Mom retaliates after son quits college to pursue a trade |
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Mom retaliates after son quits college to pursue a trade

Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

My 19-year-old son who just graduated high school has suddenly decided he doesn’t want to go to college. He wants to sweat and work hard, learning 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. Car insurance, cellphone, credit card. 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 believes 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.

• It’s prejudicial and unfair. A trade is not 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 recognized this.

• It’s not effective. Punishing him for his choices — emotionally, financially, however else — is not the path to a college-educated son. More likely, it’s a path to estrangement from your defiantly-closing-his-mind-to-other-options 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 basically trained him to seek domineering partners and then take orders from them. In case you (or others reading this) 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 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” [limited time period] dedicated to figuring himself out and making un-rushed decisions. Kids who are “so smart” and “could do anything” often need time to grasp what that really means.


Hi, Carolyn:

I had a mammogram and a couple of days later was told there was an abnormality and I needed to come in ASAP. I texted my husband the news and he called me from work. I told him I had an appointment that afternoon and he responded by asking me to text him when I got news.

I was hurt he didn’t ask to come with me. It was on a Friday afternoon and would have required him missing a few hours of work. He is a very loving husband (otherwise).

— L.

So he is a very loving spouse who needed to be told outright that you wanted him with you.

There are a lot of them out there.

Possibly because there are a lot of people who would prefer to go to the appointment solo (including yours truly) and/or who project their own preferences onto others.

Or he was deliberately projecting calm.

When in doubt, blame human variety. And when you want something, be prepared to ask.

Hope the tests came out OK.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at

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