Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
The Flip Side of "Demonstrated Interest"V. Peter Pitts, M.A.
Sometime during the middle of my son’s senior year of high school, I asked him if he was thinking about who he might take to prom.
He informed me, in his quiet yet firm way, that he wouldn’t be going to prom.
I revisited the subject several times through the winter months with my eye on spring, when prom was held. I even tried employing my two older sons to help convince him to go. My oldest son had had a disastrous prom experience (too long a story to go into here) and was no help whatsoever. In fact, he said, “Yeah, I had a pretty crappy time. I think he can miss it.”
My middle son, who went to prom with his high school girlfriend and enjoyed it, was more on my side. He broached the topic with his brother but, like me, made no headway. Even my husband got on the bandwagon and suggested our youngest son rethink his decision. Finally, weary of our entreaties, my son told us just to leave him alone.
It’s not that I thought prom was the most important thing in the world or that I had such an amazing time at my own prom a million years ago. I just felt it was a rite of passage and that someday my son might regret his decision. And, as a mom, I feel I must protect my children from any possible current or future angst.
In hindsight, I have no idea why I didn’t let it go the first time he said he wasn't interested. After all, hadn’t I raised all my boys to think for themselves and not be pressured into doing things that didn’t feel right (even if I was the one pressuring them)? Didn’t I always make a point to ask them if they would jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it? (An oldie but a goodie.) Hadn’t I tried to foster their individuality?
Winter warmed into spring. As prom got closer, I looked for signs that my son was waffling but there were none. As a last ditch effort, my own version of a Hail Mary pass, I mentioned the names of a few girls I knew who still needed a date.
When I saw it was no use, I finally gave up. I was comforted by the fact my son seemed completely at peace with his decision.
He has always fared better with a small, close-knit group of friends than with a huge group — like me he tires of small talk pretty quickly. In fact, during the year when he attended bar and bat mitzvahs, he often called home, asking his father and me to pick him up early from the event. I have no doubt he would have survived prom but he probably wouldn't have had a great time. And since he didn’t have a girlfriend at the time there really was no reason to force the issue.
As an added bonus, by not going to prom, my son was able to avoid the entire promposal thing, which has gotten completely out of control in our community. One promposal is more elaborate than the next and there's tremendous pressure for the asker to pull off something big (and then of course the askee is in the hot seat). Several years back, a young man in our town asked his girlfriend to prom via a plane towing a banner spelling out “PROM?” (Thankfully the girl said yes.) I’ve heard of wedding proposals with less fanfare. My son is not a splashy kid like that.
With senior spring in full bloom, the prom came and went. I admit that I was sort of glad I didn’t have to attend all the pre-prom activities; I'd already done all that (and not enjoyed it that much) with my older sons. (Yes, yes, I recognize the irony.)
After the fact (and knowing that social media and the halls at school would be buzzing with prom stories and photos), I asked my son if he had any regrets. He looked at me like I was insane. Which maybe I had been.
Looking back, I'm proud that he stuck to his guns.
Sometimes our kids know better than we do what is right for them. Sometimes we have to trust them. Sometimes we need to just back off. And some battles (like prom) are just silly and not worth the fight.
I also learned that I didn’t need to worry about my son’s social life. He seems to be blossoming in college (he's currently a freshman). In fact, he went to his fraternity’s formal at the end of last semester and although I didn’t get too many details, he said he had a good time.
There will undoubtedly be other occasions when I'll need to use these valuable parenting lessons. Now that my sons are all older and mostly grown, I'm finding that I can offer my opinion but then need to let them figure out stuff for themselves. And even if they occasionally make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it’s the screw-ups that we learn from the most.
My son didn’t go to prom — and it turned out just fine.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.