Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Update! Grandson’s Refusal to Attend Religious College

Grandma and daughter talking

Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,

We thank you for the advice you gave us a few months ago regarding our grandson who did not want to go to any of the religious colleges his parents wanted him to attend. We want to give you an update.

First, we sat down with Rachel, (our daughter-in-law), Carl (our son), and Thomas (their son, who is our grandson) and explained that Thomas had talked with us about his wanting to go to college, but that he did not want to go to any of the religious colleges on their list. We said that we wanted to help the three of them discuss their differences. We raised the possibility of working with an educational consultant.

Rachel and Carl were furious with us and said we should mind our own business. They said that they were Thomas’s parents and that he would do as he was told. They also said they had talked with their pastor and he agreed with them that it was Thomas’s duty to attend one of the religious colleges they approved.

Rachel and Carl said, at the pastor’s recommendation, they did not want Thomas doing volunteer work anymore at the meal center for the homeless, as being around the other volunteer kids there was “corrupting Thomas’s values.”

Thomas was very upset and said he was going to run away. We took Thomas aside and convinced him to stay put in his parents’ home until he turned 18 a couple of months later, because then he would be of a legal age to make his own decisions. He asked if he could come live with us and we told him that was not a good idea while he was still a minor.

So, Thomas told his parents that he wanted some time to think about things. For the next couple of months there was an unspoken truce in their household with Thomas doing whatever they asked, including not volunteering at the meal center. He continued to go to his private religious school and church.

On the day after his 18th birthday, Thomas moved in with us. He left his parents on very bad terms. We called them and explained that we had Thomas come live with us because we thought it was better for him to be with us than living on the streets or on friends’ couches. We also offered to call them every day and let them know that Thomas was fine. They screamed and yelled at us and hung up on us. We have not spoken since.

We bought Thomas a car so he could go to school and get around. He was back to his volunteer work. He has been very responsible and always helps out around the house whenever he can. He always lets us know his plans and when we can expect him.

We helped him locate an online educational consultant, Margaret. She is a kind and competent woman and Thomas likes her a lot and trusts her. Margaret had Thomas complete a series of evaluations and assessments. Based on the results and what she thinks will be best for Thomas, here is the plan currently in place for Thomas. He is totally committed to it.

Although Thomas tested with a high IQ and aptitude, he has not had an adequate education to succeed in college. So, instead of trying to go to college next year, he will be using the year to take college preparatory courses; some courses are online, and some are offered at our local community college. He also has access to a tutor. Margaret will oversee his program and be his guide.

Thomas is excited about his future and is committed to doing the hard work ahead. Before Covid-19 shut things down, he brought several friends to meet us, including a girlfriend he met at the meal center. She seems very nice, is a good student herself, and is very supportive of his plans. Since Covid-19, he is very hesitant to have any friends over, even to visit outside with masks because he worries that I or his grandmother will get infected. So, he and his friends spend a lot of time together online chatting or playing games. We encourage this.

All in all, Thomas seems happy and is doing well. We occasionally ask him if he would like to reconcile with his parents, or at least have some communication with them. At first his response was no, but now he is saying “not right now.”

Even though they never respond, we send Carl and Rachel e-mails every few days updating them on Thomas’s plans and activities. Although we remain hopeful that at some point Thomas and his parents will reconcile, we hold out little hope that we will ever be welcome in Carl and Rachel’s lives again. This saddens us. However, we are glad that we’re in a position to be there for Thomas at this critical time in his life.

Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response

Thomas is a fortunate young man to have your emotional and financial support.

There is an important lesson from your experiences: The estrangements between you and Rachel and Carl are unfortunate, but you made a well-thought-out decision for Thomas to be your number one priority. You did so while knowing full well that you were putting at even greater risk your already-tenuous relationships with your son and daughter-in-law. As your interactions with Thomas illustrate, sometimes circumstances require grandparents to become involved in their grandchildren’s lives in unanticipated and important ways, often requiring sacrifices.

Perhaps over time Thomas will want to reconnect with his parents, but that remains between the three of them. Meanwhile, it speaks well of you that you continue to keep Rachel and Carl apprised of their son’s life.

young girl dressed inappropriately
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