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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a slightly complicated situation that I don’t know how to talk (or better yet, avoid talking) about with my parents.

Recently, I’ve met a guy and had a couple dates with him. We hit it off and would like to continue seeing each other. Fortunately, he has his own place; unfortunately, I still live with my parents (yay poorly paying retail jobs), and my mother in particular feels like she needs to know everything going on in my life. It’s impossible for me to just say that I’ll be home late from work, or going out in the evening on my day off without her wanting to know exactly why and where I’m going. I’d be willing to tell her that I’m going on a date, except:

I have a wonderful boyfriend of several years that the parents have met and like. Sadly we live in different countries and only manage to see each other about once or twice a year. This is not a cheating letter! We have an open d/s relationship in which we both are switches, and we’ve both encouraged each other to find other people to play with, although neither of us has taken advantage of it until now. My boyfriend has known about this play partner since I met him, is aware of the play dates, and finds it sweet and very hot.

So if I tell my mom that I’m going on a date, she’ll be wanting to know if I’ve broken up with boyfriend, or think I’m cheating on him, and I don’t really feel comfortable trying to explain an open relationship or that it’s strictly a kink thing to her. (Even more complicated to explain since it’s not sex, either.) >.< Using generic excuses or saying I have work only works for certain times of day, and will no doubt be discovered at some point by calling work when I’m not there. I can’t even say that I’m going out with friends because … well I don’t have any local ones. I don’t really want to get too tangled up in maintaining a lie – this isn’t something I’m ashamed of or feel a strong need to hide, but I really don’t feel comfortable trying to explain it to my MOM.

I guess basically I need some help putting together scripts to either try and explain this or politely tell her it’s none of her beeswax without provoking a tantrum. She has no real sense of privacy, and when I’ve asked her to not do things I find invasive before (like ignoring my closed bedroom door/refusing to knock, or going through my trash) she’s acted offended that it bothers me and then hurt because ‘I never tell her anything’, so I don’t really see a way to set up strong boundaries that isn’t going to result in disaster and endless fights, which I’d love to avoid.

Thanks!

I know people want to be open and honest in all of their relationships, but you get to hold certain things close to the vest if you want to, especially with nosy/judgy parents who go through your trash and can’t knock before entering your room.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I’m having trouble with my mom and I’m not sure if it’s a me-problem or a her-problem or a “no one did anything wrong but it’s just uncomfortable” problem.

When I started college (and became an adult-ish) my mom has opened up to me about a lot of things that she didn’t want to talk to me about when I was younger. In general, this is fine. However, it’s changed the way we talk about my dad and it’s starting to make me very uncomfortable.

My parents are happily married but they’re in a tough situation–they have five kids (I’m the oldest) and my dad works about 5 hours away from where we live. He commutes Monday and comes back Friday, which leaves my mom shouldering a lot of the day to day burden of running the family. I totally understand that my dad isn’t perfect and that she might want to vent about him sometimes. However, I’m really uncomfortable with her venting about it to me. I can’t commiserate, as I’m not around to experience things the way she does, and I really don’t like hearing negative things about my dad.

Some of the stuff she says is true (he can’t do as much with a lot of problems because he’s just not accessible) but I feel really defensive whenever the conversation turns that way.

Basically, is there a script or something that can help me deal with this? Should I deal with this?

Growing Up is Hard

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poster for sliding doors

Spoiler: Whether or not she caught the train, her shit would have worked out pretty okay in the long run.

Comments on this thread are closed as of 8/17. Thank you. 

 

Hi Captain Awkward,

My mother and my boyfriend HATE each other. I know you’ve heard this all before, and until now I’ve learned to just deal with it. Until now.

My mother is my supporter, I am currently a 19 year old undergraduate, about half way done my B.A. My mother has supported me my whole life, she always babied me. I didn’t have to work, pay any bills, as long as I was in school and getting good grades all was okay. Then this summer my long distance boyfriend from France, who I’ve been dating for 1 year and a half decided to come visit for a few months in our house. This is where they started hating each other. This won’t change no matter what, she even kicked him out of our house just last week, because they argue about stupid pointless things. Even though it has only been a year and a half, I love my boyfriend more than anything in the world. I know I want my future to be with him, and its important to me that I start my future with him.

