#283: “How do I tell my parents I’m not moving back home with them after graduation?”

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.

44 thoughts on “#283: “How do I tell my parents I’m not moving back home with them after graduation?”

  1. LW, I was you five years ago — emotionally abusive mother, disgusting house, attending pricy and prestigious college of my dreams a thousand miles away and very rarely coming back to visit. I got guilted like hell for these decisions. Honestly, there’s no way I’d be healthy, happy, and twenty-five without them.

    The Captain is absolutely right about moving away at the end of college is a two-year-away conversation. But one of the things you need to start doing now is starting to disengage. You can’t cut off communications entirely — but you can start limiting them. Going abroad will be a great excuse to cut down — time zone differences, it’s too expensive, totally busy schedule. When you’re at college, only call your mother once or twice a week, and when you have these calls, be legitimately on your way to something — the walk from my apartment to campus was exactly ten minutes, so I would start the weekly call when I was on my way out the door and then hang up when I was at campus. I wouldn’t answer when my mother called me, and if she sent me four e-mails in a day, I would only respond to one. It took a while to train her into this, but by now, communication with her is very manageable. I’m in control of it.

    Keep communication on your terms whenever you can. You’re an awesome human being who is being super-successful, empathetic, and completely reasonable about your needs.

  2. Oh, LW, I’m so sorry. Your situation is bigtime no fun. I definitely concur with the Captain, though, that you appear to be an awesome person handling an un-awesome situation really well.

    There was one line in your letter that really stood out to me: “I know it’s not her fault [that she’s borderline abusive]”

    If this is what you tell yourself so that you can not hate your mom, that’s one thing. I get that, I really do. If it’s what you really truly deep-down believe, I have to tell you, it’s not true. I’ve had recurrent major depression since 1995, and I’ve never behaved toward anyone the way your mom does. Mental illness can make life suck beyond the telling of it, but it doesn’t completely control your behavior.

    I say this as someone who used “It’s not really her fault, she’s got a lot of problems and I’m just a convenient target” as a mantra for years. Guess what? She did have a lot of problems, more than I ever realized. It’s kind of amazing she didn’t have a total meltdown. But that still doesn’t make it okay, and it was her fault. Things changed, and the problems eventually got fixed, and she made amends, and now we have a pretty solid relationship. Acknowledging that your mom, despite all excuses, is behaving badly and that she is responsible for her behavior doesn’t have to end all hopes of a good relationship.

    1. This is true. For a long time my family thought that because my dad was depressed (and addicted, as we later found out) it wasn’t reasonable to expect or ask for decent treatment. That’s not the case. Mental illness is NOT an acceptable reason to mistreat people any more than a physical illness would be, and there are people with every illness under the sun who manage to avoid it.

      That said, it’s really really common for people with mental illnesses to mistreat others around them. It’s often one of the things that separates ‘illness’ from ‘personality quirk’. But know that you don’t deserve it and you don’t have to accept it. Depending on your situation you may not be able to stop it right now, but it’s not an inherent part of the illness or of the other person or your relationship with them. It can change, eventually, if the other person wants it to. Until then, it is not your fault. And you deserve better.

  3. Yes, YES YES To everything the Cap’n has said.

    You have no reason to feel guilt over this. Guilt is understandable, because you’re human and you love your parents, but feel free to remind yourself that you are not the one causing this. Your mum, however much you may love her and however bad her personal situation may be, is.

    My situation isn’t abusive, but I do have some general parent-stuff I can share with you. My mum has dreamed of living in Spain since she was a teenager. When I was a kid, we would go there for holidays and she would always talk about how “we” were going to move out there to live, some day. My entire life, it was assumed that my future was with them, in Spain. She took me to Spanish lessons as a child, fought like the blazes when my school cancelled their Spanish program and told me I had to pick German or French, and always encouraged me to study subjects that could translate well into internationally-available jobs.

    I’m 28 years old, now. I met someone wonderful, finished university and we moved in with each other. About five years ago, my parents finally moved to Spain. My partner and I have no children, and nothing really tying us to England any more. We’ve still not moved out there. Every few months, my parents will talk about when-I-move-to-Spain.

    I don’t want to live in Spain, and neither does my other half. We’re never moving there. So what have I told my parents?


    I’ll talk to them like any normal daughter would about my dreams and plans – how we want to have a smallholding together with space for his workshop, what livestock we want to raise, how we’re working towards it, what our dream house will be like.

