My summer just fell apart
June 13, 2016 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I don't feel I can stay with my parents for the remainder of the summer. Is this justified? What do I do?

My parents have always loved me and had good intentions, and were certainly not terrible or abusive parents. However, I was always expected to meet a certain standard, related to their Catholicism - I was always too feminine, too introverted, too interested in X - which has resulted in crushing guilt which accompanies even very small decisions like buying coffee and which I am still struggling to unpack. Last summer I came out as bisexual to them; my mother tried to kick me out of the house, and my father spent several hours berating me basically for being a freak to them and to society. There has never been a hint of apology. Since then I have maintained icy relations with them, which they blame me for.

This summer my plan has been to spend as much time pursuing personal projects as possible, including going to a Zen monastery. I have practiced with a community for a very long time, nearly two years, and only took this as part of my personal identity after long consideration. Today they instigated an enormous fight over an upcoming trip, telling me that I needed to return to the "word of God" and that their criticism and judgment was something I needed to forgive them for. My mother told me that we could not maintain a good relationship if I insisted on leaving the church. And they want me to attend weekly mass with them, which I had been prepared to ask not to do and felt was kind of unreasonable. I have never felt as much guilt or shame about this part of my identity as I do after this fight.

Is it reasonable for me to want to leave? Does this constitute being an unloving child, or not being compassionate enough?

And if I do leave, what am I going to do? I have the means to sublet for the summer and pay for food, and friends who could help me out, or I could take up monastic residence for the summer. But I have no car and no job. How am I going to arrange a living situation? Can it be done?

Thank you for your help.
posted by myitkyina to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, it is reasonable. It is time, and you can do this. As for what to do, only you can really make that decision. However, my experience has been that building connection and a support network is absolutely critical to being ok through this kind of life change. I would not isolate myself monastically. I would be out living as hard and beautifully and loudly with as much love and support as possible.

What you are talking about is necessary and hard at the same time. Doing it with loving people around you is so healthy and healing. Please reach out for support. You deserve it. You are valid and worthy of love. I see you.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:57 PM on June 13, 2016 [13 favorites]

Yes this is diffucult. And yet. You have to play the long game; doing something dramatic like moving out will create a serious rift. Remember, they're concerned for your mortal soul. It's what, ten more weeks? Get a job/find other things that get you out of the house and prepare you for independent life. Once you're on your own, you can manage the information you share, set boundaries and make more considered decisions about the role your parents play in your life. Are you in college? If so, do your parents contribute a significant amount for your tuition, room and board? All the more reason to suck it up. Hang in there and treat it like anthropology research.
posted by carmicha at 9:01 PM on June 13, 2016

Children should leave the nest. If you want to be a fully-developed capable adult human being, you should leave and pursue that.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:03 PM on June 13, 2016 [21 favorites]

Get out, get out, get out. They're trying to make you into their little bonsai tree.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:04 PM on June 13, 2016 [39 favorites]

Is it reasonable for me to want to leave? Does this constitute being an unloving child, or not being compassionate enough?

Yes to the first, NO to the second. I'm assuming you're legally an adult; it sounds like maybe you're home from college for the summer? Are your parents paying your tuition, and might they stop if you moved out? I'm just suggesting you carefully weigh all consequences of your action and their potential reaction. I'm an atheist but I still attend church services on special occasions (e.g., a funeral mass) because I think showing support for people is more important than having to spend an hour listening to what is, from my personal perspective, pretty much the same as readings from the phone book.

Bisexuality does not make you a freak. It's just one configuration of human sexuality, valid as any other. Full stop.

If you decide to leave, I'd avoid monastic residence because it sounds isolating, which is the last thing you need. Find a job (the go-to job for inexperienced college kids is waiter/waitress or barista; maybe your college has some summer jobs?). Lean on friends a little if you need to. Get a bus pass and/or a bicycle. Do you have less-religious extended family members who might help you out? I realize this stuff is scary but everyone does it eventually.

