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

You don’t need to earn your own money to make adult decisions – it comes from taking responsibility for yourself and your actions

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.

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.


Annalisa Barbieri

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
I want to go back on my decision to share maternity leave | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
Neither of you could imagine how you’d feel once your baby arrived – but being an effective parent is about being flexible when things change

Annalisa Barbieri

14, Jul, 2023 @1:30 PM

Article image
My friend’s ex gives him no parental rights. How can I help him? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
I would urge your friend to keep a diary of what’s happening. Not least because one day his son may need to know he tried

Annalisa Barbieri

18, Nov, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
My nearly nine-year-old son wants to sleep in my bed. Should I let him? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
You’re in charge, and as someone once told me – a mother who is always available never really is

Annalisa Barbieri

24, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
My in-laws never pay their way and it drives me mad. How can I break this habit? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
Ask your husband why he always pays for his family – and ask yourself why you don’t dare discuss this behaviour with them

Annalisa Barbieri

07, Oct, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Can I ever heal after the lack of love my birth mother showed me? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
Your anger is a healthy response, but you must get in touch with that hurt child inside you

Annalisa Barbieri

30, Dec, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
I secretly contacted my father – now my mother refuses to speak to me | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
You did nothing wrong in seeking out your father. Love is not about declaring total loyalty

Annalisa Barbieri

30, Sep, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
My adult daughters are angry with me for leaving the country. What can I do? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
Divorce, grief and illness have been traumatic events for you all, and your daughters’ shared emotions suggest it’s time to listen

Annalisa Barbieri

10, Feb, 2023 @2:30 PM

Article image
My mother’s grief is making our relationship toxic | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
You are not responsible for your mother. You have your own losses – and young children – to deal with

Annalisa Barbieri

28, Apr, 2023 @1:00 PM

Article image
I was brought up in an abusive family. Should I cut them off? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
Your parents were violent and left you vulnerable to sexual abuse, yet you’ve worked incredibly hard to turn your life around. Do not let that go

Annalisa Barbieri

12, May, 2023 @1:00 PM

Article image
Should I still see my difficult sister now our parents have died? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri
There’s clearly a lot of pain for both of you – and your stories need to be heard if you are to break the see-saw pattern

Annalisa Barbieri

25, Aug, 2023 @1:30 PM