Telling your parents you want to take a gap year can be the hardest part about your decision and can make for a very difficult conversation. In this episode, Michelle Dittmer, President of the Canadian Gap Year Association takes you through all the steps to ensure you have a successful conversation with your parents, from preparing for it to conducting it.
Before the conversation
Step One: make sure you are crystal clear on why you want to take a gap year. Make sure this decision is coming from your heart and not what you think society or your parents want you to do.
Step Two: make a pros and cons list for going to university and taking a gap year, so your parents know you really thought about this decision.
Step Three: draft a list of everything you want to do during your gap year to show your parents you have a plan and you don’t intend to spend it on the couch, which is exactly what parents are worried about if they don’t go to school.
Step Four: warm your parents up to having this conversation. Don’t surprise them with your decision; give them time to think about it too. Here’s an example of what you can say to them. “Hey, can we set some time aside to talk about my post-secondary plans? I have some ideas and would like to get your thoughts on them.”
Step Five: pick a location. Choose somewhere to have the conversation that will be comfortable for everyone.
Step Six: don’t overthink it. Be prepared, but not scripted. Be authentic and open to your parents’ perspective and remember that this is conversation and not an argument. If you’re really worried about it, send them an email about your thoughts and invite them to have a follow up conversation about it.
Step Seven: set the tone of the conversation. Let them know you thought a lot about it, tell them your reason for wanting to take a gap year and you want to hear their thoughts too because you want to make the best decision.
Step Eight: share the pros and cons list with them and invite them to come up with a pros and cons list too. Your parents have lots of life experience and they might offer a perspective you haven’t considered yet, so be open and understanding to what they might say. Another great question to ask is what life goals they have for you.
This is where you might want to take a pause on the conversation and give your parents time to consider what you said and write their own pros and cons list.
Step Nine: address what is and isn’t in alignment. If you’re on totally different pages, ask them what they need to see in order for them to feel comfortable with you taking a gap year.
Step Ten: Co-write a contract that includes their goals for you too. Whether it might be a budget, a concrete plan, a formal deferral, or your commitment to return to school the following year.
If this conversation does get emotional, don’t be afraid to take a break from it. Tell your parents you appreciate their perspective and concerns, but you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to take a break, so you can come back to it and have a fair discussion together.
Last tip: Take advantage of all the resources available here at the Canadian Gap Year Association to help you have this conversation and plan your gap year.