How do you succeed academically [or you know, in any manner] when your family doesn't value education?
November 5, 2006 8:43 AM   Subscribe

How do you succeed academically [or you know, in any manner] when your family doesn't value education?

(Yes it's long, but wonderfully paragraphed! You might need to pop some corn or brew a coffee though...)

Them: Both parents on disability, sister is a single mom who watches QVC all day and is on welfare, 33 and still living at home with a 12 year old. None of them go out/get out, either with friends [they have none], nights out, or whatever.

Me: 20[cough]something, planning to move out next year, steady full-time [min wage though] job for three years, no college, three years out of a disasterous mindfuck of a relationship. Currently juggling parttime work and doing a business course in a local community college [subjects like accountancy, bus admin, marketing, etc.] and off to university then for business/accountancy degree.

The problem is my family. I'll be the first to go to college. When I revealed I wanted to take my current business course, the first words out of dad's mouth were: "Why'd you want to do that for?" He thinks since I've got a [min wage] job already, I'm crazy for wanting to get edumacated and I should be happy as I am.

Mother voraciously believes in education and in "furthering myself" - until she realizes that work will be involved [for me]. Then come peals of "You're working too hard! You need to take it easy!" or she and my sister just constantly interrupt me when I'm working/studying with inane things like "Look at what the cat is doing / the TSV / has the mailman come yet / Can you fill the dishwasher?"

Next year, I'm getting out and into student accomodation. I'm actually dreading telling them this because their reaction won't be: "Wow you went back to college as a mature[!] student, got voted to the student council and running for a place on the board of management, set for distinctions in all subjects - well done!" In fact anything I ever achieve is met with, "Well we knew you had brains all along," [as in, whatever I just achieved doesnt really count because of my "brains", whatever that means].

Instead, their reaction to me moving out of the house will be: "Why do you want to do that for? What's wrong with here? [Truth: no heating, leaky roof, 30 minute drive from college, you all drive me insane] Who's going to look after your dog? [Truth: they look after him now just fine when I'm at college/working]. *I* wouldn't be moving in with a load of strangers, who'd you be living with? [Truth: uh, strangers?]. Remember that woman who got murdered? [Truth: her husband did it, stop your scaremongering] Students these days are drunk off their heads. It wont be safe, you'll be wasting your money, you'll be murdered in your sleep, MIXED DORMS??!?!?...etc."

Honestly I just think:
a) They're afraid their lackey [i.e. me] will leave
b) Someone might make them look bad by succeeding
c) They think stepping outside ones door means DEATH RAPE MURDER PILLAGE DRUGS

So now I'm sitting on this whole thing of moving out and it's a constant worry. Yeah, duh, I'm a grown adult I shouldnt be even dealing with issues like this, but I'm hoping there are other MeFites who have unbelievably repressing family like this, and could share a story, or say how they got edumacated without alienating them - because that's somehow what it feels like I'm doing. Moving to the other end of the country isnt an option, nor is studying elsewhere.

I feel like I'm making a break for the fence and the other prisioners are ready to trip me up out of spite.

I don't want to become them, but can't exactly say that out loud. I dont want to piss them off, but I know they're going to get their knickers in a twist over ZOMG she's moving out NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
(Sigh) A little help on how to handle them and keep my sanity while juggling study and work would be *great*.
[And on preview - this seems to be a dovetail of them not appreciating someone getting educated with me moving out into the big scary world - make of it what you will]
posted by Chorus to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You just need to realize that your parents are human beings who make choices. Part of growing up is understanding that sometimes your parents make choices that are wrong for you, and that's the point where you, as a grown up, can step away and say no. You also need to learn to tune them out as needed.

That doesn't mean you hate them; it just means you're different from them.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:53 AM on November 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Leave. Just leave.

My father once smacked me for getting straight As because, if I got good grades, I couldn't possibly be his natural child. If you want to trade rebelling against your parents to get an education stories, my email's in my profile. I've got them for days.

Don't do it cruelly, or spitefully. "This is something I've always wanted to do." If they razz you, tell you disaster stories, whatever, just go. You can do it nicely, but you can't control their emotions or reactions. Really.

