Jump to content

Another grad student with unsupportive relatives


Recommended Posts

Hi, everyone. I was wondering what thoughts and advice people might have about coping with family members who don't support one's decision to go to grad school. I won't bore everyone with my whole story ... in a nutshell, I left the workforce to go "back to school" (fully-funded PhD program), and my whole family thinks I'm stupid. My siblings and cousins are all making lots of $$, and I'm an outcast for not being like them. One of my cousins is getting married next summer -- it will be a huge wedding which everyone will attend -- and, while my aunt and cousin made a big show of saying how much they hoped I'd be there, I just learned that the truth (surprise, surprise) is that no one wants to see me there because I don't make enough money and am generally just not good enough.

I know I'm not the only graduate student with unsupportive family members. So, what strategies do you all have for dealing with these issues??

Hoping someone answers ... :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is probably a lot more to this than what you've posted here, but what I'm reading is that regardless of your status--student, employed, whatever--your family will only view you as worthy of their love and acknowledgement if you make "enough" money, whatever that means. Your family sounds like a bunch of shallow, mean spirited, useless asses. Just because you share their DNA doesn't mean you have to share their BS. I would just go on living my life with my friends and let them do whatever it is people like that do. But that's just me.

Oh, and the cousin can take her wedding registry and shove it. I wouldn't go.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Obviously your family doesn't understand how selective and difficult the process of just applying and being accepted to a DOCTORAL program really is, especially since the school is paying you to go there. I would send back your RSVP card with some statement using really big words about how you will be spending time with your intellectual peers, the people who truly appreciate you. Sorry, I have no tolerance for unsupportive a$$holes. Education is HARD WORK and you should be supported, not demeaned, IMHO! Give 'em hell...

Link to post
Share on other sites

And I'd do something completely different :P I agree with the above that your extended family... well, they kind of seem like a bunch of jerks (sorry). But I'd go a different route - I'd kill them with kindness. If you go to the wedding and they make comments about what you earn, don't get upset - smile and respond casually. The most elegant thing to do? Turn it around on them without appearing to do so! "Gosh, you make so little money compared to everyone! :rolleyes: " "Yes, I suppose I do - but I'm good enough that I'm being paid to get my degree, so I can't complain too much! :)" And if you can slip in some long, academic word that they certainly won't understand (like Sarahmarie suggested) - well, that won't hurt either ;)

Don't be snide, or snappy - because nothing will annoy them more than you not giving a sh*t what they think. And you won't be the cause of a rift in the family - it'll be on them, and they'll know it. Just my two cents :P

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is probably a lot more to this than what you've posted here, but what I'm reading is that regardless of your status--student, employed, whatever--your family will only view you as worthy of their love and acknowledgement if you make "enough" money, whatever that means. Your family sounds like a bunch of shallow, mean spirited, useless asses. Just because you share their DNA doesn't mean you have to share their BS. I would just go on living my life with my friends and let them do whatever it is people like that do. But that's just me.

Oh, and the cousin can take her wedding registry and shove it. I wouldn't go.

I totally concur. Don't play their games. Life is too short to waste it on pleasing others. Keep your head up and don't let their vitriol get to you.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey, thanks so much for your responses, everyone. I really appreciate the moral support!

Mediamom, are you a mom? Of course just ignore the question if it is too personal ... I'm only asking because I am a mom, as well as a grad student, and I'm always interested in other parents' experiences. I find that BEFORE I became a parent it was much easier for me to just tell myself that my judgemental family members could go xyz themselves ... now I feel I owe it to my daughter to maintain family relations. On the other hand, there's also the problem that some relatives feel a need to insult me IN FRONT OF my child -- saying things like "You've accomplished nothing in life," etc. -- and sometimes I wonder whether hearing these toxic comments isn't worse than just having no contact with them. Seems kind of like a lose-lose situation. Anyway, I'm not normally this negative ... just fishing for empathy and/or advice around here!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey, thanks so much for your responses, everyone. I really appreciate the moral support!

