Our son, who was an excellent student and athlete, suddenly dropped out of university and left his summer job in order to pursue a relationship with a woman. He says he is not interested in various possibilities, and that he needs to figure out what to do in life. What should we do?
Watching a child of any age make decisions that you feel aren’t in their best interest is always difficult for a parent. It sounds as though you have understandable concerns that your son is giving up positive opportunities (education, athletics) that would help him build a stable future, in exchange for a relationship that may be temporary.
As your son is in university I will assume that he is a young adult – this is important because your influence on your child’s life is dependent upon a number of factors, one of which is age.
If he were underage, certainly your role and responsibility would be greater and a more assertive approach may be needed; conversely, if he were in his 30s or 40s, your role would (despite your best intentions or wishes) be quite different, and he likely would be less open to your opinion or advice.
I would suggest having a heart-to-heart conversation with your son. Let him know that you want to speak with him about some things that he may not necessarily agree with, but that feel very important to you to bring up.
Emphasize that you care for him, and that your only wish is that he have a stable and successful future. Tell him that first and foremost, it is important to you that your discussions do not create any conflict/divide in you and your wife’s relationship with him.
Convey your concern and worry that he may be making decisions that, at least from your perspective, would ensure a good future. Let him know that you appreciate that he is trying to figure out what he wants to do in life.
Also let him know that you understand that he cares for the woman he is with – this is very important as blaming or bad-mouthing her will only serve to further alienate him.
Ask about, and genuinely try to understand his perspective and what has led to his decisions. (It may be that he has thought through his decisions well, even though you may have a hard time understanding or agreeing with them.)
It sounds as though you feel his decision to abandon other pursuits is fully attributable to the woman he is with, but it may be that he was already considering making some changes, and that the relationship simply became a trigger.
Remain supportive, and stay focused on keeping an open and respectful relationship with your son.
At the end of the day, you need to trust his decision as he is an adult.
Try to keep the channels of communication open, and let him know that you are always there to provide parental advice when or if he needs it.
Excerpted from Dr. Joti Samra’s “Ask the Psychologist” weekly column in The Globe and Mail.