The dorms will have drunken people having sex in elevators. Really. It will also have people who are focused on learning, studying their asses off and will peer pressure you into knowing more. Expect it to be an entirely different universe.

College isn't the answer to everything. It won't make everything easy, or guarantee success. But it can give you a drastic shift and help you get headway towards whatever really excites you careerwise.

I have friends who are still living at home, intending to take college classes... some day, who are in their 30s. They jokingly call me the traitor because I left the town we grew up in. But every time I seem them, visit them, and I picture myself in that smaller, easier, less stressful life, I want to scream and run all the way back to my high-stress life where I have something besides babies and Seinfeld reruns and car payments on a beat-up Mirage to live for.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for your life. You can't help them by being an enabler or a lackey. Don't saddle yourself with all their hopes, fears and neurosis too.

Don't use what they think as an excuse not to be brave enough to venture into the wild blue yonder. You don't want to resent them for the rest of your life for holding you back.
posted by Gucky at 9:01 AM on November 5, 2006 [3 favorites]

The easiest thing to do, I think, would to be to do all the work you can on campus so they can't bother you. Make sure to turn off your cell-phone if you have one.
posted by Loto at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2006

When I was in college, I got a paid internship at a small non-profit organization in Boston that I really wanted to work for. My dad didn't like the organization but figured it was my choice to make. My mom had a harder time with it. She was very concerned about where I was going to live, and how I was going to get by, and Boston was very far away from home, and as far as she's concerned big cities are only good for visiting, not living in.

She protested a lot, but I went anyway. I won't say it didn't have an effect on me, but ultimately they were her problems to deal with, not mine.

Since then I've graduated from college, gotten an awesome job at this place, and live in Boston. And Mom still wishes I wasn't so far away, but that's pretty normal, and she's cool with things overall.

Answer your family's questions as truthfully as you can without intentionally hurting their feelings. And then, whether they like the answers or not, just go and do your thing. Odds are good that, once they see how it works out for you after a while, they'll have a more realistic picture of everything, and understand that it's not the end of the world for you or them.
posted by brett at 9:03 AM on November 5, 2006

The important thing is to build your own support network of friends who are academically serious. Join the student clubs in your area, and a club way outside your area for balance. Maintain good study habits. Study first, beer second.

As to your family, you seem perfectly aware of what is going on. They love you, they are fucked up, they want you to succeed, they don't want you to make them look bad. Take their compliments at face value and let their criticisms roll off and be forgotten. Do keep in good contact with that 12-year-old, who could use a role model and friend.

I am so impressed by young people like yourself who come from screwed up situations yet succeed in life. Good luck.
posted by LarryC at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2006

Same situation, but unfortunately a prolonged estrangement was the only solution.

I still remember the late night phone calls after I'd moved out and was attending Uni "You're wasting your life in school!" on and on. This was back in the late 70's, and I went from earning a steady minimum wage paycheque to living on $5 / week for food, after tuition was paid, and my family of all folks felt obliged to beat me to death over it. They considered my destitute status a sign of failure, never thinking about the longer term.

I started terminating phone calls and conversations when the onslaught got to be too much, but no joy. Eventually I openly and directly linked the criticism of my choise for my life to my refusal to acknowledge the existence of those who were openly critical.

The message was: if you want me around, shut the fuck up about University. I shouted it loudly more than once.

I won't lie to you - this took well over a decade, but at least now when I talk to those folks I'm not criticised. I went back in 1998 for a Masters, and people were neutral - they knew the rules. I started an MBA in 2005 and some were actually curious. And now that I support them financially, I think they even acknowledge the value of education.

I don't rub their faces in it; I'm just glad we can all get along now. So you might have to be harsh, but be firm and be prepared to distance yourself if necessary. But you can do it.
posted by Mutant at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2006

I left home (TN) at 18 to move to DC for university with no financial support or any further contact with my family (my then-boyfriend's mother helped me move). It was horrifically difficult, expensive, and exhausting—and it was probably the best decision I ever made.

You have the additional advantage of being older and more experienced than I (or the average uni student) before striking out on your own, and student housing is a good way to ease into a more independent existence. You'll screw up, some times will be tough, and even on a few occasions you might think, "Why do I put myself through this?"

