First I Was Sad That My Teens Didn’t Choose College, Now I’m Happy

My ex-husband and I started discussing a plan to save for college as soon as our first child was born. We’d both gone to college away from home, had a wonderful experience, and just assumed that’s the path our kids would take.

We talked to them throughout school, and they always seemed indifferent. It became clear that my oldest was not interested in staying in school any longer than he had to. Not even a little. His last few years were a struggle for him, and there were many times when I wasn’t sure if he would graduate. 

My older two teens are incredibly happy doing what they love. (Shutterstock Ground Picture)

I kept hoping that my son would decide to go to college

I kept hoping and thinking that he would come around and change his mind. I wanted him to have the same experience that his father and I had. 

Around the middle of his senior year, when everyone kept asking him what he would do, he started speaking up about his future. He didn’t care that some of his friends were going to college, and instead of shrugging his shoulders when people asked about his future, he’d say, “I’m not going back to school. I hate it.” 

I was disappointed and sad and felt I hadn’t pushed him enough. I asked myself if I should force him to go, thinking maybe if he had the experience, he’d change his mind. 

My son is working in the trades, making money, and enjoying life

He was working for his father in the trades, and he loved it. He realized he could make lots of money doing something he loved, and the best part was (other than a few exams to get licensed) that he wouldn’t have to set foot in another classroom. He often reminded me I was still paying off my student loans and that he was happy.

Then, I realized my son knew exactly what he was doing. He would live a life he wanted, not one I thought he should. His path differs completely from mine, and I had to let go of my hopes that he’d go to college. 

When my second child was diagnosed with a learning disability and struggled through her high school years, she couldn’t wait to be done. She told me the other day, when we passed a school bus on the street, how happy she was that she wasn’t returning to school. Because her brother didn’t go to college, it was a lot easier for her to be clear she didn’t want to go either.

I wasn’t half as disappointed she didn’t want to attend college as I was with my first. I’m glad they didn’t go to college because they are both incredibly happy doing what they love. They have an entrepreneurial mindset and have discovered that they don’t need a four-year degree to start their own business. 

I get to spend a lot of quality time with my adult kids

I get to see them all the time, which I love. I’m enjoying my kids as adults in a way I might not have if they went away to school. We have bonded completely differently because we can spend quality time together. They help me a lot with things like dinner, giving their younger brother rides, and things around the house. That has been a tremendous benefit for me. 

My kids have shown me it’s fine to go against the grain and take a different path. They’ve reminded me that the ultimate goal in life, the true key to success, is to be happy and fulfilled. For some kids, that means going to college. For some, it doesn’t. 

It was hard to let my kids make their own decisions, but I’m glad I did

I’m so glad I didn’t let my disappointment and frustration when my son first decided to forgo school take over. It was hard to step back, let him decide what he wanted to do after high school without giving him much of my feedback (let’s be real, parents have to share some of their thoughts), and realize he could always change his mind. 

Not only did my kids know pretty early on that going to college wasn’t right for them, but they were in no rush to have their life plans figured out. They have shown me there’s nothing wrong with figuring things out and giving yourself the time and space to change your mind. And now, as I sit and have dinner with them almost every night and see their faces before they leave for work every morning, I can’t imagine my life any other way. 

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

More Great Reading:

No Degree, No Problem: 75 Great Careers Without College

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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