Dad paid for col­lege, not a course in life

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Adapted from a re­cent on­line dis­cus­sion. Dear Carolyn: My son, “Ron,” 27, works part time at a low-pres­sure, low­pay­ing job. He has a four-year col­lege de­gree my ex-wife and I paid for, and he grad­u­ated with hon­ors but has never worked in that field and shows no in­ter­est in do­ing so. I thought we had raised him to have a strong work ethic. He lives in­de­pen­dently be­cause his wellem­ployed girl­friend, “Ann,” pays most of their bills. When he vis­its, I do oc­ca­sion­ally have to give him some gas or spend­ing money, but it’s not much.

My wife is very con­cerned that if he and Ann broke up, he’d have to move in with us or his mother, and she thinks it’s time for a se­ri­ous fa­ther-son talk. I trust that we raised him right and he’ll even­tu­ally find his di­rec­tion in life. And not ev­ery­one needs to be a CEO, right? Should I talk with him or not? — Par­ent

Par­ent: Not. Not your busi­ness. And cer­tainly not his step­mother’s. Her worst-case sce­nario hasn’t even hap­pened — and she can avoid it just by say­ing no.

Re: Ron: What about end­ing the prac­tice of giv­ing him gas and spend­ing money? You can de­cline to be an en­abler in even a small way, right? — Just a Sug­ges­tion

Just a Sug­ges­tion: Sig­nif­i­cant money, then it’s time for a talk. If it’s peanuts, I think there’s ac­tu­ally more to gain by not sham­ing him; seek­ing 20 bucks for gas is quite ob­vi­ously not a good look on an ed­u­cated and ca­pa­ble 27-year-old not oth­er­wise un­der duress, so why say it out loud. A par­ent’s choice not to bust chops can be a gift as op­posed to a par­ent­ing lapse. So it’s com­pli­cated.

Re: Ron: If Ron and Ann are happy, then “house­hus­band” with a side gig in a job of his own choos­ing is a per­fectly valid choice. How does that not equate to a “strong work ethic?” I con­sider it an­ti­quated think­ing that some­one with a fouryear de­gree must be on a ca­reer path or it was all a waste. — Per­fectly Valid Per­fectly Valid: Amen.

Re: Ron: I was all set to go off with my high GPA and four-year de­gree and Be Suc­cess­ful in Life. But I did a 180 and went into a cre­ative field for less money, and I have no re­grets.

Still, every time I see my dad, he feels the need to have the “we re­ally ex­pect more from you” heart-to­heart. And you know what that’s done? Noth­ing. I still live my life my way. And my dad won­ders why they see less of me. — No Re­grets No Re­grets: Thanks so much for this.

The life of an am­bi­tion-track kid (lead­er­ship! sports! col­lege!) is so struc­tured and front-loaded with grades and ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­grams and scores and oh-my-sweet-baby­de­ity the Ex­pec­taaaa­tions! — and the am­bi­ent cul­ture is ei­ther de­mand­ing or judg­ing ex­cel­lence, or it’s snark­ing about par­tic­i­pa­tion tro­phies and safe spa­ces. So if a highly dec­o­rated young adult is in the midst of a cri­sis of the Point of It All, then wel­come to the freak­ing club.

There­fore, in this sce­nario, it’s a bit rich for the prob­a­ble source of such pres­sure to be mys­ti­fied as to its lin­ger­ing ef­fects.

Not that this ex­plains Ron, just that it’s a phe­nom­e­non reach­ing its prime.


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