    I’ll talk about how important it is to always go where there’s work, and that for us, generally, being able to make a decent living is the most important thing. I’ll talk about how important it is to us that we be able to help out my other half’s little sister whenever she needs it. none of them are things my parents can disagree with. You DO need to always go where work is. Making a living IS important. Being there for the younger relatives IS very important. And m
    none of these things says “I’m never going to Spain” explicitly. But they do set the tone for the conversation we’ll have many years from now.

    One day, my other half’s horology course will be complete, and we’ll both work hard and save up money and get our own home with a workshop and some land. And when that day comes, I’ll call my parents and tell them “You won’t believe what happened! A really great opportunity opened up for us in (Place we really want to live). We’d be mad not to take it, so we’re moving to (wonderful place)”. They won’t need to know we’d been planning that specific “opportunity” for years, and they don’t need to be told now, that we’re never moving to live near them.

    You don’t need to tell your parents you’re not moving back home. Children grow up and find lives of their own and do their own thing. That’s how it works.

  4. You’re doing well! Captain Awkward is right, this is definitely a ‘secure your own life jacket before helping others’ situation. You’re not betraying anyone. It is NORMAL for people to move out on their own after graduation. Most parents actively want their children to move out! Your mother is the one with a twisted idea of how this is supposed to work, and it’s wrong for her to try to inflict pain if you don’t go along with her. Personally, I would avoid discussing that subject like crazy until after I’d signed a lease for an apartment (and hopefully accepted a job offer too), and then present it as a fait accompli. If you have younger siblings, you may end up in a position to help them escape the dragon and her hoard as well.

    One piece of advice, which I hope won’t come off as condescending: There’s often a lot of emphasis on studying what you’re interested in while you’re in college, but please make sure you’re getting a degree that will easily lead to a job. Many of my college friends graduated with degrees in English lit, music performance, international studies, etc. and are now doing crappy, emotionally draining jobs that have nothing to do with what they studied, if they’re employed at all. Even some with degrees that sounded promising (like secondary ed and history, with the goal of teaching high school history) have gotten nowhere. Thanks to the economy, those fields are flooded with people who already have experience – sometimes a lot of it – and new grads don’t stand a chance. By comparison, my friends with technology, science, and accounting degrees almost all have good jobs. Please research the field that you’re going into and make sure it’s one that has lots of job openings. I’d hate to see you get stuck having to move back home for lack of finances.

    And have fun studying abroad! The semester I spent abroad had absolutely nothing to do with my degree, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. You won’t regret it. 🙂

    1. Er, just to add to the degree thing, there are plenty of jobs out there that don’t need specific degrees and are okay as jobs. Thinking you have to do what you studied is why high school history is *always* flooded. Of course, I haven’t hit the job market yet and actually enjoy an employable subject, so you may just want to ignore me.

      1. Maybe it depends on where you are, but in my experience, that hasn’t been the case. There just aren’t enough jobs, period.

    2. I think it’s a good idea for the LW to research the job market, but it’s probably too late for hir to change majors as a rising junior (at least without adding extra semesters, which doesn’t sound like it would be financially feasible).

      I know you mean well, but personally, I HATE the advice that anyone who wants a job should go into STEM, because:
      1.) It’s the job-hunting version of “just eat well and exercise!”
      2.) Not everyone is good at math/science. For a person who is equally good at, say, biology and creative writing, biology is probably a more stable career choice. But for someone who doesn’t have much interest and/or aptitude for any kind of STEM? Forcing themselves down that career path isn’t going to help anything.
      3.) If, somehow, the magical fairy of STEM Ability could make everyone good at math and science? There would no longer be enough jobs.
      4.) From what I’ve seen, the job market in sciences sucks too. Maybe not as badly as it sucks for humanities majors like me, but it’s still not exactly rainbows and unicorns. I’ve been watching my roommate struggle to find a job since she graduated in May with a BS in pathobiology, and it’s painful. Her job hunt isn’t going any better than mine is.

      (BTW, this is dusty_rose, even though I’m using a different email address.

      1. 2nding this. My SO, with a degree in chemical engineering, has been job-hunting for six months now with no success; our friend who got a degree in psychology found a job within the month. For the new grad it’s a question of luck and being good at interviews, much more than having qualifications for a specific field. If you’re a programmer who clearly, visibly hates what they’re doing, you’re still not going to get hired.

