Good Afternoon, Captain A,
I’d like to ask you for help. Specifically, I’m having a hard time dealing with my parents. Let me explain the situation.
I’m currently twenty, a rising junior in college, and planning to study abroad next semester. The school that I currently attend is around a thousand miles away from home, so I don’t go back very often (Maybe once a semester and during winter/summer break). However, when I do go back, there’s always tension between me and my parents, and I think they (at least my mother) still thinks that I plan to return to living at home and that college is a stayed vacation.
The thing is, though, that I don’t. My parents (Well, my mother anyway) are borderline abusive. I know it’s not her fault, and that she has a lot of other problems to deal with, but she tends to take it out on me. She suffers from depression, and gets moody really easily. When this happens, she begins to shout. It’s not as bad now, but when I was in middle and high school there were times that, almost on a daily basis, she’d shout that “I’d be happier if she was dead” or that “Maybe she should just go kill herself.” Sometimes, all I had to do to bring it on was ask her to quit smoking in the living room and turn the TV off so I could study. Her chain smoking’s becoming a real problem too, it’s too expensive and our family barely has the money to cover it, and it makes the house really hard to live in. In addition to the holes burned into almost every chair and sheet, there’s also the constant smell of smoke everywhere in the house. From time to time, inevitably she will get moody and refuse to leave the house for days. She won’t even go to work, she’ll say that she’s too sick, or that she can’t be bothered to go. She completely gave up on doing any sort of work around the house when I was in middle school, and as a result, it’s become so terrible that it deserves a place on hoarders. There’s nowhere in the house that is clean (Except for maybe my room) because her trash is everywhere. If me or dad tries to pick up after her, she begins shouting at us, and won’t let us do any of the work, claiming that she’ll get to it “eventually,” before she starts crying that we hate her. The problem is that eventually never really comes, and the house only gets worse. My dad’s already given up on making the place clean, and I can’t do anything about it so far away. There are piles three feet high of trash scattered around the living room and my parent’s bedroom, and the rest of the house is cluttered from the things that she bought when she was trying to use shopping as therapy. During this time, she got our family over a hundred thousand dollars into debt, and dad’s currently working fourteen hour days to pay it off.
I have a few part time jobs around campus, but I can’t (And dad won’t let me) do too much to help. The college I go to is really expensive, and I feel bad for placing such an extra burden on him, but at the same time, I’d feel guilty, and I don’t want to leave because of problems that my mother’s debt caused. I know that’s selfish of me, but I’d regret it too much, and I’m only two years away from my degree. In addition, studying abroad is something I’ve wanted to do since I was little, and it’s not costing us much more than the current semester at my home institution (The only real extra cost are the program fees and the plane ticket).
I was able to find a job on campus for the summer, so my housing is currently paid for, and I don’t have to go home for more than a week in August. I’m also paying most of my own food bills so they won’t have to.
But, eventually, they’re going to expect me to come home and live long term, and I can’t anymore. I can’t stand the house, and I can’t stand my mother. I know a lot of the time she means well at heart, and that she loves me, and that I’m important to her, but a lot of the behavior that she shows are classic signs of abuse. I can’t cut off complete contact with my family because of my dad, he practically raised me, and he’s paying my tuition, so it wouldn’t be right to him.
At the same time, I don’t enjoy talking with them frequently, and I don’t know how to break it to them that I’m not returning to the house to live again.
Confused and Annoyed
Dear Confused and Annoyed:
You are so smart to arrange your life so that you spend as little time at home as possible.
And yeah, there is no way you are moving back there EVER EVER EVER AGAIN.
People don’t just decide to stop hoarding. They need a lot of help, and usually things have to get beyond catastrophic before they get that help, and sometimes they don’t even get the help then, or they refuse and resist it even when it’s available. There is nothing you can do about your mom’s problems. And there’s really nothing you can do to “save” your dad from them. He’s an adult and will leave or stay as he chooses. If you moved back home, it would not fix the situation. Nobody’s life would get better, but your life would get worse from the stress and tension and health hazards of a hoarded house. Let your dad help you with your education. He’s doing what he can to help you achieve escape velocity – don’t waste it!
Please go study abroad without guilt. This is what you are supposed to be doing with your life right now. Please seek the counseling resources you can through the school: At a fancy school like you attend those resources will be included as part of your tuition and fees.
Now, as to your specific question about breaking the news that you won’t move back after graduation, is there a reason you have to have that conversation right now? Yes, guilt. Yes, the desire to be honest. But you’re not responsible for your parents’ assumptions about how you’ll live your life.
I say: This is not a Right Now conversation, this is a 2-Years-From-Now conversation. Let the school counselor hold your hand and help you manage this decision and safely defuse the unexploded FEELINGSBOMBS your mom has installed in your life. In the meantime, keep your future plans to yourself and speak about them only very vaguely.
If your parents talk about how you’ll be moving back after graduation, say “hmmm” and “huh” and “we’ll see where I can get a job!” and be noncommittal as heck. If she really pushes you to commit to moving back and makes threats about what she’ll do if you don’t? LIE. Lie like hell. Those lies are not mean things you are doing to her, those lies mean your own survival. Secretly, plot your escape. Excel at your studies. Make your school’s career office your friend starting now and go after everything you want.
In two years, when you graduate, here’s how the conversation will go:
“Mom and Dad, I got a job! I’ll be living (where you’ll be living!)”
Your parents will react how they’ll react. Some mix of pride and some mix of pressure to move home. Your mom may make threats. Please, please understand that if you did move back home she would still make threats – slightly different ones, but the dynamic would be totally unchanged and you would be powerless to fix the situation or make her behave differently. She’d make the threats every single day in the gross, unsafe house that reeks of smoke, and you’d live there too and wouldn’t be able to get away from them. For the record, threatening to kill yourself so that other people will do what you say isn’t “borderline” abusive. It’s full-on abusive.
You finish school, study abroad (Eat all the things! Meet all the people!), go work at your awesome future career, make as much money as you can, pay back your loans, and invite your parents to visit periodically. Go home when and for as long as you can stand it, and stay in a hotel when you do.
P.S. You are awesome and are handling this awesomely. I do not worry about you at all.