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.

And then: a crisis. She calls me, sobbing, from her office. The same way she has called me in the past, sobbing, from the middle-school locker room, her college dorm, a beach in Mexico. We meet for co­ffee after work—after both our works. She sits across from me in Capogiro—neutral, adult
territory—and unpacks a load of unhappiness that is mostly boyfriend-related, with tinges of financial frustration and career insecurity.

I want to be helpful. I think about what grad school has taught her—not to be judgmental, to mirror back to me what she hears me saying, not to interrupt, to let my thoughts unwind without finishing them for me, even though she knows—that dyad!—where I’m going, what I mean to say. I’m oddly intimidated by her profe­ssional standing—that fancy, indecipherable diploma! I sip my latte and wait, and when she’s all spun out, I ask:

“Ideally, what would you like him to do? In a perfect world, where would he go from here?”

She gives a quick, brisk nod and mutters: “Elicit change talk.” It’s a step they taught her at grad school, one she uses with her clients. It’s one that she’s taught me. Born into a hide-your-dirty-laundry bunch, Marcy has managed to carve out this space of her own: She’s of us, yet she stands outside us, too, looking in. She’s sought out tools to let her reach beneath the familial guilt and secrecy, to make sense of the clan she grew up in. To—oh, hey. To balance wanting to belong and wanting to break free.

(When I tell her, weeks later, that I want to write about that moment in Capogiro, she’ll say: “I knew as soon as I said that, from the look on your face, that you would.”)

So if you send your kid to grad school, you should know: Anything can happen. Life may never be the same. But there’s this, too: You’re really getting two educations, yours and hers. Which means it’s almost a bargain, I guess, even if you’ll both be paying back student loans for years and years to come.