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drdoombot's avatar

How to reconcile my mother's need for social interaction and my brother's need for quiet while studying?

Asked by drdoombot (8095 points ) March 27th, 2010

(Get ready for a long read…)

Being Central Asian in origin, my mother’s extended family is very close and tight-knit. Due to many circumstances that would take too long to describe here, my mother’s apartment has been a “clubhouse” for many years, with her relatives gathering and meeting there for formal holidays and casual drop-ins all the time (to give you an idea: my mother’s sister drops by weekly, her aunt almost daily, and her aunt’s children and grandchildren at least 3 times a week).

While it was great for myself and my brothers when we were younger to have people around to help out (my parents have been divorced for nearly 20 years), as we got older, it became a problem. We were always much more studious and serious about school than our relatives and the constant noise and movement in the house made it difficult to study. It was still manageable in high school, when the work was easier, but it became more of a problem in college, as the amount of concentration and time required to do college work increased.

The current situation is that two of my brothers have moved out. Visits home have become rarer and rarer as my brothers have sampled a life of privacy and quiet and prefer it to the (sometimes) raucousness of home. This really upsets my mother, who has a strong desire to spend time with all the people she loves.

My youngest brother is studying for his MCAT and he needs huge chunks of quiet time. My brothers and I have spoken to my mother about reducing the number of guests received at home, but as far as I can tell, the habit is too strong to be broken. Our relatives are so used to coming over all the time that even asking them explicitly not to come over so often has had little to no effect on the frequency of their visits. (My mother, being of limited mobility, doesn’t get out much and has no means of transportation)

At this point, my brothers are upset with my mother for not enforcing their request. My mother, being very traditional, feels she cannot just kick people out of her house, especially beloved relatives. Being of poor health and somewhat shy, they are her primary source of social interaction.

In a nutshell, my mother’s two worlds are clashing. Moving out is not an option for my youngest brother, as he can’t support himself, but home is not a great study environment. My mother greatly fears that addressing her relatives directly will result in the breaking of close ties and loss of social interaction, but she still wants her son to do well in his studies.

For my part, I had this clash with my mother years ago. I came to realize that as long as I am in her house, her rules apply. For the most part, I’ve given up the fight, waiting for the day when I can support myself and move out.

So I guess the problem is: when you love your mother very much but cannot stand her lifestyle, what do you do? Her lifestyle works very well for her, it’s just not compatible with the way her sons want to live (namely, with quiet and privacy). When this point is brought up to her, she becomes very upset. How can you broach this subject with an emotional person who can’t seem to handle this incompatibility?

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20 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

Your brother needs to start going to the library.

ChocolateReigns's avatar

I would think there’d be a public library somewhere nearby. I know nothing that’s simple, but could it be at all possible?

tedibear's avatar

I can only give practical suggestions regarding the need for quiet. I think for the rest, you and your brother will need to work out as you see fit once you’re out of her home. (As in how much you visit, how often you see all the relatives, etc.)

As you are in college, I will assume that there is a library. While there are places that are open and there are distractions, I would bet there are quiet spots too. Where I went to college, there were table and chairs in the archive section. (It was in the basement) I even knew people who would take a beer or two in their backpacks to drink while they studied! Also, many libraries have “listening rooms” for people who need to listen to specific music piece for a class. I’m not saying to take one away from someone who needs it, just to try to use it when no one else does.

As well, are the classroom buildings on campus locked? I attended college in the 1980’s at a very small school in the middle of nowhere. Things were rarely locked, so check out the campus for that.

How far away do your brothers live? Can you go there to study? How about a friend or neighbor’s house? Worst case scenario, do either of you have a car? Could you drive to somewhere quiet and study there?

@ChocolateReigns brings up another excellent suggestion of the public library.

drdoombot's avatar

@nikipedia @ChocolateReigns There are some local libraries nearby, but they close around 6pm. The college library is his refuge on weekdays, but I don’t think most people would want to come home for dinner and then turn around and commute back to college again. Besides, I think they close around 8–9pm.

