My oldest made it very clear when he first entered high school how much he hated school. He had no desire to further his education by following the typical college-bound path. It was a struggle to get him to do the required work to even graduate high school.
That was impossibly hard for me. My ex-husband and I got our Bachelor’s Degrees and we assumed our kids would go to college too. I had a great experience that opened a lot of doors for me professionally. I loved reading and writing and knew I wanted to be a writer, and luckily, I’m still using that degree. I wanted that for my kids and I worried without a college degree, my son would be limited in his career. (Even though I knew the flipside: Many of my fellow Gen-Xers choose completely different careers than what they studied in school and are still knee-deep in student loan debt.)
It can be soul-crushing for parents to hear their kids don’t want to go to college. I was bothered by the stigma of my kid not wanting to go to college. What would people say? Would they think I was wrong for not pushing him to go?
But giving him the space to make his own decisions and then watching him flourish smashed my fears pretty quickly. He choose to a pursue a trade and is now happily working as a plumber.
I was nervous — for sure — but I got over it. Here’s how you can too:
1. It’s their life, not yours.
We always want the best for our kids. There are times when we think that means giving them the same opportunities we had, or giving them an opportunity we didn’t. I had to remember my son is an entirely different person than I am. He lives his life differently, he learns differently, and has different interests.
I want to support who he is. Not the person I think he should be.
2. They can always go later.
A lot of kids need more time to figure it out what they want do before committing to go to college. I know a young woman who graduated high school in 2000, and just finished her degree in dental hygiene. She is unbelievably happy and glad she waited.
3. Forcing them will probably backfire.
I remember so many kids at my college who didn’t want to be there. They were miserable and felt like they weren’t living their own lives. The pressures of living up to their parent’s expectations got to them.
4. They can still make a great life for themselves without a college degree.
There are many other career paths that don’t require a degree. I know a woman who never went to college. She is a self-taught hair stylist who owns a salon and has a six-month waiting list.
My cousin joined the military. My son is learning the plumbing trade, which will provide him with a lucrative living.
The options are endless and you don’t need a degree to have a successful, and more importantly happy life.
5. It gives them more freedom to decide what they want to do.
It’s also reassuring that these careers came without the hefty college price, which affords the freedom to try something else without feeling sick about it — unlike some of my friends who are still paying off their college loans.
Hearing your child doesn’t want to go to college might break your heart, but remember this is about them and their future. They should get to decide. It’s our job as parents to support that decision.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too money online and drinking Coke Zero.