We have an 18-year-old son who recently graduated from high school and has no interest in higher education or vocational training, and when asked about his future plans, he tells everyone he’s going to be in a band.
He’s a talented musician, but we’re trying to be realistic and help him recognize how hard of a road he’s going to travel if he’s lucky enough to make a living at this. He accuses us of being unsupportive and then he dives deeper into his music.
We want to get out of this tug-of-war about his future career and help him succeed. How can we support his plans even though we have no confidence his plans will work out?
Your role with your son is moving from managing to influencing. It’s easy to believe that we’re influencing when, in reality, we’re actually trying to manage. Our kids can feel our anxiety for their futures and sometimes respond by pushing away to be more independent.
Your son may be headed toward a life you would never choose, but he’s not asking you to choose it. He’s asking you to honor and respect him as an individual.
Whether his plans work out isn’t the biggest issue here. Your goal is to stay connected to him along the journey so he can benefit from your influence, experience and support. He’ll need your love and support if he fails to make a career in music, and he’ll also need it if he finds success.
If his goal is financial independence, then trust that he’ll take the necessary steps to accomplish this. If he’s hoping you’ll financially support him while he pursues his music career, then you have to decide if this is a good investment.
Eiher way, it’s likely you’re expecting him to pay his own way in the future, so make it clear how long you’ll financially support him. And when the time is up to stop sending him money, then hold that boundary so he can truly be financially independent. When he knows that he’s truly on his own financially, he will learn whether a career in music makes sense for him.
Here are some other ways you can support him even though you don’t agree with him:
- Encourage him to seek ongoing education. He may only associate education with a traditional school structure. Show him there are lots of educational possibilities around his areas of interest to help him be more prepared for life and encourage him to be a lifelong learner to improve the value he offers to others. There are also other life skills he can continue to learn more about, such as financial management and communication skills.
- Emphasize the need to work hard and have integrity. No matter what he does with his life, hard work will be required. The type of work we all do changes over time as we become more skilled or learn more about our preferences, but a strong work ethic is going to be a constant if he wants to succeed.
- Learn why this direction matters to him. Ask good questions and find out why he believes this is the right path for him. Don’t interrogate him or make him prove his point for your approval. Have genuine curiosity. He may learn more about his own motives, and it might strengthen his resolve or cause him to change his mind. You can offer him a loving and supportive environment to explore his future plans.
- Give him your full emotional support. You withholding support and refusing to take an interest in his passion won’t inspire him to choose a different path. He’s old enough to make his decision, and you can feel free to attend his performances, show an interest in what he’s doing and point out his strengths. He’ll need all of the encouragement he can get, even if you don’t think it’s a good path for him. Remember, it’s not your path, so you’re free to just love him.
Like all parents, you want your son to succeed and he’ll need all the support he can get. It’s tough out there, no matter what you do for a career, so having the support of your family makes all the difference in the world.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
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