My mother began agreeing that she would support me as long as I am in school, but recently she’s changed her mind. Now, either I go live with my boyfriend in France for 1 year (firstly, I don’t speak french so University and working is not possible), and then support myself in University in my homecountry Canada, or I am unable to live with my boyfriend for another 3 years or so. My mother has made it clear that whether were in the same city or not, if she’s supporting me, I am not allowed to live with him, and even if I attend school and live with him, her support for everything is gone. I need your help, because my mom is not someone you can sit with and have a reasonable calm conversation. She is illogical, and for her, as long as she’s paying, she doesn’t care what I have to say unless I’m doing exactly what she says.

Here’s my issue. Do I stay in school and stay in long distance/ not live with my boyfriend and basically say whatever to my relationship? I don’t want to do this because he makes me so happy, and I want to be able to live with him, we’ve been trying for this for a year to transfer schools to be together. Or do I go to Paris and then go back to school in Canada and depend significantly on him, and loans from the government? Should I leave school all together, and work until I am stable and can pay for myself? This option is also hard for me, I don’t know if I could do it. I’ve never supported myself and I know absolutely nothing about it, how would I make ends meet with no savings, no money at all?

Cautious Canadian

So, basically, “solve my entire life, my two most important relationships, and my economic future in a blog post, please?”

I cannot promise to do any of that, but maybe I can help you form a basis for making a good decision.

I don’t know your mom or your boyfriend or what these arguments were about or who was starting them. It is possible that your mom is being unreasonably controlling and trying to sabotage your relationship with a really good man, and that this is a story about how you fight for your autonomy & your right to choose who you love. It is also possible that your mom has a little bit of age, experience, & distance from the situation and sees something about him that you do not. Maybe your boyfriend is an argumentative tool who picks a lot of fights. Maybe she thinks he doesn’t treat you well or that you will be unhappy. Maybe this is a story about a concerned parent wanting you to complete your education and figure out who you are and what you want outside of the context of some guy, even if he is a good guy.  Maybe this is “I love you, but I do not think you are ready.”

Using purse strings to control & compel the personal life of an adult someone who is not you is:

a) Doomed. Even if the controlled person outwardly conforms to the rules you lay down, your relationship with them is destroyed forever and they will never trust you again. This is what your mom is risking by making this ultimatum.

b) A point in favor of narrative #1.

I can relate. When I was 19-20, I was involved with a guy I’d been with about a year. My second year of college we were long-distance, with me in DC and him in New York. My mom did not really like him and definitely did not want me taking the bus up to New York to see him. It was fine if he visited, but she did not want me to be running around New York when I was supposed to be studying (quite expensively & at considerable financial sacrifice to her) in D.C. I visited him anyway, she found out, and she threatened to pull financial support. Into this story-stew, shake a giant shaker of slut-shaming, teen pregnancy fears, and Catholic guilt & judgment and stir it up reaaaaaaaaaal good.

Guess what.

1) I think she was wrong to use money & education as a bargaining tool to control my sexuality & romantic life and it damaged our relationship severely.

2) That guy was an awful boyfriend and she was completely right in her assessment of his character & whether he was worth my time.

I don’t think my mom reads this blog, but just in case:

YOU WERE RIGHT ABOUT GREG

HE TURNED INTO A CLINGY STALKER

HE WAS TERRIBLE IN BED

THE MEMORY OF HIM MAKES ME CRINGE

MY GRADES & COLLEGE EXPERIENCE WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER IF I HADN’T GONE TO NEW YORK SO MUCH

Letter Writer, you are not me, your mom is not my mom, your dude is not that dude, but that’s been on my chest for a while and if we solve nothing else in this post, I appreciate the opportunity to say Happy Mother’s Day, 1993-present. To counterbalance, a family member met her current husband when she had just started college and “her whole life was ahead of her” and a lot of voices were telling her not to settle down just yet. She took the lumps & the judgment, did what she thought was right, and in return got the love of her life.