During those times, think about the alternative. It makes those all-nighters seem easier pretty damned quickly.

Just go. The benefits to you are extraordinarily far-reaching. If they can't appreciate that, they really don't have your best interests at heart, despite all their hand-wringing about the dangers of independent living. They will deal with it, and if they don't, the worst that will happen to them is that they'll have an empty seat at the table during the holidays.
posted by timetoevolve at 9:22 AM on November 5, 2006

Wow. It's sad and piteous that these people, your family, want to hold you back because you have an opportunity to better yourself that it sounds like they would never be able to execute on if they were in your place.

They are projecting their own fears of failure onto you. Don't buy in to it. If this is right for you, then face the challenge of almost certain brutal murder in the hive of scum and villainy that will be your new lodgings, and don't look back (too often).

I am the first person in my family to ever get a college degree, but fortunately for me, I had a lot of support from my family in the endeavor. Of course, now expectations run high; my father doesn't understand why I haven't deposed Bill Gates yet.

And remember to work hard and apply yourself. After all, you don't want to end up in Iraq.
posted by jimfl at 9:22 AM on November 5, 2006

Wow. Yes, leave! I can tell you a little story about a friend of mine who was where you are but took the wrong path.

He was my brightest friend in high school; did well academically for the most part; was curious and interested in the world. But his parents were uneducated and didn't believe there was a reason for him to go to college; dad was a mechanic, mom did nothing but grow larger on the couch. Sister also an early single mom. They also scoffed when he expressed an interest in studying art, or furthering his education past high school. Father wanted him to work at the auto shop, but my friend hated the idea. So he delayed leaving home year after year, and over time, they wore him down. Your quotes from your family sound so much like what my friend's parents would tell him that I was convinced he was posting the question, until I saw your age.

These days my friend doesn't do much at all. He's lost the last several low-paying jobs he had, has gained huge amounts of weight, has rotting teeth which he is afraid to have fixed, and spends most of his time in his room sleeping or smoking pot. He refuses to move out because his father lost his job, so he feels his family needs him (and perhaps because not going is just the path of least resistance). I rarely hear from him, but when I do, it's just so he can tell me his latest scheme to actually go do something...which, of course, he never does.

Please don't end up like my friend.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:27 AM on November 5, 2006

Family support is nice, but not necessary. You don't need their approval or affirmation. If it doesn't seem like a good idea to them, you won't be able to change that. That is, until you start reaping the benefits.

I don't want to oversell the college experience, but it's the most ridiculously wonderful opportunity in the world for someone like you (or me) who came from a poor background. You can booze around, sleep around, lay around and generally fuck around for 4 or 5 years on borrowed money and unless you're a total mope, come out with a degree and a nearly unrevokeable ticket to the lower-middle class. And if you put effort into it you can write your own ticket. It's just about the surest return on equity (by that I mean: your time, effort and money) that you can possibly make.

You don't need anyone else's support. Not that you should turn it down or burn bridges, but let them come to you. Your own desire will be enough to get you through college. Once you've begun to taste success, either they'll be proud and admiring or threatened and belittling. Maybe both. But that will be there problem, not yours. Good luck, have fun!
posted by bluejayk at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2006

I dont want to piss them off

You're going to piss them off. You can either get used to the idea and do it, or spend the rest of your life futilely trying to please them and wind up like TochterAusElysium's friend. I suggest spending some time imagining the worst possible reactions they could have and realizing that you'll survive and get past it; then whatever reaction they actually have will probably not be so bad. Whatever their reaction, the important thing is that you get out and start living your own life. How they deal with it is their problem; it won't be yours once you're past the initial sadness of the break.
posted by languagehat at 9:34 AM on November 5, 2006

I have a long story, but I am loathe to post it here, because I don't want to clog up the simplicity of ask.mefi. Do you have an email address?
posted by mjao at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2006

You need to get out of there.

Your drive for success and education makes them feel like you think they aren't good enough, or that you think you are better. These are 'defensive' thoughts, and they are your family's problem, not yours.

Don't let their self defeating behaviour defeat you. Move out, go to school, and come home on sundays for dinner so they don't think that you think you're better than them.