      2. Agreed, on all counts.

        LW, major in what you want to major in. Your passion for the subject will make you learn more and get better grades than any amount of dragging yourself grimly through some ‘practical, employable’ subject you don’t care about. You’ll learn things. Some of them will be indirectly useful to your future job, and some of them may not, and some of them may be directly useful to your third or fourth job but not your first.

        Get your degree, because that will solidly help. Get it in whatever you’re getting it in. And then, when it comes to job-hunting, don’t be afraid to widen your search field to things that aren’t directly in your major.

        I majored in the humanities, in an interdisciplinary field. It actually is an employable one — but I didn’t want to actually work in the immediately employable parts of that field, and I still don’t. Instead, every single job I’ve had has been some variety of office work that wasn’t directly connected to a single class I took, and I don’t regret that at all. I have a day job, and I have time for a lot of hobbies, and I can hold forth on random points of linguistics and Middle Eastern history if my friends inquire, and that’s all cool by me.

        1. Nthing this: as someone who is minoring in computer science because I actually like to program I have to say with as much emphasis as possible please do not force yourself into it.

          If the “you’ll hate it and hate yourself” argument doesn’t convince you, consider that jobs in tech fields WILL test to see if you can actually program, and also that most everyone I’ve talked to who is forcing themselves into CS also sucks at it. Because the reason they hate it is that it requires a very specific pattern of thinking that doesn’t come naturally to them, and since it doesn’t they also suck at writing any actual code.

      3. My brother’s a TV news producer, and he just landed a fantastic new job. He had two networks competing for him. They told him there’s a lot of demand for young producers because, thanks to the economy, fewer people are majoring in film or communications; college students are all going for practical majors instead.

        Study what interests you. But be ready for anything when you graduate. I second the Captain’s advice to spend a lot of time at the campus career center.

        1. Instead of the career center, may I suggest askamanager.org? (truly one of my favorite blogs). She’s got tons of great advice on job-hunting and interviewing and many, many college career centers have dated, not-so-great advice. But try to start networking now through your alumni and professors (could land you a job or get you started on a job) and see if you can land an internship.

          Also, my sympathies. My mom has major depressive episodes. I just told her as gently as I could “I love you, but this isn’t the kind of problem I, as your child, can deal with. You need to talk to someone. I love you..” And then wouldn’t talk to her when the conversation became about her depression – whether in topic or in attitude. (This may or may not work for you; my mom worked hard to get through her depression without affecting her children – antidepressants helped, but when it wasn’t enough she added talk therapy and that made a huge difference.)

    3. “One piece of advice, which I hope won’t come off as condescending: There’s often a lot of emphasis on studying what you’re interested in while you’re in college, but please make sure you’re getting a degree that will easily lead to a job.”

      Sorry, it’s condescending. First because it’s a fallacy that certain undergrad degrees lead “easily” to jobs. The job market sucks for new grads, and it’s not silly to research careers in specific fields and do what you can to prepare yourself to be successful and make the debt & sacrifice to pay tuition worth it, but there are no guarantees. Also, having to do “emotionally draining jobs that have nothing to do with your undergrad major” is not that unusual for people who majored in any subject. Jobs are less fun than college majors, and the jobs you have very early in your career in any field involve drudgery, learning the ropes, etc. You don’t owe yourself to sign up for an emotionally draining college major just to prepare yourself for adult life.

      The LW is already focusing on building her resume through summer jobs. Focusing on internships, work experience, building some kind portfolio that shows skills is way better than selecting one particular major or kind of major, esp. something she’s not particularly interested in.

      Maybe I’d have made more $ if I’d majored in STEM, but maybe not, because even though I liked science in high school I’d be Turd at it. I found the mandatory computer programming classes I had to take to be slow, creeping torture.

      An Froofy International Relations Major Who Worked in International Relations Quite Successfully Until She Ran Away To Work In The Froofy Arts

      1. I did major in STEM (with a second degree in philosophy) and while I started easily in a STEMish job, a couple of years out I transitioned to a thing that doesn’t have a degree for it, really. I’m doing program management in compliance with my ChemEng degree. My boss has a PhD in biochem. One of my coworkers never finished their degree, one is in business, and one.. I don’t know, but their last position was running a help desk. I don’t know that even a “program management” business degree would come with the skills we look for in our team.

        Study what you are interested in and gain valuable skills in things you are happy and productive doing. There are lots of jobs that don’t have a solid degree train to them. Job hunting pretty much blows even when it is easy, which it isn’t right now. My major/job hunting advice: Learn to market your skills. Have skills.

