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Carolyn Hax: Parents fight grown child’s career change and relocation ‘tooth and nail’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from May 4, 2008.

Dear Carolyn: I have been working in a career field for the past four years, since I graduated from college. For the past two years, I have been unhappy. My job requires frequent travel to dangerous places, intense hardship and long hours at times. I have been looking to make a change but haven’t had the chutzpah to make it happen.

I recently decided to relocate. I am actively seeking out gainful employment in my desired city. I am looking at places to live. I have a fair bit of money stashed away. I have excellent job prospects anywhere I move but not at the salary I get now, which I can deal with.

My parents have been fighting this decision tooth and nail. I have told them I am unhappy. For my parents, it is the bottom line, and nothing else. They own and operate a small business that has the potential to fail. They do not want me to take a pay cut because of this, at least it seems to me.

There is also a woman involved in my decision. I may sound like a starry-eyed romantic, but she is the woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. I don't want to put her through the wringer of constant deployment, time away in hazardous areas, etc. My parents think she is the only reason I am entertaining this.

How do I address this with my parents without starting a huge fight every time? It appears they would rather see me miserable.

— S.

S.: Even if the woman were your only reason for moving, it’s still your life. You can pick a location because its name reminds you of your favorite cheese.

The precarious state of your parents’ business does matter, of course, and does come with certain obligations for you — but not an obligation to stay in a job you hate for a few extra bucks. It’s certainly not an obligation to do their bidding.

You have savings, marketability, a plan, a purpose and a sense of duty to your parents, to yourself and to the people you love. Most parents would be giddy with their good fortune.

Since yours aren’t, you now have a chance to add another arrow to your quiver: growing up. The ultimate test of independence is in handling a decision that satisfies nothing except your own sense of what’s right. The more unpopular it is, and the more powerful your critics, the stronger you have to get.

This isn’t to be mistaken for getting stronger in your arguments. Quite the contrary. You’ve made your case to your parents; they disagree. There isn’t much more to be said — except perhaps that you hope, but don’t expect, they’ll come to respect your decision. No further discussion.

This also isn’t about whomping up a strong need to prove yourself. Whether your decision holds up isn’t the issue. What matters is that you make your best effort to live according to your values, in failure as well as success. You honor your parents by never forgetting how you came by those values, and why.