You've already figured out that spending your entire life in a minimum wage job in a house with no heat isn't the way you want your life to go. Don't let fear that you'll make your family feel bad when you succeed hold you back. Just do it!
posted by Kololo at 10:02 AM on November 5, 2006

When you leave, you’re likely to be lonely at first, but you can find your own support system. It’s what a lot of us have had to do. Get out and meet people, talk to your professors, etc. Gather a group of people you can rely on and learn something from.

Also, you have probably learned some self-defeating thought patterns from your parents. You likely hear their voices in your head undermining what you do. Learn to identify the thought patterns that might hold you back and talk back to the voices in your head. (Works for me.)
posted by found dog one eye at 10:03 AM on November 5, 2006

Chorus, just the fact that you're asking this question is big. It shows that you value education, even though your family may not have taught you to do so. You sound very much like you're ready to make the step of moving out and up in your education.

I'm 23, and when I was in high school I got no help from my parents (financially or otherwise) in making the decision to go away to school. My parents were divorced when I was 13 and I lived with my mother and sister. We were on and off welfare as my mother lost, quit jobs, or dealt with her endless bouts of depression. I've had steady work since I was 14 and paid for most everything (except for our apartment & utilities) on my own. When I had the chance to move out at 17, I did it. This decision did not mean that I loved my mother and sister any less - I felt that I was able to take care of myself better than my mother could at that point. Which proved true. My mother was eventually evicted from her apartment and had to live with me for about 6 months.

To this day, I still wish I had gone away to school right after graduation. However, I see my friends that did this and they are not always better for it. They have no 'real-life' experience in dealing with the things you [?] and I have seen - welfare, single-parenthood, financial instability. Your experiences have weathered you. The things you have lived with and through will (and have) make you a stronger person than someone else that has no first-hand experience with these realities. Even if this strength comes from not wanting to turn out like the rest of your family, it does not mean you love them any less.

Take this strength and make the move. Your OP leads me to believe you have a financial plan in place that will make higher education possible. That is so important! I'm still struggling with making higher education financially possible. Getting out of a stressful home life will help you focus on what you want to do with your life. And you've said it - you are an adult - you have the power to make this decision, regardless of how other people view it.

Other posters have said that you can't control your family's reaction and emotions when faced with your decision. This is so true. I agree that the best you can do is try and explain your position without hurting their feelings and then do what you think is right.

Your family should have the responsibility of making decisions that will better your life, but we know it doesn't always happen this way. Take this chance to make this decision as it will give you more stability in your life overall.
posted by youngergirl44 at 10:05 AM on November 5, 2006

Honestly I just think:
a) They're afraid their lackey [i.e. me] will leave
b) Someone might make them look bad by succeeding
c) They think stepping outside ones door means DEATH RAPE MURDER PILLAGE DRUGS

You're correct. Just stay steady and keep going.

Take deep breaths and try not to let them wear you out. Answer their projected hysterical scenarios with short, concise answers, like you did above. Ignore their negativity. Remind yourself and them that it's going to happen, this moving out of yours, whether they like it or not, so there's no need to argue over "if" you should move.
posted by desuetude at 10:07 AM on November 5, 2006

You might want to read A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. She defines poverty as not simply a lack of money, but "the extent to which an individual does without resources." Your family lacks resources, and their priorities are different from yours. It is likely that you will have to break ties with them to succeed in your endeavor. Good luck.
posted by baho at 10:11 AM on November 5, 2006

I too could write a whole treatise on this but just wanted to add that the story of TochterAusElysium's friend is the story of many of my cousins. High hopes when young and lots of potential but let themselves be talked into taking the mediocre course. Now they are a bit sad, defeat in their older eyes, living a life that is barely endurable, trying not to think about what might have been.

I'm the first in my family to go to college. It wasn't easy. As a young kid I was a bit clumsy when it came to handy things and manula labor and my dad didn't do a good job of hiding his contempt for me. I worked evenings and summers to buy myself an encyclopedia and, later, my first computer. When I missed paying the bill once on, I think, Volume M of my monthly encyclopedia subscription and my mom got a threatening letter, I recall she hurled the book across the room, breaking the binding and muttering "You and your stupid books..."

