thinking about it too much
April 5, 2008 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm graduating with my master's soon. I'm feeling let down by family for not coming up to attend the ceremonies. How can I feel better about things?

Some background info. Many years ago, I dropped out of high school. Went back for a few weeks because I was forced to, and stopped going again. Through the help of an amazing guidance councilor, I was able to graduate on time (how, with missing so much of my senior year, I have no idea).

After a couple of years off and trying to get my bearings, I went to school to pursue my undergrad. Graduated a semester early, with honors.

In May, I'm graduating with my master's from a pretty high ranking school. It's sort of a big deal - for me, at least.

I'm the youngest of four. All have a bachelors, one has a masters - I've been to all of their graduations. My siblings did not come to my undergrad ceremonies, despite being as little as 25 minutes to 3 hours away by car. Life happens, I understand that the world doesn't stop for me. My unstable dad came though. And proceeded to tell me what a horrible person I am on the drive home. So that's not all that important to me...

But this is. Graduating from a major school. As a hair-away from being a high school dropout. I was really hoping some of my siblings could make it, and gave them months in advance to plan - with hotel info, logistics, etc. I understand that with kids (3 together in all, ages 3-9) that traveling can be a little bit tricky, but there are lots of options on logistics for a 450-500 mile trip - a 75 minute direct flight, or the train, or driving. While not "rich," none of them are struggling for cash.

It breaks my heart that I won't have any family at my graduation ceremonies. I know that, again, life happens, they have kids, and other things going on, but this is a very big deal for me. They're not coming. I've articulated that, I don't know when/if I'll get married - and this is one of the major, and few occasions of celebrating a momentous moment in my life. They're not coming, but they're "looking forward to celebrating when [I] visit down."

I'm torn between wallowing in resentment, or thinking I'm taking things too personally and selfishly. But it bothers me. A lot. And I don't know how to tell them. Because I think, I don't want them to come at my insistence, but because they themselves think it would be a worthy trip. I just... feel sad about this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe they just don't think graduations are a big deal. I've been to two of my brother's graduations (and will be going to a third in June), but only because they were during summer holidays and I had the time. I skipped my own undergrad one and am only going to be at my one this year because my wife and mom double-teamed me.

I'm fairly close to my brother, but if I had to take a multi-day trip, to a new city, with kids, to attend his graduation, I'd pass and take him out to dinner the next time I saw him.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:29 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel sad for you. Not that it will make you feel any better, but sometimes people just don't realize how much it would mean to you for them to come to an event. Especially as we get older and busy with kids and jobs and other commitments.
I one time made the mistake of saying (not really truthfully) to my siblings and parents that it didn't matter to me if family members came to see me in the hospital with our third baby, after all it was #3, you'll see him over the holidays, it's OK, don't bother yourselves, etc.... And no body came. And I felt so sad. Learning: maybe tell them that it would mean alot to you if they could come. Obviously, they may not be all be ABLE to attend, but you should let them know it matters to you.
posted by mmf at 2:30 PM on April 5, 2008

I just... feel sad about this.

I'm so sorry that your family is this mean to you. At the crux of it, it really sounds like they are not very nice people. Perhaps you might focus on your friends for this event in your life?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 PM on April 5, 2008

Well, there are a couple things you can do. First, don't be so shy about letting them know this is important to you. They really might not get it (and if something were very important to them, you'd want them to tell you, probably). But, be prepared for the fact that they might still say "Sorry, no."

Another option would be to arrange something low-key among some friends, etc. Heck, have a party, or a barbecue, or just head out for a couple of drinks with some friends. If you can find a way to mark the occasion in your own way, do so. If your situation is more isolated, perhaps take a short (or long) trip somewhere.

