Up until recently, I’ve had a great relationship with my parents. I’m currently in my last year of university, and I’m trying to figure out what the next step in my life will be. I have applied to graduate school and have been accepted at one school and wait-listed at a second. I realized during the application process that the school that has accepted me is not a good fit for my personality or my academic and career goals. I’m not certain that a PhD program is what I want anymore, anyway–especially at a university that I’m not too keen on in the first place.
A lot has changed in my life lately, and I’ve recently returned from studying abroad and realized that there many more opportunities and avenues to pursue than I’d originally imagined. I’ve tried discussing these concerns with my parents, but whenever I do they either tell me to just go to grad school as planned, or they get scared that I’m throwing away an opportunity and will end up doing something that will screw up my life forever, which inevitably ends up in a long argument that leaves everyone angry.
I told my mother the other day that all I want is for them to trust that I will make informed decisions, follow my heart, and learn from any mistakes that I make. I understand that they want nothing less than the best for me, but over the years I’ve come to see that there are things about me that they will never understand because they’ve never experienced what I have. I’ve studied in a foreign country and have been abroad several times since I was a teenager; they’ve never left the United States. I’m trilingual, but they only speak English. I’m majoring in the sciences, but they’ve never set foot in a lab.
I’ve never disagreed with my parents over something this major before–even when I was in junior high and high school, we got along very well. Am I being immature or short-sighted for not wanting to go to a graduate school that I feel is not right for me? (For the record, I’m going to follow up my applications at the other universities I’ve applied to and seeing what happens there. Also, we’ve agreed from day 1 that they will not be paying for my graduate education–I will). I feel terrible knowing that I’ve scared and upset my parents, but I also know that I’m an adult and I need to what I feel is right for me and to accept the consequences of my choices. I want to have a good relationship with my parents, so what can I do to fix this?
A: Congratulations on your considerable achievements. From what you say, you are making some very mature and reasonable decisions about the direction you want to take. You’re probably right that your parents are frightened for you. The economy stinks. You have what seems to be a sure thing in the acceptance. They saw smooth sailing ahead for you and now you’re making waves.
But here’s the thing: At some point, every young adult has to separate in order to become a full adult. Sadly, that separation often seems to have to be done in anger. It doesn’t. You are not separating from loving your parents. You have no desire to drive a wedge that will be permanent. What you do want to do is to claim your own path. Since you are paying for your own graduate education, you do have the right and the responsibility to choose for yourself.
You can’t fix the conflict. But you can fix the anger. Stop arguing. Arguing gives the impression that you can be talked or argued out of a decision. Instead, emphasize that you love them very much and wish they’d give you their blessing. But be clear that your decision about what you study and the career you choose is yours to make. If your folks invite you to fight about it, simply restate that you love them and that you know they want the best for you but that you are clear about what you are going to do. Then change the subject to something you all enjoy. Be sure to express your appreciation to them for raising you to be the kind of person who has had the courage to travel abroad, the dedication to do so well academically, and the appreciation for the importance of family. They’ve raised you well but now it’s time for you to take on responsibility for yourself.
I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Jan 2012
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). How Do I Stop Fighting with My Parents?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/01/14/how-do-i-stop-fighting-with-my-parents/