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My son’s following his high school sweetheart to college. It’s a huge mistake – but what can I do to stop it?

  • Author: Wayne and Wanda
  • Updated: June 2, 2018
  • Published June 2, 2018

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

My son just graduated from high school – a fact for which we were extremely grateful, as he really struggled with school and had to work really hard for that diploma. For years, he's talked about either attending vocational school (possibly AVTEC in Seward) or trying to get a Slope job. But everything has been turned on its head because of his girlfriend.

She is a bright, smart girl whose grades were strong enough to land her some scholarships and entry into a school in the Lower 48. She plans to move in late July and has no plans or desire to ever return to Alaska, so she says. My son is absolutely distraught about the chance of the relationship either ending or being long distance. They've been dating for about six months, and it's his first real relationship (at least, that we know of). He is now planning to move with her. She seems equally enthusiastic about this.

I think this is a huge mistake. I have nothing against her – she has actually been a wonderful influence on him. But there are opportunities here for him, versus moving to a whole new town where he knows no one and has no connections. He would essentially be throwing all his chips in one basket – and that basket is a youthful teenage relationship that will likely end. I just imagine her starting a whole new life, making friends, diving into the college experience, and my son will be left behind.

He and I haven't had the closest relationship (he talks even less to his father than me), so I'm struggling with whether to speak up or just let him follow her out of state. Help.

Wanda says:

Ah memories. I was madly in love with my high school sweetheart when I left for college. He considered following me; he didn't. Our dewy optimism had us confidently believing we were destined to be together and no one could have told us differently. Predictably, our break-up came a few months later. My mother later told me that she had worried he would propose, and she struggled with whether to intervene. Married at 20, divorced at 27, she knew all too well the challenges of nurturing youthful romance toward a functional adult partnership.

But she didn't intervene. The closest she came was to gently prepare me for the possibility of disappointment by pointing out in a non-confrontational way that it's pretty rare for teenager relationships to transcend the transition to adulthood. Even then, I thought — that doesn't apply to me, to us.

Should you say something? You could. Will it make a difference? Probably not. And if you flat-out tell him he's making a huge mistake and shouldn't go — if he's like the majority of teenage boys — that will probably only prompt him to pack his bags faster.

Your son is not considering anything truly disastrous or life-threatening or dangerous. He's in love, he's willing to make grand gestures to hold onto that, and the worst likely outcome here is disappointment. Who knows – they could end up together for years. But that's now up to them. He's presumably 18, and as hard as it is and as counterintuitive as it may feel to you as his mother, and as cliché as it sounds, it's time to let him make his own decisions and mistakes.

Wayne says: 

Where others see disaster, I see opportunity. I know this is tough, but believe it or not, this is a chance to strengthen your relationship with your son instead of fray it further. And talking to him is what will do the trick.

No preaching, projecting or predicting doom and gloom. Wanda's right – he's not hearing it. Instead, take him to lunch, congratulate him on his hard work, tell him that you're excited for him and that you'll really miss him, and then start plotting a path for his success.

Before lunch, invest an hour or two online finding vocational and trade schools in the area that he's moving to. Familiarize yourself with their offerings and scholarship/financial aid programs. Look at job listings, as well. Heck, even look for affordable places for them to live.

Hopefully he's been doing the same, but he's a young man in love so his brain isn't really functioning at full focus anyway. That's where the loving mom comes in. At lunch, drop all your research on the table and start comparing notes with him. Encourage him: He's worked so hard to graduate and here are a few ways he can keep his education going and set a foundation for the career he's been talking about. Oh, and here are some job openings where he can get some hands-on training and a little rent money (and Top Ramen money, because they're totally going to need that). Then tell him you're there for him if he has any ideas, wants to talk through things or needs any help filling out applications.

You aren't getting your way – he isn't staying. But won't you feel so much better knowing that he's not just moving away with his girlfriend but he's also moving his future in a positive direction, as well? Whether the relationship works out or not, he'll have direction, probably a few new friends, and a life experience that you guys can smile about in 10 years … ideally when he's buying you lunch.

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