Living with a difficult parent during PhD


Hi everyone,

I'm thinking of applying for a PhD and I'm unsure of how to think about my living situation. I have a single mom who is quite difficult to handle. She has undeniably been through a lot of challenges but she expects me to be responsible for her emotions. During my undergraduate and current master's program, I did have the luxury of living apart from her but having to frequently mediate heated family arguments (between my mom and sibling) left me with suicidal thoughts and it took a long period of counselling for me to somewhat feel in control.

Recently I told my mom I'm planning on pursuing a PhD and she wants to move in with me wherever I go. We are currently in the US and she justified that we'll be saving money by living together. My mom just doesn't want to live alone in the US or be alone back in our home country. She either wants me to move back home with her and apply for a PhD later or she will stay with me in the US. Both options make me feel very nervous because I know she has a rough time emotionally handling unpredictable/unideal situations that come up and I don't know if I could handle a PhD with family stress. At the same time I feel very guilty because I'm supposed to be taking care of her emotionally and financially (she's estranged from my sibling and other family members).

I would definitely financially support my mom but I'm afraid of hurting her feelings by expressing my need to live alone. I've also been entertaining the idea of getting her settled back in our home country and applying for a PhD somewhere else next year. I would appreciate any thoughts or perspectives on handling these types of situations!

Thank you!


You should not be having to support your mum unless she has some special needs.
Given the background you have described, you should be looking to move out.
Your mum needs to be taking responsibility for herself and not leaning on you.
She certainly has no right to be telling you when and where to do your PhD.

Isn't it odd that you feel guilty about hurting her feelings but she seems to feel no obligation towards how you feel? It seems to be all about her doesn't it?

Sounds a bit like my mum. Sadly they don't change with time. Is she really worth messing with your own future over? I had to put distance between me and my mum too. The alternative is just not worth it.

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You don't have to live your Mum and don't feel obligated to be her saviour. You have a been a good child so far and a PhD is mentally draining enough without having to look after a parent. It is not your job to look after her and there is absolutely nothing wrong wanting to succeed.

If you are afraid of telling her you don't want to live her, there is probably no easy way to tell her. So don't be afraid to rip the band aid off and be honest about wanting space.


Look after yourself first, if she's estranged from the rest of the family there's probably good reason for that and just because they got out before you did, doesn't mean you need to be stuck with that xx


You clearly care about her a lot. But this could be a good opportunity to free yourself from the situation you've found yourself in. It doesn't mean cutting all ties etc, but just getting your own space and learning not to feel guilty. She would have to adjust to you not being there after time, and by the sounds of it, it would be good for both of you!


Thank you for all the support everyone! All the points brought up really make sense to me and now it feels less intimidating and less like I would be doing something bad. I can find a way to gently break it to her but still be very firm. If she doesn't take it well, I will still plan to live on my own and check in with her from time to time. At the end of the day that is a healthy decision for myself. If not, I'll probably end up blaming myself and even her when things get rough.