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ASK MOM: Daughter has no direction in life, mom has fears about it

Jun 02, 2023 06:49AM ● By Mary Follin & Erika Guerrero

THE PROBLEM: I’m very worried about my 17-year-old daughter. She’s graduating from high school next year and has no plans. While I know there’s still a year for her to figure this out, she’s entirely unmotivated. She doesn’t want to go to college, and although she’s had a few jobs in high school, they haven’t worked out for her. (She says she doesn’t like working and dreads having to support herself.) This is a time in life that should be exciting and full of opportunity for her, but all she wants to do is watch episodes of her favorite shows and go out with friends. Even her friend group is dwindling, since the other kids have developed interests and are looking forward to the next stage in life.

MARY SAYS: Let’s start with what’s working. Your daughter is on track to graduate from high school next year, a significant accomplishment. Because of this, she will have many options in life, including the opportunity to go to college if she so chooses. Please acknowledge this achievement—to her and to yourself!

This doesn’t mean your concerns are unfounded, however. There are a variety of reasons your daughter may be lacking in motivation, one of which could be depression. If you haven’t broached this possibility with her, now is the time to do so and to seek professional help. At 17, young people are particularly vulnerable to experiencing depressive episodes as a result of significant hormonal and life changes.

But what if she’s not depressed? What if your happy go-lucky daughter simply doesn’t know what she wants to do? While you’ve probably encouraged her to try “this and that” to find out what she might like, put on your detective hat and look for clues to help her narrow it down a bit.

What did she like to do as a child? Most children at around age 9, 10, or 11 have developed enough skills in at least one area of their lives where they can actually experience results. If they have a natural ability to draw for example, their drawings start resembling the actual thing. Or if they love rocks, they’re able to recognize and rattle off the names of all different types. If they’re into fashion, they’ll be the best-dressed kid in fourth grade and suggesting you may want to wear a different pair of shoes because your sneakers simply ‘don’t go’ with what you have on.

Truly fulfilled adults are often engaged in occupations that revolve around something they loved as a child. While your daughter is in no hurry to choose a career, you might want to think of something specific that she’d enjoy picking up again. Drop the career, college, and future talk, and simply encourage her to engage in something she'd like to do, just for fun.

In fact, insist on it!

Please keep in mind it’s completely normal for kids to enjoy being a kid for as long as they can. Your daughter has plenty of time for her sense of adventure to kick in. After all, as you say, she is only a junior. As long as she’s not under duress and you encourage her to engage in something she loves to do, it’s okay for you to relax about this. In her own time, she’ll figure out what her next steps might be.

ERIKA SAYS: Sweet Mama, I know how hard it must be to stand by and watch your baby struggle. From the day we know we’re expecting, we have aspirations for our children. Ultimately, we want them to succeed in life, but while many kids have dreams and work hard to achieve them, some move a little more slowly.

It's possible your daughter feels overwhelmed by all the changes coming her way. As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, I’m wondering if she might not be depressed? Reach out to a therapist and work closely with her guidance counselor; your daughter may need to consider options other than college, at least for now.

Part of parenthood is showing grace and understanding while balancing it with tough love. Although your daughter lacks motivation and direction, she also wants a lifestyle that requires one to be financially stable. She needs to learn that fun comes with a price tag, as does everything when you’re an adult.

One of my siblings struggled in a similar way to your daughter. My parents did everything they could to help set her up for success after high school, but she didn’t care enough to follow through. I remember my parents setting ground rules, which was difficult for them, as it may be for you, too. But if my sister didn't want to go to college, she had to find work, contribute to the household, and fund all her outings, wants, and needs.

I also decided to take time off college; my parents gave me one semester. I had to find work within 60 days, and by the end of the semester, I had to have a plan. Whether it was back to college, community college, or vocational training, I had to have a plan, or I would be required to contribute to household bills.

Hang in there, empathize, show grace, and give tough love. Your daughter will thank you for the support and the push, even if she doesn't like it now.

ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! 

If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected]

Read more ASK MOM advice.

 Mary Follin is the author of Teach Your Child to Read™ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective  with parents of younger children. 

Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.


Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.

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