Going to college can be rough; there’s a lot that goes into making the leap. You have to worry about doing laundry, you have to worry about making friends, you have to worry about what duvet cover your roommate is buying so your color schemes match. Oh, yeah—most importantly, you have to pick a topic to study intensely for the next four years of your life.
No big deal, right? College is a built for you to discover who and what you want to be. But what if what we want to do doesn’t align with what our parents want us to do?
When I told my mom that I planned on studying English at school it really didn’t come as a surprise—I think by the time I had read 120+ books in 8th grade she had resigned herself. Of course, I am still often met with questions about where I plan to be in the next five to ten years, but I studied what I was passionate about and I am on the path of making one of my childhood dreams, becoming a librarian (since a mermaid princess with a unicorn was harder than six-year-old me realized) a reality.
But that’s not always how it works. I asked a friend from high school, Nicole, what her experience was like with her parents. Nicole originally wanted to study Baking and Pastry Arts, but her family was concerned about job security in the fast-paced restaurant world. She attended a junior culinary program and ultimately decided not to pursue a pastry career.
“I ended up seeing his points about it being a cutthroat industry and decided to go to Bridgewater State for a more widely applicable degree,” Nicole said. After more career exploration and personal reflection, Nicole selected Forensic Anthropology as her major.
“It was something I was very interested in,” Nicole said. “I did independent research and invited my parents to watch me present at our departmental symposium.”
After they came to understand what her major entailed, Nicole’s parents became invested in her choice.
“They fully supported me in making the move to Scotland for grad school, and now my dad will send me anything remotely “dead people” or skeleton related as well!” said Nicole.
Nicole’s story carries an important lesson about the value of two-way communication when discussing your career goals with your parents. Often parental anxiety about your major comes down to worry about your future and your wellbeing. They’re your parents, and no matter how old you get—or how many times you explain to them how to use their new Amazon Fire Stick—you’re always going to be their little kid.
The luck Nicole had with her parents becoming supportive of her choice did not happen overnight—it took determined communication and active listening on both their parts, and a willingness to see each other’s perspectives. Nicole thought critically about her future, she took her parents’ viewpoints on board, and when she finally made the choice that was right for her she took the time to fully explain her thinking to her parents, including how her major could lead to a good career.
Listening to your parents still has value; they often have far more life experience. If you can, invite your parents to symposiums and other departmental events, and demonstrate your passion when you discuss your studies with them. And of course, if you want tips for how to navigate this and other tricky career conversations, don’t forget that you can make an appointment with a career counselor to help you get started.
Growing up is hard—and telling your parents what you want to do with your life is a part of the process. Hopefully with time and communication, you will lessen their worry a bit.