If you decide to stay, remember that nobody can force you to believe what they believe. If you can stomach an hour a week listening to priests, then that may be a small price to pay. Look at it as a study project. Even if you're not Catholic it's probably of educational value to have read the bible. Especially because it contains a lot of passages that contradict things the 'devout' often say or do, and it's pretty fun when you can throw the word of God back at someone to point out they're being an ass.
posted by axiom at 9:08 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

As you can tell by the above comments this is a really divisive issue.

If you don't have a support network and no financial independence, I would suggest sticking it out for the rest of the summer and using that time to lay the groundwork for the next year or so. Speak to the people at your Zen monastery about your challenges and see if they have any resources or community members that you can work with. Do they work with any counselors or therapists who could see you on a sliding pay scale and help you through the next months? If there are large volunteer projects you could get really involved and focus on that and the relationships you can build. Make your own safe spaces wherever you can.

But frankly what you describe does sound like abuse. I would not blame you or judge you in any way for packing up what you've got and getting out of there ASAP. It's up to you for what you can stand. I do not think you needing to establish your own identity and being a different faith in any way makes you unloving or uncompassionate. I do not think that you moving away from your demanding, obtuse, and emotionally abusive parents in any way makes you bad.

If you think that you can stick it out without compromising yourself to the point of self-harm, it would be perhaps smart to do so. But that doesn't make it the right choice for you. You can be strong in either way, staying or going. You have to choose, though, and you can't let them pull you back in. Either you're there temporarily just for the summer and never again, or you're out right away with less groundwork laid. Both are possible, both are big challenges. What's the thing you think you can endure best?
posted by Mizu at 9:13 PM on June 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

My parents have always loved me and had good intentions, and were certainly not terrible or abusive parents....Last summer I came out as bisexual to them; my mother tried to kick me out of the house, and my father spent several hours berating me basically for being a freak to them and to society.

This is abuse. Abuse doesn't require physical violence.

You don't deserve this kind of treatment. It will be entirely reasonable for you to do whatever you need to do to get out of the situation.

That said, if you are still financially dependent on your parents for schooling, some strategy may be required. I'm familiar with the sense of utter overthrow of personal boundaries that comes with coerced attendance at church services. But it's a familiar ritual. You can tune out. Having to drop out from college, etc., after getting disowned will throw a real wrench in the machinery.

You may also want to introduce your mom to some reading on the potential harmonies between Catholicism and Zen practice. Thomas Merton took considerable interest in Zen practice. (You don't have to view it in this way, but it may help your mom.)
posted by praemunire at 9:18 PM on June 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

I don't mean to thread sit, but I am entirely financially independent as regards my schooling.
posted by myitkyina at 9:23 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Heh. Are you reading It's particularly apropos today. Joyce and Becky have returned to Joyce's parents house for the weekend. Becky has run away from her fundie home because she is lesbian, following which there were serious altercations. Joyce stands by her friend and discovers how unreasonably fundie her own parents are. Much tension! (You should probably read the whole thing but today's strip made me think of you.)
posted by Omnomnom at 9:29 PM on June 13, 2016

I'm so sorry for the way they've treated you. It is completely reasonable for you to want to leave, and in no way constitutes being an unloving or ungrateful child: you can still be loving and compassionate from a safe distance. I think people who haven't been in this type of situation often don't understand the toll it can take on you, and I think you will benefit hugely from not being under the same roof as your parents even if it's at the cost of some economic stability.