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My mom’s mistake was to try to control when she could not persuade. And that is one of your mom’s mistakes here, too. (There are others. We’ll get to them). And this relationship & these questions are things that you might want to sort out, at length, with a mentor or counselor.

However badly designed, your mom has put some choices in front of you and issued you a test. That test is called, “Okay, How Badly Do You Want This Dude?”

It is but one essay question on a larger test that you were always going to have to take eventually. The bigger test is called “What Do You Want Of This One Life That You Get?”

With the caveat that I think your mom is wrong to try to control you in this way, I want to try to look at this test as a thing made up of things that you would have to figure out for yourself anyway.

  • Where do I want to live?
  • What do I want to do?
  • Is this guy a person I can make a happy life with?
  • How will I support myself?

Here is your terrifying/comforting thought for the day:

Even if we could answer all these questions “correctly” right now, today–

Even if we could make a pretty good guess at an optimum path that will make you the most happy in the long run–

The only way to really know is to choose something and see how it works out.

Terrifying: Mistakes carry real costs. Opportunity costs, sunk costs, relationships strained to a breaking point, and time that you will never get back. You got exactly what you wanted and then found out you wanted the wrong things.

Terrifying: Things are always in flux and many things are out of your hands. You can prepare very hard and make yourself a good candidate for a certain career….and still not get a job. You can swim in a lake and a bacteria amoeba can swim up your nose and eat your brain from within. People get sick, die, leave you. Tornadoes. People who drive while texting. Men in expensive suits behind expensive doors making expensive decisions. A butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the world and the envelope with your resume in it accidentally falls behind the file cabinet.

Comforting: These questions are asked and answered over and over again in the course of your life. The “right” answers will change because you will have changed.
Plenty of people have chosen the wrong partner, the wrong college major, the wrong place to live, the wrong roommates, the wrong paint color, the wrong career, the wrong pants for those shoes, etc. and lived to tell the tale and do better.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.  From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.  I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.  ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia was eating from a pretty privileged fig tree. Certainly not everyone has the same crisis of “All the choices are awesome, how do I pick just one?” But your choices are not horrible, either. Keep going to school with full financial support of your mom and no need to take out student loans, on the condition that you do not share an address with this guy vs. Take a year off from school, live in Paris, make sure that this guy is really who you want to be with, at the cost of supporting yourself much sooner than you planned.

Here is a helpful process for me when making a big decision, developed from one part therapy, one part storytelling, and, weirdly, about four parts management consulting.

1. If I choose this, and everything goes really well and works out exactly how I want it to, what does that look like? What is the fantasy/best case scenario/perfect world version of this? Does that seem like a good goal to have in the first place?

2. If I choose this, and everything does not go well, what does the worst case scenario look like? What do I stand to lose? How likely is it to happen?

3. If the worst case scenario happened, what would I do?  DO NOT SKIP STEP #3. STEP #3 IS WHERE POWER, RESILIENCE, CONFIDENCE LIVES.

4. What are the questions I still need to ask myself? What research do I need to do? Is there some way I can expand my information base to anticipate potential problems and set myself up better to succeed? Are the logistical issues (money, space, time, etc.) surmountable?

5. What is the real obstacle here – The risk, the cost, the thing I am not seeing? Where is my blind spot?

6. What would Old-Me tell me to do? On my deathbed, what will I regret NOT having done? This is the call to adventure

If we were to take your dilemma briefly through that process, here’s what it might look like. These are not meant to be comprehensive or even likely. This is just storytelling. What *could* happen?