    4. As an English major, from a fairly prestigious school, I could not agree more. It is NOT too late to switch your major if that’s the case. It might feel that way, but it is NOT. If I could go back and do college over again, I would abjure English and opt for the tech field. I don’t know what your major is, LW, but pleasepleaseplease, pick something that will make you in demand when you exit college!

      1. And I understand why people might disagree with the initial advice. My response is colored by my sincere regret at my choice of major, and the knowledge that I would have far more options now if I had actually believed in my abilities and chosen something other than English.

        1. Sorry you are having regrets.

          In most cases, your undergrad degree doesn’t really matter when getting your first job out of college. Jobs like “writer” and “artist” have to be made up out of nothing anyway, these days, so most people who want to do that will have to do something else for money anyway until something breaks for them. There are relatively few adult paid jobs that entail “read a book and write an essay about it and be ready to discuss it in class.”

          However, there are tons of English majors in law firms, ad agencies, consulting firms and a million other jobs that have nothing to do with reading great books and sounding smart about them on little sleep.

          What matters is resume, cover letter, contacts, skills. So I say major in whatever the hell you want, and get some skills that are useful in the workplace, and do some research and make some contacts in your chosen field as early as you can and talk to them about what you can do to help yourself get a job. And realize that entry level jobs will always be something other than what you planned or majored in.

          My freshman film students can, at the end of 1 year, have an idea, revise that idea, present the idea, get other people to work in a team to implement the idea, put together all the logistical and budgetary things to execute the idea, finish the work on a tight deadline, present it for critical feedback, and then go out and do it again. They can lead teams and be members of teams. They can defend their ideas and take critical feedback and revise. They are extraordinarily skilled at a ton of things that will be useful in any kind of workplace they end up in, which is great, because most of them will not end up with careers in the film industry and will end up doing something else either while they work as independent filmmakers or something else entirely because we don’t always know what we want to do when we’re 18.

          BTW I went to a very fancy school for undergrad and learned how to do none of that in classes and a ton of that in my part-time (boring) jobs and extracurriculars.

          Anyone who tells you that college leads directly to a job or a certain kind of job is lying. Skilled, personable people can talk their way into any kind of job, provided that job opening exists.

          I need everyone to leave their advice about majors out of this thread. This is a derail. Who even knows what the LW is majoring in. Making her second-guess that now does not help with the family stuff.

          1. I have applied and applied and applied, everywhere that I possibly could. I am amazing at certain things, but no one will hire me. No one. The only jobs I can get are exceptionally exploitative (one dollar above minimum wage doing shit work that will not lead to future opportunities).

            I am so very lucky that I have a partner who is supporting me while I complete a program wherein I can retrain. In large part because, while my program was amazing as an English program, it left me with absolutely zero market skills unless I want to go for a PhD. Which I don’t. Which I really, really wish I had known as an undergrad.

            My whole point is: sometimes a humanities degree is awesome. And sometimes, it really really isn’t. You’re right – I don’t know what the LW is majoring in. But I sincerely hope, for hir sake, that it’s something which offers a wide variety of marketable skills. When I was about LW’s age, I had doubts about my major. But I silenced them, because I thought it was “too late” to change majors. Only in retrospect have I realized how wrong I was. And I hope LW doesn’t make the same mistake. That’s all. Because I don’t want the LW to end up in a dysfunctional, harmful situation because zie can’t get a job because zie took a major that didn’t give hir any useful, marketable skills.

          2. Eden, I’m sorry you are dealing with that. The LW does not need YOUR anxieties on top of her own. No one is saying that the topic of one’s college major shouldn’t be carefully considered (or that it isn’t a shit job market, especially for new grads). She might be majoring in the same stuff as you and just…better than you at it. Or with a different skillset. Or better connected. Or luckier. I realize you mean to be helpful, but the LW is doing at awesome at life. This thread needs to stop being about what to major in, it’s a total derail. Most college majors in the liberal arts do not supply people with directly transferrable marketable skills that lead right to a certain career path. If someone told you they would, they lied. You pick that stuff up on the fly, through internships, extracurriculars, part-time jobs, specialized training, and some of those “shit” jobs you talked about.

            I’m not warning people again. Further discussions of the value of a particular major (even from people who agree with me) are derailing this thread and I’m deleting them.

