Why are my parents so obsessed with my school grades if they won’t help me get to college?

Our elder has some ideas on how to ask for more support.

Dear EWC

This is a bit of a complicated issue. I recently started my freshman year of high school. Socially, everything’s fine. The problem comes from my parents. My parents make little to no financial investment in my education. I go to public school, family members give us supplies, I catch the bus to get to school, any I know for a fact that there is no college fund, whereas, even the poorer parents from my school have been saving change a day at a time. I would otherwise be fine with this, as I might not go to college, if it weren’t for the fact that they are obsessed with my grades. I try hard in school, and I have a 3.25 GPA, a B, higher than a lot of people I know in my school, which is one of the best in the state, along with a large variety for extra curriculars, but my parents remain unhappy, as if I was causing them to waste money. They’re obsessed with me getting a full scholarship to a private school, and any alternate route, such as cutting back on cigarettes and alcohol (that’s from my grandmother, not me) and other things they spend money on (which I will not list here) to save money, is invisible. I feel unmotivated to even try in school anymore because when I actually do try my effort goes unnoticed. They also act completely dissociative and two-faced about the issue.

There have been times when they have called me inadequate in private only to deny it when talking to relatives who scold them for their harsh treatment, describing the situation as if I were plain lazy and they were patient and understanding, willing to harm my image to protect theirs. I would talk about how I feel to my parents, by my mother can be a bit… emotional. (I don’t want to say anything about my mother definitively, but I do know that her mother has been diagnosed with bipolar personality disorder.) I feel like if they aren’t going to be involved in my education when they should be, like normal parents, they shouldn’t have higher standards than normal parents. How can I talk to them about this?

Cairnie replies

I see a few issues from your letter: feeling unsupported by your parents, doing well in school but concerned about pressure to pay for college, and how to talk with your parents. Let’s start with the last one first, since that what you’re asking.

Consider approaching your parents by clarifying your feelings, your goals and your concerns. Maybe something like this: “I want to talk to you about something that’s hard for me to bring up. I know you love and want what’s best for me. I do too. I know you want me to do my best in school. I do, too, and am trying my best. It would help me if you could tell me more often that you know I am doing my best. Could you do that for me?”

You see in that suggestion (of course, use your own words in whatever way makes you comfortable), that you start the sentences with “I” rather than “you” (which often puts people on the defensive, defending their behavior rather than listening to what you want/need.) I also added a paragraph where you would state what you need from and ask them for it, hoping to get a “yes”. Basically, you want to have a conversation where you are all on the same team, sharing the same goals, and can come up with a strategy that achieves that for you.

If the start of the conversation goes well, you can continue (or pick it up at a later time) where you mention that you feel great pressure from them to get perfect grades, get a full scholarship to a private college, and that this pressure is hurting your ability to do your best. You might tell them what your goals are (going to public university, or whatever your goals are). You have no control about what scholarship money is available or would be offered. You can only control doing your best. 

It is unfair for your parents to hold you accountable for things that are outside of your control. At the same time, if they are so concerned about the cost of college, there are things they can be doing. Some parents invest in a college savings fund, do online research for financial aid and smaller scholarships, participate in civic groups that offer scholarships, talk with school counselors and others who are experts in how to make college affordable. If you are their dependent when you apply to college (and it sounds like you will be), they will be filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid ). They might want to visit this website now, to get more information about what’s available and what to expect.

My other thought is whether there are older siblings, cousins, neighbors, or others who can be your ally in this discussion. Have they been through this process before? Is there any advice they can offer your parents, or be your backup as you talk with them about how you feel and what you need?

Lastly, we don’t get to choose our parents, just like parents don’t choose their children. We all do our best with what we have, love them flaws and all, and be part of creating an authentic relationship that feels safe and loving for you. Speak your truth (non-accusingly), use “I” statements, focus on your feelings about specific situations, and tell them what you need from them to be your best self. 

Good luck, and let me know how it goes. You sound like a wonderful person, and I wish you much love and success in life.

Letter #: 431718
Category: Family

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