Question from Maria in Los Alamos, N.M.: "My son, age 19, has dropped out of college, given away his bed, books, everything, and is living out of his car. He plans to start a company and become a millionaire. I have discussed with him at length the unlikelihood of his business staying solvent, the importance of getting your education first. He says he hears me and will take his own path. He is broke but has not asked for money. What can I do besides being a loving mother and listening to his concerns?"
Fran's Answer: It must be difficult to watch your son make such a daring life choice at 19. I believe relationships always come first so, being a loving parent, as you've indicated, is definitely a great place to start.
There are 3 issues: his decision to quit school, his decision to start a business and perhaps his decision to exclude you from either or both of these major decisions.
#1: He quit school.
Unfortunately, no parent wants to hear what I'm about to say. Once your child leaves home, there's really nothing you can do about the choices they make. Your best bet is to open a dialogue about how he plans to take care of himself. If it'll make you feel better, go ahead and give him the "education is important" speech but keep in mind it may not be that he doesn't value education, it may be that he doesn't feel "college" is necessary for his success.
#2: He's starting a business out of his car.
Entrepreneurs are wired differently than other humanoids. Sometimes those differences are not only difficult for them to convey but also difficult for others to understand. Our country was literally built on the sweat and courage of people just like your son, many of whom were immigrants who didn't even speak the language when they got here! So congratulations on raising such an enterprising young man. Going forward I'd encourage you to share your concerns with your son but don't expect his fears to reflect yours. Entrepreneurs are often quite fearless.
#3: He didn't include you in two major decisions.
Here's how you might open a conversation with him. "I'm really proud that you're pursuing your dreams and I want you to succeed but I do have a few concerns. May I share a couple of them with you?" From there be honest and direct about what frightens you. Avoid telling him that he's making a mistake or that he's going to fail. In fact, it's really important that you acknowledge that what he's doing is big, that it's admirable, and that you'll be there for him should he hit a rough patch. Be very clear about boundaries, too, though. If you're only going to give him $500, stick to that figure.
Beyond showing your support, here's some homework:
1) Consider joining an online community of moms of young entrepreneurs
2) If a mom's group doesn't exist consider starting one yourself and blogging about your experiences
3) Read about other successful entrepreneurs such as Tyler Perry, who like your son, lived in his car for a while but kept hustling until he struck gold with one of his stage plays. Today his net worth is estimated at approximately $700 million.
Remember, even if your son's company never reaches the million-dollar mark, that his entrepreneurial journey promises many lessons that are sure to benefit him in life and business.