When your parents want you to do something else: How to deal with it


We’ve heard stories about it many times before: a student who is passionate about music (for example) is being pushed into getting an accounting degree by his or her parents.  Or maybe they want him/her to be a doctor, when what he/she is really interested in is political science?  It’s easy for an outsider to sit back and say “stand up to your parents and do what you want to do, not what they want you to do.”  In reality, however, it’s not always so easier, especially when your parents are holding the purse strings.  But when it’s you in this kind of situation what do you do?

First generation college students might be feeling the pressure from their parents as well.  To be the first in your family to go to college is a big deal, and many times parents pin their own hopes and dreams on you.  Often times, parents want you to live out their hopes and dreams, or to have the security or financial power that they lacked in their own lives.   Whatever their reasoning is, it is important that you understand where they are coming from, and why they want certain things for your future. 

That being said, however, you’ve likely spent a lot of time thinking about what it is that you want to do with your college career and future professional life.  And you are determined to see it through.  You’ve got the guts to go for what you want. Settling for less than what you desire is a recipe for discontent, and often disaster.  Nearly anyone who has been in this situation before and done what their parents wanted instead of following their dreams, would tell you that they wished they would have followed their hearts.  They’d also likely warn you not to make the same mistakes they did.

How to Break it to Your Parents:

Bringing it up to your parents might be difficult for you, but if you prepare yourself and break it to them in a caring, yet calculated way, there is a chance that they will see where you are coming from.   Before meeting with your parents to discuss your wishes, make sure you follow these steps:

  • Do your research.  Look into the kinds of jobs available in your future field.
  • Print out information that will show your parents that your area of interest does offer viable career options.
  • Print off salary information for freelance, part-time, and full-time positions in your field.
  • Show your parents that you plan to be successful in that field by giving them examples of student organizations and activities that you can join at school that will help your career.

Once you’ve done your research and armed yourself with data that will help you show your parents that you can do what you want and be successful, it’s time to sit them down.  This kind of approach works much better than the whiny “But this is what I want to do, mom and dad” approach that lacks supporting evidence.  Also, try to make it clear to them that you would appreciate their love and support.

All that being said, don’t expect a miracle.  Some parents will understand, and then there are those who are just too hard-headed or self-absorbed.  They might say hurtful things, but try your best not to let it get to you.  Instead of fighting back with words, know that you have already supplied with the information that shows you know what you are doing and what you need to succeed.  Then, follow through on everything you presented to them.  The best way to fight back is to succeed at what you want to do.  Prove to them that you can do it, and then eventually they might actually come around.

If following your dreams against your parents wishes starts to feel like an uphill battle that is just taking too much out of you, do not hesitate to talk with someone who can help you vent some of your frustrations.  A college counselor is a great place to start.  Everything you say is completely confidential, and believe me, more students than you know about have gone to talk with them at one point or another.  Sometimes all you need is someone to listen to you.


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