Should parents push college?

Question:

I feel as if I’m living the movie “Failure to Launch”… my two oldest kids (22 yr old daughter, and 19 yr old son) don’t seem to want to grow up. They both have a good work ethic, and enjoy their jobs, but the jobs are low wage introductory positions. My son is a cook, my daughter a cashier. It seems that, apart from a miracle (and I’m not against miracles) they’ll need a degree in order to get a job which will support their own families, but neither one is motivated about school…

Last night my son said he’s not sure he wants to go back to school next semester!?!! I’m sure this is just a symptom of something deeper, perhaps a deficiency on my part, and that makes it tough to read into and guess how to solve this without a ton of more information I’m sure, but maybe someone has some experience or ideas? I’d love to hear some input or encouragement on the matter.

Forum Answer from Rebbitzin Goldberg:

Firstly, I noticed that you are being very hard on yourself and blaming yourself for the situation. Yet, you mentioned this important point:

Your children have a good work ethic and are showing responsibility by keeping steady employment and doing it well. They are being productive members of society, which is an accomplishment that a Noahide should strive for! Do not belittle this.

They certainly got this from somewhere! It was most probably modeled by their primary role models – their parents. This essential trait of responsibility gives some assurance that when necessary, they will most likely be able to make sound conclusions regarding their present income and whether or not it is going to cover their expenses, etc. But I will talk about this in a bit.

In general, the very first step, when you are hoping that a child will make a certain choice, is this first question you must ask yourself: “Do I have any control in this situation?” In my opinion, this is a situation where you do not have any real control. You can offer them money for continuing their education (for example, a stipend for living expenses, if this was part of the plan), and/or you can cajole, punish, reward, etc. But you can not make them move their legs and walk to classes to get an education and take the tests for them, or make them get passing grades. So you can see that your children are purely in control of this decision at this point in their lives. Once they are past the age of mandatory high-school attendance, they are too old for you to be in authoritative control of their school goings and comings. You can offer them whatever financial assistance for college that you are willing to put out, but you can’t make them want to take it, and you shouldn’t force it on them because of the long-term resentment that could cause.

It is one of the most difficult things for a parent to do, but you must allow this one to slide off YOUR conscience and onto THEIRS. Since they are still relatively young, I am assuming that they do not have their own families yet. If they are still living at home, then they are not yet being required to provide for themselves either. So there is nothing compelling them within their own mind to do anything but what they are agreeably doing now – working at entry-level jobs.

Your message didn’t say whether your son is still in high school. Obviously your daughter is past high-school age. So I’ll assume they have both graduated from high school with diplomas. You also didn’t say whether or not they are still living at home.

If they are still living at home, you should let them know, as a point of helpful information, that when the point does arise that they want to move out, or you tell them it’s time to move out, they will have some logical (!) choices to make. And so will you! It is entirely up to you to decide if your young-adult child will be allowed to continue living at home, either unconditionally or with a set a firm conditions that you (as the home owner) lay down. If your adult (post teen-age) child takes the opportunity to live at home while abiding by YOUR conditions, then you should accept that, because it’s your conditions that have been met.

Of course, post-high school education is not the only alternative for developing a sufficient income. The young person can open a business, or make the dedicated effort to rise up through the ranks from an entry-level position to become a manager or a franchise owner. It comes down to laying the basis for income for self-support, family support, and money invested for retirement (not to mention health insurance). Young adults (in age, if not in maturity) will learn this only from experience, which is something you can not create for them at this point.

Thank G-d, your children are still young and they have enough time ahead of them to get an education and learn this lesson. Worrying, nagging, insisting or arguing to convince will only strain your relationship with them, and your relationship with them is A LOT more important in the long run than the education you want them to have now in the short term. Because when they will be faced with learning lessons on their own, it might be challenging for them. They will need to come back to you for advice, support and encouragement. The last thing you’ll want then is a feeling of lingering resentment on both sides.

So it’s better to repeat to them, and to yourself, that you love them, and believe in them, and that no matter what decisions they make, they will still be your kids and you will always love them. You can, in a non-invasive manner, mention to them that you have some thoughts and ideas about their plans for next year, and if they are interested, you would be happy to have a discussion with them about it. Even if they don’t take you up on the offer right now, they will get the message that you are an available and loving resource, and you will be there for them should they ever need you.

And it is never productive to think that you messed up with them, etc…. Remember that even if this issue is a reflection of a deeper problem, that does not absolve them of their responsibility to provide for the families that they will choose to make. (Hopefully they’ve learned responsibility, and it’s never too late to give them that opportunity.) And your steady belief in them and the relationship that you continue to have with them will definitely make a difference!

P.S. Since I’m a subscriber to the effectiveness of the “love and logic” approach in parenting, I’ve answered along those lines. If you want more information about this (books and/or on-line resources), please visit:  www.loveandlogic.com

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