        2. It’s funny, I also majored in English but I feel kind of the opposite way. I don’t have much interest in STEM, beyond enjoying seeing metaphors in math.

          I chose English partly because it interested me, but also partly because I thought it was relatively practical as humanities go. I kept hearing that you can do almost anything with an English major–that it gives you a broad base of skills that appeal to a variety of employers.
          I also ended up majoring in Sociology, because I kept taking interesting classes and suddenly I had half a soc major, so I figured why not finish it?

          Now I almost wish I’d taken Creative Writing instead of English. Considering how much the job market sucks, my prospects probably wouldn’t be any worse (and in any case, I’d still have the soc major for broad-general-whatever cred), but at least I’d have spent four years studying something I loved instead of something I only liked.

    5. Major it what excites you and makes you happy. Your major means absolutely nothing in the long run.

      I wanted to be a veterinarian, but failed Calculus my first semester of my senior year. It screwed my scholarship and there’s no way I could take a 5th year. Switched to English because I’d already completed the minor. Got a job at a children’s science museum because I had the science background (thanks Zoology major) AND could talk about it to normal humans (thanks, English major). Worked at a PR firm. Worked teaching Environmental Education to kids. Worked as a fundraiser for a nonprofit. Worked for the EPA explaining the regulatory process to residents. Now, I’m a stay-at-home mom.

      My husband’s degree is in Fisheries Management. Through some quirks and a Master’s in Public Health, he works for Medicaid as a policy analyst and the CDC wants to hire him as an epidemiologist.

      My best friend majored in comparative religion in college. She decided that science was her thing and spent the next 10 years in school. Now she’s a PhD and is working to cure one type of childhood cancer at St. Jude’s.

      I know very few people who end up doing at 40 what they thought they’d be doing when they were 18. College is just a foundation to build on, make it a happy, stable foundation.

    6. Yeah, it came off as condescending. It also came off as actively insulting for those of us who already HAVE those degrees, and who– even in OH NOOOOOOOO UNRELATED JOBS OH THE HORROR– have perfectly satisfying jobs and careers and lives. And make money. And haven’t “gotten nowhere”. I once had an HR director tell me that she actively looks for people with background in the arts because “they’re better at creative choices and at learning random things.”

      On the other hand, I know people who made very sane, sedate college major choices and now actively loathe the jobs in the field they majored in– jobs that often haven’t turned out to be the sure-fire road to wealth and general awesomeness that they were promised. I know a total of ONE person who is in the field she majored in, and who enjoys her job.

      Your mileage obviously varies, but damn, that really came off as YOU WILL FAIL AT LIFE IF YOU MAJOR IN THE ARTS, and you may kindly take that, wad it up tightly, and stick it in your ear.

  5. LW, if you need a chorus to chime in and tell you you’re doing the right thing, then here’s another one! You are absolutely doing what you should be doing. And I’m jumping up an down yelling “Yes!” about not starting the arguing and guilt tripping now. Another point for when the times when the guilt starts overtaking you: Put on your own mask before assisting others. Getting out and establishing yourself as an adult with your own home and career will put you in a position in the future to help your dad should such time arise as you can do something useful without sacrificing your health and peace of mind for it. You are absolutely not responsible for their problems, they are adults, but if it helps, keep telling yourself that going back will only hurt you and do nothing to help.
    Moving away after college is a normal thing to do. It’s not hurtful. It’s not abandonment.
    (Hoarding + smoking + furniture burns is freaking me the hell out. I had a hoarder in my extended family.)

  6. Nthing what the Captain said. Save the conversation for when it happens.

    And if you have time in your fabulous exciting college life (not snark! I didn’t read for fun at all during college because busy), I really recommend Jessie Sholl’s book Dirty Secret, because her story has a great and achievable happy ending – she learned to have a decent relationship with her mother that didn’t involve fixing her or living in/with her hoard. As the child of an alcoholic I found that it really resonated with me.

  7. I know that feel bro.

    My mum was a bit hoarder-y and messy. And a smoker.

    I went away to college in a not as far away place, and dealt with the “why don’t you come home to visit more”. I’d go home for the weekend, and I’d have to spend hours clearing my bed of crap so I’d have someone to sleep, because my room, even when I was living there, had become a dumping ground for random crap.

    The last time I visited was for Xmas, maybe 2000?, and I didn’t have the energy to clear crap off “my” bed, in “my” room, so I just slept on the couch in the living room. And the place as so messy and dusty that I spent the entire holidays hopped up on allergy tablets and sleeping on the couch and it hit me that I couldn’t do that shit anymore.

