Category Archives: Parenting

Fierce

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Am I being over-protective and possessive? My son and his fiancé
were visiting for the holidays and one of my friends texted my future
daughter-in-law (whom she knows only through me and sees in a
group setting maybe once a year) asking for “a favor” (delivering a
large bulky item to the city where they live, two hours away). I
suspect she knew my son would say No so she approached the fiancé
directly without asking me if it was okay, and it ended up messing up
my time with the kids. I’m angry and feel like she took advantage of
them but I don’t know how to express it without blowing up at her. Is
there a nice way to say “Back off of my time with my family!”???? For
the record, I’m a former attorney and have been told that people that
I am:

Fierce

 
Dear Fierce:

If your son and his fiancé are old enough to marry they are old enough
to know how to politely say No thank you if they feel like they are
being exploited. There may or may not have been a direct correlation
between doing the favor for your friend and their time with you, or
they may have been happy for a reason to leave early for home. But
even if doing the favor harmed you a little, you should: (a) be kind to
them for helping her out, and (b) refrain from being fierce with her
when you ask her why she chose to accomplish her delivery using your
son and fiancé rather than other people, a delivery service, or
delivering the item herself. If they didn’t see it as a big deal or
perhaps wanted a favor chit from your friend in return, you should
respect their adult decision-making. Good friends are hard to come by,
and it’s not worth picking a fight unless you’ve been damaged in a
more significant way. In the spirit of the season spread kindness
rather than anger, and light rather than darkness.

Finally Happy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Long complicated story made very short: Abusive first marriage.
Divorce. Fabulous year with husband #2. Perfect son born. Everything
crashes to disaster one year after his birth with second husband’s
brain cancer diagnosis. Horrible five years until he dies. Single
parenting. Remarriage to a good guy but my son who is angry about
losing his dad decides the new stepfather is “abusive.” I know abuse
and this was not not not, rather strict parenting for a kid headed down
the road to slacker-dom and pot addiction. A decade later, the family
is intact but my son has discovered his birth father’s journals in the
attic, somewhat unreadable because of his declining mental capacity.

 

He tried to transcribe them but could not read his handwriting and now
has asked me. I started, and originally found them fascinating, in part
because Dave’s parenting hopes and goals ironically seemed very close
to the step-father’s, but also disconcerting because he wrote about
things he never shared with me. When I got to the diagnosis and
decline section I had to stop. How should I proceed? I could tell my
son they were illegible (almost true), show him the parts that I did
translate which might help him reconcile with his step-dad, or pay a
stranger/professional (which requires borrowing money for which I
have a list of alternative uses). What say you?

Finally Happy

 
Dear Happy:

Many folks need more than one try to get marriage and parenting
right. I’m sorry for your tragedy with husband number two, who
sounds like he was a fabulous husband and would have been a great
parent. I agree with you that it’s important to educate your son about
the values he would have been raised with had his birth father not
succumbed to cancer. Even if life circumstances had been different
those parenting plans might have changed, but their congruence with
your third husband’s values are an important message for the young
man, especially if he hasn’t yet found his footing in adulthood.

 

 

I’d suggest sharing the journals in small bite-sized pieces, with each of
you doing your best to transcribe a section and then trading the
original and your attempts, followed by sessions to talk about the
content. After you do this once or twice you should have a longer talk
about his perceptions of parenting, and his father and stepfather. As
his long-term parent you owe it to him to provide the guidance that
you now have the safety and security to offer. Maybe his deceased
father’s voice will help.

Helpful

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My godson has had a rough time figuring out what he wants to do with
his life since he got out of rehab. He got a job in a restaurant. Nothing
fancy, just a sous chef chopping vegetables, prepping plates, and
learning the basic of the trade. Then he got a bout of cellulitis, which
made it impossible for him to be on his feet. His mother, now more of
an ex-friend than a close one, decided to “teach him a lesson” because
he had not signed up for health care. She told him he would be
responsible for all his medical bills, so of course things got worse when
he stalled on a doctor/ER visit. I heard about it mid-week, offered to
pay for his doctor bills, and now he is recovering, and even got his job
held till his return. She is telling our mutual friends about how I
“interfered” with her parenting. I clearly see this very differently. I
know gossip is hard to fight. But what should I do?