Ultimately, graduation commencements (unlike weddings) are ceremonial send-offs, for people about to head in new directions (rather than "welcome to the family" affairs). The most important result of the graduation is to prepare the graduate for this outward trip; and while its best to do this with family, it is also something that you can accomplish in other ways.
posted by washburn at 2:32 PM on April 5, 2008

I'm willing to bet that if you told us where you are, some MeFites would not only attend the ceremonies, but chip in and take you out for dinner after. I would. I think it's admirable that you've made this change in your life. I know we're not family, but we're supportive, and you just want to feel better, right?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:55 PM on April 5, 2008 [23 favorites]

Two things here:

One, your not having anyone at your graduation ceremony. I don't blame you for feeling lonely, and resentful, because this is a major milestone in your life. (And, as someone who is working towards her MA, I say congratulations and well done!) Washburn has a great idea - focus on your friends, and if you can invite them to your graduation and perhaps throw a party or have a get-together at a bar or club later on, you can surround yourself with people who do feel happy for you.

Two, your family's selfishness in general. Please, please, do NOT make the mistake of thinking that if you "just work hard enough" on pleasing them, that they will change their ways and come through for you. That won't work, and desperately pleading and begging and guilt-tripping is ultimately so much pissing into the wind - because it's about THEM, not YOU. If you are saddled with selfish and/or uncaring family members, there is nothing YOU can do to change them or make them better, or make them "love" or value you.

It's tough, it really is - because it goes against the grain of what we expect "family" to be and do for us - but if you can accept that these people might not be as loving and supportive as you expect, and that this is not your fault and there is nothing you can do to change it, the better off and more mentally healthy you will be. And it will leave you free to build a "family of choice" from friends, as so many of us wind up doing.

Again, congratulations on a job well done! Getting your Master's is a great accomplishment.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:00 PM on April 5, 2008

Congrats. Master's is a huge thing.

Ask your family to come. Maybe they don't know how much it means to you; everyone is different.
posted by aeighty at 3:02 PM on April 5, 2008

Seconding Pandemonium.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:10 PM on April 5, 2008

I'm torn between wallowing in resentment, or thinking I'm taking things too personally and selfishly.

I don't think you're taking things too personally --- graduations are a big deal, especially ones that, as in your case, follow hard work & obstacles & all that. So you deserve to have your loved ones there to support and congratulate you.

Sometimes, though, families just plain suck. Everyone has their prescribed roles (responsible, clown, screwup, drama queen, nerd, etc.) and no matter what you do in life, no matter how much you accomplish, no matter how different you are now than you were then, the family dynamic never changes. You will always be the responsible one, or the screwup, or the drama queen. If your upbringing was a happy one, then that never-changing dynamic is a nice place to come home to --- if it wasn't happy, then it can be very painful.

Wallowing in resentment probably isn't a good idea, since that resentment will rear its unattractive head every time you interact with your family, and will linger following each interaction. It will hurt you but won't change things. Life is short but it can seem pretty bloody long if you're miserable.

For what it's worth, a LOT of people feel the need to disengage emotionally from their families as they reach adulthood. You are probably not the only one who might find himself alone on graduation day, and as you move into the work world and deeper into adult life, you'll find more and more people who really don't like going "home" at holidays or for other obligatory visits. Hooking up with people like that will give you a chance to create your own "family" and traditions and support.

And finally, congratulations, anonymous! Dropping out of grad school is one of my big regrets. Your perseverance has already paid off for you and is sure to continue paying off. You should be really proud of yourself. =)
posted by headnsouth at 3:20 PM on April 5, 2008

thirding pandemonium! where and when is this grad ceremony of yours?

also try letting your family know how important it is for you ;) i know if one of my loved ones wanted me around for something he thought was important, i'd be there -- even if I thought that thing was really trivial. to me what really matters is being there for a loved one who wants you, for whatever reason; the person is the reason, not the occasion.
posted by Xianny at 3:22 PM on April 5, 2008

Did you really stress how important it is to you? I was completely bored sitting through the graduation ceremonies when I got my BS and MS, and my husband skipped his college graduation altogether. Your siblings might have had similar experiences at their graduations. Plus a lot of people assume that you'll want them there for the party afterwards, not for the ceremony itself. It sounds like that's what your siblings are planning.

