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Back Off, Mom
Pushing me harder won’t get me further
Anonymous
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Names have been changed.

When I was a freshman, I took my SAT Subject Test in Biology and I got a 690. That’s an above average score, but it wasn’t high enough for my mother. It still upsets me to remember that as soon as I saw the score the first feeling I had wasn’t my own disappointment, but fear of my mother’s reaction. We had a terrible fight that day, filled with my tears and her comments like, “You didn’t even try.” My friend, Andrea, who also took the test, found out she got a higher score. When I told my mom this, our fight escalated.

She screamed that maybe my friend got such a good score because her mom pushes her so hard, and that maybe she should push me like that too. Andrea and her mom’s relationship is not the best. It consists of Andrea being home alone most of the time while her mom is out drinking with her friends. When her mom does push Andrea hard about her schoolwork, there is a lot of screaming that Andrea is worthless and wishing she was never born. Recently Andrea felt like she couldn’t take it anymore and she swallowed a bunch of pills. My mom knew about this, so out of spite I yelled, “You want to drive me to attempt suicide too?”

I remember her looking into my eyes, filled with such disappointment and anger, as she yelled, “Well it worked, didn’t it?” She walked out of my room and left me speechless and numb.

We didn’t talk the rest of that day but the next morning my mom sat me down and explained that she pushes me because she believes I have the ability. Later I realized she never specifically apologized for the comment. She only justified why she reacted that way.

Two years later I still think about this conversation. Although my mom hasn’t said or even hinted at anything similar, I sometimes wonder how she could feel that way, even if it was fueled by anger.

I hope she doesn’t value my numerical worth over my happiness and life. I want to be certain she’d rather me be alive than accepted into an Ivy League college. But I’m not sure how she feels. I’m afraid to talk to her about it because I’m afraid of her answer.

No Let Up

When there is a lull in a conversation between me and my mom, she goes on her phone and reads me SAT stats. She reads off how this person with these grades and this score got into this college:

“If you took as many AP courses as this guy you’d have a better chance of getting into a good school.”

“If you just tried a little harder, you could do well. Lots of girls are just like you and so you have to stand out.”

I abhor these conversations. They’re not even conversations; she just talks at me. I block her comments out like white noise. I’m sick of hearing how little time I have left and that in a year I’ll be getting my own college results. I don’t want to know which college my mom’s friend’s son got into, and I definitely don’t want to know what I have to do to be more like him.

image by YC-Art Dept

A part of me knows my mom pushes me because she wants me to do well. And I really do love her for this but what she doesn’t understand is pushing won’t get me further. In fact, it has the opposite effect. I’ve imagined a scenario in which I’ve finally had enough and I sit her down and yell at her, like she’s done to me so many times. I dream of going to college across the country because I don’t want her visiting me too often.

Back Story

I know my mom is unhappy in her life. Ever since I was little I remember my dad frequently changing jobs. He was a bag store owner and manufacturer, then he owned a restaurant, then he started a party bus service, and now he owns a café. When my dad was “job hopping” my mom used to say things like, “Let’s see how long he lasts.” And flipping through the mail she’d mumble, “We may both have jobs but I’m the one who pays the bills.” Though my dad is stable and happy now at age 50, my mom doesn’t want me to take that long to find a steady job.

My mom is a lawyer and she works long hours on top of being a wife and mother. My dad comes home at 11 p.m. after everyone has eaten dinner and says hi to both my brother and me and hugs us. Instead of greeting my mom the same way he immediately says “I want dinner” and then lies on the couch. So maybe my mom doesn’t want me to have a life like hers.

She doesn’t want me to have to worry about bills, be overworked, not feel appreciated, and have to handle all the pressures alone. Maybe she thinks the only way she can try and guarantee that is by pushing me about my grades.

But understanding why my mom is unhappy doesn’t justify her actions. She also needs to know that getting good grades won’t necessarily make me happy. Getting into a fantastic college won’t guarantee that I will have an easier life than she does.

I want to be able to live my life without her breathing over my shoulder and planning my every move. How long will it take for the pushing to drive me over the edge? Sometimes I feel like I’m on the verge of a breakdown and I want to avoid that.

Other things are more important to me than good grades—like having good relationships with my friends, having more fun, and being able to talk openly with my mom.

My Future

If we did have a conversation about this, I’d begin by letting her know that I don’t resent her for pushing me because I know she’s doing it to help me. But I’d also say I have other feelings and concerns too, beyond just school and grades. For instance, she has no idea that my friends push me around and that I worry about my weight.

My mom is mad a lot. Maybe showing her that I don’t take her so for granted would make her feel less unhappy. Maybe then she’ll be more open to starting a dialogue about what’s important to me. I’ll try to thank her more and help out when I can with things like cleaning the house and washing dishes.

Although my mom hasn’t asked what my plans are for the future, I know she is thinking about it. But I don’t know what I want to do yet. It’s not as she thinks, that I don’t care about my future, I just want the space to go to the college I want and to figure things out on my own there. I want the freedom and opportunity to try things that interest me and be able to find out what I truly enjoy. At this point in my life I feel like I can only do that without my mom.

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(NYC-2015-05-14)

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