Being a mom of a high school senior is a bittersweet experience. I am so proud of this boy and all he has accomplished. That little boy who loved to roughhouse with his brothers (and tattle on them as soon as he could) is this young man, getting ready to enter his last year of high school. He has a world of options and opportunities ahead of him as he paves his own road to his future life.

But then I hear my most dreaded question: “What’s he doing after high school?”

And my rainbows vanish and the butterflies soar away, leaving me with absolute dread. I feel like I need to have an answer — that people are looking for me to name which colleges he is applying to. But what’s worse is when he is asked about his post high school plans, and he just doesn’t have anything to say.

Because it boggles my mind that high school seniors — 17-year-olds — are tasked with knowing what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

There is so much finality to choosing a college major. And then you have to pay the high tuition costs without really knowing how much you are going to make after getting a degree. And what if you find your passion in your last semester of college — do you start right over?

Even if you somehow determine a passion early, it can still be overwhelming. I happened to fail out of two community colleges because I felt more fulfilled working rather than making time for classes. Three kids and ten years later, I got my bachelor’s (and later master’s) degree in the very major I started with — early childhood education. But the classes I took as an adult were more meaningful, and I got so much more out of them. I’m not sure I would have gained as much knowledge in my teens as I did in my early 30s. 

My son is amazing in so many ways, and one of them is in his blunt honesty. He isn’t sure what he wants to do for a career and is happy to say so. He has some interests and has a few options floating around in his head. But to make a decision in the next few months — as a teenager — and then apply to schools to see if you are good enough? It just doesn’t seem worth it.

When I do answer others’ question about my son’s plans by expressing his intense interest in history, I am met with a laundry list of reasons why it is not a good college major. I hear all about how a degree in history doesn’t give you many opportunities and might not make him marketable for a high-paying career.

Who decided that “marketable” is a trait we must value so highly?

My senior will likely begin by taking some classes at a local community college, allowing himself some time to find new interests and explore what is out there. He can’t begin to think of what he wants to do for the rest of his life without more knowledge of what is available. I am not sure why society feels the need to encourage our kids to choose their forever path right out of high school.

I am so proud of my son. I can’t describe to you what amount of joy I feel watching him become this amazing young man. But there’s a world full of pressure for these teenagers to have answers — now. And they are BIG questions that need answering.

Please, do me a favor — when you chat with a mom of a senior (or a senior themselves), ask about their interests, prom, the weather, or after-school activities. There’s so much more to these kids than their career paths.

Michelle Mady
Michelle is a lifelong New Englander who lives in Stoneham and works in Charlestown. She is a preschool teacher and Assistant Director at a small private preschool and holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, which has come in useful at both work and home. She has a supportive stay-at-home-dad for a husband and is a mom of five children. She has three boys born in 2005, 2007 and 2008, plus two girls born in 2012 and 2015. Michelle teaches infant and toddler classes for early education teachers and is an adjunct professor for The School Of Mom. She also runs her own business, The Parenting Survival Expert, offering parenting tips and support. In her spare time, she can be found reading a murder mystery novel, sipping far too much coffee, and dreaming of a home in the mountains.