Try explaining it to them again. Explicitly. That the ceremony is important to you, not what comes afterwards. If they still won't come, do what others have suggested and go out with your friends.

Good luck.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:30 PM on April 5, 2008

Fourthing pandemonium.

I'm sorry.
posted by Pax at 4:29 PM on April 5, 2008

Fifthing. If you're graduating from UNC or Duke, please send me an e-mail. Please.

I stopped communicating with my family shortly after I graduated; not remotely for the same reasons, and I'm not at all suggesting that you should do that, but I know a little about missing having family around you. And about not really enjoying graduation (although for other reasons).

Anyway, I also know that some people Just Do Not Get It. You're not _their_ parents, so you can't easily teach them better. You'll know better with your own friends, kids, or nieces or nephews, if you have any. But it's worth supporting bonds among people, and it's great to know that you're doing so well for yourself after a rough start. I'd be proud to see you graduate -- and I'm proud of you even without actually witnessing it.
posted by amtho at 4:56 PM on April 5, 2008

First off, congratulations! You should be pleased with and proud of your accomplishments.

Secondly, I'd mention it again to your family. Something like "Hey, I know you're busy, but it's really important to me, and I was hoping that someone from the family could attend." As for the siblings, maybe suggest that they come and leave the spouses and kids at home, thus making the trip easier.

However, I think that asking a couple of friends (or Mefites!) who live in your city would be more enjoyable and less stressful than trying to convince reluctant family members.
posted by emd3737 at 5:05 PM on April 5, 2008

Please tell your family that they're making you sad that none of them want to come to your graduation. They may be assuming that one of the others is coming, they may have some misguided assumption that you don't want to be fussed over, or they may just need an extra memo that this is a big deal to you.

Even if they don't ultimately attend, at least they won't be mystified when later on you're like 'sigh. thanks for this celebratory dinner that has been held at a really convenient time...for you.'
posted by desuetude at 5:13 PM on April 5, 2008

You don't know how to tell them because there is no good way to tell them. And you are right that they shouldn't come at your insistence. Is there someone - a mutual friend or distant relative - who you can ask to call on your behalf? Not to put pressure on them or shame them but just to simply let them know how important this is to you. Hearing it from a third party will carry more weight, but it is also a face-saving measure for both sides.

It's possible they don't want to come because they don't want to spend money either for the trip or for a graduation present. Maybe it isn't personal and they are just cheap. A third-party calling on your behalf can find out.
posted by conrad53 at 5:41 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Congratulations! Yeah, families can be pretty clueless at times, so your friends are probably going to be a better source of support and good cheer here. (My parents didn't come to my PhD thesis defense, the closest thing I had to a graduation, or to a post-wedding party because of some pretty lame excuses, and then proposed some totally weasel "but we'll make it up like this" alternatives, so I can commiserate.)

Celebrate with your friends and consider that your family might just not be interested in being there for you. Over the years I've sort of given up on my family; there's no hostility involved but I just don't count on them for anything any more. This graduation thing might be a message that it's time to drift away from your family and develop your own support system.

It's surprisingly nice to have little to do with my family - we drive each other nuts anyway so there isn't a whole lot of benefit involved in dealing with them, and an occasional email or phone call suffices to take care of important stuff. The constant aggravation is gone and I certainly don't miss it, or the people who engender it. You may find you feel the same way.
posted by Quietgal at 5:43 PM on April 5, 2008

First: Congratulations on your Master's!