    So I stopped visiting. From then on, I was too busy working to come back.

    I agree that you don’t need to tell them you won’t be moving back. That’s future you’s job. Your job now is to kick ass at school and do internships and be as financially independent as you can, and get counselling so your parents aren’t so much in your head. Basically, it’s your job to ensure that future you doesn’t need to move back home, whether that need is financial or psychological.

    The environment you describe? No reasonable parent would want their child to move back into it. And maybe your mum’s broken and can’t do any better, and maybe your dad loves her and won’t do any better, or, hell, maybe he’s a little bit broken too. Doesn’t matter.

    You don’t have to choose their life.

  8. First off: DO NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT GETTING AN EDUCATION, your dad is willing to pay, and knew what he was getting into. Well, try not to anyway, because guilt is a sneaky beast, but at least don’t call yourself selfish for getting an education, because if you want to support your family (and you don’t have to), graduates earn more (though your actual earnings may vary).

    Second, the reason you don’t have to return home? You’ll be 22. Heck, some parents would be practically pushing you out the door (in an independence-encouraging way). You already are an adult, and you can live in a tent in the woods if you want to. Surely she’s not expecting you to stay there forever? Plus, the smoke is a health risk in itself.

    I’m just glad you’ve already made the decision not to move back. Good luck.

  9. Hey LW! The Captain’s advice is great. I did these things years ago, and it really works! Which is to say, achievable. My mother isn’t abusive, but she can be a bit much, so as each sibling in my family has become an adult, we’ve all had to learn how to tell her “no” and other things she doesn’t like to hear.

    Hey Mom, guess what! I’m moving to Asia! Yay!

    Hey Mom, guess what! I’m marrying an agnostic in an opera house! The presider is a gay lady! Yay!

    Hey Mom, guess what! I can’t come with the family on vacation, because I’m an adult with a full-time job! Yay! I mean, uh, sorry. (But still yay on the inside.)

    Don’t talk to your mother about this anytime soon. But when you do, be tactful (no need to hurt feelings unnecessarily) and also frame it as sooo so so so so so great for you.

    This is what I told my younger sister:

    1. Move in with your mother only if you CAN.
    2. Move in with your mother only if you WANT to.

    If both conditions are not met, it is not something you should do. And don’t feel guilty. You can’t meet others’ needs until you meet your own first. And, importantly, your needs outweigh her desire.

    1. I second Caito’s suggestion to break news using many exclamation points. I have had very good luck using the Relentless Enthusiasm Method to overcome various people’s discomfort with my making choices they would not have made for me.

      Enjoy your study abroad, LW! I hope you have a grand adventure. You sound like a good egg.

  10. LW, my dad’s a hoarder, and has been abusive at times. Yet I still feel guilty sometimes after moving 3000 miles away and rarely visiting. The last time I visited, I slept on the couch – there was no where else that wasn’t loaded down with stuff – and it was still filthy. And the entire house was messy and gross, and I ended up getting sick from the visit. I think it was that visit that finally convinced me I no longer need to feel guilty – that I was jeopardizing my physical health by staying there.

    Not that I wasn’t also jeopardizing my mental/emotional health also by visiting, but those issues seemed easier to ignore. My previous visits I just pretended I was camping – that was why I was dirty and couldn’t take a shower! It wasn’t that the bathroom tub was black and slimy with mildew! I was Being A Good Daughter, right?

    So I’d add to all the great advice here, you don’t have to feel guilty for making a healthy (both physically, mentally, and emotionally) decision.

    1. Most of my guilt comes from the fact that when I lived there, I was the person who cooked/cleaned/kept the house from falling apart/general caretaker. And so I felt guilty when I grew up and moved away and wasn’t taking care of them anymore.

      Which leads me to this suggestion to consider: if you are in the US, you might consider calling the social services in the area in which your parents live. If your parents are over 65, most counties have a Council on Aging or something like it, which has trained people who can deal with things like depression and hoarding. If they are not 65 or older yet, there may be Mental Health Services that would suit them.

      There may be repercussions – depending on the state of their house, it could end up condemned. I don’t know if you could remain anonymous, or if the social worker would report that it was you who called – even thousands of miles away, your parents could make your life hell for that.