That said, I think it's also wise to be strategic in this situation. I had something longer typed out about needing to be careful about financial aid (your parents' income usually counts even if you are estranged from them, which is a maddening fact of life for a lot of LGBTQ college students from non-accepting households). That update is good news. If you go to college in a different town, maybe you could leverage contacts there into a job. Depending on your parents' values, a work-study type of job in another town may seem like an acceptable reason to move out for the summer; it is at least an option you could explore. An increasing number of schools also have LGBT centers (or in an affiliated institution, or in a nearby larger city) where you could talk to a counselor who might have more concrete resources for people in your situation. And yes, definitely talk to your friends about exploring other living situations, from couchsurfing up to something more permanent. Basically, do your research, run the numbers, and come up with a plan you feel is viable.  In the meantime, if you can stand going to Mass and using it (for example) to silently practice meditation, particularly if you know the situation is temporary, it may buy you some time, but I'm sympathetic if you don't feel like that will be possible.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:45 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also think it's reasonable to want to leave, and to start looking at your options on how you can spend the rest of your summer. Neither of those things means that you have to actually leave but at least you can be prepared should your situation worsen. Wanting your beliefs, practices, identity, etc., to be supported and respected by your family is normal. This is something I struggle with, but please show yourself some compassion and love, too.
posted by sm1tten at 10:01 PM on June 13, 2016

Let me suggest a third option: do you have a godparent, or godparents? If you do, and they are more chill than your parents, see if you can arrange to stay with them for a few weeks to "think about things." Helping you out, spiritually and practically, is basically their job as your godparents.

Or maybe just take a vacation in general and stay with another relative or with friends, and tell your parents you are seriously considering what they have said but you think it is best that you consider it yourself because you could never make a religious decision that was not sincere. If you can drop a biblical reference to Jesus wanting people to come to him/loving doubters, this would be the time to do it.

I suggest stalling here because it would be best if you could avoid this particular conflict until you and your stuff are in a place where you know you have enough food, a place to stay, things like that without dipping into your savings.

Stalling will also give you time to avoid being reactive and allow you be more strategic about this.

Good luck -- you really do not deserve to be treated like this.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:23 PM on June 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

I would have (and did) bail for a lot less than that! I always had summer jobs that paid and included housing and food (summer camp, organic farms, nanny). If you want some suggestions and a possible lead (that may even accommodate your zen thing) MeMail me.

Good luck!
posted by jrobin276 at 1:20 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have much to contribute on the practicalities, but just to offer a parents' perspective on the question of whether you're being an unloving son:

I try hard to pass on my most important values to my kids.

I want them to be good people who lead meaningful, happy lives, and of course, I believe my values are the best way of achieving that. If I didn't think that, they wouldn't be my values.

But I'm human, and that means I have undoubtedly got some things wrong. And if my kids follow some advice of mine even though they know in their hearts it's wrong for them... and if the result is that they miss out on leading full, meaningful lives... I might be happy in the short run because they're listening to me, but in the long run, I would realize that I had robbed them of true happiness, and I would be absolutely crushed.

So, for today, for this summer, and for your life as a whole, the kindest, most loving, and most compassionate thing you can do for your parents is to figure out what kind of life is meaningful and joyful for you, and to pursue that life as thoughtfully as you can. Sometimes that will involve accepting the values your parents taught you, and sometimes it will involve rejecting them. Sometimes it will involve accepting them but in ways your parents never would have expected -- for example, it sounds like regular spiritual practice is as important to you as to them, but for you, it's Zen practice rather than Catholicism.

Your parents may not see it now, and in the short term, it may cause them unhappiness. That's unavoidable. But in the long run, by being true to yourself, you are sparing them crushing regrets. One day, when they see that you've built a happy and meaningful life for yourself, I hope that they will understand that, and be proud that they gave you the basic tools to build that life. But even if they never see it that way... you will still have done the right thing.
posted by yankeefog at 2:53 AM on June 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's not clear from your question, but if you only need to break even this summer you could look into WWOOF. It's 4-6hrs work a day in exchange for room and board. I've met lovely people, it leaves good downtime, and would get you out of the house. I'm sure there are some zen places too... Lots of interesting places really. Some good links here.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:44 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

First of all, I'm so sorry you're going through this, and I think it's totally reasonable for you to want to leave.