One thing that might help to know is that, although things may be tough now, parents tend to soften with age. This is especially true when they later see the fruits of your labor. In the case of my parents at least, they really were trying to help me - they just didnt know how. Their own experiences with life and success had been severely limited.
posted by vacapinta at 10:14 AM on November 5, 2006

You know what, I'm definitely getting the idea that you don't actually want or need our advice. You know what you're doing, you've got definite and realistic plans, you're steadily progressing towards your goals, and you seem to have a reasonably healthy perspective about it all.

All you really lack is reassurance, for someone to pat you on the back and say you're doing the right thing. So here goes:

Go for it. You're doing the right thing, you've got what it takes to succeed, and we'll all be very happy for you when you graduate.
posted by orange swan at 10:14 AM on November 5, 2006

Oh, I wanted to say this too: As pointed out by other posters, your family may realize the benefit of your decision when it begins to pay off, when they see how well you are doing on your own. And even tough you don't want to actually say it to them, keep in the back of your mind that they may need you to support them some day. I said in my first post that my mother was evicted and had to live with me for about 6 months. My sister is an unwed mother at 21. My now stable situation has allowed me to ease some of their burden at times. [Just be wary of giving them so much support that they take you for granted.]

My mother was 37 when I was born, which makes her 60 now. I'm faced with the thought of taking care of her (retirement homes etc.) at an earlier age than my friends with younger parents. I know I wouldn't be able to do this if I had stayed at home, being satisfied in a minimum wage job for the rest of my life. This may not apply to your situation, but it is something to consider.

And yes, stay in touch with that 12-year-old. He will need a role model that is adult enough to make decisions like you are facing now.
posted by youngergirl44 at 10:22 AM on November 5, 2006

These are such eye-opening responses - this question has been brewing inside of me for a very long time, but I'm so glad to have asked it.

TochterAusElysium, that sounds so eerie, that story you related, just, ugh.

And Orange Swan, I actually do feel I need advice on dealing with the whole situation - but a pat on the back and a kick up the ass is also needed [and heard loud and clear, MeFites!].

I guess in the way my family tend to go off the deep end in their theorizing the many ways in which I'll die in a "hive of scum and villany" as I think someone put it, I guess I too go overboard with the constant worrying of what they'll do when they find out I plan to move out. I'm worried about telling them.

They're the kind to report me to animal welfare if I intend on leaving my dog with them - either that, or they refuse to look after my dog - or they think me the WORST PERSON EVER AND WILL TALK ABOUT IT AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY FOREVERS for leaving a pet behind. And this is just the issue of my dog! Not to mention the money wasting arugmetns, and oh yeah, dying at the hands of a serial rapist in a ditch somewhere.

But of course you're all right - I need to go, and I am going... it's just a pity it's a year away and I've started worrying about it now.

This advice is so, so helpful. I really thought I was like the only other out there to have a family like this. The fact that I'm not alone is actually something that's impacting on me more than I'd anticipated. I'd write a novel about them all, except no one would believe it.
posted by Chorus at 10:32 AM on November 5, 2006

Seconding orange swan. You are, as you say, making a break for the fence, and that's what adulthood is about. Some people are lucky and get low fences with gates. You didn't, and all the more power to you for making your break in spite of that. It doesn't mean you don't love your family; it means you love yourself enough to follow your own dreams. Good luck.
posted by judith at 10:41 AM on November 5, 2006

Whenever I hear Fast Car by Tracey Chapman I think about my own break from my family.

I turned 16, finished my exams the day after, left home the day after that. I worked nights in a pub (illegally), did a combined secretarial/A level course (in the UK A levels are the exams that get you into university) and eventually did my degree at night school. It was hard, but there was no other option.

My parents thought that if I'd got a job as a filing clerk, that would be the best 'career' possible, before marriage/babies. It wasn't their fault, the idea that I could have gone to university was too far outside the scope of their imaginations. I was the first person in the entire family (including layers of cousins) ever to work in an office. Or go to college.

"Leave tonight or live and die this way".