Mediamom, are you a mom? Of course just ignore the question if it is too personal ... I'm only asking because I am a mom, as well as a grad student, and I'm always interested in other parents' experiences. I find that BEFORE I became a parent it was much easier for me to just tell myself that my judgemental family members could go xyz themselves ... now I feel I owe it to my daughter to maintain family relations. On the other hand, there's also the problem that some relatives feel a need to insult me IN FRONT OF my child -- saying things like "You've accomplished nothing in life," etc. -- and sometimes I wonder whether hearing these toxic comments isn't worse than just having no contact with them. Seems kind of like a lose-lose situation. Anyway, I'm not normally this negative ... just fishing for empathy and/or advice around here!

I am - my kids are only three and one, and I'll be returning to school this fall, so I haven't tried to juggle the mom life with the grad student life yet. But I think (know?!) I can do it! I understand what you're saying about wanting to maintain family relations for your kids' sake, and truly, having family support of any kind, even if it's just to take the kids for an afternoon while you grocery shop, is huge. But in the end, I think it comes down to what is most mentally healthy for YOU, which in turn becomes the healthiest choice for your children. You can't be the best mom you can be if you're constantly being put down, and your kids aren't getting the best possible role model if they're not seeing you stand up for yourself.

It's not an easy choice, but as my older daughter becomes more aware of what is being said and how people are treating each other, I've become much more aware of what she's exposed to. I used to put up with my father-in-law's often racist and misogynistic comments (mostly because we were always in his house and I didn't want to start a fight there, so I'd tune him out) but now that my daughter is old enough to repeat the things she hears, I'm not at all sorry to say that I've managed to keep her away from him.

Good luck....feel free to PM me if you just want to talk about mommy issues or anything else.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a little off topic, but thought it might help you feel better..

I don't think a lot of people outside of academia realize how tough getting into/being in/finishing a doctoral program actually IS. For those who only did a UG degree and then got a "real" job, I think they think that going to grad school is simply a matter of filling out an application, just like going to most UG programs. Also, there's a lot of misunderstanding about how hard it is to get into good schools, or even what a good school is.

I got into a tier 1 school but because it isn't "ivy league", I got comments from family like "Well, I suppose it's OK, but it's not IVY LEAGUE". I then have to remind them that ivy league refers to collegiate sports and NOT the academic program. I swear some of them still don't get it. I am so ashamed to share DNA with them..

It is also, IMO an unfortunate indication of the consumerism of our society: value and worth are measured only in dollars. How many times have I been asked: So, what kind of job are you going to get with that degree? The focus is all on vocation; the end goal is a job apparently... It's very frustrating.

In the end, I hold onto the thought that 10 years from now, when my cousins are wasting away in their cubicles, or popping high-blood pressure meds as a result of their high powered jobs, I will happy in my profession, doing field research and getting to actually see and understand the world, instead of just being an automaton in it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Jasmineflower,

Out of curiosity are your family members generally lower-educated individuals? Such as only having obtained a BA or less?

That's really the only way I can see them viewing you as "stupid" for getting into/going to a PHD program. For my part, 99% of my family is either high school, GED or community college (at the most) educated, so they don't even really understand the concept of a "Master's degree" let alone a "PhD" -- as such they also see me as the "black sheep" of the family because having a job is considering more successful (also getting married and having children would be considered "as successful" as having a job).. During the summer when I have internships is generally the only time I receive praise from them, because they think "Finally! She's working! And making money! Since she's not getting married anytime soon.."

