Parents, This One’s For You

The summer is over! Your son or daughter has already moved into his or her dorm or apartment. Is this your first child’s freshman year and the family’s maiden voyage to college? Or perhaps it is your youngest child’s senior year and this is old hat. No matter what your exact scenario is, you are probably feeling nostalgic as you breath in this dryer, cooler September air and think about all the “Kodak moments” along the road that has led your young person to Penn.

Now that your son or daughter is off to school, take a moment to focus on how you will fit into the decisions he or she will need to make in the next few years. Your child (yes, they’ll always be our “children”, no matter how old they are) has stepped up to the next phase of their development, and their entrance to adulthood. Having two sons of my own who are in their late twenties, I know the thoughts running through your heads. Who is checking that they are getting enough sleep, making good friends and behaving responsibly? You’re wondering about their classes. Are they keeping up with the work load and connecting with their professors? At the same time, especially in light of the current economic times, are they setting themselves up to find internships or jobs in a lucrative industry or getting into the right graduate or professional school? Things are not as they were when WE were in college, and there is so much more information available to help with these decisions.

Besides being a parent, I have worked in Career Services for fourteen years and have watched this process from both sides. I sympathize with the concerned parents who call Career Services to see what we do for their son or daughter and also what they can do to help. Some parents just want general information on the current job market and the process. Others ask for more specific information such as passwords for our job posting system so they can look for jobs or internships that will be “right” for their son or daughter.

Wearing my parent’s hat, I empathize with you being tempted to do the leg work for your busy children so you can give them a list of things they should do next in their job search. It’s what you’ve probably done up to this point with respect to important decisions they have had to make. Wearing my Career Services hat, I see young, independent people wanting to make their own way and looking for jobs of their own choosing which aren’t necessarily what you think they want. From these combined experiences I am respectfully asking you to give them space to conduct their internship, job and/or graduate school searches themselves. They want (and need) to begin to do things for themselves and learn to use their time wisely. Isn’t this the ultimate goal of parenthood — guiding our sons and daughters to become self-confident, capable young adults? This is the time in our children’s lives when they first feel independent and able to try something new on their own. You may be in for some surprises of the directions they choose, but that’s good. It means they are spreading their wings and trying new things.

When I think back, I wonder why I was surprised when my older son moved to Wyoming to become a chef where he’d be using his creativity and ability to interact with people. And a few years later, our second son moved to Alaska to use his geology background and technical skills. Both of them moved to places where they could pursue jobs of their dreams and have the ability to ski, hike, and canoe whenever they wanted to with people around them who also loved those activities. Not surprising at all, these were the things we did with them on family vacations as they were growing up. They took jobs where they would work hard and play hard, and be self supporting and happy. Actually, once the initial shock wore off, we were proud of each of them for being self-assured enough to leave their friends and family for places unknown and new adventures. I will not deny that you will feel a bit of loneliness during this transition, because you will. Your relationship with your child is changing; he or she doesn’t need you in the same ways they have before. Take heart knowing they’re doing what they should be doing, which will help you adjust. Focusing on our sons’ happiness and successes, (and biting our tongue a lot!) helped us survive. How happy were we when our younger son, after three years in Alaska, announced he was moving back to the East Coast to pursue a graduate degree as we had hoped he would. We patted ourselves on the back, then, as that was his own decision and on his own time table, as well.

My message is this… Parents, listen to your children and give them room to grow. Harry S. Truman said: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” Don’t back out of your son or daughter’s life, just back up a bit. Encourage them to try something new. Be open to discussions about the breadth of options in front of them. Take note of what makes your child’s eyes light up and respect his or her need to pursue these things; they might choose a specific job that they love, or they might choose to live in a place that lets them enjoy certain activities outside of their work. Give them the freedom and support to try something different and come to their own conclusions about what is right for them. Remember that “success” means different things to different people, even our own children. My son doesn’t make a lot of money, but he thrives on being able to walk his dog in the Teton National Forest and go skiing before work or floating down the Snake River in his canoe any day he wants.

By all means, browse the Career Services website and learn what you can about the opportunities available to our students. Visit us during Family Weekend. Be aware of all the programs and workshops, career fairs and counseling sessions we offer our students. If you think your son or daughter needs a bit more guidance as they go forward, remind them that we are here to help. Guide them gently in ways to ask for help, but let them be the ones to do the asking.
In the end you know that your sons and daughters will make appropriate decisions, find good jobs and have great lives. Give them the gift of letting them make these decisions for themselves. Even if it means they’ll pursue an industry or move to a location you might not have chosen for them, or on the exact time table you would have suggested.
I’ll tell you, though we’d love to see our sons more often, we’ve had some fabulous vacations visiting them in the places they have chosen to live.

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