Team France

The Dream: You move to France with your boyfriend. You find some kind of au pair or tutoring gig, your housing & visa situation works out, you spend the time that you would have spent on your schoolwork studying French and becoming fluent in it. Taking some time off from school gives you some more clarity and focus about what you do want to study if & when you go back. Gaining independence and distance from your mom helps you gain breathing space and confidence in your own abilities. You figure out how to apply for grants and loans and some way of supporting yourself and/or continuing your studies, leading to [vague future happiness]. You and your boyfriend are incredibly happy together, and you feel confident that this is the person for you. Or, maybe things don’t work out between you, but you are confident that you tried and know more about what you want from life & love.

The Nightmare: You burn your bridges with your mom, and then…..You hate France. You hate this guy. You hate croissants. You need to break up with him and come home and admit that you made a mistake, but your mom enacts your worst “I told you so” nightmare. Now you have no dude and no promise of college and no mom’s house to go to. So you stick it out in a bad relationship. Or you leave him and find yourself stranded. In France. Student loans and debt force you to stay in bad situations, bad jobs and curtail your freedom.

I’m not going to go through all of the questions – that’s between you and your journal and actual discussions with your boyfriend and your mom – but I do want to say two things:

-Being 19, not quite sure what you want to do with your life, and having no parental support or safety net describes A LOT of people’s circumstances. Couch surfing, roommates, a string of part-time jobs, thrift stores, furniture you find in alleys, rice & beans, work-study jobs, student loans, military service, scholarships, night school etc. - If you had to do it, you could do it.

-The “what am I going to do with my life?” question is not going away whatever you decide.

Team Debt-Free Degree

The Dream: You finish your degree. You figure out what you want to do when you grow up, or at least what you want to do next, or, at least a thing you can do for money while you figure the rest of it out. Because you have parental support and no student loans, you are able to take on many internships, volunteer opportunities, and interesting projects that you might not otherwise have had. You are also able to throw yourself into student activities and non-study related passions and friendships. You keep seeing your boyfriend- long distance when you can, visiting when you can. Maybe he manages to transfer to your school. Eventually, you find a way to be in the same place at the same time and start your lives together, and you feel confident about the health of something that can survive so much time and distance. Or, you break up, which is sad, but you meet someone else at the student newspaper or at your theater group and that person is also great. You leave college debt-free, having gotten the most you can out of your education and having tried out many interests.

The Bad Dream: You feel constantly torn between your boyfriend and your college life. You spend all your time Skyping and writing emails and fantasizing about the future at the expense of the now. You miss out on friendships, opportunities, and experiences because you are tied to the future and the distant. You wonder constantly if you are doing the right thing and should have made a different choice. Your relationship with your mom is full of controlling behavior and resentment. The conflict with your mom and distance from your boyfriend drag you down and affect your mental health, and you spend three years of your life feeling resentful, depressed, and torn.

Again, not going through all the questions here, but DO NOT SKIP STEP #3. Step #3 is where you have power & agency, always, no matter what happens. There is no shortcut for Step #3, and no one can do it for you – even if we listed 10-,000 helpful & exciting suggestions, Step #3 is not complete until YOU can articulate what YOU would do if things went wrong.

I am going to cheat and tell you about Step 5 (What is the real question or obstacle here?), as I see it reflected in your letter.

I do not think that you feel particularly invested in or confident in your studies and in your ability to take care of yourself away from your mom’s influence and protection. You cannot quite envision the future where you know how to take care of yourself. “I’ve never supported myself and I know absolutely nothing about it, how would I make ends meet with no savings, no money at all?”

Whether or not you stay or go, I think that is the question you must work on. You don’t have to solve it immediately – there is no shame in not being ready to leave the nest and in needing some time and help to figure this out, and college is a good time and place to do that. You are right exactly where you should be, so don’t use that as a stick to beat yourself up with.

I said earlier that being controlling isn’t the only mistake your mom potentially made here, and that we’d circle back. So here’s my (rhetorical!) question: How the hell did your mom raise a 19-year old with no confidence in her own abilities to take care of herself and no idea how jobs and money actually work?

Because one way I used to win arguments with my mom when she was judgmental or worried-in-a-way-that-basically-adds-up-to-judmental about my choices is, “Well, you either raised me to be able to handle this or you didn’t. I guess we’ll find out.” (She did).

