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How to Let Your Child Know You’re Not Mad She Wants to be an English Major, Just Disappointed

As a parent, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy balance of love and support with a firm and authoritative hand. We all want the respect of our children, and, maybe even more importantly, we want to raise the kind of children we can respect in turn. This is why when your daughter lets you know that she’s considering majoring in English, you need to let her know that you’re not mad, just disappointed.

When letting your child know just how saddened and disappointed you really are by her lack of understanding of the real world, it’s important to make sure she feels heard. So, when your daughter informs you that she wants to move to New York to be a “thespian” and “push the bounds of Hemingway’s definition of adventure,” ask questions like “is that really the message you want to send to employers?” or “why?” You can even go online to show her how much apartments in “the cool part” of Brooklyn cost, as long as you frame it as “exploring her truth.”

You’d be amazed how far facial expressions can take you when you’re walking that thin line between gentle distaste and downright furiousness. For example, when your beautiful, naïve daughter says she wants to do her thesis paper on “erotic lesbian themes in Emily Dickinson,” try raising your eyebrows as if to remind her “your brother studied computer science and has a 401K.” If this doesn’t work, rub your temples to suggest that you’re frustrated with the conversation altogether.

Don’t forget to use examples from your own college experience, comparing the two of you in the hopes that she’ll see what a terrible mistake she’s about to make. Reference completely made up stories about your old friends who studied English at school. You can even add in falsified details like how they all had cigarette addictions and estranged families. If this doesn’t work, pull out your old college photo album and show her photographs from back when you were considering an English major. Point to the photos where you’re wearing a black turtleneck and nonprescription glasses and make comments like “see? Aren’t you glad Grandma stopped me before I bought a beret?” Make sure she knows how happy you are that you majored in economics and don’t own any tweed jackets.

If your darling, deeply-mistaken daughter still thinks her best option is majoring in a glorified version of first-grade reading, remind her of her other skills and assets. Frame this conversation positively, saying things like “you were so good at physics in high school,” and not “you’re squandering away everything good I ever gave you.” If you’re really grasping at straws, remind her that she was kind-of-okay at Spanish and that’s just like English, except way more hirable.

When common sense no longer works, it’s time to bring in the big guns. Try stepping out of the room and asking her Dad to come “explain this” to her. Once he threatens to not pay for college, come back in and pretend to play the role of the mediator. Negotiate for an English minor, or, better yet, no literature courses at all. Use phrases like in her “best interest” or “coming from a place of love” instead of calling her an “embarrassment” or visibly crying.

If all else fails and your sweet angel child is still heart-set on reading poetry naked in a field or drinking red wine and discussing “The Bard” in a circle of her closest unemployable peers, plead. Drop to your knees, dignity forgotten, and beg her to study something, anything, else. Tell her you don’t want to have a say your daughter’s career is “freelance writer” (more commonly known as “barista”). Offer her any number of bribes in exchange for a declaration of any type of STEM major. Force her to comfort your violently shaking, sobbing body until she caves out of sheer guilt.

No matter what you do, it’s of the utmost importance that your daughter knows you’re not mad at her. This is her life and she can do with it whatever she likes, just as long as she’s not an English major.

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