How honest am I obligated to be with my parents about dropping college classes?
November 14, 2012 2:43 PM   Subscribe

How honest am I obligated to be with my parents about dropping college classes?

So, I am in community college completing prerequisites for nursing school. This has been a difficult semester for me for a number of reasons, and as a result I have been depressed and allowed myself to fall behind in two of the three classes I am taking. It got to the point where I decided to drop them and take a "W" rather than take the hit to my GPA. I felt ashamed of myself for failing and have let my parents, who I live with and who are funding my education, believe that I am still taking those courses. Like, I drive off at the appropriate times and lie about what's going on in those classes if they ask questions. I feel very guilty and am trying to decide whether or not to fess up.

It is probably relevant to mention that a similar failure to cope with depression led me to drop out of a 4 year university 2 years ago, 2 quarters into my freshman year. This was a huge disappointment to myself and my parents, and something I still feel ashamed of. However, they were very supportive and calm, and helped me form new goals and get back on my feet.

It is safe to say that they would not be furious or kick me out or anything, but aside from not wanting to disappoint them, I don't want to dredge up old discussions about my mental health. I am doing a lot better overall, and I feel like this semester my depression was an isolated incident resulting from specific circumstances that I won't get into here. I recently got my CNA certification and have started working for a home health care agency, and am hoping to move out of my parent's house soon. I know I will have to fight them on that if they think I'm not stable.

A major source of my guilt, aside from lying, is that I am wasting their money (it's far past the point where they could be refunded for those courses). On the other hand, my going to community college and transferring to a state school is saving them a lot more money than if I was still attending my previous 4 year university, especially since my dad works for the state school system and we get a tuition discount. Also, despite dropping these classes I am still well on track to transfer exactly when I told them I would. Dropping these classes hasn't really affected anything. I don't think they would ever find out, but if they did obviously my lying would damage my relationship with them.

Although I hate keeping up the charade, it's only for 5 more weeks and the idea of confessing is far more repulsive. Do I need to tell them, or can I keep this to myself?
posted by efsrous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Keep yourself accountable by telling them. I mean you basically just typed four paragraphs saying you should tell them but are wimping out on it so... not gonna give you permission to keep skating by
posted by MangyCarface at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

You need to tell them.

On the most surface level, they invested in this period of learning for you and it's their right to know the state of that investment.

At the most essential level, they are your parents, and they love you and want to know if you are struggling.

You can reassure them about your trajectory and intentions, which is likely to ease the conversation.
posted by batmonkey at 2:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Obligated? I guess you aren't, but you should take responsibility for yourself.

They will find out in 5 weeks. The difference is that you can get it over with in 1 minute or 5 weeks of angst, lying, crushing guilt and at the end of that you are much worse off than before.

Who we are comes down to the choices we make in bad situations. I'm sorry you're dealing with depression, I understand that very well, but you clearly need help so you should tell your parents and get help right now.

Plus, it's entirely possible you aren't as dead in the water in those classes as you think you are. You seem so convinced things have to be one way while going to extreme lengths to conform reality briefly to what you want.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is called growing up, my friend. Yes, you should tell them. Suck it up and let them know. It'll take a lot more effort and will lift a huge burden of guilt if you are just honest.
posted by HeyAllie at 2:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you already know that it is both wise and morally correct to tell your parents this and are asking us to be your external conscious.

Morally correct because it is their money but much more importantly, wise because whether or not the depression this semester was an isolated incident it is still something you need to keep an eye on. Your parents have been very supportive and calm in helping you to manage your mental health in the past, I think you need to be open with them so that they can be as effective as possible in maintaining that support for you.

Although I hate keeping up the charade, it's only for 5 more weeks and the idea of confessing is far more repulsive

I think you will feel much calmer and at ease after you have told them. I'm sure that it will be easier *today* not to tell them, but then you will wake up tomorrow and still feel this way. If you tell them then you can wake up tomorrow without that load to drag around all day.

Anyway, that is my opinion.
posted by atrazine at 2:54 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Put aside your parents' potential feelings about this for a moment and consider which will be harder for you to deal with right now, emotionally: lying to your parents, or dealing with the fallout of telling the truth?

Personally, I would wait til the end of the semester and after exams were done to tell them, because who fucking needs the added stress? No one, that's who. (But yes, I would tell them. Just not right away.)
posted by elizardbits at 2:54 PM on November 14, 2012

Is the reason you don't want to tell them that you want to hide how much your depression continues to affect you because you're afraid they will pressure you to seek treatment? Because if so, that is a bad reason to keep this a secret.
posted by prefpara at 3:04 PM on November 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

I feel you should tell them. As you said, they would probably be supportive, and they are paying for your tuition, room and board. PLUS, presumably this means you will have to do more classes later, so it affects them (even though they can't get the money back for this term anymore).

Honestly, I think you should've told them before you actually dropped out. But what's done is done. Better late than never (truly!!).