Now on to the advice. Even within a family, attitudes on things like graduations can really vary. For me, my college graduation was a Big Thing: I'd had a hard time, struggled with depression, dropped out, been readmitted, etc. I really wanted to walk across that damn stage, no matter how long the ceremony was and how boring the speakers were. Even at my high school graduation - boring as it was - I had a sense of vindication. "I've survived this!" My younger siblings don't have the same attitude, though. The youngest has been actively discouraging the rest of us from coming to graduation, which sort of took me aback. This is all to say that if you haven't really emphasized that graduation really is important for you, and their presence is part of that... well, you should. It honestly might not have occurred to them that you care this much about a graduation ceremony.

But if they can't or won't come, for whatever reason (too difficult to travel that far with little kids for a brief event, lack of interest, whatever)... make your own celebration. Get together with friends and go to a nice restaurant, or throw a party, or whatever is needed to recognize the fact that you've done something pretty damn cool. Furthermore, treat yourself: buy a good book, or a CD you've been meaning to check out, or whatever would be a nice gift to yourself. In fact, you should be doing this whether or not your family comes. Be proud of your accomplishments.
posted by ubersturm at 5:48 PM on April 5, 2008

I would suggest trying to get in touch with that guidance counselor of yours. No doubt they would be more than interested to hear of, possibly attend, the graduation of a student whose life would have turned out very different if not for them.
posted by Ugh at 6:01 PM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's understandable that you're resentful and sad.

I'm thinking, though, that since they've all graduated before they know how boring graduations are. On top of that, some of them have little children who are hard to keep entertained, still and quiet as it is under normal circumstances so at a large graduation you can imagine how hard it would be.

I would think they are not sitting at home trying to make you feel bad, but instead kind of weighed all of the hassle that would be involved and decided it would be a bit much to manage.
posted by PinkButterfly at 6:12 PM on April 5, 2008

Couple of ideas:

1. pick your favorite sibling. call him/her and say "I have a big favor to ask of you. I'm really bummed out about not having any family graduation. Would you think about whether there is a way that you (and spouse/kids) could come?"

2. Take them up on their offer to celebrate when you go see them. (Particularly if they live close together and a big family celebration afterwards is reasonable.) Especially if they don't come, give them a chance to show you that they happy and proud of your accomplishment even if they aren't doing it in the way that would be most meaningful for you. If they turn you down when you ask straight up then say something like "OK, if you just can't make it, I'll let you off the hook but I'll be expecting a big blowout when I come down to see you all." (In other words tell them that you are expecting something special here. It is Rule #1 of Relationships - Don't expect people who love you to read your mind)

3. It is possible that neither of these will work. Some of us have families that let us down when we want their love and approval. It sucks but if you know that you can't get what you need from them, then you need to conciously create a "family of choice" - friends that do care and support you in the way that you need.
posted by metahawk at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2008

It may be that your family is really just not being supportive, but we can't know that without knowing them. What I think may be happening here, though, is that they just don't see a ceremony as being a big deal, and therefore won't put the effort into being there. From your point of view it just looks like they're not proud of what you've accomplished. I for one really enjoy ceremonies as a way to reflect and celebrate and acknowledge something important, but to a lot of people it's nothing but a boring hassle that stands for nothing, so maybe it's actually a miscommunication. Make it clear to your family that the event, and their presence at it, has a deep emotional meaning to you, and hopefully they'll make a genuine effort. You're not dragging them there - even if you have to ask them to show up, they're doing so because they care what you want. Perhaps a few siblings could leave their children home with their spouse or a babysitter for a few days and fly on out?

If not, seconding the great idea of inviting your guidance counselor.

And hey - congratulations on your hard work and success!
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:18 PM on April 5, 2008

I have no useful advice for you, just congratulations! It's absolutely fantastic how far you've come. Enjoy the moment; it won't last long.
posted by Ervin at 9:15 PM on April 5, 2008

My sister is also the youngest of four. When she graduated with her bachelors (the first college grad in a couple of generations), I made damn sure I was there, despite the 800 mile trip. When she got her masters a year later, I didn't feel like I needed to attend. Among my acquaintances, the masters just isn't as important.
posted by gjc at 6:22 AM on April 6, 2008

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