      So it’s a decision to be made carefully. But if you’re having “caretaker” feelingsguilt, knowing a professional is doing the caretaking might help. I don’t know if its right for you, and it might not be right for you right now. It might need to wait till you’re out of school and on your own feet.

      1. I’d like to second the social services – and I’m pretty confident that the social services HAVE to keep it confidential who called them.

        And LW, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this.

  11. Speaking as one who did move back in with the emotionally manipulative, hoarder mother (Our attic is like an ant hill of abandoned things, complete with haphazardly propped tunnels), RUN. Run away to an excellent time studying abroad, to any job you have to take to keep yourself free of your parents’ house, to your degree and your future.

    It’s hard enough being out in the work force. It’s a dozen times harder when you have to clear boxes out of the tub every day to take a shower, when it’s not safe to own an iron for your slacks because your hoarder will use it and leave it on on top of more boxes, when you can’t find your clothes because your hoarder took them out of the washer so she could dye a load of someone else’s thrown-out sheets.

    Try not to let guilt be the gravity pulling you back to them. Your parents probably assumed the debt for your college education the day you were born. They have been used to the idea for twenty years, even if you’re only realizing the magnitude of it now. They let you choose an expensive school – they, or at least your father, wants you to have that kind of a foothold on a life as an adult, on your own.

  12. I didn’t tell my somewhat abusive parents that I was going to move out until I had secretly saved up some money and found an apartment. I weren’t sure how they’d react, so I figured they didn’t need to know until it was already happening. They were pretty understanding about it, actually, but if they hadn’t been, that wouldn’t have been all that big of a problem for me.

    If your parents demand an explanation, things like “well I got this job opportunity” and “I’m xx years old, I want to gain some independence” are great to use if you don’t want to tell them the real reason.

    Also, I never really talk to my dad on the phone and we only see each other at family events. It works fine for me, because it’s a lot like cutting of contact without any of the drama. I still have a good relationship with my mom and we talk a lot on the phone and see each other a bit more often. I don’t know if that feels like an option for you, but it’s an idea.

  13. Speaking as a parent here (my older child will be a high school senior this fall, so we’re looking at colleges these days and envisioning her going off to school and never really coming back), I say, “Fly away! Be free!” Even if your family didn’t have this level of issues, that’s what you’re supposed to do when you graduate from college: go find/make your place in the world.

    As much as I love and enjoy my kids and will miss them when they go off to college and to build lives and will be thrilled if someday down the line like maybe when/if they have their own kids to raise they moved to our town, I know that their lives can not, should not, be about me and their dad.

    Yes, we’re sad just thinking about this wonderful phase of our lives ending, and thank goodness we have 4 more years with our son in residence. Yes, I fervently hope the choices that are right for our kids are ones that let us stay emotionally close, and close-enough-to-visit would be really, really nice.

    But kids are people, not possessions, and WE are responsible for our happiness, not our kids. Which is why, when our kids do start thinking about where to settle, they may not find us where we are now. Finances permitting, we may be living on another continent altogether, or traveling, or I dunno what… but we’re not expecting our kids to be our sole sources of joy forevermore.

    The point is, your parents get their lives. You get yours.

    Thank your dad for the expensive college — but don’t feel guilty about it. He’s doing that because he DOES understand that parents’ job is to launch their kids as well as possible, and he wants you to have opportunities… so take them as the gift they are meant to be and run with them, without guilt.

    Love what’s lovable about your mom. Regret what’s not so lovable. Suggest that she get help, and maybe even research what form that help might take in your particular community. But understand that fundamentally, you can not fix her. And give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that somewhere in her, *no matter what she says and does that suggests otherwise* she wants you to succeed and be happier than she is and would not *really* want to suck you into her morass… even if that means that you have to have distance from her.

    Because that’s how parental love is supposed to be.

  14. My parents sound fairly similar to yours– the put-upon, supportive dad and the domineering, unstable mother. I think it’s one of the hardest times I had in college– figuring out that my home life wasn’t normal and wasn’t ok and coming to terms with how that made me feel about my parents. It’s ok to not like your parents. It doesn’t make you a bad person or an ingrate, it means you are coming to a point where you are seeing your parents as the people of your adulthood and not as the god-like mythic figures of your childhood. Understanding and coming to terms with your parents is going to take some time, and I hope you get some help sorting it out. It was very hard for me to sort it all out– to be confronted with and hate their flaws and to be confronted with and love their good parts too, all at the same time. To be absolutely truthful, it made me feel a little crazy for a while.