Also, it's ok for college to be an uncomfortable adjustment. I did well academically but basically failed socially for the first two years. I have a friend who skipped a term freshman year because it was too hard, but caught up after that. It's supposed to be challenging and a growing experience.
posted by ethidda at 3:12 PM on November 14, 2012

The problem with depression is that it might you feel ashamed to ask for help. This shame leads to further isolation. It sounds like your parents would want to offer support. There is no shame in asking and accepting support. In fact, studies in psychology have identified the ability to ask for support as one of the characteristic of successful people.

The depressive episode might be behind you. But the best way to make sure you don't relapse again is to learn when to ask for support.
posted by Milau at 3:12 PM on November 14, 2012

Tell them and move on. This happens. It is ok. Just don't give up. You only lose if you give up.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 3:19 PM on November 14, 2012

it's really hard to tell what's going on here. if your parents are abusive, then that changes everything. but assuming they're not, you are seriously only hurting yourself if you lie about this. think of it this way: you feel guilty now, right, because something has gone wrong? tomorrow, you will still feel guilty about the first thing, but you'll also feel guilty because you kept something from your folks which is kind of their business too since they're paying. also, you'll feel like crap because you avoided the issue instead of dealing with it. so that's three things you'll feel bad about, instead of 1. i think it's safe to say that it is 100% guaranteed that you will feel worse if you don't take action here.

honestly, you sound pretty darn depressed right now. if i had to guess i would say that you're doing, right this very minute, the same thing that got you in trouble the first time - that is, you got depressed, and instead of telling someone and getting some help, you kept it to yourself and rode it all the way to the bottom. that is something that depressed people do every day. you can do it differently this time. (also, you keep describing what's happening as failing, failure, etc. - from the outside, it sounds like you're struggling with mental health issues - nothing to do with failure at all).
posted by facetious at 3:30 PM on November 14, 2012

Lately I've been really regretting the times in the past when I wasn't up front with other people about being depressed. (Partly because I didn't recognize it, but that's complicated.) There's no way for people to understand and be compassionate if they don't know what's going on. (This advice only applies in cases where it is safe and the people in question have the capacity to be understanding and compassionate, but it sounds like that is true in this case.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:30 PM on November 14, 2012

I don't want to dredge up old discussions about my mental health. I am doing a lot better overall, and I feel like this semester my depression was an isolated incident resulting from specific circumstances that I won't get into here.

You have to tell them and own it, and own the mental health issues too. If it's something that's come up previously, and has come up again, it will come up in the future, and the better the plan you have for handling that the better off you are. If you tend toward depression it's an opportunity to learn how to be more assertive in dealing with it early, and be more accepting of it and generous to yourself--that if things tank you might need to back off and that might mean dropping some classes or doing other things to attend to your mental health.

There is nothing wrong with this, and nothing to be ashamed of--it's feeling like there's something to be ashamed of that made you feel like you had to hide it from your parents and if they make you feel that way, that is objectionable -- you wouldn't let them make you feel bad about having epilepsy or diabetes. Just go ahead and take care of yourself and don't let anyone tell you different.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:52 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

My son did this, and I was so disappointed that he chose to lie than just tell me his situation. My trust in him took a big hit, and I told him so. Things are much better now for his, but I sincerely hope he ( and you) never make the choice to lie again.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:19 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Their Money. You have to tell them everything.

You don't have to feel bad about it but you have to tell them.
posted by French Fry at 4:38 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell them, then use the time you've been killing by having to be out of the house at certain times to prepare for next semester.
posted by coupdefoudre at 4:45 PM on November 14, 2012

I was going to say that it's not too important, and that you're an adult and can handle your education whatever way works best for you.

But then I got to the part where you live with your parents and are pretending to them that you're still going to these classes. Which has turned "I go to college every semester on my parents' dime, but it's on me to manage my schedule" into "I am lying to my parents every day."

Just tell them.

Frankly, the fact that you can't just say, "It turns out I don't have time to devote the right amount of attention to Bio 215 this semester, so I'm going to drop it and do it properly over the summer," hints that there might be significant communication issues between you and your parents.
posted by Sara C. at 4:46 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If this was an employer, or you have a particularly bad relationship with your parents, I might understand keeping it under wraps. But you really should come clean.

The main reason is that Depression Lies. It will tell you it's this one isolated thing, and you don't need to get help every single time. It will tell you that it's natural to get overwhelmed with classes, because they're really hard and you were way out of your depth. It will tell you that you shouldn't even bring it up, because it's not like other people can or want to help you.

And sometimes it will be true. In a bad year, most of the time it will be true. Sometimes a bad day is just a bad day. Sometimes you sign up for a class that you aren't prepared for. Sometimes you just need to buckle up and get through a rough patch.

But you will never be fully-equipped to know which is which. And without having outside accountability, it's way too easy to make too many excuses and avoid seeking help when you really need it.

Your parents have been supportive of you. Believe in that, and trust them.

And as an added bonus, I found that when I was willing to let go of that teenage need for absolute privacy, my parents found it much easier to stop clinging. My dad let me know that he stopped worrying about me, and started considering me his adult daughter the day I had come to him for some advice. Usually I would either ask for help, or simply let them know whatever decision I'd come to.