Helpful

 
Dear Helpful:

Teaching moments are important but generally we think of them as in
the non-life threatening side of the spectrum. If your godson really
had a medical issue that could have cost him his job, let alone his leg,
you were correct to step up and offer to help. His mom was wrong,
and could have found a better way of accomplishing her goal (e.g.
paying for the bills as a loan). We could talk all week about what’s
wrong with the medical industry in America, but when someone you
love is sick, you help them, and worry about the teaching moments
later.

 
You may never hear what is being said about you. But if you do,
simply reply: I love Godson-name. He was in trouble and I stepped up
to help. I’m sure Mother-name meant well, but given what he has
been through already, I thought it best to support his recovery in
every way I could. I’m happy to talk to her about it, if she’ll stop being
angry and gossiping about me. I suspect whatever moved this
relationship from close enough to be a godparent to ex-friend is deep
and profound. You don’t say how long ago it happened. Focus on
helping your godson unless momma really wants to talk to you.

Struggling

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can I forgive my parents the damage that I realize they inflicted
on me? Not just with the obvious impacts of living in a household
organized around parental alcoholism but also because they made me
think I was “a bad girl,” a characterization I realize that I took in much
too deeply. I’m not. But at age 35 I can still hear their voices.

Struggling

 
Dear Struggling:

We all get told many stories when were young. There are the ones we
think we’re being told, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones others
(parents and more) act like are true even if they are far from who we
really are or think we are at the time. These stories all help shape and
define us even if they are stories we run away from me instead of
embracing. Some people’s stories were told with seeming love and
support, but got taken in sideways or in ways that people felt
constrained by having to enact them to satisfy family (e.g. my smart
son the future doctor, who might have preferred to play jazz clarinet).
Other people who have had bad stories beaten and raped into them go
on to become the most tender loving people, while others stay stuck in
pain all their lives. Inside we’re all battling some version of these
stories, regardless of how they were defined or delivered.

 
Every family is organized around some story. A parent’s mental
problems, alcoholism, abuse, fill in the blank. But whether the scarring
and stories come from ignorance or are willfully inflicted, part of
becoming our adult, healed selves is wrestling with them and coming
to our own understanding of who we really are. If you really want to
grow you will make it through this passage, on your own or with
trained help. But please distinguish between the stories that came at
you, and the better stories that you are making and have already
made for yourself.

 
Two practices of the High Holidays might help. Perhaps do a private
tashich ritual around this, and talk it out at a riverbank the way you
might in a therapist’s office. Then during the appropriate prayers, try
to forgive your parents, and also forgive yourself for ever believing the
stories they told that are not true for you. None of this is easy. But
you can become happier.

Nana

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

One of my dearest hopes has come true: my granddaughter has come
to live with me for the summer. She is a delightful young woman of
sixteen, intelligent and creative, but sadly she also suffers from a set
of symptoms that make it unpredictable when she will become faint,
weak, and need to take a long rest. It is hard to diagnose and treat
but the doctor recommended that she join me for my morning aqua-
robics class, because the exercise will be good for her and I will be
around to supervise any emergencies. I need the class for my own
medical and go six days a week.

 

In addition, my physical therapist has
added a workout on a specific machine that is surprisingly popular at
the gym. Before Sarah came I was leaving early to get access to it.
That means leaving the house 6:30 latest, which is still a sprint. I
don’t have time to coax a reluctant teenager out of bed, and the
struggle is not helping our otherwise good relationship. We have only
one car. Though she has promised to use it later and go to the gym, in
a week of staying with us she has accompanied me once and gone on
her own only once. That’s not what I promised her mother. Can you
help?

Nana

 
Dear Nana:

It’s time for a family meeting. That means not just you and your
granddaughter, but also your daughter via Skype. I suggest a
discussion with your daughter beforehand, not to alarm her but to
establish what will constitute appropriate agreements and
consequences for failure to comply with the agreements. Teenagers
are notoriously balky about both getting out of bed (and even some
adults might bristle at leaving the house at 6:30) and also complying
with what might seem like reasonable health measure if they are
externally imposed. Hopefully you and momma agree about the
proposed schedule, and that all of you want your granddaughter with
you enough that the threat of returning home will be a sufficient
incentive.

 
Let her air all her “grievances” and excises first and try to listen
respectfully. Then state clearly that the terms of her visit had been
verbal not written, but for her to continue to be in your care requires
adherence to her exercise schedule, as well as whatever other house-
related agreements re helping with cooking, cleaning, shopping etc
seem reasonable. Ask if she wants to stay given those boundaries. And
then act accordingly. A sign on the fridge that says, The gym bus leaves
at 6:30 will reinforce your point.

