What would you do if you found out that your son or daughter was failing college and dropping out?
Today I’m sharing the frantic email I received this week from the mother of a current South Carolina college freshman.
It’s my hope that this mom’s pain and heartache will light a fire under you to do everything you can to keep this from happening to your family.
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It’s also my hope that my answer to this mom will give you help and hope. This letter is used with permission. Details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Remember, you can always find out your child’s current grades by waiting for him or her to ask you for money. When you get the money request say: “Sure, Honey. Would you just log me into the computer and show me all your grades first, though? I like to know what I’m investing in.”
The mom writes:
“So, I haven’t seen our daughter’s final grades yet from her freshman year at Clemson University, but the last we heard she had a B and three D’s. In her first semester, she got an A, a B, a C and a D. I think her GPA was a 2.5. I’m guessing she would be put on academic probation if she goes back next year.
After one year of college, paid for in cash at enormous sacrifice with no scholarships or financial assistance, including a cross-country move so that we could get in-state tuition (emphasis Jeannie’s), she thinks she might want to take a year off.
She was shocked that we would not pay for her apartment lease if she was not a full-time student. She’s also mentioned an interest in an associate’s degree in occupational or physical therapy.
My husband and I are at a loss and at each other’s throats.
There is a huge communication and relationship gap with her. We feel let let down, disrespected, disappointed. We made this move with joy and love our new home. We tried to give our daughter opportunities we didn’t have. Obviously we gave too much, and now even more is expected.
Besides feeling like a complete and total failure as a parent, how can I disciple my kid through this?”
—Kelly M., Orangeburg, SC
My heart goes out to you. I can only imagine the hurt and heartbreak this is causing you and your husband. Please take heart. This may actually be the best thing that could possibly have happened to your daughter and to you.
First of all—let me tell you that you are doing the absolute right thing to stand firm in refusing to support her financially unless . . .
. . . she is enrolled in a full-time academic or job training program. As long as you are maintaining this position with empathy and kindness and not one drop of vindictiveness, you are doing the absolute right thing. You are being a superstar parent. Do not ever forget that.
Second, do not be afraid of the year off.
What she MAY need to deeply appreciate education and all its benefits might be a year in a tiny one-room walk-up apartment with cockroaches and boxes of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard. Coupled with an extremely dull full-time job under a rude, smelly, disrespectful boss that pays her $9.00 an hour. This could be one of the greatest learning experiences of her entire life. This could be a far greater learning experience for her than another year at the college you so sacrificed to send her to.
This learning experience will not be effective, though, if you treat her with any finger shaking anger, sarcasm, or “I told you so.” Prepare yourself to be enthusiastic about her cute little apartment, and encouraging that “some people really grow in astounding ways working for bosses like that!” Do not support her financially in any way, but do bring her a cute little plant for her apartment, and cookies, and invite her over every Sunday for a big dinner of all her favorite foods. Cheerfully maintain your relationship despite this great and terrible disappointment.
Third, please know that an associate’s degree or a technical school degree that provides real job skills for a real career can be a fantastic way to go.
There is absolutely no shame in this. Just be sure that it is not a “for profit” school, and have her ask ahead of time how the new school helps place students into internships so that real jobs result after attending.
Fourth, if your daughter mentions any possible future jobs (such as physical therapy or occupational therapy), privately Google the name of that career along with the initials “BLS.”
This will get you to a Bureau of Labor Statistics page that tells you what kind of education is actually needed for that career. I’m not sure there are two-year associate’s degree programs that lead to careers in occupational or physical therapy. Those careers typically require master’s degrees, but I could be wrong. Perhaps there is a two-year program that allows you to be an assistant to a physical therapist or an occupational therapist at a greatly reduced pay rate.
Finally, fifth—can I gently ask you—did your daughter complete the career clarification work that I so strongly recommend prior to her choosing this college?
Did she go into this college knowing her MBTI personality type, her specific interests based on 3 psychometric assessments, and her five greatest personal strengths based on Gallup research? Did she enroll in this college with a sense of purpose, with an exciting career in mind? Or—did she, as SO MANY students do—skip over this step, figuring she’d just take random classes to see what she’s interested in?
If what I’ve just described is her story, that likely explains 90% of what you’re going through.
It is not too late for her to do the assessment work I recommend and make a really good decision about future career and the path toward that career.
I cover exactly how to do this assessment work in my book:
(You can find it on Amazon.)
I hope this gives you an excited feeling of hope.
Your daughter is TRULY gifted by God to do something beautiful in this life—something that will help this world and give her enough money to be able to support herself.
We CAN figure out what this is if we can just pry our fingers loose of the old, long-outdated career strategy you may have been sold: “Just get into a good college, and then take random college classes to see what you’re interested in.”
That strategy has not worked in years; it is at the root of our student loan crisis in this country; and it is wrecking hopes and dreams left and right. Let’s try to do something different—something far more exciting and effective—for your daughter.
PS. I just tapped out this entire answer to you while sitting in a restaurant parking lot. I hope that tells you how much I care about you!”
Kelly’s reply to me one hour later:
“Jeannie, as I was reading your incredibly thoughtful and thorough reply, I actually thought, “I sure hope she was able to copy and paste this from something she had already written to another hopeless parent!” I’ve copied this into an email for my husband so we can talk and pray about it together. As you can imagine, there are emotional and relational undercurrents for all of this I sooooo appreciate your advice and concern. Thanks so much, Jeannie—I am grateful and now hopeful!”
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, podcast host, and sought-after speaker for students ages 12–26, their parents, and the professionals who serve them. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free, ready to move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, Parents Magazine, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.