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How to handle parental pressure as an adult

Ever since middle school, my parents have expected me to have one goal in life: go to UW-Madison. Both of my parents went there, and they could not have a higher opinion of the school.

As a result, I adopted the mindset that if I was not going to go to Madison, I had to get into an Ivy League school. That was the only way my parents would be able to accept I wasn’t going to the school they believed was the most elite in the world. I dreaded having to live in a big city, lost in a crowd of over forty thousand students, having to walk half an hour to class in sub-zero temperatures.

I had to escape the future that my parents believed to be inevitable. I took as many AP classes as I could in high school, I piled on the extracurriculars that I believed would set me apart from other students, I attended elite summer camps at colleges … and then, senior year I had a nervous breakdown.

I could not do it, the pressure was too much.

As I haphazardly filled out college applications when I got out of the hospital, my father shoved the UW-Madison application at me, not giving me a choice in whether I would fill it out or not. I dreaded getting an acceptance letter, and then one day my worst nightmare came true. I got in.

My folks were so excited that I got in to Madison. I was not. Instantly my dad started talking about acceptance days and putting down a deposit. I was panicking as I hadn’t gotten into any of the Ivy League schools I believed would save me from going to Madison.

When I got into St. Olaf I was really excited, hoping I had found a way out. We came to St. Olaf for acceptance days, and the entire car ride I prayed that I would like it here and that my dad might be able to get over the fact that his son wanted to go to private school.

My first trip to St. Olaf was awesome, and I knew after a few minutes on campus that I wanted to put down my deposit as soon as possible. I told my dad that, too. Big mistake. For the full five-hour drive home, he yelled about what a good school Madison was and how stupid private colleges were while I silently cried in the back seat.

Ultimately though, I realized that I’m the one going to school, not him. I am the one taking on crippling student loan debt and staying up until one in the morning doing homework. I am the one that is going to reap the benefits and the rewards of these choices, and I am the one that is going to struggle and suffer as well.

How much of an impact will this have on him? How long the drive he makes twice a year will be and what the school name is on the sweater I will get him for Christmas? Screw that. I’m in the driver’s seat now, and these are my decisions, not his.

Parents can have high expectations and parents can have very valid concerns. Parents love us at the end of the day, but ultimately no one loves us more or understands us better than we do ourselves. Next time your mom calls you to complain that you are spending too much time on extracurriculars, or your dad asks why you did not get a better grade on a paper, remember that they are not the ones in college. You are in control. Act like it.

peters70@stolaf.edu
Teague Peterson-McGuire ’23 is from Oconomowoc, Wis. His major is Norwegian.