Follow your dreams.
posted by essexjan at 11:43 AM on November 5, 2006

My husband's ex-wife was in a situation a little like yours. I believe both her parents were on welfare or disability. Her siblings quickly followed the same route of no education onto income assistance and a life of very diminished expectations and ambitions. Her parents had split up, and at one point, her father wondered why all the houses he rented were condemned after he moved out. That's the kind of family it was.

She was different. Although also on income assistance, when my husband met her, she was working at a Tim Horton's, for minimum wage, I'm sure, and going to school for bookkeeping. She ended up with a profession, and did not end up like all the other members of her family.

I'm not sure how she succeeded at breaking away from the pattern of her family, and while not university-educated, she is another example of climbing out of that rut, and succeeding. Listen to your heart and your dreams, and the nay-sayers will recede. Be kind, but firm. Always remember: this is something I want to do. You can say over and over: this is something I want to do, and I hope I have your love and support. Even if I don't, I'm still going to do this. I love you all, but I'm still going to do this.
posted by Savannah at 11:57 AM on November 5, 2006

I highly recommend this documentary (I guess you can't afford to buy it right now, but watch the trailer).

Sounds like you're doing the right thing. You should definitely start hanging out with pro-education people...and even meet their pro-education parents if you can swing that.
posted by bingo at 1:32 PM on November 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Go! Expect to feel some guilt along with the excitement of it all. Go see the free university counseling center if you have an existential crisis or if the guilt becomes overwhelming. Tell your family you love them but you will not engage in *that* conversation again and that the only comments about your life you'll listen to are positive ones... and then stand firm.

You definitely must do this. Your relationship with your family will change, but hopefully everyone will adjust well to the change.
posted by forensicphd at 1:58 PM on November 5, 2006

Is there a friend who will care for the dog? Perhaps you could even toss them a few bucks a week?
posted by oflinkey at 2:40 PM on November 5, 2006

Tell them that pursuing and education is what you want to do, because you will have a job that satisfies you (isn't boring, if that's what it takes for them to relate) and that will allow you to put away enough money to make sure they're looked after down the road. I can't really get my ambitions across to some of my family, but even if telling them all that akes them react to you disdainfully, like you're the big man with the plan, they will remember your good intentions deep down.

My other advice: prepare to have some lifelong culture shock, in the world full of people whose parents saved up for their scholarship. I can't deny that being smart and poor and from a non-academic background has chipped my shoulder a bit.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:47 PM on November 5, 2006

I still remember the day in 9th grade when I came home and announced to my parents that I wanted to go to Harvard. They suggested that I take a course to become a truck driver instead. Growing up, I wasn't allowed to start my homework unless the house was clean and I had cooked dinner for them. I made it through college on my own dime and graduated with honors. They didn't show up for my graduation. Now I'm about to graduate from law school, and they're not invited. But I'll be surrounded by the family and friends who have supported me over the years. My advice to you is to stop trying to get support from your parents, do what is right for your future, and find your own support network. Good luck!
posted by gokart4xmas at 5:07 PM on November 5, 2006

Getting out of the house helps almost everyone I know get along better with their parents. It sounds like in your case this will go double (eventually; at first they may be upset).

One of the most important things you can do when starting university is to get in with a group of friends who take it reasonably seriously. They will be your support as you go through the normal ups and downs of university life. Don't get in with a group that wants to relax and goof off (not that it sounds like you will, but there are a lot of fish in the sea of first-year university.)

Getting an education is so, so worth it. For one thing, it opens jobs and opportunities for places to live that would otherwise be closed to you. But for another, it sounds like you have some drive to learn about the wider world beyond the TV, and going to university is an unbeatable first step in that process. Good luck! It sounds like you are already a good advocate for yourself; keep it up!
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:15 PM on November 5, 2006

They're the kind to report me to animal welfare if I intend on leaving my dog with them - either that, or they refuse to look after my dog - or they think me the WORST PERSON EVER AND WILL TALK ABOUT IT AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY FOREVERS for leaving a pet behind.

Please don't listen to your family when they say these things. When they say similar things about your education, please don't listen to them either.

or say how they got edumacated without alienating them - because that's somehow what it feels like I'm doing.