I just try to not let it bother me :/

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have faced much criticism from some family members for doing my PhD. I hear stuff like "how are you going to get married?" and "when are you going to have kids?" Not to mention the infamous "you are wasting your time." I'm a strong person, but it takes a really tough person to be influenced by such negative comments. It's especially harder for a woman, because women are expected to do it all: have kids, do the womanly house chores, take care of the husband, etc (true for many cultures) and to be exposed to such negative comments can make somebody feel useless, when in fact you should be feeling the exact opposite. By reaching such a level you should be proud of yourself, as I also come from a region of the world where education is valued because it is a privilege. It takes a really tough person to tolerate such negativity- from family, from supervisors, from friends and if you can get through that, you will make it in the world. I am the only one of my friends that decided to pursue grad school- many have moved on with their lives and sometimes I feel like I'm in a stationary mode, still in school making minimum wage. But its important not to let people get to you, I have hope that in the end it'll all be worth it.

Does anybody else relate?

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's especially harder for a woman, because women are expected to do it all: have kids, do the womanly house chores, take care of the husband, etc (true for many cultures) and to be exposed to such negative comments can make somebody feel useless, when in fact you should be feeling the exact opposite.

Does anybody else relate?

I'm not trying to stereotype... but I'm wondering what cultures are being represented in this thread? I'm Southeast Asian, of Chinese descent.. And every now and then I get this kind of "how will you get married?" thing thrown in my face.. My family still lives in SEA and my mom, for the sake of saving face and making her life easier, basically tells our neighbors and family acquaintances that I'm married which is why I live abroad and *never* come home (I am not married, but was divorced (ANOTHER NO-NO), have no kids and I visit home once a year if I'm lucky/have saved enough).

When I tell my family about certain decisions in life ie. going to grad school, getting a tattoo etc (Personal decisions), my mom's first response is invariably "Well, what does (insert ex-husband/ex-fiance/boyfriend's name here) think?" She finally stopped when I yelled "I don't give a crap what X thinks. It's MY life and I'm doing it! He will just have to deal with it!" (I don't really think that, but my mom pushes all the right buttons..)

Anyway... so I'm wondering if some of this negativity is rooted in a cultural basis, more so than a socio-economic/more vs less educated basis? Or perhaps a mixture of both?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not trying to stereotype... but I'm wondering what cultures are being represented in this thread? I'm Southeast Asian, of Chinese descent.. And every now and then I get this kind of "how will you get married?" thing thrown in my face.. My family still lives in SEA and my mom, for the sake of saving face and making her life easier, basically tells our neighbors and family acquaintances that I'm married which is why I live abroad and *never* come home (I am not married, but was divorced (ANOTHER NO-NO), have no kids and I visit home once a year if I'm lucky/have saved enough).

When I tell my family about certain decisions in life ie. going to grad school, getting a tattoo etc (Personal decisions), my mom's first response is invariably "Well, what does (insert ex-husband/ex-fiance/boyfriend's name here) think?" She finally stopped when I yelled "I don't give a crap what X thinks. It's MY life and I'm doing it! He will just have to deal with it!" (I don't really think that, but my mom pushes all the right buttons..)

Anyway... so I'm wondering if some of this negativity is rooted in a cultural basis, more so than a socio-economic/more vs less educated basis? Or perhaps a mixture of both?

I think it's mainly a cultural issue. In the middle eastern culture (yup, my roots are middle eastern), getting married and having kids is the most important thing a woman can achieve. I'm in my late 20's and I'm always looked at with those "poor you" eyes. I hate it. My sister was pressured into getting married, ended up having a kid 9 months later and she is miserable and it's all because she was pressured into it (lest you reach your expiry date). It's all such bullshit and I hate visiting because I'll be bombarded with "would you like to meet my son?" comments...haha. The pressure they put on young women is just disgusting-they end up settling because of their limited shelf life and end up miserable. In fact, I have been told by many of my married friends that they wish they did what I did - being in school was the best decision for myself. I enjoy my work, I'm good at it and I love being independent and for that I'm thankful for.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, you guys are awesome!