    Here are a few of the coping mechanisms that have helped me manage my relationship with them (and particularly to get around my mother without setting off WW3).

    1. Make a plan on how to never wind up living with them again. Actually, if you can move at least 800 miles away in the beginning it might help. I say that because the distance helped my mother manage her own expectations for how much and how often I would be available to her much better than any words coming out of my mouth could ever do. And if my mother is managing her own expectations, then we’re not fighting about her expectations vs. my unwillingness to conform to them.

    2. Do not share details about your plan with them. In fact, don’t let on that there is a plan afoot. Be non-committal when asked about your plans for the future. Lines like, “I’ll have to go where the jobs are.” “You know the job market where you guys live is kind of crap, right?” “I’ve always wanted to live somewhere warm/sunny/snowy/cold/rainy.” It may feel like a cop out or cowardly to not just come out and say you aren’t moving back home, but I found it’s actually a kindness to all involved and I now use a similar hint-dropping strategy for everything down to whether I’m coming home for Christmas. The reason why it works is because it’s vague enough that mom can’t pick a fight with me about it, but at the same time it gets her used to the idea that she might not get her way. Then when I need to up and tell her that I’m doing the opposite of what she wanted, she’s had time to get used to the idea and doesn’t pick a fight with me about it then either. In other words, it’s given her time to manage her own expectations without need for my involvement.

    3. Don’t fight with your parents. If someone tries to pick a fight with you, leave the room or hang up the phone. If you can’t escape, let them finish their tirade and then ask as mildly as you can, “Are you done yet?” Feeling like the bad guy is not satisfying to anyone and if you don’t engage when someone tries to fight with you, then they leave feeling like the bad guy. Use a similar tactic when you are being guilted.

    4. Decide how much contact and under what circumstances you are willing to give your parents, then stick to it. If you can do it in a fairly regimented manner, even better. For instance, I call my mother every Tuesday afternoon. She knows to expect a call every Tuesday so when I don’t answer the phone the rest of the time it is neither a surprise nor an insult. My visits are similarly scheduled and structured so everyone knows what to expect.

    5. Cultivate a relationship with your father that is separate from your relationship with your mother. Create your own rituals and modes of communication with both parents separately so that if you need to temporarily lessen the lines of communication with one of them, it doesn’t change your relationship with them both.

  15. You know the phrase “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission?” That’s how I deal with my normal, but slightly controlling, family who wanted me to move back home. I got a job and a roommate and said, “Moving.” Even without a job, I told them I wasn’t going home because I had enough money to stay and look for work.

  16. Speaking as someone who works at a college: the best way to not move home is to make plans so that you have that option. First choice option is to find a job. But well, a lot of our graduating students end up moving home because they don’t have one. So just as a backup plan, talk to your friends. Talk to friends living out of town. Find someone that you can move in with upon graduation, someone who will float you along for awhile if necessary. Whatever you do, find some other way so that your only options aren’t move home or homelessness.

  17. I would like to second the Captain’s advice that you check out your university’s resources. My family went through some really tough times while I was in my third year (we had a severe financial crisis), and I went to my advisor, who contacted the dean, who found me an interest free loan for the year and some more money in grants. There may be more help there than you realise, and people want to help you succeed. Good luck.

  18. This sounds so very much like my own mother, treated for depression with drugs that did nothing to help her because she was bipolar. And by “so very much” I mean I totally feel you, LW, with the chain-smoking, smelly house, “You don’t really love me I might as well be dead!” All of that. It got bad enough that I just couldn’t talk to her about my life, because nothing I did was good enough, because it wasn’t what she wanted me to do, because she would heap such guilt upon me for putting myself first that it eventually became impossible to walk through the door to parents’ house. And in the end, I mostly cut contact with her, reduced our communication to the barest minimum, because that — and time — was the only thing that ever worked.

    All the advice has been pretty spot-on. I can’t really better it. I just wanted to say that . . . I don’t know if you need to hear this, but it can’t hurt, and maybe someone else can use it, too . . . whatever guilt you expect that you will feel, leaving your parents to do this wonderful and terrifying thing called “starting a life”? It will be a smaller than you think, though occasionally quite nasty. It will struggle and kick, but it will not be as strong as you think. It will never, ever be as strong as you are.

    You are doing the right thing. You are doing what so many of us feared too much to do, or do properly. I admire you fiercely. I wish you well. Go. You are already brave.

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