Hopeless and Helpless

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My 13-year old son has a very disruptive syndrome called POTS. You
can Google it but assume headaches, weakness, food issues, nausea,
exercise intolerance, temperature sensitivity (in both directions), heart
palpitations…the list is long It has disrupted his life for years but we
finally have a diagnosis. He is doing poorly at school, in part after
missing a few weeks after a bad fall. We tried a tutor (a retired high-
school teacher) but they did not get along. We are at our wit’s end and
are thinking of hiring a nanny. Money is not an issue, at least for the
next year or two till we get him stabilized and past what we fear might
be such low-self-esteem that he could become suicidal. Where do we
start? What do we need to in order to find the right person?

Hopeless and Helpless

 
Dear Hopeless:

You start by using a word other than nanny, because no 13-year old
male wants to be infantilized, regardless of his health needs. Tutor,
Buddy, Helper…find a word he can handle. Then summarize the
situation in a short document so that when you talk to people they
have answers to the questions anyone would want to about.
Re your son: What’s his personality like? What types of people does he
relate well/badly with? Does he have behavioral issues? If yes, what
sets him off/brings him back? How does he respond to authority? Does
he think he needs help? How does he relate to his condition? What is
his emotional state now? Is he in counseling? What is his medical
prognosis? Any idea if puberty makes it worse or better? Does he have
friends, peer group, girlfriend, etc? Does he have hobbies, interests,
focal points for engagement other than school? What subjects does he
need the most help in? Will he be in summer school?

 

Re the helper: What hours? Weekdays/weekends? What pay per hour?
Tutoring expectations and expertise? Subject area needs? Medical
training (even just first aid) and/or knowledge re timing/interventions?
Or just as simple as eat/drink now? Location? Car required? Mileage?
Additional useful skills?

 
I like the idea of a team approach. Have someone (perhaps you but
not necessarily) be a team lead and get your son engaged in the
process. You don’t want him to think he’s having an actual nanny.
Rather a cluster of supports, some slightly older role
models/tutors/college-aged, and also others to engage him in new
activities that will support self esteem (perhaps art or music?) and
even organize activities he can bring a buddy or two along on so he
feels less “different.” This a long-run challenge. I’m glad you have the
resources to help him.

Horrified!!!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is a 21st century question of etiquette. My son didn’t date much in high
school. After a long college romance he is now with a young woman I hope he
will one day marry. But that day and parenthood seem very far off. Yesterday he
got a text from a young woman he was in a local pre-school with, who is three
degrees of separation friendly with my future daughter-in-law. She (the neighbor)
asked him, literally, in a TEXT!!, “Would you consider being a sperm donor for my
partner and me? We married last year and want to start a family. I always
remember what a great guy you were so I thought you might be willing to spare
some of the secret sauce. We would love to start as soon as you say yes.” Your
column is several pages too short for me to expound all the reasons I am
appalled. They are 24 years old. They have no personal relationship. He’s not
ready to be a parent, or to give up a child. “Secret sauce”?! A text?!? On and on.
My specific question is this: I want and expect him to say No, or No!, or NO! I
know about it because he told his dad over the phone, with the intro “You’re not
going to believe who I heard from.” How should we respond to this bombshell?

Horrified!!!

 
Dear Horrified:

I’m with you on virtually every level. But neither of us was asked to be a donor,
so your question is the proper one, how can you be a resource to your son? And
the subliminal question as well: how can you ensure he makes the right decision,
as in No, thank you. I’m not ready to be a parent, and when I am it will probably
be with my future wife.

 
Your husband and you should schedule an in-person meeting if possible or a
Skype if not. Be sure you can watch his face and body language when you talk.
Ask him what he thinks his response will be. If it is No, your work is easy. You
can focus on communicating the answer clearly and firmly. If he is in any way
considering the possibility, start with the more serious objections, from their youth
to the legal issues and responsibilities, to the possibility that any future fiancé
might have strong negative opinions. If he thinks that being a sperm donor is
something he would consider in the future, encourage him to do so anonymously
or for a very close friend with whom he might have an ongoing relationship. Also
insist that if he is serious now, that he commit to several extended sessions with
a counselor and a lawyer to understand the implications of a Yes.

Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have been deluged with all things holiday. The confluence of Hanukah and
Christmas this year seemed to consolidate stress rather than spreading it out. So
when my future daughter-in-law (age 23) asked me to take her dog to the vet for
her because her boss needed her. My first thought was Aaarggghh one more
thing! But it allowed me to spare her a $1,000 bill for an ultrasound that showed
her ten-year-old companion lab (an amazingly sweet docile boy) has terminal
metastasized cancer. That explains his recent listlessness. The vet said he might
last three months, with or without a several thousand-dollar surgery. I think it is
time to say a sweet goodbye, and the money would be better put towards their
down payment on a house. But she is heart-broken, and in the spirit of the
holidays I let her make a bad decision to go ahead with surgery. Now I am
thinking that perhaps I should quietly tell the vet to slip the pooch a needle and
say that because he died during the operation she would charge only a minimal
fee. It feels both right and wrong to me in a confused emotional mess. Can you
help?

Momma

 
Dear Momma:

You’re trying to spare your future daughter-in-law the sorrow and pain we all go
through when we have to say goodbye to a beloved companion. You’re also
attempting to impose adult values on a girl who is new to adulthood. Being a
homeowner is as mythical to her as a large debt or losing a companion she’s
known since her Bat Mitzvah. You can’t transplant your sense of the world onto
her any more than you can expect a vet to violate ethical standards. I know you
want to make this go fast and have it go easy on her, but you can’t spare her
pain now or in the future.

 
Give her a cup of tea and a strong drink and sit her down to talk it through. Ditto
with your son, who seems absent from your note. Talk about the options, and
then respect her decision.

Not A Hotel Again So Soon

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My college-graduate son has been living at home while he conducts a
job search. Then his girlfriend arrived. We are actively rooting for
them as a couple so we turned over the rec room to them and they set
it up as a mini-apartment, admittedly small. This weekend his best
college buddy and his fiancée came to visit so I relinquished my
sewing room (which doubles as guest bedroom) for the two days.
When I went in after work on Monday I was dismayed at how they left
it. Can you please give some tips for guests who will be staying in
someone’s home, with special attention to young folks who seem to
have been raised without the manners that my generation was taught
to display?

Not A Hotel Again So Soon

 
Dear Not So Soon:

The rules for adults are pretty much the same as for young adults: be
kind; be clean; say thanks; don’t be a pain in the patootie to have
around. But to elaborate a little more…

 
Generally it’s considered polite to bring the hostess a thank you gift
when you say hello. That can range from a bouquet of flowers to food.
One friend in Alaska received a hunk of freshly killed elk, but
personally I prefer pre-packaged or vegetarian gifts. It could even be a
small box of candy, or an offer to take the family out to dinner. But it
is important to make some gesture to show you appreciate the
hospitality. It’s also good manners to ask the hostess about the timing
and rhythms of the house: what time are folks up and about, and what
time does quiet evening begin? If car sharing is involved, be sure to
show proof of license and insurance. Limit showers to a reasonable
length given the extra burden on the hot water heater. Keep smoking
outside and avoid getting drunk. No drugs. When you leave, strip the
bed and fold it nicely. Wipe down the bathroom and treat it like your
own home, not a hotel with on-call maid service. Follow up with what
we used to call a bread and butter note, or at least a phone call to say
Thanks, we appreciated the time with you.

Grand Nonny

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband and I quasi-adopted two teenaged boys twenty years ago.
Their mother was relieved and our sons think of them like brothers.
They have each grown into fine young men, employed in the trades,
and each married, and each now parenting. My husband loves the
“grandkids” but we have a very tough time with one of the mothers,
who constantly reprimands her children like they are violent offenders.
She yells at them that they are lying no matter what’s going on, and it
is clear that they are terrified of somehow upsetting her. We have
never observed any lying on their part, but have no reason to believe
she is abusing drugs or alcohol. When we have hinted that her children
are afraid of her, she seems pleased that “they won’t try to pull any
nonsense.” The husband either doesn’t notice or seems to agree. But
we are very disturbed. What can we do?

Grand Nonny

 
Dear Grand Nonny:

I am assuming that the abuse you are describing is psychological and
not physical. I’m not diminishing the impact, but if there are any signs
of physical harm it would be a little easier to get external help. In the
short run, I would start with a family intervention. Talk first to the
husband and his brother. Say how much you love them and value the
familial relationship. But express your concerns clearly and without
attempting to sugar coat them. Be very clear in the examples you
give. Ask both if they have observed anything that they find troubling.
Explain what bothers you in terms of short run and long run. Have
some citations about the impacts of psychological abuse on tap to
reinforce your point. End very simply by asking what the husband will
do.