I come from a fully educated family of PhDs and masters and I get everyone's full support in this. It would have been really tough without my parents helping me but having to deal with their criticism all the time and still getting through applications and grad school itself is clearly unimaginable for me and therefore I totally admire you guys!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, this thread is turning out to be really interesting. Washdc, your question about relatives' level of education is a particularly interesting one -- in my case, my relatives are all engineers. Yes, ALL of them. EVERYONE. Except me. I'm in the social sciences. Before entering my PhD program, I was a teacher. Being a teacher earned much scorn from them. Leaving teaching to pursue a PhD earned even more scorn. It is true that they make more money with undergraduate engineering degrees (or in some cases MS degrees) than I will as a PhD. It is true that they have money, while all I have is the stipend I get from the uni ... and my spouse's salary, which is perfectly adequate for us but which is still an object of scorn because spouse is not an engineer. Insane_in_the_membrane (how one earth did you choose this name?!) is right -- it is difficult not to be influenced by all the negative comments. I may not agree that being in a PhD program in the social sciences (or, by extension, doing ANYTHING other than engineering) makes me stupid, lazy, etc. ... I may not agree that having less money makes me a lesser person ... but when you're constantly faced with these attitudes, it is hard not to feel upset about it. You start to feel like maybe they're right.

It is interesting that some folks have raised the "marriage" issue here. I started hearing about "You-better-do-such-and-such-or-you'll-never-get-married" when I was literally still a teenager. You see where this goes -- I'm now happily married, but I'm still not good enough. Actually, one of my cousins married someone from a more humble background -- she married more than a decade ago -- and she's still getting criticized for it ... but that's not all: This cousin actually died in a tragic accident a few years ago, and the relatives are STILL criticizing her marriage! They're criticizing her when she's already dead!

Anyway, here's hoping we all finish our programs successfully and get great jobs afterwards. Thanks for having this discussion, and stay strong everyone!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Jasmineflower, actually I've heard about this a lot- people who value math/science-based careers over the humanities. I don't understand why people value money so much over personal happiness. I have friends who HATE what they're doing, but they're going to be a pharmacist or an engineer because it makes money. That's it. That's all.

Anthrodork, interesting question.. for me I am half Black/White, so the idea that being married/having children is the total embodiment of success as a female (and what I should aspire to) comes from my Black side of the family (they are very Southern, very religious, very old fashioned). I am considered the unsuccessful grandchild because I apparently can't keep a boyfriend longer than a year, and I'm constantly moving, not living near family, I don't call anyone enough, and I have no plans to settle down anytime soon (oh and I also wear apparently very risque clothing and never attend church). The horror. Haha.

It's hard to even explain to them sometimes that I don't call because I'm in Europe, and it's not possible, or it's ridiculously expensive. They don't have skype, or even computers. Or actually even phones that aren't attached to cords.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some really interesting comments throughout the thread. My condolences to those who have to deal with the materialism or the oppressive aspects of the gender roles that your families tout.

My mother grew up in the "3rd world," and while she is concerned about whether or not what I do will allow me to live comfortably, she nonetheless sees doctorate education as impressive (as someone said above, she's from "a region of the world where education is valued because it is a privilege."). And further, when it comes to money as an end in itself, my mother's religiousness wins out---I can say "Ultimately, we know money is not important" and she'll agree.

On the other side, my in-laws feature professors themselves, so they're supportive also. I guess I'm lucky. Interesting that the American "middle class" (not sure what that means) would be most critical of doctorate pursuits.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been lying to my parents about my post-grad plans. I want to go to graduate school but every time I raise it we get into a argument. They think it is better for me to graduate and get any job possible (they went as far as suggesting a supermarket). I can't seem to get them to understand that I need 2 more years of school to be competitive in the job market for my field. They complain about how I'll rack up 100K debt and act as if the debt will be repaid by them. Note I am coming out of undergraduate debt free due to my school's generosity. How can I deal with my parents? I feel like if I really want to go to graduate school I will have to cut myself off completely. Is that even possible even if I work full-time as a grad student?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been lying to my parents about my post-grad plans. I want to go to graduate school but every time I raise it we get into a argument. They think it is better for me to graduate and get any job possible (they went as far as suggesting a supermarket). I can't seem to get them to understand that I need 2 more years of school to be competitive in the job market for my field. They complain about how I'll rack up 100K debt and act as if the debt will be repaid by them. Note I am coming out of undergraduate debt free due to my school's generosity. How can I deal with my parents? I feel like if I really want to go to graduate school I will have to cut myself off completely. Is that even possible even if I work full-time as a grad student?