That said, I notice that you said your parents blame you for your currently icy relationship, that they're still paying all your school costs, and that you're living with them for the summer, a year after you originally came out to them. That suggests to me that that even though they're still struggling with their reactions to your bisexuality, they haven't disowned you either and still see you as their responsibility. So I wonder if you could try talking to them, maybe with the help of a third party like a counselor or even clergy if you can find someone you trust. Ultimately, if you don't want to sever ties with them, you will have to take steps toward forgiving them for their criticism and judgment. And maybe they will be capable, over time, of taking steps toward accepting you.

I've had conversations with my parents over fundamental differences in values, over which they have threatened to cut off our relationship entirely. With persistence, over time, we've managed to get over these issues -- not agree, but at least stop fighting -- and I've been surprised to find that behind what I see as intolerance and control, they have real fears and concerns that I can understand.
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:46 AM on June 14, 2016

Just addressing the Catholic side of things (as a semi-expert in that area) my experience is that there are many unkind and un-Christian acts perpetrated on the basis of "saving someone's immortal soul". The idea that it's OK to be awful with someone today to save them eternal torment is sometimes a convenient excuse for abuse. I always ask such people to cite situations where Christ was ruthless with someone for the sake of saving their immortal soul. The practical matters already addressed above remain, but please know that you are on firm ground theologically as a precious child of God:

“We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters' side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents. Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance? Dogmatic assertions on matters which the children understand and their elders don't, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously ---sometimes of their religion--- insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question "Why are they always out? Why do they like every house better than their home?" Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960)
posted by forthright at 4:36 AM on June 14, 2016 [13 favorites]

(Chickenmagazine, OP made clear he's paying for his own school.)
posted by uberchet at 6:02 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

If they brought you up well-fed and of sufficient intellectual development and independence to go to college self-funded and decide not to be an obedient Catholic*, your parents have done their job. They don't owe you anything, including but not limited to conceding the correctness of your decision not to be an obedient Catholic. But what do you owe them? That's for you to say, but own it as an adult in any event. Moving out is an entirely appropriate thing to to do if you don't want to have the conversation any longer.

*Current Catholic dogma does not make sinful to be or even identify as bisexual, but it does make it sinful to have sex with someone of the same gender. (Note that bisexuality even in a chaste person is still considered "objectively disordered" and so while not sinful can disable you from, for example, Holy Orders.)
posted by MattD at 6:43 AM on June 14, 2016

I can say from experience that this kind of treatment can stay with a person for a long time. It's exhausting to be told that you're a freak to society. Please know that you're not a freak to society. It's also helpful for me to remember that in my case people didn't mean me harm by their beliefs even though that's what resulted. They had good intentions about what was an absolute right or wrong and were trying to pass that along. If I were in your position I would leave, but not abruptly if possible. Taking a bit of time to arrange for the best options for housing, work, etc. might be valuable enough to endure a few more weeks in your current situation. You'll have to decide how harmful it is to live in your current situation each day and that is a hard thing to figure out especially when you're living it.

Shame and guilt can build up over time and do terrible things to you mentally and physically. If you can, look into therapists who you can talk to about your shame and guilt. I wish I'd started therapy long before I did. It took me a few people before I found a good fit, so keep in mind that therapists are just people and it's ok if they are not what you need. A good therapist would rather you stop seeing them to find a better fit than have you getting nowhere.

I would avoid monastic residence right now for the isolation mentioned above and also because it sounds like you're vulnerable right now. A faith or practice should be something you come to because you choose it, not because it's thrust upon you. Living that immersed in a faith, belief system, or day to day way of life can make it seem like the only way. I am not saying that your Zen monastery is coercive or would do this. I am saying I am much stronger in my beliefs now because I came to them through study, introspection, prayer, questioning, and looking at various things rather than it being the only package presented to me as was the case when I was young.

But I have no car and no job. How am I going to arrange a living situation? Can it be done?