Yes, it's a fairly subtle distinction. What he meant is that they trusted that I would tell them about my problems and include them in my life. Their ability to protect and support me was unchanged. But at that point, it was just logistics about where I lived. They didn't need to keep reading my diary to know when to pull out their parenting skills they'll never quite outgrow.
posted by politikitty at 4:49 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

If it helps, this is common enough (pretending to your parents to still be in classes) that I hear or read about it every so often. So take heart that you are not a mutant or terrible person. And you have to tell your parents, because it will mean the least pain and suffering for you, overall.
posted by zeek321 at 5:27 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your responses everyone. It was definitely a reality check. I guess I'm in a fair bit of denial about my own emotional state. I feel terrified and upset and am kind of on the verge of crying in a public library right now, but I'm glad I posted this and that the responses were so honest. Some of them were even kind. So thank you.
posted by efsrous at 5:44 PM on November 14, 2012

I have gotten into the habit of openly and frequently mentioning my depression to friends & family (and some employers, although that's dicier). Because I trust them and they have repaid me many times over by noticing when I'm starting to...slide? and cluing me in about it. I, and likely many people with depression, are singularly bad at self-evaluating for depression.

You definitely don't have to tell them. But you sound like you want to and are rationalizing reasons not to (isolated incident*, it won't affect anything, etc). If it comes to a vote, I say tell them, have a plan ready for the discussion (almost a FAQ), and be honest.

*It's amazing the number of isolated incidences of depression I've had!
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:46 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Efsrous, I was you 20 years ago down to the leaving for "school" and hanging out at a library all day until "class" was over. I had so much angst about doing this and had no intention of telling my parents, but my mom soon figured it out and confronted me. I was SO relieved when the truth came out. You are taking up so much energy just trying to cover your tracks here. You're young, and it's normal to struggle with transitions like this. I promise you will feel so much better if you let them know what's going on. Good luck.
posted by Sal and Richard at 5:55 PM on November 14, 2012

You will feel so much less anxiety when you tell them!
posted by radioamy at 6:22 PM on November 14, 2012

From a personal experience, I can tell you it's a better world after you tell them.
posted by Atreides at 6:24 PM on November 14, 2012

Just tell them. It's like ripping a bandaid off. All the avoidance is part of the depression. Start choosing today not to let it control you. Learn to recognize those feelings as soon as you can.
posted by empath at 8:27 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with everyone else about telling them, for your own peace of mind. But I also want to add a thought: If you received financial aid for the courses you withdrew from, it's possible you might still be able to keep that that aid for use later. It all depends on the terms of your aid, and you might consider asking the financial aid office at your school if you think this might apply to you. (I know you said your folks were helping you financially, but I bring it up just in case you are also receiving aid via the school.)

Good luck. Remember, this too shall pass.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:27 PM on November 14, 2012

"And as an added bonus, I found that when I was willing to let go of that teenage need for absolute privacy, my parents found it much easier to stop clinging. "

This is so true. Your parents start treating you as an adult when you start being upfront about your life. However, it always complicates things when you're technically an adult, but you're still depending on your parents for living expenses.

I was in college very recently, and had similar worries about disappointing my parents when I transferred schools or did poorly in a class. Almost always, I was worried about something that I shouldn't have been worried about. Your parents are also people, and they also have been in situations like this, even if they haven't told you about them.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 10:32 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have so been there, only I wasn't smart enough to W the classes, I just didn't show up and got the F.

There's a story my family tells with affection now, about how I went to school to take the exam and it was so long since I had attended the class that I forgot where the classroom was.

You need a script, "Mom and Dad, I'm having some problems with depression again. The two classes X and Y, I was doing so poorly in them that I went ahead and dropped them, rather than accept the terrible grade I was earning in them. I feel so ashamed and unhappy, and I don't want to disappoint you. I think I need to see a doctor about my mental health and I'm going to have to repeat these classes next semester. I'm so sorry."

No parent, after hearing what you've poured out to us, will do anything but comfort you, assure you and see that you get the help you need.

Sweetie, I think we've all been there, I know I have. You're doing fine, and once you feel comfortable opening the dialogue with your folks, the whole situation will be so much easier.

Be good to yourself. I finally graduated after 7 years and went on to get an MBA. Depression sucks, but it doesn't have to be debilitating. It's an illness, not a failing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 AM on November 15, 2012

ok couldn't get myself to read all the comments to see if this suggestion is already here: remind yourself and your parents that it's a success on your part to have withdrawn from the classes before it would hit your gpa (assuming you would have actually gotten terrible grades- I'll take it as a given that you would have)

its not like it would have been better for anyone for you to keep going and get Fs and on top of everything have to repay for the courses anyway.

Good for you! So yes tell your parents, but give them and yourself the benefit of that spin.

"Mom, dad, I have bad news and good news. I was doing really badly in those classes, so I decided to withdraw. I wish I could've kept going, but I'm happy that I had the sense to drop out before it hurt my GPA"
posted by saraindc at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2012

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