Auntie SparkNotes: My Parents Are Guilting Me About Finding a Job
Here's my situation: I'm 23, live with my parents, graduated from art school with an Industrial Design degree (which my parents paid for), and struggling to look for a full-time job.
Ever since I moved home after I graduated last year in May, my parents, especially my mom, have been increasingly frustrated as I haven't found financial independence. I did have a paid three-month internship at the end of last year, and right now I've been pushing myself way out of my comfort zone to network, reach out to companies, employ job searching tips and tricks... with little to no discernible progress. I can partly understand why they're frustrated—I'm definitely frustrated at this process too! But I'm taking steps to improve myself little by little.
What isn't helping is that my mom picks fights with me. Whenever I'm trying to work on my portfolio or learn new skills (such as coding a website or learning a new program) she barges in on me and demands to know why I haven't found a job yet, why I'm such a failure child, and compares me to her friends' children my age who work tech jobs and are eating at five-star restaurants every week.
Just recently she guilt-tripped me very badly by saying that she did everything for me and this is how I repay her, by sitting at home and eating away at my parents' money, being so "spoiled" because they insisted on paying for my college tuition, insisting it was completely my fault for even considering going to art school and not engineering/tech "like a good child"... and it hasn't yet been one month out of the end of my internship.
I know I am super lucky not to have paid my way through college, and I'm trying my hardest every day to get a job, but I don't know what to do to make my mom understand that I'm trying my best with my current situation.
I hate that I'm about to say this, Sparkler, and I know you're going to hate hearing it. But… oh, hell. I have to ask: Are you trying your best and hardest? Are you sure?
And before you answer, let me be clear: this is not to say that your mom's behavior, as described, is remotely okay. There is absolutely no scenario on earth in which it's appropriate to call your kid a failure (!) just because they're having trouble finding a job. Which is why, after we talk about this, we'll talk about how you talk to your parents.
The thing is, for that conversation to go well, you should ideally be able to support the claim that you're doing everything you can to start your life as an adult, employed person—which means that you should be hounding your college's career placement office for leads, sending out dozens of applications every week to every position you're even remotely qualified for, and casting a wider net if you're coming up short on opportunities locally and/or in your field of choice. (Creative careers are tough to break into; you wouldn't be the first college grad with a BFA who had to take a tangentially related position and work sideways into your dream job.) But based on your letter, you don't seem to be doing any of those things. And more than that, you seem peculiarly defensive about it. I mean, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, you can't expect special credit for stuff like networking or employing "tips and tricks" for targeted job hunting; even if these things aren't strictly inside your comfort zone, they're basic and necessary parts of the process, especially for an educated grownup who's been unsuccessfully looking for work for nearly a year.
Again, none of that makes it okay for your mom to call you a failure or make ugly accusations against your character. That's totally out of line. But before you say as much to her, it's important that you ask yourself honestly whether there's any valid beef buried inside her pot pie of complaint. Is there any chance that you've gotten a little too comfortable sitting at home and working on your portfolio while your parents foot the bill for your self-improvement? If you're already uncomfortable with it, is there a point at which you'd consider it untenable? If one month is too soon to pass judgment (for the record, I agree that this seems a bit hasty), how long after the conclusion of your internship would it be reasonable for your parents to raise questions about your plans? When, if ever, would you consider expanding your job search to work of any kind, not just the kind that puts your art degree to its most ideal and specific use. And when, if ever, would your desire to become a contributing member of society lead you to take a job that's the opposite of ideal? Is there a point at which you're prepared to wait tables, or work retail, for the sake of financial independence? Is there a date at which you are determined to be out of your parents' house, by any means necessary, even if it means drastically revising your vision for your immediate future?
To be clear, there are no wrong answers to these questions. What matters is that you think them through and figure out where you stand on this stuff before you approach your parents—so that when you do, you can say something like this:
"I know you're frustrated that I'm still unemployed, and I understand—I'm frustrated, too. The last thing I ever wanted was to be nearly a year out of school and still relying on you guys for financial support. I'm working hard to find a job and I'm still hopeful that my internship will pan out into an offer, but if I don't find one by [insert date here], I plan to [insert new plan here]. But in the meantime, I'd like to ask that you please stop calling me 'spoiled' or comparing me unfavorably to your friends' kids. It's totally unnecessary and it really hurts."
Unless your folks are actual monsters, this should put a stop to the jabs about your joblessness (although if it doesn't, you have a ready-made exit strategy anytime they bring it up: "I'm really disappointed that you'd say that to me when I've told you how hard I'm trying and how terrible it makes me feel. I'm not having this conversation with you again." ) But depending on a) the specifics of your plan, and b) your parents' means and desire to support you, it also may or may not segue into a productive discussion about your current living situation, your future career, and your folks' expectations in light of their (hopefully) improved understanding of just how much effort you're making in the direction of gainful employment.
Some people want (or need) their kids to achieve financial independence as soon as possible and by any means necessary; some would prefer that their kids wait for the right opportunity (and live at home in the meantime) rather than grabbing at the first job offer that comes along. And in your case, your parents may be less frustrated by your joblessness than by the mistaken assumption that it doesn't bother you. So once you've explained to them not just the steps you're taking to find work, but your overall mindset about your future, they may be more patient about the present state of affairs—and more appreciative of you, too. Because while highly-paid jobs can be lost in an economic downturn or corporate reorganization, assets like a stellar work ethic, a flexible mind, and a thirst to learn new skills are forever... and the kind of thing that any parent should be proud to boast about.
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