Sunday, June 4, 2023

How can I take back control of my life when my parents support me financially? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

I am a woman in my early 20s, an international student, in the first year of a five-year medical degree.

I’m completely financially dependent on my parents. I can’t apply for student loans, and the savings I had from my previous job are nowhere near enough to cover tuition fees and costs of living. My degree is so intensive (especially for me, as I am neurodivergent) I hardly find time to sleep and exercise properly, let alone pursue a part-time job.

I feel that I won’t be able to become a proper adult and make adult decisions on my own until my late 20s.

Since my mother keeps track of my expenses, it’s almost like I can’t do anything behind her back, like have a pet or stay out late, and especially move in with my boyfriend.

I’ve tried to think, from my parents’ perspective, as to why they would be against this. I assume that, being religious, they see it as being sinful as well as dishonourable.

My boyfriend has suggested getting engaged so my parents would approve of us moving in together, but my parents are so conservative I doubt this would win their approval.

How do I stop them from having so much control over my life?

I wonder if this isn’t two separate questions. Was that the deal you made? Your parents pay and you do exactly what they say – or is that what you presume is expected of you?

You told me your parents are from a different culture, and are religious, so I have kept that in mind in my reply.

I went to AFT-registered family psychotherapist Ragni Whitlock, who has some experience of your culture. She asked: “If your parents weren’t providing the finance, how much control would they have anyway?

“This can be one problem that can arise when children become immersed in a new culture and want to take on that new culture while their parents may want to preserve theirs. It can create a lot of tension.”

Whitlock wanted to know how much you’ve been able to talk to your parents up until now. Because you are neurodivergent, we wondered if their “involvement” was them trying to help you transition to living on your own in a foreign country. How does your mum keep track of your expenses?

Given your parents have “let” you come to a foreign country to study, and are supporting you, I’m hoping they might not be as rigid as you think.

I do think a conversation is needed. You don’t need to start earning your own money to make adult decisions.

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You could start by saying something like: “It’s great you’ve been keeping an eye on me, but I’d like to learn how to manage my finances” (after all, at some point you are going to be doctor with a great deal of responsibility!). If this works, I’d question how much they need to know about your personal life, given you are already an adult.

That is presuming you want to move in with your boyfriend (you are absolutely right not to get married just to gain parental approval), and that may be harder to manage.

I asked Whitlock what to do if your parents were immovable and told you: “It’s our way or the high way.” She said then it would be about what’s most valuable to you right now: your boyfriend or your medical degree.”

If your relationship with your family has hitherto been good, think long and hard before causing a rupture over a man who may or may not be in your life for very long. Making adult decisions can be tough.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.

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