Grad School Ruined My Daughter

You pay big bucks to get your kid an advanced degree, and the next thing you know, she turns on you. A cautionary tale.

What she’d told me about the dyad stuck with me. Just our little family of four has Game of Thrones-ian possibilities for alliance and betrayal. We all take turns siding with each other; sometimes Doug and I are an unshakable parental front, and other times we pair up with one or the other of the kids. Jake and Doug snap into instant cohesion whenever I blame them for sucking up all the Internet coming into the house; as critical as I can be of Jake, I leap to his defense should Doug dare find fault with him. The dyad thing is a different way of viewing family dynamics, and for me, it explains why they’re so damned dynamic. Add in Doug’s parents, my siblings, and their spouses and kids and in-laws, and it’s a wonder Christmas dinner doesn’t end in blood.

Marcy’s current boyfriend is from Kenya, where people identify with their tribe. They aren’t Pennsylvanians or New Jerseyans; they’re Luhya or Kikuyu. It’s a different organizational modus, but it’s not unlike our divisions into, say, Cowboys fans and Eagles fans. We have a million ways of separating ourselves, we humans, and a million of tying ourselves together. There’s a theory that the word “tribe” derives from the Proto-Indo-European roots tri, for “three,” and bhu, “to be.” To be three is to be we, the group, those who belong together. The odd man out is always skirting dyads, trying to find a way in—the child with his parents, the girlfriend in a bromance movie, the youngest of three princes in a fairy tale. Once in, though, we only seek disruption. That old Groucho Marx joke about not belonging to any club that would have us as a member turns out to be the foundation of the entire world.


Months after Marcy graduates, her diploma comes in the mail. It’s big and impressive-looking and written in Latin. It arrives the same day as her gold-foil-stamped social-worker license from the state. I call to let her know, and offer to have them framed for her. “Then I can hang them in my office,” she says with rich satisfaction. Her office that I’ve never seen, where she counsels people on belonging and separating. Having lived through 24 years of tearful, fever-pitch crises on her part, I have a hard time picturing her sitting there at her desk in her new business clothes, the voice of calm and reason, helping others make sense of their lives. When I try to, I see instead the tantrum-ing three-year-old that Doug and I had to forcibly dress for preschool, or a skin-kneed eight-year-old declaring with the operatic intensity of Ethel Merman that she will never, ever learn to ride her bike. This is what you work for as a parent, right? For your child to find her own place in the world. Why, then, do I feel so bereft?

When we talk now, there’s someone else in the room with us—the one who coolly and clinically no doubt wrote down for my DSM diagnosis that I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Well, that’s where I’d start.) Our dyad’s been infiltrated by this stranger, this grown-up, grad-school-trained self with ideas that didn’t come from me, mentors and colleagues I don’t know, theories on how the world works that I struggle to understand.

I used to have all the answers. She used to come to me for help; now she gets paid to help real people in the real world solve real problems. Did I mention that I don’t like change?