 
If that doesn’t work, you will need to address the mother directly. Be
clear this comes out of love for the whole family, and that you know
you are risking their esteem and even access to the children by
speaking up. But be clear that’s how important it is to you. And that
you are paying attention and will continue to do so. If you can afford
it, you might suggest anger management or family counseling on your
dime, just to put an exclamation point on the message. Above all,
monitor the children so they don’t carry these scars. Abuse is a
generational problem. Nip it in the bud!

Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My son graduated engineering college several months ago. He wanted
some time off before starting his job search but moved to a nearby
city which was his first choice of where to live and rented a room from
a former housemate and his girlfriend. Long story short: they broke up
and now she and my son are in love. I vastly prefer her to his previous
gal. Now the two of them want to move to our town and specifically to
the apartment rental that’s been vacant all summer while we did
repairs. They are both in job-hunting mode and want to pay as little as
possible. The only downside to his new flame is that she didn’t have a
break between guys and they are starting off living together,
something I’d have cautioned against but here they are. I normally
rent the apartment for $600 and was half-thinking of turning it into an
AirB&B but hadn’t decided. They are willing to take jobs in our city or
the college town an hour up the road (their first choice). What should I
charge them? My friends think I’m being a softie when I say nothing,
but his college cost us very little because of academic scholarships,
and we all live very simply.

Momma

 
Dear Momma:

There’s nothing bad about helping your child launch into adulthood,
especially if he’s a good kid and you haven’t showered him with an
expensive up-bringing. Lots of children in transition return home
without being burdened with an exaggerated sense of entitlement.
Looking for work is painful and arduous. In his case perhaps more so
as the low-hanging fruit of entry level jobs were probably plucked by
the folks who began looking in June or even before graduation.

 

I’d recommend a multi-tiered approach. In month one through
Thanksgiving, give them free to ultra-low rent in exchange for helping
with fall cleaning and garden cleanup, plus make them responsible for
cooking one superb meal a week (where cooking includes shopping and
cleanup). Between Thanksgiving and January 1, double the rent. If
they don’t have jobs by the beginning of the year, sit down with them
and discuss what market value is and what you are giving up. Then
agree on what they will pay. You might also say that a requirement of
the deal is that you will help each with their resume. Note: Good
prospective daughters-in-law are hard to come by. I’d say err on the
side of generosity until they have a solid start in their new lives.

Mother In Law

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My daughter and son-in- law have had problems for years. He is an
alcoholic who has been in recovery on and off. He has never brought in
a reliable income, so she has been the primary breadwinner to support
them and their daughter. They relocated to be near his family, which
first was great but I think the pressures of living up to everyone’s
expectations took their toll. He lost two jobs, fell off the wagon, and
now they have separated. First he lived with his parents, and then
moved to halfway house where they carefully monitor his recovery.
Here’s the question: My daughter is secure in our support and love for
her. I think her husband does not know that we care about him too,
and that we are rooting for the family to stay together. Is it okay if I
call my son-in- law to give him emotional support during his recovery?
He’s a good guy and I think she will be happier with him than single.

Mother In Law

 
Dear Mother In Law:

I’d caution you from just picking up the phone and dialing, certainly
from doing so without a serious and explicit conversation with your
daughter. There are so many things you may not know, because
children always shield their parents from so much of the worst of their
adult lives. I’d start by asking her what she wants, and what her worst
fears are about his returning home prematurely. Do your best to listen
and not defend him. If you think she’s off base in her assumptions or
perceptions, try to ask her questions instead of just telling her what to
do. That’s hard, especially for a worried mom.

 
If you do speak to the husband, ask what he sees as the obstacles, not
just to moving back home but also to a long and stable marriage. Let
him have as much airtime as he needs, and tell him you love him no
matter what the outcome. Try not to get more involved unless your
daughter asks you to, and don’t repeat what he said to you. Also, you
don’t say how old your granddaughter is. I’d advise doubling down on
phone or Skype time with her, because I’m sure all these changes are
very confusing and she may need someone to talk to other than angry
mom or absent dad.

