Auntie SparkNotes: How Do I Tell My Parents I'm Going Away for School?
I'm a junior in an online high school. My folks are pretty cool most days, until we start talking about college, politics, religion, or, worse, all three. I don't believe I know everything, or even most things. (As my dad would say, I "don't know s**t about s**t".) But my folks think black people, Muslims, Mexicans, Mormons, liberals, Democrats, atheists, agnostics, gays, and basically everybody who doesn't agree with them are stupid, horrible, or both, depending on what we're talking about. My folks are further afraid that when I go to college, I'm going to become a liberal gay atheist, especially if I leave our mostly-conservative area.
Like I said, I don't know much, but I do know that 1) I'm straight and 2) it really bugs me to hear my parents, especially my dad, talk like this. I don't say anything, because it just leads to argument and I end up crying, and then get pounced on for being weak (when, in fact, I'm angry and can't express it in any other way).
I would deeply like to go to school cross country, in a college town that's close to a big city. And obviously, this means I will be surrounded by the people my parents don't like. They're not contributing financially to my education, so they don't have money to hold over my head, but they would prefer (read, do back flips) if I stayed home, went to community for two years, then transferred to the local four year to finish my degree. And I'd be happy to follow this cost-effective route...on the other side of the country.
Here's what I'm afraid of: either that I'll tell them during my senior year and get so beaten down about it that I give up, or I'll tell them after I graduate and get thrown out without two dimes to rub together. Neither of these are irrational fears. I've been struggling with depression for years, including a suicide attempt three years ago, which my parents still get angry about. I saw a psychologist and a therapist after that; my dad commented that it ticked him off to see me "happy to go and basically complain about us" (I wasn't, since I was convinced that anything I told them would get back to my parents.) They've also threatened to send me away before, and my dad told me that the only reason they hadn't kicked me out was because I was an "obligation". I'm very fearful that my decision to get literally as far away as possible will be the final straw, and since they will no longer be obligated to take care of me, they will kick me out.
I know they care, and they just don't want to let me go, and I could create a laundry list of vacations, gifts, and just dang good memories that even make me feel like a horrible evil selfish person for even complaining. So, my questions boils down to a few things: should I tell them while I'm a senior and under the age of 18, or wait until I'm an adult? And if it doesn't explode in my face, how can I talk to them maturely? I do my best, but when I keep getting yelled at, it becomes really hard to talk and not cry at the same time.
Um, yeah. Of course it is. But I've got news for you, darling: it's not because you're an ignorant, sniveling, pansy-assed sad sack who lacks the courage of her convictions.
It's because it's really freaking hard to keep your shizz together when you're being systematically, relentlessly, emotionally abused.
And I'll admit, Sparkler, that I really struggled with whether or not to say that so bluntly—not least because I'm guessing you read the line above and immediately leaped to your parents' defense, with protestations that it hasn't been so bad, or that it's your fault for being a difficult kid, and that you just didn't make clear all the good things they have done for you. And if you did, that's okay. I don't blame you for loving your parents. But please, please understand this, which I am putting in boldface for emphasis:
All the gifts and vacations and good memories in the world don't excuse a parent telling you, to your face, that you "don't know s**t about s**t", that you're weak, that he resents your recovery process after a suicide attempt, and that the only reason you're still around is legal obligation.
(And if you feel as sad and angry as I do after that last paragraph, I highly recommend watching this video of a kitten and a hedgehog making friends. Go on; you'll feel better.)
Which is why it's a good thing that you plan to use college to put a few hundred miles between yourself and your family—and why you must, must, must stick to that plan even when (and it will be when, not if) your parents try to torpedo it. You need the perspective that distance can bring. You'll also need the freedom and safety to process that perspective, as an adult, and with the help of a therapist to whom you can tell the whole truth. You'll need to figure out where your parents end, and where you begin, and explore that space without fear of repercussions.
And while you need these things for your own sake, you'll need them even more if you want to have a relationship with your parents in the future. Which I'm sure you will — because you love them, and I'm sure they love you, too. But the dynamic between you isn't healthy right now, and until you take some time and space to become who you are, you won't be able to change it.
What this means when it comes to disclosing your plans is that your comfort, and not their reaction, should be your number one priority. The choice you've presented—disclose upfront and deal with the ensuing emotional beatdown, or disclose later and risk being kicked out—is no choice at all. How your parents choose to react is up to them; your job is to be prepared for the likelihood that they'll react badly, and stand firm. (Although for the record, I doubt they'll kick you out. The dynamic they've created depends on you being there to dump on; if you leave, they lose their ability to control you.) But whatever they do in response, be it haranguing and belittling you or disowning you entirely, please remember that your independence is worth more than their approval—and conversely, that the under-their-thumbs life they'd like you to choose would be no life for you at all.
And what it means practically is this: you can hope for the best when you tell them, but before you do, you should prepare for the worst. Remember: you're telling them about a plan, not asking their advice on a decision. Have your acceptance letter, travel plans, and financial aid package in hand. Contact your school in advance to find out about work-study or other job options. Look into scholarships, loans, off-campus jobs, and any other source of support. Get the necessary information on becoming an emancipated minor, just in case. Make a list of trusted adults or friends who can take you in, have your back, or drive you to the airport if things get bad.
And then, if you think you can withstand the potential blowback and stay true to your plans, go ahead and tell them. Start with the fact that you feel ready to be on your own and living independently. If you need to, point out your readiness as a tribute to the excellent job they did raising you. If they argue, don't argue back; just tell them your decision is made, you feel good about it, and you hope they'll support it. And if they respond with abuse—whether it's belittling you, yelling at you, insulting you, or blackmailing you with the loss of their love and support—then tell them you're sorry they feel that way, that you love them, and that you hope one day they'll understand that you're just doing what's right for you.
Because you are.
And if you cry in the process, it doesn't mean you're weak. It means you're human, and you know you deserve better.
Got some words of support for our Sparkler? Leave them in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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