As other people have said, you might alienate your parents. I was not in quite the same situation, but my parents told me never to come back as I loaded my car to leave for a second degree. That is their problem and not mine, and I haven't talked to them in a year.

You're right, your family is wrong, and you're not alone. Good luck in school. Work hard.
posted by halonine at 6:02 PM on November 5, 2006

Sounds to me like you've got this pretty much figured out already, do whatever it takes to make your life better, and do your best to ignore those who are going to try and pull you back to their level.

My wife comes from a somewhat similar situation, her mother is disabled and when my wife started planning for college her mother pretty much told her, "well what would you do that for, you can get a job at the factory where I work." My wife was the first person in her family to finish college, and now she has to deal with her mother saying things like we are too good for her because we can afford a few of the finer things.
posted by caflores22 at 6:09 AM on November 6, 2006

They're the kind to report me to animal welfare if I intend on leaving my dog with them - either that, or they refuse to look after my dog - or they think me the WORST PERSON EVER AND WILL TALK ABOUT IT AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY FOREVERS for leaving a pet behind.

Then find the dog a new and better home than with them. It's hard to do, I know - I had to leave my two cats with my brother when I moved cross-country because of the uncertainty of the situation I was going into, and I still miss them almost every day, about five years later. However their new home was just as pleasant and full of love and attention for them and really, it was a lot harder for me than them.

You made a commitment to that dog that you should keep, but there's many ways to do so. Your dog loves you and wants you to be happy too, even if he has a more limited mental concept of what that means. If he could reason that completely he'd want you go leave him with a new buddy so you could fulfill your dreams.
posted by phearlez at 8:11 AM on November 6, 2006

I suspect Loveline would give this advice: Put a lock on your bedroom door. Study as much as you can at the library and find extracurricular pursuits to take up your time so you can be away from home as much as possible. Move out as soon as possible, which is probably sooner than you think.

Dorm friendships are usually friendships of convenience, which is all fine and good, but it's not all that conducive to creating a support network. On the other hand, actively seeking out likeminded people is more likely to provide results. The more passionate the cause, the better. Think: Activist groups, arty types, goofy subcultures. Some of these kids are kinda dorky, but the bond is way more meaningful than who got drunk with who last night.

The one controlling factor that your family has on you is your dog, so I hope you can think of some contengency plans so your dog can remain well taken care of without it becoming a way for your family to leverage you back into their way of life. Consider off-campus housing (you get to pick your roomies at least and it's often cheaper and you could move out right away) or finding someone else to take care of your dog for a while. At the very least, temper yourself, because this is the one point that they will ultimately be able to get traction on and control over and they'll quickly learn to work it the most. It's not fair to the animal to be used in this fashion and it's not fair to you to be manipulated, so the best case is to have an alternate plan in mind for the care of the animal.

Maybe you could get some traction with your case by emphasizing that the government will give you all kinds of "free" money (not really, but you should qualify for all kinds of subsidized loans, which don't accumulate interest until you graduate. Pick up a copy of the FAFSA forms now if you haven't already) money to live on while you go to school. Take a look at this thread if you have trouble with your guardians while filling it out.

In the meanwhile, setting boundaries means being firm, concise and consistent. That is to say, give them simple, clear, solid directions. For instance, "do not come to me between the hours of 6pm and 9pm on weekdays, because that is my time to study. If you come to me at these times, I just won't respond because I'm really busy." Then never, never, NEVER let in. Once a boundary is set, be determined to follow through. The boundary exists as much for you as it does for them. They will push at the boundary, but will eventually learn that you really will not respond and that it is a waste of their time. However, if you let in just once, it will reset the process to step one.

And give yourself a friggin' pat on the back. It sounds like you've got a good plan and good instincts already.
posted by Skwirl at 9:52 AM on November 6, 2006

I have nothing to add that hasn't been said already, but I can't resist joining in the cheerleading. Honestly I think if I'd grown up in your situation I wouldn't have been strong enough to escape it. I'm truly impressed that you're still carrying on.

Your family has given up on their lives. You haven't. They probably don't consciously think of it this way, but if they can hold you back too, they can continue to pretend that their situation was inescapable, not their fault.

You're on the right track. Just keep going.
posted by ook at 9:54 PM on November 7, 2006

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