I’ve spoken with quite a few parents over the past couple of months on the parent coaching service who have been struggling with a son or daughter who decided they didn’t want to go to college. Many of these parents have said they feel a sense of disappointment and failure, almost like they are to blame for this change of heart. As one mom said to me, “I’ve watched as my my daughter’s classmates have gone off to college and wonder, ‘Where did I go wrong?’”

As a parent, it can be difficult not to “compare your insides to other people’s outsides” as James Lehman advises, especially when it comes to your child’s successes or failures. (I find this to be particularly true when it comes to academic or sports performance.)

So, what is a parent to do when their child decides not to go to college, and opts to stay home instead?

It’s important to understand that even though you may have had a certain ambition for your child’s future — which he may have agreed to up to this point — ultimately, his future is in his hands. You can’t force him go to college however much you may want to. Instead of trying to make your child change his mind, focus on how you are going to respond to his choice.

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Here are a few things to consider if you’re in this situation right now:

  1. How much are you willing to continue supporting your child if she isn’t in school?
  2. Will you allow your child to continue living at home? If so, are you going to require him to have a job?
  3. What are you going to expect as far as helping out around the house, having friends over or being home by a certain time?
  4. What privileges are you going to continue providing?

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. It’s more a matter of what is right or wrong for you and your family. While you don’t want to consequence your child for not going to college and for making the choices he’s allowed to make as an adult, you’re also not required to continue providing for him.

Related content: Rules, Boundaries, and Older Children: How to Cope with an Adult Child Living at Home

There may be a period of letting go that will take place before you can start to think about where you want to go from here. It can be helpful to find someone you can talk to about your disappointment and frustration; go for coffee with a close friend or maybe find a parent support group in your area. Vent. And then, let it go.

My suggestion? Take your time with this. There’s no time frame for moving on or letting go of the aspirations you’ve held for your child. However, getting to a place where you can let go is going to be constructive in helping you move ahead. Holding onto your dreams for your child when they don’t match his or her choices is probably going to cause you more frustration in the long run. Keep in mind that college isn’t for everyone and doesn’t always guarantee success. Rather, there are many definitions of success and many ways of getting there.

Finally, rest assured you have done the best you could to help your child develop the skills he’ll need to be a successful adult. The rest is pretty much up to him or her.


Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2010. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

Comments (2)
  • Aimee
    Denise is always a reliable listening ear which is important when you don't want to burden friends or family with your worries. These articles are really helpful and food for thought and Hope.
  • Michele Bartlett
    We own a handyman and remodeling company and have a very hard time finding skilled trades people. I would encourage young people of both genders to look into trade schools (in some places they are affiliated with the public school system even after HS graduation). Or get apprenticed to someoneMore who is willing to show them how to use tools and do basic home repairs. There is a severe shortage of licensed electricians and plumbers, as well as drywallers. Someone who is skilled can easily make $40-$60K a year, more if they own their own company. These are jobs that can never be outsourced overseas, and people will always find a way to pay for work they need, even if it's barter (in an apocalypse, for example). Our son, who has a business management degree, is going to trade school for a 16-week home maintenance program so he can come work for us and he is finding some satisfaction in being able to see the work of his hands (as opposed to being a banker, which he was for several years after college). NOT EVERYONE NEEDS TO GO TO COLLEGE!!
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