It’s awesome to take care of your kids and provide for them and give them a safety net, but controlling parents can foster dependency pretty hard. If that’s what is going on here, it’s another argument for sorting this out with a counselor. However the problem originated, “but that’s how I was raised by my controlling mother” does not age well as a thing you say out loud to people who are not your therapist.

I’m not under the illusion that capitalism = freedom, or that having good skills and education automatically leads to a paying job, or that the ability to get and hold a job is a statement on a person’s value. We know too much to believe in that anymore, and you’re not stupid or naive to be anxious about this aspect of planning the future. But the ability to earn a living (or at least envision a future where you know how!) is a kind of freedom. It’s the freedom to say “Mom, I am sorry you feel that way, but this is the right choice for me.” It’s freedom from finding yourself in a foreign country dependent on some dude you even aren’t sure you like anymore.

Whatever you decide about France vs. school this year, work on building autonomy and confidence. Get a part-time job – ANY job – and earn a little money with your own sweat. Learn some concrete, practical skills that someone might pay you for at some point down the road. Those skills don’t have to be tied to any college major or degree. Fully half of my professional skill-set comes from managing and being a part of performing arts groups. Seek out counseling & advising through your school, if available.

Finally, if I do all the work of putting my choices through a detailed analysis, and I still don’t feel like I can decide, I add a 7th step. When that fails, I go to an 8th step. I know, they conflict directly with each other. Life is complicated.

7. In the absence of a clear right choice or best choice, which choice preserves the most options for me down the road?

8. I’d generally rather regret a mistake than stay stuck and afraid forever.

I wish you well, Letter Writer. This is an exciting journey that you are on, and these are big, hard questions that you are tackling in a brave and honest way.

Mr. Collins & Lizzie Bennet from Joe Wright adaptation of Pride & Prejudice

At least they aren’t trying to get you to marry him…yet.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My problem boils down to this: can I say no, or do I have to be polite? 

I’m not a social person. I don’t have friends at the moment. The reasons for that are many –mostly boiling down to living at home again while I look for a job. At school, I had close friends I still talk to over the internet, but until I get a more permanent job with fixed hours I don’t have a pool of people I can talk to in a neutral space where I can happily make friends. I’m fine with that. But my parents believe friends = happiness.

My parents recently hired a 20-year-old decorator (I’m 23) and the three of them think that we should be friends. Apparently he saw my books and “knew” he could have an intelligent conversation with me, which he can’t get from his other friends. He also thought it would be nice for me to have someone who would ask how my day went. I said no.

From what I’ve seen and what my parents have said, he seems like a good guy. He’s intelligent, has had a pretty crap life so far, and what he’s made for himself despite that is impressive. He also has ADHD and a tendency to talk and talk and talk, which is exhausting. It seems like the biggest plus point in his favour with my parents is that they sympathise with him.

He calls me by my family nickname instead of my actual name, although I’ve asked him not to. He makes jokes about my quietness (usually the typical “you never shut up, do you?” and “can’t get a word in edgeways around her!”) that I can’t respond to with anything but silence. He phones once or twice a day; I refused to give him my number so he calls the house. He’s turned up on the doorstep unannounced twice. And I don’t know if this is normal behaviour or not. Very few of my friends ever came round to my house. But I feel unsafe when alone there. I’m constantly on alert in case he appears.

So I avoid him and then feel bad, because he’s just very enthusiastic and he can’t help his ADHD. Why should I judge him for that? I think I’m being paranoid, picky, or a sullen, uncommunicative, ungrateful cow towards a young man who just wants to be friends. I know I’m probably abnormal for not wanting to make friends right now, and I shouldn’t be so fussy, but I really, really don’t want to spend time with this man. 

So – what can I do?