Yes it can be done. It's not easy but people do these things every day. If you're in a fairly populated area, you should be able to find a job of some sort. I have gone without a car for periods of time and it was fine but it really depends on proximity to work and/or transit options, so there isn't an easy answer to that. You mentioned the means to sublet. This might be the best option because of the temporary nature of a sublet situation.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 8:16 AM on June 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure how old you are, or where you live, but my American ideology is that children leave the nest as soon as they are able and willing to care for themselves. You sound like you meet both of those criteria. Nothing fosters focus on personal projects like living independently, because your independent living is going to be the most personal project of your life (speaking both grandly and generally).

As an aside, it's reasonable for your parents to have expectations of you if you've living with them. That's just how it works. It's difficult to expect a child's parents to avoid triggering their kids when their kids are still dependent on them. Once you establish yourself independently--which you can certainly do without a car--you can more easily develop an adult relationship with your folks. And that includes a reasonable expectation that they respect your boundaries.

If you don't live where public transit is a reality, you'll have more difficulty finding independence. If so, look into buying a cheapie beater of a used car. The trajectory for most young people (myself and my kids included) has been car/transit->job->apartment.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:34 AM on June 14, 2016

Catholic here. Ironically, in my teenage and college years my (non - believing) parents gave me quite a bit of grief about my faith. So it can go both ways 😉

Came here to say that moving out (after college, long story) was the best thing I could have done for my relationship with them. Things got much, much better. Moving out is not synonymous with estrangement.

Rooting for you, and feel free to message me if you need to vent.
posted by M. at 9:42 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Treat yourself with loving-kindness.
posted by Ruki at 12:55 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sorry! Somehow I misread "I am entirely financially independent" as "I am entirely financially dependent."

Anyway, best of luck. You will figure this out. You're already doing pretty well if you're able to sublet, pay for food, and have friends you can lean on. You're in a good position to move out if that's what you want -- it sounds like you're preparing to go back to school in the fall, so you just need to scrape by for a few months if you decide to leave. Frankly, that's a short enough time to crash on various people's couches if that's what you need to do.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:17 PM on June 14, 2016

Momm, Dad, I love you and respect you.I understand that it's very hard for you to see me making different spiritual decisions. Perhaps you'll feel differently or at least be more tolerant with a little bit of time.

Stay in touch at least loosely. Be as loving as you can be. I say this as a parent and as a daughter. But of course, follow your own life, beliefs and decisions. I think they don't realize what a wonderful child you are to them.
posted by theora55 at 8:06 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think they don't realize what a wonderful child you are to them

My boyfriend went through this situation with his parents (as do a lot of good kids, I think). He was so obedient, so attentive to their emotional needs, so busy trying to put on a facade that made them happy that he realized that he was deeply unhappy, and once he started trying to live his own life (nothing awful! Just moving out, doing normal adult things) they flipped a lid. Multiple times. They've since gotten over it and there is peace.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:23 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might try looking at it from your parents point of view. Yes, you want their unconditional approval and love. But from their point of view, you are at great risk - and it is a spiritual emergency. They are not relativists; for them, your soul is in great jeopardy. This perspective makes it imperative to rescue you. From their view, the act of love is to save you from a path that is very dangerous.

Okay, what to do?

First be patient. Be very patient. Understand that what feels like betrayal and anger is at its base, fear (for you) and love.

Second, find some way to reassure them that they are not losing their adored child. They are probably very afraid.

You might look at Pope Francis' speeches. He has initiated ties with a number of Zen communities, including Thich Nhat Hahn. There may be excerpts you can send to your parents that will give them some comfort. Just the fact that you reference the pope may help. Just the fact that he may have ties to the monastic tradition you are involved with may help. And frankly, it sounds like you, like your parents, are a deeply spiritual person. You might emphasize the similarities to them.

Good luck!
posted by zia at 2:56 AM on June 16, 2016

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