Parents Not Proud of Children

Emily Yoffe gets a letter from a father who is less than happy with his son’s choice of career and lack of ambition, but “Prudie” turns the letter inside out into a lesson about parenting and love:

Dear Concerned,
As I started reading your letter I thought, “We’ve seen this movie so many times before.” Slacker Americanus: Cheetos-munching, tubby, semi-verbal, nocturnal, no prospects, repulsive to females. Think of the house of slobs in Knocked Up. Then you threw in a twist ending. The kid is employed, he’s got skills that are in high demand, he has a passion in life. He’s happy! (I understand he’s been on anti-depressants, but they’re effective.) I’m inferring that you and your wife would prefer, and understand better, an arugula-eating son toiling on a doctorate in comparative literature. However, it could be that at the end of that son’s labors, you’d wish he’d spent less time analyzing Love’s Labour’s Lost and more time getting some skills that resulted in a paycheck. Your son may be naturally monosyllabic, but it’s also unpleasant to constantly discuss with your parents why you’re such a disappointment. Since you say you were nurturing and attentive parents, I assume you engaged professionals to figure out what was going on with your son and got no definitive answers. So now, instead of working on your son, try working on yourselves. Start by letting him know how proud you are that he’s developed the skills to have a successful career. Take your car in for a tune-up to his shop as a paying customer. Tell him you don’t know ableed nipple from an output shaft, and that you’re impressed that he does. Ask if he would take you to some car races with him. Once you establish a better relationship, tell him you and his mother are going to start turning over his diabetes care to him. Before you do, say you’d be happy to pay for some consultations with a nutritionist to help keep his condition under control. Tell him you’re making this offer because the healthier he is, the better he’ll be able to do the things he loves, and because you love him.



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  • JohnM

    The “kid” is 25 years old? If he’s not living under their roof it’s about time for Mom and Pop to start minding their own business.

  • Tell the parents to read Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford

  • Joe Canner

    We have been telling our kids since they were little that we didn’t care what they did for a living, even if it was pumping gas, as long as they were glorifying God in the process. I’m glad they have higher ambitions than that (especially since pumping gas is not a profession any more), but we would have stuck by that even if they hadn’t.

  • Kyle

    Emily Yoffe is wildly fun but wildly distorts. At its best, her writing provides witty entertainment, and at its worst, her writing fails to address the nuance of the original query and instead lambastes useless caricatures.

    The parents state: “On the plus side, he has chosen to be an automobile technician, is very capable at it, and makes good money.” Clearly, then, these parents aren’t spending sleepless nights wringing their hands over merely his job, or as Yoffe puts it imaginatively to argue her case with ease, his failure to pursue an inane academic degree that would keep him in hoity-toity good graces. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that these parents are elitists insisting upon a son who would do them proud during the business-card swapping portion of cocktail parties.

    No, their concern needs to be situated more wholly, and let’s start with the plain truths that the son is clearly overweight and eating unhealthfully despite a very, very serious medical condition and demonstrates an extensive resume of being unmotivated at most everything. The last sentence is rife with attributes consistent with depression, and so his taking antidepressants isn’t surprising. What parent wouldn’t worry about this constellation of realities? They’re not slave-driving with Procrustean fervor; they’re soliciting help because they sense they need a corrective despite their best and most earnest efforts, which we are never led to believe include nagging, lecturing, or other annoying stratagems. In fact, by asking the kid to move out, they understand and value his autonomy and implement healthy boundaries, and pursuing meaningful conversations is something that signifies a mature relationship, not a domineering paternalism.

    But Yoffe goes too far, pronouncing the son happy when the parents remark he doesn’t seem unhappy, and this is because here and elsewhere Yoffe suspects that a concerned parent is a moralizing parent, and that the worst thing we can do as parents is hold our children to an external standard, ie something they did not dream up independently. There are many, many standards, some helpful, some not do much, but she does away with almost all of them through hyperbole and dramatic contrast. Witness her introduction that heightens and fabricates the son’s slobbery and gluttony and then later her fabrication of his already-mentioned robust well-being. She’s erudite and clings to a progressivism that sinks into books and the surfaces with polysyllabic platitudes about not knowing what to do beyond cheer somewhat blindly.

  • Ellen

    I am a therapist who deals with these kind of situations all the time. Yoffe sees that they mean well and she is not making the parents out to be moralizing or bad because they are concerned. Instead, she gave the right answer for his developmental age. We have a whole slew of “helicopter” parents in our fear ridden culture and too much control and concern actually stunts emotional development and the healthy individuation that young adults need to continue to grow and become confident, strong adults. Part of his issue could be mom and dad! She gave the exact right answer. Chill out folks, rebuild a relationship of adult to adult trust and respect and let him make his own choices. Love for adult “kids” at this age means support, not control, criticism or un-sought advice.