Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

My 19 y/o son dropped out of college and now his only "goal" is to be waiter.

Home Forums Get Advice, Give Advice My 19 y/o son dropped out of college and now his only "goal" is to be waiter.

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  • #762325

    I am simultaneously heartbroken and enraged by this post, because I am unable to avoid taking this one a little personally.

    You see, OP, I WAS your son nearly 10 years ago. I went to a prestigious private college prep school from pre k through my senior year of high school. At my parents’ encouragement, I took ALL the AP classes, played 3 sports, sang in the choir, practiced mock trial, and acted in the plays. I kicked the SAT and ACT’s butts, and was admitted to a top 10 university close to home with a scholarship even though I struggled with ADHD and was unmedicated. Everyone thought I was going to end up a notable lawyer, and my parents were so proud. I was 17.

    Except I was fucking MISERABLE. I was run so ragged that once I got to my first semester, I crashed. I burned out. I didn’t have enough energy left to care anymore. I *did* graduate, but on academic probation with LITERALLY a 2.01 overall GPA. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I took a job as a college recruiter, and moved 7 hours away from my parents. That was the best thing that I ever did.

    They had so much expectation and control in my head, I had no idea how to be me. I had no idea what would make me happy, or even who I was without that list of achievements I thought I needed behind my name. My mother’s best friend’s daughter got her bachelors degree at Harvard and her law degree at Princeton. This is what they had expected for me. My parents were incredibly upset, and made that known. LOUDLY. REPETITIVELY. Why wasn’t I going to law school? What about THEIR PLAN for my life?

    I’ve taken several different jobs in a variety of fields since then, moved to five different states (including Alaska and Hawaii), and desperately sought myself. It took me six years since my undergrad, but I’ve fallen in love with my career and am halfway through a graduate program in Social Work that has commended me for my work experience over my first go at college. In a few years, I will be licensed to practice therapy and open my own practice. I have married a handsome, incredibly smart man who never even got his associates. Instead, he joined the military and is now an incredible pilot. Our paths have not been traditional ones, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We know ourselves, we love each other, we love our families. We follow our passions and are successful in our careers. We are incredibly, unquestionably happy.

    OP, your disdain at your son’s decision to take time away from school and figure himself out is not only pretentious, controlling, and rude; it is incredibly insulting to those of us who have similar stories. My husband is NOT less than because he does not have a degree; I am NOT less than because my path to education did not take the traditional route.

    I understand having hopes and dreams for your children. But I would hope that you care more that your son is HAPPY, rather than collecting letters behind his name to feed your ego that YOU did a good job.


    Errrrr. I think she probably stopped reading when she realized that she wasn’t going to get the validation she wanted.


    The sacrifices you made, like no haircuts, were freely made by you and not at his request. He doesn’t owe you for the sacrifices you made for him. We all make sacrifices for our kids, just like our parents made sacrifices for us and our kids will make sacrifices for their kids. You chose how much and what to sacrifice. Don’t hold that against him. It means you love him and wanted the best for him. Sometimes it is hard to know what the best is and sometimes what you want for them may not be what they need. You do the best you can and continue to love them. You gave him the best you could give him and it was a sacrifice but with the ADHD your vision for his future may not work for him. I think it is pretty common for kids who have ADHD to hit a brick wall when they get to college even if they managed high school. It doesn’t mean he is a failure and a loser. It means that college is much more difficult than high school and that ADHD takes a toll. Think about how hard he had to work to be successful in high school in spite of the ADHD. Think about what a fighter he is. The first step in turning this around for yourself is to give yourself a different perspective. He is a good kid. He doesn’t get into trouble. He got himself a job. He persevered through high school and did well. He has a lot of great characteristics.

    On the downside he lied to you. If he had told you the truth would your reaction have been any different? Were you ever willing to take a step back and say let’s think about this? Maybe this isn’t working the way I planned.

    Did your dreams for him come from wanting him to have prestige and wealth because you thought that those things would make him happy or did they come from a desire for bragging rights? Is your greatest goal for him happiness or wealth or prestige? If you can separate those things and find that happiness is the most important then you will be able to move forward much more easily. You will do a great deal to bridge the gap between you and your son if you can say son I just want you to be happy and I thought the education would bring you the things that would make you happy. Maybe I was wrong.


    I also wonder how, if she couldn’t afford a haircut, she was going to pay for Harvard? That 3.6 wasn’t going to get him in let alone scholarships.