@tedibear39 Getting to college is a bit of a commute, and as I remember, most of the rooms were locked. He does need to work at a computer though, and I think his home setup is the ideal one. My other brothers live at least 1-and-a-half-hour train commute away.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m making excuses; these are all ideas we’ve considered before. He doesn’t have a working laptop, and he needs internet access to do his studying, so he’s limited by the working hours of various locations. Part of the problem is that those crucial hours of studying, around 9pm to 1am, we tend to have people over (yes, THAT late).

nikipedia's avatar

@drdoombot: Does his college have computer labs? They may even have specific late-night study locations. I would investigate these first.

And he can start packing a dinner so he only has to trek out there once.

It may be worth it for him to invest in a laptop. You can get a netbook for something like $250. Not cheap, but almost certainly worth it. This is an investment in his future.

If it comes down to it, he may need to just budget his time so he gets his studying done before the library closes at 8 or 9pm. It sucks, but you gotta work with what you have.

escapedone7's avatar

Do you have your own room where you can lock the door? There are things you can buy to put over your ears so you don’t hear so much noise. Headphone shaped hearing protection devices usually used on noisy job sites and gun ranges and stuff. I also think there are ear plugs and other ways to make it more quiet.

My university had quiet study areas all over the place because so many students lived in chaotic dormitory situations. I stayed at the library a lot, but also found myself sometimes simply sitting under a tree at the park on a sunny day. I am not as distracted by noise. I am also blessed enough to have a portable laptop.

I think your mother is happy with her family, company and life. Since she has mobility issues, transportation issues, and has trouble getting out, perhaps it would be easier for you to be the one to find quieter places. If not, perhaps try setting some boundaries with these aunts and cousins. Say you must study in your room and to please not knock on your door, barge in, or disturb you. Use some type of noise cancellation device. Perhaps even one of those white noise machines, or those ear covers.

It is very kind of you to consider her feelings as well as your own needs. You seem very mature! I hope you can find a compromise that works.

galileogirl's avatar

If he is trying to get into med school he should have figured this out by now. The university library is probably open from 8–10 weekdays and almost as many hours on Sat/Sun. The library also has all the resources he might need now and when he is in medical school. Also he may find study groups are helpful and the library is a more convenient place than Mom’s dining table.

As an adult, I had to stay at my parents’ house for a few short periods. It never occurred to me to ask them to change their lives to accommodate me.

janbb's avatar

@drdoombot Sephardic?

Seek's avatar

Some places that have quiet (most with free Wi-Fi):

Public library
University library
Your Local Coffee House
The county park
The awesome gelato shop at the mall
Barnes And Noble/Borders/Waldenbooks

The answer seems simple to me. Your mom’s older and sick, and she likes having company. Your brother is young and mobile, and wants quiet. Obviously the one with mobility issues gets the home front.

escapedone7's avatar

I have a car charger for my laptop, and my own car. I have parked in quiet empty parking lots and just worked from my car over lunch breaks. I guess you are working with different resources. You speak of train commutes and the need to return for dinner. You obviously have more obstacles than I do. Sack lunches are boring, but a peanut butter sandwich and apple or banana might give your brother enough sustenance to stay at the library longer before returning home and warming up dinner leftovers.That way perhaps he could stay at the library until closing time.

A laptop is almost crucial. I wish there were a way for you to obtain one.

RedPowerLady's avatar

It seems to me that your brother is an adult and should engage in some problem solving other than trying to change your mom’s way of life. It seems like her way of life helps her and has helped you all in the past. Why should she change it for a grown son? Is there a reason your brother cannot study elsewhere??

Not to mention that even if your mom did agree would the rest of the family? Likely not. You would have to change all their minds (in terms of coming over frequently) as well.

So the easiest (and in my opinion most appropriate) solution is for your brother to study elsewhere and to just be grateful that his mom wants him to live with her while grown.

