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How to Be a Parent of a Grad Student

By the time your child is applying to graduate school, they (hopefully) aren’t a child any longer. They have graduated high school, spent four-plus years in undergrad, have moved out of your home and are building a life of their own — by applying to graduate school.

Still, even though they are adults developing their own careers, taking care of their own expenses (again, hopefully), you should always want the best for your child, which means you should do what you can to support them during their graduate school journey.

You don’t stop being a parent when your child grows up, and during graduate school, your child could need you more than ever. Here’s what you should know about graduate school in the 21st century and how your child could use your help.

Understand Their Graduate Program

It’s horribly embarrassing and awfully demeaning for a graduate student to hear their parent misunderstand or dismiss their field of study. Your child is pursuing advanced education for a reason; perhaps they have ambitions that can only be fulfilled with a specific graduate-level degree or perhaps they are passionate about a certain subject. By asking your child questions and performing your own research, online or in a library, you should strive to understand what the field is and why your child wants to return to grad school. In doing so, not only will you gain greater respect for your child’s choice, but you will also be able to convince others of the soundness of your child’s studies.

Learn About Their Career Goals

The first concern every parent has when learning their child is going into higher education is: But what will they do with that? You worked your whole life so that your child could have better opportunities and a better life; the last thing you want is to see them waste years and accrue thousands of dollars of debt without a satisfying and rewarding job available at the end of it.

Ask your child, in a caring and non-confrontational way, what they plan to do with their careers and how their degree will help. If your child is pursuing an MBA, it’s more than likely that your child already has a list of top MBA jobs in mind. Other degree programs might not have such clear-cut paths, but your child probably isn’t going back to school for no reason. As long as you remain open-minded, your child will be more than happy to talk about their future plans and take any advice you have into consideration.

Offer Advice, Don’t Force It on Them

Speaking of advice, you should be light-handed with how you offer your knowledge and experience. By now, your child has experienced quite a bit of the world and created their own worldviews. Perhaps unfortunately, they probably are beginning to see you more as a peer than as an authority figure. That means you can’t boss them around anymore; any attempts to force them to do what you want or see things how you see them will likely end in disaster.

Thus, you should try to fight your instincts to shove your opinions about their graduate study choices down their throats. Instead, when you want to offer advice, ask them if it is okay to do so, or hedge with statements like “This is just my opinion” or “I know you are capable of making the right choice for yourself.” This makes your advice seem less like a directive, and it will keep them coming back to you to talk.

Accept Their Unavailability

If you thought your child didn’t have time for you when they went to college, you should be prepared for even less contact now that they are in graduate school. Grad students take on fewer course credits, but they are much busier with other responsibilities. Often, grad students are assigned undergraduate courses to teach, meaning they must organize lesson plans, grade assignments and interface with their own students. What’s more, most grad students have massive projects, like scientific research, business case studies or massive papers to write. You shouldn’t push your child to make time for you during this extremely busy period of their life; they will come to you when they can.

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