Spring is college graduation time and a launch into financial independence, a celebration tuition-weary parents eagerly anticipate. Unfortunately, while parents may be eager to be free of financial burdens, graduates may not be equally eager to assume them.
Launching a graduate into independent adulthood can be a difficult transition filled with conflicting expectations and mutual disappointments. Now is the opportune time for parents to avoid the following traps with 4 productive solutions.
Trap: Humans love anything FREE or EASY. It goes against human nature to pay more than necessary. It’s unlikely graduates will immediately and voluntarily give up the support they have relied on their entire life.
Solution 1: Don’t assume the graduate will cheerly embrace financial independence. Assumptions create an invisible list of expectations the graduate will not be able to magically discern, greatly increasing the likelihood of disappointment and conflict. Remember, it is the unusual graduate who will voluntarily embrace the burden of paying for everything on their own immediately. Nothing about this is automatic, for the parent or the graduate, don’t expect it to be and everyone will be much less stressed.
Trap: Children are trained to be “takers”. Parents are normally the material “givers” in the relationship, even through college with a pseudo-adult lifestyle. Many graduates are used to privileges without cost.
Solution 2: Discuss and clarify new expectations following graduation. Talk openly about goals for healthy independence and each other’s expectations in this new stage. Honest and respectful communication is critical to a productive transition.
Trap: It’s SCARY! This may be the first time graduates take on full adult responsibilities. Unlike school, there is no clearly outlined path to success. Frankly, it’s scary! Many will apply to graduate schools, remain living at home or stay under-employed because they feel inadequate or fearful.
Solution 3: Acknowledge the difficulty of this new stage. Talk about how you can help the student move forward with productive support and clear accountability. A supportive safety net will minimize paralyzing fear. Equally important, concrete accountability will protect against comfortable complacency.
Trap: Many will feel poor. As new graduates pay for rent, transportation, utilities, school-debt and life they may feel over-stretched. Feeling poor is not the same as actually being unable to pay for basic needs. It’s difficult to give-up daily luxuries that never felt extravagant, when bought by someone else. Given the lavish amenities at colleges today, a thrifty lifestyle is an adjustment.
Solution 4: Resist the pull to validate beliefs that are NOT based in fact. You can absolutely acknowledge the disappointment a new grad feels about a less luxurious lifestyle, without agreeing to a false belief that they “can’t pay their bills”. Instead, offer guidance on budgeting. During the transition, it’s helpful for parents to decide what they will financially support and communicate clearly what a new grad can expect over time. It’s equally important to discuss how you will aid the new grad in the event of a true financial emergency. Giving a young adult a “hand up” is not the same as funding continual “hand outs”. Defining the parameters of the “hand-up” will alleviate anxiety for everyone.
Ongoing dialogue about changing expectations with clear measures of both accountability and support will go a long way to making the graduation celebration continue as a celebration of a productive independent adult life.