The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Life - It’s prej­u­di­cial and un­fair. not Email Carolyn at [email protected] wash­ or chat with her on­line at noon each Fri­day at www. wash­ing­ton­


My 19-year-old son who just grad­u­ated high school has sud­denly de­cided he doesn’t want to go to col­lege. He wants to learn the elec­tri­cal trade his fa­ther does for a liv­ing.

He worked hard in high school and was ac­cepted into an elite health care pro­gram. Af­ter two classes, he told me his heart isn’t there any­more.

It has been hard for me to ac­cept be­cause he is so smart and could do any­thing. He says he is an adult now. He wants to make adult de­ci­sions and make his own money.

OK, I un­der­stand that. But it doesn’t help that his girl­friend is al­ways telling him he doesn’t make his own de­ci­sions and I’m con­trol­ling.

Yes, I am con­trol­ling. I love him and didn’t want to see him make the same mis­takes I did. I set aside go­ing back to school so I could help sup­port his dreams.

I want him to pay his own bills now. I feel like it is time. My hus­band says I’m just mad he quit col­lege.

Maybe I am, but he needs to take re­spon­si­bil­ity. Am I ask­ing too much or just be­ing a con­trol­ling mother?

– Con­trol­ling?


Maybe both, I can’t tell from here — they’re not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive! — but I’m with your hus­band. I see a mom lash­ing out at the son she thinks let her down.

And my prob­lems with that are:

It’s not about you. You made sac­ri­fices, yes, but those never buy par­ents a spe­cific out­come. It was and will al­ways be the child’s life to live.

A trade is a dis­ap­point­ment rel­a­tive to col­lege, not if your goal is to raise lov­ing, in­de­pen­dent-minded, pro­duc­tive ci­ti­zens who are com­fort­able in their own skin. A kid can be­come all those things on the col­lege track, vo­ca­tional track, mil­i­tary track, track-and-field track, make-it-up-as-you-go track. And “any­thing” in­cludes ev­ery­thing. Please tell me you’ve taken a breath by now and have rec­og­nized this.

It’s not ef­fec­tive. Pun­ish­ing him for his choices is not the path to a col­legee­d­u­cated son. More likely, it’s a path to es­trange­ment from your de­fi­antly-clos­ing-his-mind-to-oth­erop­tions son, since that’s how kids, even grown ones, tend to re­act to be­ing judged. Be flex­i­ble, and he might hear ad­vice to take a year to earn money and think a bit, since quitting can be a good or bad de­ci­sion but haste is rarely good. Keep be­ing rigid, though, and he might never for­get your con­tempt for his judg­ment and pos­si­bly even­tual pro­fes­sion. Ouch.

You’re dis­miss­ing in­her­ent value. School is an end, not just a means to one. Learn­ing is an end, not just a means to one. Sup­port is an end, not just a means to one. Be­liev­ing in your son was an end, not just a means to one. Love is an end, not just a means to one. Ev­ery­thing you gave your son to this point still stands as valu­able unto it­self. Who­ever he be­comes.

Mean­while, if you are in­deed con­trol­ling, then you’ve es­sen­tially trained him to seek dom­i­neer­ing part­ners and then take or­ders from them. In case you need rea­sons to learn to back off.

I hope you’re just hav­ing a tem­po­rary freak­out; I hope his girl­friend is not his next con­troller but in­stead is just help­ing him sep­a­rate in a de­vel­op­men­tally ap­pro­pri­ate if some­what mis­guided way; and I hope his drop­ping out is a nec­es­sary first step in find­ing him­self.

You might self-ful­fill those proph­e­sies, at least in part, by declar­ing to your son — as a uni­fied front with your hus­band — that your plan was to sup­port him through col­lege, so you will like­wise sup­port him through trade ed­u­ca­tion and/or a “gap” ded­i­cated to fig­ur­ing him­self out and mak­ing un­rushed de­ci­sions. –

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