Probably In The Wrong

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I’ll be quick- After getting my teaching degree abroad, I’ve moved back home with my folks because I have no money, and there are no teaching jobs (or really ANY jobs) in my area at the moment. I’m also transgender. I came out to my dad about a year ago while we were travelling together, and he said he wanted me “to be the best version of myself I can” and that we’d work through it together. I haven’t told my mother yet, however… because she and I have a very different relationship, based mostly around her trying to make me more feminine.

So… how do I use my words to tell her who I really am? I’m terrified of her A, making this all about her, B, going all Jesus-y on me, or C, just refusing to accept this, which leads to D, me no longer having a place to live, or parents that love me.

I’m so scared. But I’m stuck, and can’t move on with my life until something gives way.
What can I do?

- I need to get on with my REAL life

Hi Real Life,

Corporal A. Beard here!

Since you have come out to your dad already, it may be helpful to have a talk with him first, to let him know you’re about to come out to your mom. If there are specific things you’d like him to do, like being on-board with modeling the name and/or pronouns that make you most comfortable, trying to calm your mom down if she does get really upset, or even just reiterating the supportive things he told you when you first came out to him, then this is a great time to ask. Also, if being kicked out of your house is a real concern, I’d absolutely bring it up with him before you talk to your mom; hopefully he can be your advocate in this as well if it comes down to it.

Being in the closet feels like trying to stuff yourself into all sorts of ill-fitting clothes that aren’t even the right color.

He was supportive in that initial conversation, which is a positive sign, but sometimes you won’t know how people will react to certain parts of your transition until the moment arrives. Some folks are big on Supportive Talk but have a hard time, you know, actually being supportive in concrete, asked-for ways or dealing with visible changes when they start to happen. I don’t know your dad and certainly hope you don’t get pushback from him, but it’s possible that it will happen, or that you might have to re-explain some of what you told him earlier. Or maybe since then you have talked about this a lot and he has a great understanding of the best way to be supportive, and if that’s the case, fantastic! You have a strong advocate in your home already.

Coming out to someone, especially a family member, is a big deal, and important conversations can be trying in a lot of ways – I often react by completely forgetting what I actually mean to say and fumbling around for the point. If you want to do this in person, it won’t hurt to plan the hell out of this conversation. Maybe even write a script – you don’t need to read off of it while you are standing in front of your mom but it might be helpful to write down something you can practice off of and are familiar with. I think it would also be fine to write a letter you hand her – maybe as you say “here’s something really important I’d like you to read, I’m heading to the park/a movie/a friend’s house and I’ll be back in a few hours to talk more about this with you.”

As to exactly what you tell her, I’d break it into two or three parts:

1: The basic information that you want your mom to know about your identity.

“Mom, I’m transgender, which means [whatever that means to you],” possibly with a side of “this may/may not be a surprise to you, here’s a little detail about how I came to understand this about myself” if you have a quick and easy way to sum that up and want to share it with her. However much or little of your identity as you feel safe telling her, just lay it out in the most basic way possible. Your sense of your mom’s gender-savviness may give you the clues you need to work out the details here. (My own Mean Grandma responded to my coming-out letter with “all I know about transgenderal people is those silly-looking men in dresses I see on daytime tv,” along with some other snide comments, which demonstrated that she had no idea what I had just explained to her.)

2: What you need from her.

I think there can be an extra layer of confusion among people who hear comings-out from others but still wonder “yes, but what do I do about it?” If you can give her concrete changes to make and specific ways to be supportive, this will clarify the issue and give her things to work on. Here is where you ask her for any language change you want (name/pronouns), a break from the femininity-policing, or anything else you need. This is one reason I suggest you ask your dad for these things too, beforehand; having someone at your back who is able to model proper behavior can be a real help.

3: What might change in the future.

If you have plans to change your name, start hormone treatment, make significant changes to your wardrobe, etc. and feel like you’ll want to explore some of that in the near future, especially while you’re still living with your parents, now’s the time to give your mom a brief-as-possible explanation. This may not even be part of the initial coming-out announcement, actually – depending on how things go, you might say “there are more plans and details I want to talk about later, but for now I really want you to know the most basic level” and come back to this another time. If all you know now is that you have a lot of options you’re still mulling over and you don’t have concrete plans to share with your mom right now, that’s ok too.