Just A Mother, Not a Rabbi

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m turning into a curmudgeon about the holidays. In this case,
Passover. I raised my two kids in a typical middle-class, middle of the
road, Reform Jewish environment. We went to services maybe once a
month, and were each B’nai Mitzvah. Now they’re in their twenties,
done with college, and starting lives as adults. Neither lives at home,
but they have gone in totally opposite directions. My son is a vegan,
non-gluten- eating, hippie come lately, though he does make a good
living in high tech. My daughter went to Israel, and came back almost
Orthodox. She says she hasn’t decided about moving there
permanently, but whenever I question her (which she takes as a
challenge) on any aspect of the change, she mutters about moving
“back to her people.” I’m her mother. How much “more people” can
someone be?!? How am I supposed to make a Seder with someone
who won’t sit at the same table as someone who will only eat “gluten
free matzo style crackers, not kosher for Passover ????”

Just A Mother, Not a Rabbi

 
Dear Mother:

You make the Seder you would normally have at your house. And you
invite both of your children, and tell each they can bring a
friend/date/support person if they think they need to. You could
compromise by doing a family second night Seder, but frankly I think
that’s backing down to emotional blackmail. You should set the table
as you want, with the foods and accoutrements you have likely used
for decades. If you sweep every crumb from every cupboard, and get
rid of all the leavened things, then do so. If you do not, then don’t. If
your son wants to have his matzo-style crackers on a small plate near
him, then that’s fine. If your daughter is so frum she will not attend,
you have bigger issues than one last family holiday can solve.

 

This is your home and your family, which, though it may seem to be
diverging in opposite directions, will come together again over time.
There’s hope that each of them will evolve onto a more moderate
path. But you should take your daughter’s word that she might move
away, and stress that this may be the last time you are together for a
while, so your children should respect their parents enough to live
through one last Seder together, your way, and then talk about the
politics of religion after the holiday is over.

Buttinski?/Not

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a niece to whom I am very close. She has had three
miscarriages this year and just announced that she is “giving up” on
attempts to have a baby. I know she is under a lot of stress at work,
and that she and her new husband, who is a wonderful parent to her
eight-year- old from marriage number one, would be fantastic parents.
But their lives have been so overwhelmed with selling and buying old
and new houses, with work, and with attempts to get pregnant and
deal with the medical aftermath and the grief, that I think the odds
have been stacked against her. What can I say to help her realize that
it’s just too soon to stop trying?

Buttinski?/Not

 
Dear Buttinski/Not:

If you are truly “very close” and a regular confidante, you have the
right to talk to her about things that some couples might consider their
own private business. Timing matters, and so does tone, so you should
choose both of those very carefully. I’d suggest inviting her for tea and
talk. Start by telling her how concerned you’ve been about their very
hectic year, how much you love her new husband, and how happy you
are that her new family is blossoming, despite the setbacks with her
miscarriages. Encourage her to give the possibility of another child
another six-twelve months, after her life has settled down. And keep
telling her you love her and that when she is less stressed out, nature
may respond differently.

Money Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m trying to help my son decide about grad school. He’s a good kid,
perhaps a little sheltered, who got great grades in honors college, then
took a gap year, and is applying for physical therapy school. It is both
very competitive and very expensive. He applied to five places and
through a clerical mishap missed a deadline for one. His two preferred
school are out west but he just got accepted to a very prestigious
program in the metro northeast, the only that actually gives
scholarships. This decision could be the difference between starting a
profession with as much as $150k in debt. How can I convince him
how important it is to not start life in the hole just because he likes to
camp and ski?

Money Momma

 
Dear Money Momma:

In the history of humans there’s never been a family in which parents
didn’t know better than kids what they should do. That is if you ask
the parents. These same folks probably ignored all the well-intentioned
advice of their own elders and bounced back (or didn’t). The moral of
the story: bring right doesn’t always convince anyone how to act.
Help your son keep all his options in play. If there’s a (relatively
minimal) fee to hold his place in the place that said Yes, until he hears
from all the schools, go ahead and pay it. Make sure he understands
that eventually he is going to have to decide but that he’s now in the
fortunate position of being able to use the early acceptance to
leverage the places he haven’t heard from yet. My advice, calling or
emailing the other schools and saying: I got into [prestige school] and
I’m waiting to hear about scholarship money. Can you please tell me
when I am likely to hear from you about acceptance, and whether or
not you do fund any beginning student.

 
Then sit down with him and do the math. Be sure to factor in all the
relevant variables, like how soon he might be paying in-state tuition at
the far-off schools, and the likely revenue stream for his first five-ten
years of employment, based on average salaries. Young folks don’t
usually understand the burden of debt. But seeing the numbers written
down in a spreadsheet, and seeing his future disposable income at
low-to- zero in some options and much higher in others might have an
impact. In the long run, he has to be happy, and he gets the last vote.