Auntie SparkNotes: My Mom Says I'm a Disappointment
I have been spending the summer abroad in a developing nation for research and volunteering. I had initially thought that this would be an amazing experience (as I've gone abroad before and loved it) but after 2 months I can't stand living here any longer. Recently, I have developed a health complication that gives me a legitimate reason to go home early (which I have discussed with my school and they are supportive of this).
My problem is my mother. I have told her that I am coming home early due to illness, but she is also aware of how much I dislike being here. Her only response was "I'm really disappointed in you, I thought you were better than to give up like this. On top of that all, I'm moving which is causing me too much stress to deal with your issues right now." First off, I didn't ask her for any help, I simply notified her that I was coming home early. I had already planned with my school how to get back home on my own (when I told her this via Skype, she simply just said "Ok, fine" then hung up).
In addition, it's not like I sat in this country complaining. I have reached out to make friends on my host campus. I have reached out to my school to talk about my experiences here and find local resources. I have reached out to other international students to travel with. And I'm still miserable here (mostly because this country is extremely sexist and unsafe for women—I don't have the freedom to travel anywhere alone past 7:30 because it's too dark and dangerous out).
My other international friends I have made here have already gone home early due to this same negative experience. I guess what I want to know is, how do I deal with my mother being so unsupportive of this? I knew I wasn't going to get super cuddly responses from her, but to be a disappointment is a surprise to me and has me really upset.
I'm sorry that happened to you, Sparkler. That wasn't at all fair on your mom's part, and I'm sure it stung. But when it comes to the way you deal with it, the most important thing you can do is recognize that just because your mom calls you a disappointment, that doesn't actually mean you are one. The way she responded to your call home tells you far more about her than it does about you.
And in this case, I have to gently point out that what it tells you is something you clearly already knew, or at least suspected. Because if the specifics of your mom's reaction were a surprise, the substance evidently wasn't, which says a hell of a lot about just what you've been trained to expect from her. I mean, let's be honest: for most kids, calling Mom from a third-world country to say "I'm ill and I'm coming home" would get a sympathetic response at the very least—and many parents would be not just sympathetic, but deeply concerned and anxious to help. But not your mom, right? You knew from the start that she would be less than supportive (i.e. not "cuddly"), to the point where you didn't even bother letting her know that you were coming home until it was a done deal.
In short, you were expecting your mom to be a jerk about this. You just didn't expect her to be such a jerk.
But again, her reaction (even if it were remotely reasonable, which it's not!) is not your fault. And the fact that your mom claimed to be disappointed by your decision doesn't even mean it was a bad decision; it just means that she has something riding on you staying overseas, and that whatever that something is, she cares more about it than she does about you having an enjoyable or productive experience there. Maybe she's been bragging to people about how well you were doing, and your early homecoming will expose her as a liar. Maybe she liked the way your summer abroad made her look; maybe she felt it reflected well on her, or proved her success as a parent. Maybe she resents the responsibilities of being a parent altogether—or as she so unkindly put it, "dealing with your issues"— and she's angry at having her perceived vacation from being a mom cut short by a few weeks.
Or hey, maybe she really is just super stressed-out, and she reacted poorly in the moment to what seemed like one more problem on top of the giant pile of things she was already worrying about. (Not that this makes it any less crappy for you, but people are rarely at their best when they're in the middle of moving house.)
But regardless of the reason, it's not about you—which is why your next step should be to weigh this latest bit of negativity against what you already know about your mom as a person, and let it inform your expectations for your relationship moving forward.
To be clear, this doesn't mean you won't still have some hard emotional work ahead of you. The best-case scenario here is that your mom lashed out at you in a stressful moment, in which case you might want to let her know at some point how much she hurt your feelings when she reacted the way she did (assuming you think there's a point to having that conversation). But the worst case scenario is more along the lines of realizing that your mom cares more about the idea of you, or about her perception of you as an extension of herself, than she does about the actual you. And if it is something like that, coping with that realization is its own hurdle to clear. But unlike dwelling on the idea that you're some kind of disappointment for making a choice to do what's best for your own health and happiness — a choice which has no tangible effect on your mom at all—the work you do to understand and accept your mom's flaws and limitations will get you to a better, healthier place.
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