So your family doesn’t get it…. 3 steps to help 

Photo by:  JD Mason via Unsplash 

Photo by: JD Mason via Unsplash 


So you’re in graduate school, congratulations!! It is truly an accomplishment and an honor. Oh, I forgot to mention it is a lot of work too. (If anyone tells you it isn’t either they’re lying or in a terrible program).


After you complete undergad, the questions about school get a little different—especially if you are a southern Black woman. Somebody somewhere is asking your about children and a family! Anyway, the questions root from a place of a lack of understanding.


For me, I am a social scientist and both my sisters are STEM—molecular medicine, or something like that, and the other is a pediatrician. My father and biological mother, now deceased, are both electrical engineers by education and training. So it is a little understandable that I am always confronted with the same questions and confusion. And by a little, I mean like 20% understandable. 


There is is lack of understanding and comprehension in the Black community about social sciences and humanities. Due to our communal history and America’s racism, Black folks were not allowed to dream or imagine—we needed job security. STEM degrees and jobs provide that sense of stability that the older generation doesn’t think is capable without it. And to an extent, that can be the case; however, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t respect or try to understand what it is you do. 


So your family doesn’t get it, here is three steps to help you navigate that. 


1. Only explain once, twice if you’re generous

Let’s face it, no one is who is asking you is asking you because they are genuinely interested or curious. If they have already made sly comments about your educational aspirations, then whatever you tell them will be used against you at some point. Example: “Well, you don’t really do anything all day! You just read. That’s not hard.” We all know Uncle Terrence and Auntie Mary do not know any better and you will want to reply: “Actually, yes it is!” But save your breath, you’re going to need it when you’re arguing down an entitled classmate. 

            So, just explain it once and twice if you are feeling nice. I know personally that I ain’t answering not one more again. 


2. Write it in an email, or something they can refer back to

If you feel so inclined to explain it again, put it in an email, or a letter, hell send a message in a bottle. The point: if you write it down, you can tell them to “please refer to the email from February 2015!” That professional clap back! It is not that you don’t know how to explain what you study, you’re just exhausted form explaining it at every family gathering and every time your grandparents call you. 

            I know that emailing your family sounds strange, but it will save you so much time. I cannot tell you how the majority of time spent talking with my immediate family members is explaining what I study. Honestly, always discussing that leaves no room for anything else and it limits your familial relationship to being associated with your academic achievement. And that is not what family should be based on. 


3. Oh the F*ck Well

So, I know this sounds harsh. But at some point we have to understand that we do not need familial approval to study the things we study in graduate school. We really don’t need their approval for much once you reach the age you are in graduate school. (Now, if your family is paying every bill, y’all may have to answer just a few more questions). Again, I get it. We want to allow our family in on our lives because we have been taught that family is important and they are the ones that “get us through.” But we must also understand that family are folks who respect you and that you do not have to do things to please them. 

            Like I said, Oh well. They do not get it. Life will go on. You really need to save that energy up to get through the rough parts of your program—because there will be rough parts. I am still personally getting to the point of saying “oh well.” It is hard, but necessary. I want to let you know that your research and the things you study are valid. 


These are my three tips, I understand that they are kind of humorous. And they are supposed to be. I am trying to address a topic that I know causes many of stress in a light-hearted way to let you know that you are not alone. 



Joy Melody is a JTG Contributor. She is a Master's student at the University of Iowa who studies the sociology of sports and health communication within the education system. When she is not busy complete work for class she enjoys writing for her blog , running with her dog, and hunting down guest for her podcast. She is a native of Fort Worth, TX.


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