Edit to add: There is almost always a place inside a college to study. And the libraries stay open quite late (may be a bit different for a community college but know this is true for Universities). The computer lab itself at the college I recently graduated from is open until 2am. About dinner. Well he can just bring a snack and eat his dinner cold or reheated when he comes home. That is the sacrifice of being a college student. Most of us had to do that or worse, ramen noodles at school, lol.

snowberry's avatar

If your brother can satisfy both his needs and his mother’s, that would be best. My first suggestion would cost a little bit, but it would provide noise protection. He should get some really good ear phones. Piping in music or white noise would cover any sound that creeps in. If he can lock the door to his room, he should be able to study without interruption or distraction. Check with a store that sells such things, and see what you can find.

My fmy next ideas were also the library, or a Barnes and Noble type store. But don’t forget Starbucks. According to Wickipedia, “Near colleges, Starbucks is typically open till 11pm Sunday through Thursday, and 12am on Friday and Saturday. Each location can have different hours… it depends how many ‘late night coffee goers’ there are. And in calif they usually open @ 430am till 10 or 11pm.” If there’s no Starbucks, Perhaps there are other quiet coffee shops that would offer similar services. Check around.

galileogirl's avatar

@RedPowerLady I was taken aback by that ‘have to go home for dinner’ remark too. He has to study at home because Mom is fixing him dinner? lol

snowberry's avatar

Hey @galileogirl This is a different culture. The older generation is given a great deal more respect than in our culture. Also, in general, women serve the men of all ages in Asian cultures. So it works both ways, and I would imagine the habit is ingrained.

galileogirl's avatar

@snowberry “The older generation is given a great deal more respect than in our culture” Yeah I get it. A 22 yo who lives in Mom’s house telling her how to live her life, who she can have in her house and when to have dinner on the table-what respect!. Like I said, the few times I had to stay a month or so with my parent’s, I lived their lifestyle-out of respect for them. And bro better get uningrained if he wants to marry.

snowberry's avatar

It IS a different mindset. Women are generally raised from childhood to serve the men and boys. It’s complicated and weird to our way of thinking. We had some friends from Korea, and in many ways, this sounds similar to the way their household ran.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Do you have a neighbor or family member with no relatives that you could chip in and rent a room from to study in? Friends from high school who don’t have children at home any more? The first priority is to have study space for the MCATs, not to move out and move into. Check with your landlord, and see if there is unused space somewhere in the building that would hold a desk, chair, and a lamp.

Having your house as the social hub of your family is a wonderful thing, even if it’s not conducive to getting work done. It means your mom is never lonely, and she has people to look out for her.

mollypop51797's avatar

Your brother can go somewhere else, like most other said OR your mother could have once or twice a month parties at her house where she invites everyone. The she can have her social time and she can make them bigger. If she’s not willing to do that, then she can have friends meet locally and one of them can stop by and pick her up. How about that?

drdoombot's avatar

@snowberry @galileogirl He already packs like two lunches because he leaves early in the day. I don’t know how much anyone can stand eating three packed meals a day. But even if that wasn’t the case, dinner is important for my mother. She’d freak out if he didn’t come home to eat at least one hot meal. Another brother is being practically excommunicated because he’s going somewhere else for the first Seder night…

It strikes me now that part of the problem is that my mother is not only encouraging but insistent that her children study hard and make a good future for themselves… but is unwilling to alter her household to facilitate this desire.

Anyways, thanks for all the answers people. I didn’t ask this question so much for answers as for confirmation that the advice I’ve given already has been on the mark. I may not entirely agree with my mother’s lifestyle, but as long as she’s paying the rent, she’s the one who decides what happens in her house.

snowberry's avatar

@drdoombot Unfortunately, you’re right. If you pay, you get to say. That’s the way it is. It’s unfortunate that the family would become split over this. It sounds like she’s in denial. You can’t have it both ways, and somehow it’s not computing for her.

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