Overall, I think you want to keep the entire explanation as simple and direct as possible. If you have conflicted feelings about certain labels or are unsure about some steps you may or may not take… now is not the best time to get into the complicated details. There will be time for a more in-depth discussion with your mom in the future, if you feel safe opening up to her more, but I think it will make things easier on everyone if you streamline things to start out with.

The tricky thing is this: you can do your best to plan out how the coming-out process will go, but once you let that information out in the world, there’s really no way to know or control how your mom will react to it. People’s emotions are often unpredictable and messy; she might indeed make it all about her, or about Jesus. A lot of parents worry that they did something wrong when they find out that their children are trans, like they dropped us on our heads or didn’t nurture us in the exact right way. I don’t have any insight into what made me the way I am; if you have a strong belief about it you can certainly share it with her, but whatever reaction she has may just be something she has to stew in for a while before she can really come to accept what you have to say.

She’s entitled to feel whatever feelings come up during this process; to be honest, I roll my eyes at the “I must mourn my son/daughter” idea because hello, I’m right here and not dead at all, but at the same time I realize that it is a process many people go through. I don’t have to like it to understand that it happens. Parents have all sorts of hopes and expectations for their children, and even if you’re approaching this from the angle of being really happy that you’ve sorted out something important about yourself, she might fixate on the fact that specific things she may have imagined for your future might not happen, or might happen in a way she didn’t expect. Especially since you say she relates to you a lot through trying to encourage femininity, she might take your identity as a rejection of her idea of womanhood, or may mourn an imagined scenario of helping you shop for a huge fluffy wedding dress, or something else along those lines.

Ideally, though, she will do her own mourning/processing on her own time; she may have a lot of feelings surrounding your identity and your transition process, but those are hers, not yours, to manage. If she tries to suck you into being her therapist, do not go down that road with her! You really don’t want to be in the position of having to apologize to her for doing what you need to do to be happy. It might be helpful for her (and your dad) to look up a PFLAG chapter or similar support group for parents if there’s one in your area. Depending on where you live you may have luck finding a regional group as well; I found several in various parts of the US using a search for variations on “transgender parent support group.” (I am not as familiar with non-US resources, but if you are located elsewhere and want to give a general location in the comments, I can try to find something near you.)

This period of time might be really painful for you, and I’m really sorry if that turns out to be the case. It can be really hard to predict how people will react in this situation, and sometimes even folks who eventually wind up being great allies will say incredibly hurtful things at first. My dad has told me on more than one occasion that his opinion on trans and queer issues in general changed completely once he realized that “those types” were actual people with names and faces, including one of his own children. My own experience coming out to my parents was a bit of a disaster; I wanted to wait until after a big family reunion to come out to them, but at the time of the trip I had been on testosterone for five weeks, my voice had just started to change, and I was insisting that everyone call me by my now-legal name.

As you might imagine, my plans to stay under the radar during several days of Family Togetherness did not go so well! On the last day, my dad cornered me and basically badgered me until, completely unprepared and unscripted, I came out to him in the most awkward, disjointed way I can imagine. I did a poor job explaining myself to him, and I didn’t even get a chance to talk to my mom directly – he insisted on telling her himself, and I don’t even know exactly what he said to her. Things were really awkward after that! My mom called me, crying, and asked me to stop taking testosterone, and my dad’s initial research apparently just turned up porn sites, which he somehow assumed were an accurate representation of trans experiences.

Our relationship was uncomfortable and strained for a while, especially in those first few months. But several years later, while things right now are not quite perfect, they’re much better than I had initially imagined. Eventually, we came through the worst of it with a much better understanding of each other and of how we were going to relate to each other as adults. So even if you feel like it does go poorly, you may find that things improve once your mom has had a chance to process the situation, get over any feelings of loss she may have, and see how much happier and more comfortable you are as your transition progresses.

