colleges, regardless of the TRiO type they have, there are several academic, student service, and social support activities and opportunities that encourage and assist students describing the identical scenario you present here about your friend.

I think what's great about these programs is that it acknowledges that first-generation students have issues and challenges above and beyond what other students and profs can imagine, and confronts them in really positive, active ways. It's reassuring to go on a retreat with other students who have stories to share like your friend and then have facilitators who teach how to deal with those familial and internal issues in specific ways.

I would encourage your friend to go to student services and say "I need TRiO or whatever program this college has set up for first generation students." Sometimes, the programs are set up with the multi-cultrual groups, sometimes student services, sometimes student affairs (and this is community college AND four year). If her college doesn't have TRiO, she should be able to join TRiO groups at a neighboring college or community college. Here's a link with a brief overview of some of the different programs.

I was a first gen college student, myself, and I really miss working with these students. It's a really special under-lauded federal program, and many folks work with it, in some way, for life. I hope your friend gets the support she needs to understand whats going on and enjoy her accomplishments. Memail if you have specific questions.
posted by rumposinc at 2:03 PM on May 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the crap coming from her family is due to their own insecurities and low self-esteem. That knowledge doesn't make their barbs much easier to bear, but she must know it's not about her.

When things came to a head with my father, I decided I was done. I didn't speak to him for months. I would call my mother and if he answered, I'd simply ask to speak with her and I didn't engage him whatsoever. I stopped visiting, too. He finally got the message and started being civil to me. Now, if he starts in on something (usually something about "your President"), I tell him I won't listen to or engage in that sort of conversation. If he continues, I say good-bye and hang up. I haven't had to use that method for a while; usually just saying, "I'm not going to do this with you," makes him stop. Maybe she could try something like that.
posted by cooker girl at 2:05 PM on May 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

There's a view that laying down the law is best done face-to-face and it's something of a cop-out to relate that stuff in e-mail or a letter, but I can live with the latter options to relate frustration, sadness, discomfort, etc., with what the people have been saying and say that either it stops or the interaction stops.

Is there one relatively understanding person in the family she could talk to, ask that person to make it clear to everyone else that this behavior really needs to stop?

With the age of the student involved, etc., understood that it would be no small challenge to take this approach, but it's hard to see how it will get significantly better if she doesn't.
posted by ambient2 at 4:23 PM on May 1, 2011

Until she changes her mindset that her choice of education and future life is her own and she needs not prove to everyone else how smart/capable/worthy she is, she'll never be able to take any effective approach to dealing with this verbal abuse and mockery.
posted by kirstk at 5:43 PM on May 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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