Families can be a great support but they can also be hugely challenging and can act as a source of stress.
Whilst having parents who live nearby can be a source of support, sometimes this might also mean caring for them or dealing with “over-involvement” in our lives. Learning to live as an adult in our family homes is not an easy transition and can cause significant tension between family members.
Being away from family is not necessarily straightforward either and can have its own set of challenges - financial pressure, pressure to maintain family connections, pressure to return home, pressure to address family needs remotely. These can all contribute to stress and have an effect on our study. Being separated from friends and family can also lead to feelings of isolation and homesickness that can be difficult to talk about.
Frequently suggested strategies
- “Leave stress at the door” – practice some relaxation exercise before you arrive home to avoid taking feelings out on your family
- Have a “chore sheet” on the fridge so everyone can contribute to what needs to be done around the house
- Try to eat together as a family a couple of times per week so you can connect and talk
- Communicate assertively to tackle difficult relationships at home. Use self-help resources to develop these skills
- If moving somewhere new, get out and keep busy
- Bring some things that remind you of good times at home and make your room somewhere you enjoy being
- Call home but also talk to new people in your new home
- Look after yourself – try to sleep, eat and exercise like you did before moving
- Give yourself time to adjust
- Link in with respite care if you have caring responsibilities
Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that can prevent us dealing with problems linked to our families.
It feels disloyal to access support and talk about family as a major stressor
In talking about family with a counsellor, the aim is to understand the context that leads to family related stress, not to blame, take sides or criticise. In seeking help with family relationships, it demonstrates a strong desire to improve the situation. The aim is to develop more helpful or supportive relationships. Rather than disloyalty, this evidences a strong loyalty or connection to family members.
My family won't change so I just have to put up with it
It’s true that we can’t control the behaviour of others and this includes family members. The only thing we can control is our own behaviour so thinking about how we want to conduct ourselves in our family relationships can be a really useful place to start. Limiting contact to preserve our own wellbeing is a perfectly reasonable strategy which at times we don’t give ourselves permission to do. Talking to a counsellor about how to manage very difficult family situations is often a very helpful way of moving forward.
I just need to ignore homesickness and focus on study strategies
Homesickness can really impact our concentration and focus. Addressing it effectively often means trying to build a life in your new location through connecting with others, pursuing interests or hobbies, and discovering things to enjoy. Doing these things allows us to then engage the effective study skills that are likely to have gained us a place at university in the first place. Sometimes, the most effective way forward is to tackle an underlying stress rather than focus on the study issue itself. Check out the links at the bottom of this page for further information on tackling homesickness.
Below are three things you can do to boost success.
Talk about family stress
Talking about family stress is a great way to change its impact on us and sometimes on the family member themselves. We might also talk to another family member who might facilitate a conversation that builds a solution. Talking helps us to work through things we can change (and plan what to do) and find ways to accept things we can’t change. Perspectives from people that aren’t invested or connected to the situation might help to highlight unhelpful assumptions or destructive behaviours.
You can choose your friends but not your family
It is OK to acknowledge that sometimes our family is not our best avenue of support. That doesn’t mean we don’t necessarily love them or care for them, and in some situations that love and care may not be there at all. It is completely acceptable to get support from friends or other individuals, and build your 'family' that way.
When far from home, it can be difficult to reach out and make new relationships. Connecting to things that we enjoyed at home whilst accepting that they will be different is often very helpful. Dealing with stress effectively means having interests beyond our studies. The more we can investigate options available to us in our new location and give them a go, the more likely it will be that we feel settled and less stressed. Free activities are available all over the city and linking with support services like International Student Support is a great way to connect with people who may share similar experiences.
Need more info?
Guilt about family
Living / not living with family
Difficult family relationships
- Dealing with family members who stress you out
- Family estrangement
- Caregiver stress
- Young carer stories
- Consider having a quick break from home and come along for a free Adelaide University Union breakfast during semester time.