That sounds like an awful situation.. Have you gotten any offers yet? If you get fully funded or 1/2 funded then you may not need your parents at all; you can take out financial aid/loans etc. I know this might seem harsh, but you don't have to listen to them or give in to them JUST because they're your parents. If you know what you want and how to get it, and they refuse to support you, you might just have to tell them straight up: I'm going to grad school, so suck it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

<p>KJ90, I'm so sorry to hear this.  It is painful, after working hard to get an education, to feel that your parents just dismiss the whole thing. I totally agree that their commentary sounds insulting and unhelpful.  

As a mom myself, though, I couldn't help zeroing in on the part about "rack up 100K debt."  The insanely paranoid mom in me is feeling a frantic need to address this!  I'm assuming that you are NOT planning to take out massive loans for graduate school.  But just in case you ARE: I don't know what your field is, and this may already be obvious to you (it probably is), but in general please do NOT go deeply into debt for graduate school.  I congratulate you on finishing your undergrad debt-free.  That's totally great.  I would personally suggest not taking out ANY loans for graduate school.  Apply to LOTS of places and go to the one that gives you full funding.  If no one gives you full funding, try again next year. You deserve to get an education WITHOUT having to forfeit your future LIFE for it.  

I totally apologize if I come across as lecturing you about something you already know.  You probably just meant that your PARENTS think you're going to end up with a lot of debt, because THEY don't realize that you can get funding, work, etc.  I just wasn't completely sure from your post, so I wanted to say something.  I've seen so many smart, capable folks from my generation (I'm in my thirties) completely  crash and burn as a result of untenable student debt.  It can absolutely ruin lives.  I'm not saying it ruins EVERYONE'S life ... but it certainly can.  But again, I apologize if this is something you already know and don't need to hear.  Which it probably is.  You know us old folks;)

So anyway, about your parents' general negativity towards your graduate school aspirations, I really empathize with your situation.  My negative family members still manage to make me cry ... literally, they insult me and I cry.  I'm too old for this:(  

I hope you get a super-amazing, fully-funded offer on your first try.  Then, do your thing and don't let anyone make you cry!  Go!

Edited by Jasmineflower
Link to post
Share on other sites

Most PhD programs will either pay for your tuition plus provide a decent living stipend, or pay you a big enough stipend to cover tuition and a living stipend. Some schools will provide enough funding to live quite comfortably even -- I know a guy with a $31,000/year stipend, given a tuition waiver (i.e. he doesn't have to pay it), plus an $18,000 signing bonus for the first year.

I'm a first generation graduate student in my family so they were really confused about how the system work and thought I should get a job now instead of going into debt. But once I explained the need for graduate school as well as the funding situation, it made more sense to them. Both my family and I view graduate school as an apprenticeship -- where we're paid a modest living salary in order to learn from the best minds.

Unfortunately, I have heard that graduate programs in the arts are not always as well funded so that may be a problem. But there are also many national fellowships that will pay a good stipend too. I would recommend you talk to some graduate students in the field at your current school and learn what it will be like for you and explain that to your family!

Link to post
Share on other sites

KJ90 - Depending on your field of study, I second jasmineflower on not incurring huge amounts of debt. For example, a MA in education, social work, or library science tends to yield less economic return in the job market when compared to a ms in accounting, science, or a mba. However, a fully funded master's is hard to come by these days, so i would expect to incur some or even moderate but manageable debt. If your program offers TA/RAships in exchange for a stipend or tuition discounts, that would certainly help you out.