    I would like to help the LW reconnect with her son. If she was a single mother raising him on a limited budget she almost certainly saw the education as a way to put him beyond the financial restrictions she lived with in her daily life. While trying to free him from that type of daily struggle she has created a different daily struggle in his life.

    avatarRuby Tuesday

    I agree, @skyblossom. I think if the LW is prepared to abandon her outdated expectations for her son, both she and her son could benefit from a fresh start to repair their relationship. The son still needs someone in his corner to support him through his challenges.

    avatarIrony Girl

    “Formerly ThatGirl” and I have similar stories, except I did not graduate. I also had diagnosed ADD but was not on meds. I went to college at 17 on a full ride based on my SAT/GPA in AP classes and my moms poverty income. I should have waited a gap year because at the end of the year I ended up so stressed, I got shingles and missed 2 of my final exams. I was let go from my program and picked back up at a community college after 6 months of hard work serving tables, saving up for and getting an apartment and moped in winter because I couldnt afford to maintain a car. I had student loans from my dorm to keep paying as well, as the scholarship didnt cover those and nobody was handing me money, as you did for your sons first apartment.

    My mom never got over it. We have tried multiple times to get past this 8yrs later, but she resents me so much that it always comes back to the sacrifices she made for me and how I threw it all back in her face. Of course I was ashamed, horrified at myself, for being such a loser that I couldnt handle my classes, that the years my mom went without a car (much less a haircut you ungrateful woman…) where all for naught. I had no support or lacked the knowledge to get it, I was too young and immature, and I was suffering from ADD/depression with no friends in a city where I knew nobody and lacked the desire/social skills to make friends easily. My mom never seemed to put herself into my shoes, guess what? I attempted suicide after dropping out from the community college I tried to start back up at. I still have the ER bills and the scars from when my room mate rushed me unconscious to the hospital. Mental health is a real thing, you need to stop pressuring your son.

    It can always be worse, OP. You need to back up and count your blessings before you lose your son, the way my mom acted like I was her property and how disgusted she looked at me, and how I ruined HER future (I was all set to be a vet and pay her bills, I guess) that we dont even talk anymore. She moved to New England to start over, the irony. I guess she couldnt handle seeing me be such a “loser”. She doesnt even know that I am NOW a realtor, successful, so happy, making money!! With a home and dog and a longtime boyfriend. Maybe if she googled my name, but now I have a wall put up where I dont even want to talk to her, she hurt me so much as a vulnerable CHILD and that is what you are doing to your son. If you love your son SMILE he is alive, you selfish woman.

    Hope yall work it out and he stays in your life. NOW is not forever, but my mom pretty much is out of my life forever. Look at the big picture. Sad.


    I just wanna say my friend is married to a man who is just. Waiter and they have a very cute baby boy. Apologize to your son for yelling at him and let him make his own mistakes. College will be there. No use if he doesn’t actually want to be there.


    LW – I am late to this party but I can see why you are mad. College is such a huge investment and for him to blow it off is heartbreaking. Here is what I would do:

    1.) Do not give him any more money. When he is ready to go back to school, really talk about investment and expectations. Make sure he has thought through what he wants and how he will succeed this time. Maybe start classes at the community college and then transfer back.

    2.) When I went to college, my parents sat me down and had a conversation about school. They told me how they had saved since I was born to pay for school. They broke down the cost of tuition and it came down to $50 per class so if I skipped one day of classes, I wasted $150. As weird as it sounds, it was hard to wrap my head around $20k for a year but wasting it per day stuck with me.

    3.) Just remember that his whole life is ahead of him. He is 19. Just because he is taking a break doesn’t mean this is the rest of his life. Think about your beliefs at 19 and what you know now.

    4.) The sacrifices we make as parents are never really realized by our kids. I would tell him that you love him and you believe in him. Let him figure it out. You should focus on taking care of yourself now. Put yourself back on the list.


    Yeah Legally Blonde really screwed up people’s ideas about what it takes to get into Harvard.


    Sue, a little perspective? Your son has a job and is living independently in an apartment, right? He’s not on drugs (and actually, ADHD meds like adderall are basically speed/meth, so I can understand why he opted out). These are not small things.

    You had a vision in your head of what his future would be like, and you’re clinging to it like a dog with a bone. You have to let go of it, step back, and love and accept your son. You don’t have to love his choices, but he needs to know you love him – HIM – not just the image you built of his potential in your mind. He was never going to be a Harvard-educated neuro-surgeon with a 3.6 GPA anyway. That’s not realistic.

    But he could absolutely still go on to have a career and be successful and happy. Why don’t you back off of him, show him you love him, and see what happens. Let him experience life on a minimum wage job for a while. See how that goes for him. Maybe he’ll get some perspective himself and decide on his own without you pressuring him that he wants to go back to school.

    In the meantime, get your hair done. Get your makeup done at Sephora or Ulta and buy a few products. Take care of yourself. Buy some outfits that make you feel good. Go to the dentist. There’s nothing you can do right now but chill out and love your son.


    You also need to think about, did you set standards for him that were so ridiculous and unattainable (pretty much no one has what it takes to be a brain surgeon), that he just gave up because nothing would be good enough for you but that? He had nothing realistic to aspire to, so he was like, forget it. Putting that kind of pressure on someone is not fair and doesn’t lead to good outcomes.

Viewing 12 posts - 37 through 48 (of 75 total)
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