The goal here is for you to have the space to find out what *does* fit and feel right to you.

The earliest parts of my process of coming out to friends and family and starting my social and medical transition were pretty confusing and stressful. The fact that I had space to figure things out while living and spending time with supportive people made the entire process a lot easier. If you’re stuck living with your parents and the situation at home is either actively hostile or just plain awkward for a bit, it’ll be even more important to find outside sources of support.

What does your general support system look like right now? Do you have trusted friends who can offer support or, at the very least, listen with a sympathetic ear if you need to vent about your parents? I think now is a great time to look at your self-care practices and make sure you’re doing everything you can to be good to yourself.Is there an LGBTQ center in your area that offers support groups you could attend? There are a lot of great online spaces for trans folks and I don’t want to discount them, but I personally find in-person support groups to be a lot more helpful. The quality and usefulness of these groups can vary based on who’s attending and what you want to get out of them, but if there is one near you I’d give it a try to see if it’s a good fit.

I’ll also note that some queer community centers that offer support groups will also offer job placement programs; this might be worth a look as well. There’s some good content in the archives here about working through sub-optimal work and living situations; #110#370, and  #449 are a good place to start.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m having a bit of trouble with my parents.

To start off with, I’m in my mid-40s and have been living on my own since I was 19. My parents are in their late 60s. They’re both retired, but Dad has been volunteering his time at a local school to give him something to do. Because of this, he is not home during the day.

In the last year or so, Mom has been unable to drive, so I have taken up driving her where she needs to go when my father can’t drive her. At first this wasn’t a problem, but more recently it has become a huge headache. For starters, she has tried calling me for a ride when I am at work, which is obviously a no-go. If I try to arrange things for another time, when I am available, she gets huffy and combative and acts generally displeased the whole time we’re out. This usually results in her complaining to my father about how uncooperative I am, which gets me a phone call from Dad telling me off for not being more helpful.

I really want to help my Mom, but I have my own life to worry about and I can’t change my schedule to fit hers all the time. It’s really difficult to approach her about the subject because she gets very defensive any time I bring it up. Do you have any scripts for talking with her about it? Also something to help with Dad would be nice too.

Frustrated Daughter

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Hey Capt., 

Cliff notes. My sister got pregnant three years in a row, giving birth to three healthy babies by c-section. With baby 1 she was put into bed rest almost immediately and I was assigned to make sure she didn’t jeopardize her or the baby’s health. This was a difficult task only made worse after the birth because it meant an additional 4 weeks at the least. Around 2 weeks into that time I broke down sobbing. My sister threw me out and my parents let me have the morning off before insisting that I return to make sure my sister hadn’t hurt herself. 

Continuing into the next two pregnancies I was told I had to stay with my sister because my parents were afraid for both her mental and physical health. This involved me sometimes driving 3 hours daily back and forth to my sister and her husband’s apartment. Where I was welcome by my sister but resented by her husband for being there and also for not doing enough while I was there. 

I am realizing that I was depressed. Slowly over the last few years I’ve been trying to recover. And I’ve felt like I have been. (In part thanks to this blog.) 

Now my sister is pregnant again. It’s been the easiest pregnancy yet. When I told my mom I was not going to do what I did before she said that yes I would. I felt like I had been slapped. I tried to tell her no but she told me it’s family. I told her a little desperately that if she didn’t want me to resent that baby and my sister even more than I already did she wouldn’t make me. She just repeated the family bit. 

That was a little over a month ago. I am depressed. My sister, who had already spent christmas at my house, wanted to spend the week following new years here as well. I told her no, and I told my mother I can’t do it. I am depressed and I just can’t face it. My mom offered to pay for me to take off for a few days so that my sister can come and spend the time here.(My Mom and I live together.) She says that she understands that I am depressed but she thinks my sister is too and she might need to come up to get some relief. 

Captain Awkward, I am being asked to leave my own house. I am being hounded by my mother to find a quick fix for my depression. And I am sincerely at a loss. Can you help me? 

-Just empty.

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