It’s never easy when two of your biggest loves don’t interact well. Sometimes, it’s your partner and your best friend. Or your sibling and your partner. Or your best friend and your sibling. None of that is easy. You feel you can’t talk about the great times you’ve had with one while spending time with the other. You know they don’t want to hear about it. You feel that you have to choose between dedicating time to one or the other but never both at the same time. When you struggle with one, you feel like you can’t go to the other for comfort, for fear of hearing “I told you so.”
This can also feel true when your family doesn’t support your career goals. Your career isn’t a person, but it’s a major part of your life. It gives you the highest highs but also the lowest lows. It’s a manifestation, through actions, of your values and passions. Of course, it’s painful not to feel like you can share about it with your family. But it’s more common than you may think. In fact, most people you speak to could probably tell you that their parents wish they did something else for a living. Maybe they wish it just a little, and maybe they wish it strongly and bring it up regularly. If your family exists on the latter end of that spectrum, you may be struggling to manage that relationship. We spoke with Kiara Hartwell (@KJHartwell), a psychotherapist and owner of KJ Hartwell LLC which offers psychotherapy and coaching to new therapists. Hartwell specializes in working with teens and millennial women and gave insight on how to deal when your family doesn’t support your dreams.
Family is rarely just one thing
“Family can be loving, complicated, toxic, or all three,” says Hartwell. “I’ve worked with many clients whose family members struggle to support their identity, goals, dreams, and aspirations. When it comes to your family not supporting those areas of your life, you will have to work on a few things.”
Generations misunderstand each other’s motives
One study done by the Harvard Business Review found there is a disconnect between how each generation feels about their careers and perceives others to feel about theirs. It turns out, every generation wants a job that offers personal fulfilment, and yet they tend to think the other generations are just interested in money. This was found to be true throughout four generations of individuals born in the 1920s all the way through the mid-1980s. Translation: having parents misunderstand our careers is practically baked into the fabric of society.
Grieving while accepting
As for the few things Hartwell says you’ll need to work through, she elaborates here: “You will have to work on a level of grief in which you are losing a part of your support system – a support system you thought you would have through this process; you will have to work on gaining an understanding of the perspective of why your family is not in support of you and your dreams; and you will have to work on accepting that your family is not in support of you and your dreams.”
Understanding your family’s feelings
With regards to accepting a family that doesn’t support your dreams, “This is tough,” says Hartwell. “Sometimes you never know the place in which your family’s lack of support is coming from. Is it coming from an envious place or an anxious place? It would be wise to try to identify what place they may be coming from and this will help you determine whether or not you can potentially change your family’s mind and receive their support.”
Your dreams are still valid
“Just because you don’t have your family’s support does not mean that you or your dreams are invalid or that you cannot be successful,” says Hartwell. “Sometimes I explain to clients that generational patterns can prevent family members from being in support of certain things.”
Diversity in creative spaces
The lack of diversity in creative industries has been extensively discussed. One survey found that 73 percent of designers identify as white. Black creatives who feel their family doesn’t support their dreams to be a graphic designer or composer might be dealing with a bigger issue: minorities don’t always feel welcome in these spaces.
Is their support worth the emotional tax?
“After several unsuccessful attempts of trying to have your family on board and in support, it will likely cause a variety of negative emotions for you. At this point, it might be best to not discuss your plans with them any further,” says Hartwell. “It’s likely your family may ask about your dreams and it will be up to you to determine how you respond. Sometimes saying less and keeping it short is the best way to go.”
A change in dynamic may occur
If you’re used to sharing everything with your family, purposefully choosing not to can cause a shift that, at first may feel unnatural. “Not having your family’s support will likely change the dynamic of the relationship you have with your family. To navigate the dynamic change, you can still love your family, but know where the limit is regarding the type and amount of information you share,” says Hartwell.
Relationships change: even with family
“I often see my teenage and millennial clients struggle with the change in different relationships over the years. I explain that this is due to the amount of growth and lifestyle changes that occur for both parties. I help them understand that each friend they have will likely serve a different purpose in their life and that’s okay. This can be the same for family.”
The complications of being an adult child
“Adult child” is not an offensive term, suggesting you’re immature. It’s just what you are, in the eyes of your parents. You are an adult, but you’re still their child. And research has found that it’s quite common for parents to develop some sort of tension with their children as those children become adults. Some of the more common things that cause tension between adult children and their parents are finances, education, and health. Having some conflict, when it comes to discussing how you make money with your parents, is pretty normal.
Remember your individual purpose
Even though your family has instilled you with values and ideas about what you’re on this earth to do, you’ve developed some of your own. They may be different from your family’s ideas for you about your purpose. That is okay. “To help overcome the lack of confidence you may feel after not having your family’s support, go back to your why,” advises Hartwell. “What is your why? Why do you want to do these things? You are your own unique person and you are living for yourself and no one else.”
You must curate a support system
“Your family has their life to live and you have yours to live. Recognize what you’ve overcome to get to the place you are today. Through your journey, you will connect with like-minded individuals that can be a support. I know it is not the same as family, but it can serve as a support system,” says Hartwell, adding “It is possible that your family will get on board later down the road and that is okay too.