A Directionless Daughter

Becky's daughter wants to go back to graduate school and move out of Becky's home. Becky doesn't agree that she can afford to move out, quit her job, and go back to school. Dave suggests a compromise.

QUESTION: Becky in Mississippi has a 26-year-old daughter starting her first job. Her daughter has her master’s degree, but despite her student loan debt, now she wants to go back to graduate school and move out of Becky’s home. Becky doesn’t agree that she can afford to move out, quit her job, and go back to school. Dave suggests a compromise.

ANSWER: She’s 26 years old. Why can’t she move out when she wants to? I don’t know that this is in your control. I think I agree with your concerns, but she’s 26 years old. I think she probably ought to put her nose to the grindstone, clean up her mess, get a job, and probably be out on her own already. She needs to move out. It’s about time for her to get out and start to be an adult on her own and pay her own bills. You can say, “What I think is you probably ought to teach for a couple of years before you make this decision. And if you don’t want to teach seventh graders, I really can’t blame you there. Let’s figure out what you do want to teach and move in a different direction. Let’s try to find that touch point that you do.”

Here’s the danger I hear in her conversation. I think that she believes the lie that if she gets enough education, she’s going to be happy. So she’s got her master’s, now she’s going to go get her Ph.D., and then she’ll study some more. Then she’s going to do research and development. It’s just on and on and on. It starts with the idea that degrees give you success, and they don’t. What success is is way beyond what degrees give you. I think she needs to stop and not evaluate and not head toward more education until she has a real clear grasp on what she wants to be when she grows up. In the meantime, she needs to go get her an apartment and work and pay off her debt. If she were to call me, I’d tell her to not make this decision today but to wait a year—maybe two—and get the debt cleaned up, get out on her own, and make her own call.

I don’t think she knows what she wants to be. She’s grabbing at straws whether it’s a priest or a Ph.D. or a teacher of seventh graders. I think she needs to quit spending money and time and energy being trained for something until she gets what’s known as a clue. It just takes a little while to do that, though. I think part of that, truthfully, is—I have a 26-year-old, a 23-year-old, and a 20-year-old—I have noticed mine having a different level of maturity and dignity when they paid their own light bills and they were on their own and they had to make their own decisions about everything. I become a different kind of father at that point and Sharon a different kind of mom at that point. When they’re under your household, there’s still this childishness that doesn’t go away until they go and stay somewhere else. I think part of her growing up is her moving out. I would encourage her to move out, not because you’re throwing her out, but I think it’s good for her. Then once she’s out there, maybe she’ll slow down. But if I could get her to slow down, I would because I think she’s grasping at things, and she doesn’t need to run off anymore and go do anything else until she has a good solid direction that she’s going and a really good plan. That’s maybe a little bit more introspective. Spend some time really thinking about where she needs to go. Teaching seventh graders will make you introspective.