Friday, January 6, 2012

The Talk Part III

Although you will negotiate with your parents to set up a new working relationship, you are not an equal power party.  The more financial support you receive from your parents, the more you will need to bend to their rules.  Significant $$$ = power.  If you are living at home, you need to realize that the roof and the food represent significant financial support.  Follow the rules of the house. 

St. Mary's College
For the few of you who live in dorms or apartments, you will naturally have more autonomy just because of the separation of distance. You must still figure out what is expected of you.  Why would any sane person ask what is expected of them?  Doesn’t it just encourage the parents out there to multiply the rules and restrictions?  The reason you initiate this conversation is because you are reassuring your parents of your ability to finish college, thereby showing them that their investment in you (while still carrying risk) is less risky because you have a plan.  

Your parents will be more likely to support you for a longer amount of time if you have done this step correctly.  The other critical reason why you must establish this is that you are an adult and that is what adults do.  It would be great if the parent took the initiative, but if this is not happening it is up to you to start the conversation. 

Picture yourself entering a dark cave without a flashlight. As you walk deeper into this cave you rationally know that however far you walk into it you can retrace your steps to get back out.  Walking farther along the cave you stumble your way around a bend and the light from the entrance dims.  At this point it is dark, and you know that if you just turn around you can get out.  That is probably what will happen.  You will give up your walk and leave the cave.

But what if while in that dark bend, someone yells from the entrance and tells you that the cave is not a cave, but rather a tunnel through the mountain.  This person also tells you there is a pile of gold waiting at the other end.   So you proceed into the dark, feeling along the wall, in what you feel is the right way towards the other end and the pile of gold.  As the tunnel seems to turn again, a new fear creeps into your mind.  “What if there are dead ends inside of this?  What if I get lost and never get out?  This isn’t worth it.  I think I’ll go back.”  You know it is a tunnel, you know there is gold at the end, but you are worried about the unknown. 

Funding a child through college is similar to this experience.  A parent knows all their child’s flaws and how they could lead to failure. Parents know about dropout statistics and they also know of families saddled with the endless college debt of a 3rd year dropout.  Add to that a child that is unsure of what they want to do and has just changed majors for the third time compounding yet another two years of college expenses.  Do see why a parent may fear, putting their trust in you?

Rewind!  You are back at the entrance, you are told it is a tunnel, you are told it will be dark, but there will be a tiny indicator light at the end of each section of the tunnel.  These lights are similar to the little lights you see on a Christmas tree.  While the indicator lights will not be enough to light your way, it will be just enough to point you in the right direction.  There may be obstacles that you could trip over, and you will need to still feel along the wall, but those little lights will be there.  Oh and yes, the big pile of gold is still there, are you willing to risk it?  Of course you would.  This is doable, this is reasonable.  You will go much further if you just have a little indication that it is going to turn out alright. 

So, how can you reassure your parents so that their patience and financial assistance won’t wear out?  Remember this: A parent who is supporting an adult child needs to see the light at the end of the gravy train tunnel.  Without any clues they will turn around sooner.   A parent-student contract is a great tool for this purpose.  Parents often say it this way, “As long as you are going to school I will support you.”  Even though they say this don’t believe this is all they want.  There are more stipulations, so you might as well get them out in the open so that there are no surprises.

Negotiate everything and later when you run into something that was not negotiated go back to the table and negotiate that.  Write everything down. Next Post:  Parent Student Contact Template