DEAR AMY: My daughter is graduating from high school. She barely passes classes if she doesn’t like the subject or the teacher. She doesn’t bother with homework, and will graduate by the skin of her teeth. She is great at talking people into giving her another chance and getting in under the wire. After many years of fighting about her grades and habits, I now stand back, give her hugs and am ready to let her fly (or not) on her own. She has magically been admitted to her first choice of college, which is out of state, and it’s expensive. We have saved and have enough to cover her tuition, but I fear her terrible habits and manipulative ways will just end up costing us $40,000, and she won’t have anything to show for it. I don’t think she’s ready, but I don’t want to tell her that she’s likely to fail. She has always wanted to go to college and will not even discuss alternatives, like a gap year program, where I think she would gain some much-needed maturity and life skills. I can’t have her live at home, either. I think she needs to get out into the world. Plus, I’d probably go insane. My inclination is to send her off with the caveat that she has to get Cs or better, or she’s back home at community college. Should I give her that chance on our dime? What can I do to help her get her act together? She’s an amazing kid, but needs to figure it out.
DEAR MOM: Let’s review: Your primary concern about your daughter is how she manages to manipulate situations and people in order to squeak under the wire. And look — she has done it again! Once she barely graduates, she is being handed the prize. And you are willing to spend $40,000 in order to get her out of the house (you wouldn’t be the first parent to do that...).
Given your high stakes investment in her future and your perceptions of her realistic chances of success, maybe you should not send her off with a hug.
You could give her two choices: A gap year program (also an expensive option), or at least one semester of community college where she takes and passes four classes before transferring to her dream school (many schools are flexible about deferring admission). If she isn’t willing to even discuss it, then it is because she assumes she can again manipulate you into getting what she wants.
I’m suggesting that you make this uncomfortable enough for her that (after she pouts and acts out and threatens to join the merchant marines), she will come to you with realistic options and possible solutions to your shared concern. She needs to earn her way in.
DEAR AMY: Your daily column is a wonderful source of wisdom, insight and humor into the pain of family estrangement. Our own family is now in the midst of a gulf of anger perpetuated by my elder son. Can you recommend actions (beyond letters inviting reconciliation), and any books that deal with moving past this horrid situation? I turned to the local reconciliation agency but my son rejected that attempt, saying to the representative that there was no issue to discuss. Can you shed light on this dark time?
DEAR ESTRANGED: I am so sorry you are experiencing this. You seem to have worked very hard to try to reconcile, but what you are seeing is that you cannot force another person to reconcile with you, even if you believe it would ultimately be best for him.
Sometimes you have to put the love out there, and then be brave enough to surrender to the idea that it might not come flowing back to you in the way that you would like. And so you express your love, and leave the door open.
A book I (and many others) have found helpful is: “Healing from Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace After Being Cut Off From a Family Member,” by Mark Sichel (2004, McGraw-Hill Education).
DEAR AMY: I’m chiming in on your terrible advice to “At a Loss,” that she should invite her mother to her wedding. Some people just can’t handle themselves in public, and they should be excluded.
I Want Your Job
DEAR I WANT: This is complicated when the troublesome person is a parent, and the bride doesn’t want to sever the relationship.