Another point I want to make is that you are an adult. There is no right or wrong timing, but stop taking money from your parents. As long as you continue to do so, they will hold it over your head like a carrot. You are very fortunate that your ug school helped you with scholarships and that you had your parents help (I assumed this since you talked about being cut off). Many students are not as fortunate and do not have families who could support them financially. The solution to this is student loans and work (if your program allows it). Again check the economic return before deciding on loans. Either way, you, as an independent (meaning parents are not claiming you on their tax return) will be able to get student loans to cover tuition and such. If you really want to, you can make this work on your own. Having a full ride would be ideal and most awesome, but there is something to be said of pride, when you can say that you struggled to make it but you did it all on your own.

Edited by TropicalCharlie
Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the comment about "cut myself off completely" was referring to actual CONTACT with parents, not getting MONEY from parents. I didn't read KJ90 as necessarily receiving, or wanting to receive, financial support from parents, but as really just wishing for some basic moral support from them, and feeling like s/he would have to "cut herself/himself off" from contact with them if they continued bashing. (For the record, I don't advocate cutting off contact with parents, unless they're violent or something.) I could be misreading everything here, though. Anyway, again I wish all the best for you, KJ90!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the all the advice. For some clarification my field is international studies. The cost for graduate school is ~50K for 2 years with salaries after graduation ranging from 45K to 75K (entry level). I guess since I am young and never experienced deep debt, I do not understand how hard it would be to repay student loans. In terms of cutting myself off from my parents, if I do decide to go against their wishes it will not only be financially. Jasmineflower was right in that they do not give me any basic moral support or praise for that matter.

At the moment, I have various things pending. I have a fellowship pending that could pay for full tuition costs. I have received decisions from two out of eight schools I applied so far (although one gave me only $5K and the other TBA). Fortunately, I also have a job interview sometime next week. I just hope one of these things pan out. =\

@TropicalCharlie I already take pride in getting so far by myself. My parents did not even graduate from junior high school so they do not really understand the value of education besides getting A's. I've worked hard to get myself into a top tier HS and a Ivy League. I am wondering if I can continue this way for even graduate school.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm going to throw cents worth of personal opinion to those offering comments about Jasmineflower's family members.

As you go through graduate school, you may find that the ability to offer support to a person without attacking that person's antagonists is a very useful skill.

In this particular case, Jassmineflower can say what she wants about her family because it is her family. She knows intimately the dynamics of the situation she's describing. As outsiders, we do not. If one really want to support someone, one needs to avoid the "Yeah, your parents are asspipes, so ef them and tell them I said so" approach. Those kinds of attacks risk perpetuating cycles of antagonism. Moreover, they place one in jeapordy of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and getting tuned out.

IMO/IME, diagnostic questions like those posed by anthroDork are absolutely critical in situations like the one described in the OP. There are places in America--and the rest of the world--where pursuing an advanced degree runs counter to long standing conventions, practices, and beliefs. One can grandstand and label those values all one likes, but at what cost?

Right now, Rush Limbaugh has, yet again, dragged the discussion of vitally important issues into the sewer. He achieved this objective by imposing his values on someone he's never met. I'm not suggesting that any of the comments in this thread are that out of line. I am saying that as intellectuals we need to do the best we can to understand people everyone in their own terms, not ours, and to help them solve their problems in ways that will work for them in the long term.

In regards to the issue presented in the OP. I have direct experience with a similar dynamic. While the desire to prove a critic wrong--especially when the person is a family member--can be a powerful source of motivation. Even so, I think it is one's best self interest to monitor constantly one's emotional state. If one lets anger, bitterness, and other associated emotions have their way, intellectual achievement that should spark a sense of joy will be irrevocably tarnished. The best revenge is living well.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.