by Sue Russoniello
September, again. Here you are, sending your children off or back to college. They are beginning to look like adults; they are also beginning to make decisions on their own, without your constant guidance. That’s a bit scary for us parents, after 18+ years of making daily decisions for them.
Having two sons of my own who have been through college, I know some of your concerns. Are they happy and getting enough sleep, making good friends and behaving responsibly? Are they keeping up with their coursework and connecting with their professors? Are they finding internships and jobs or getting into “the right” graduate or professional school? The cost of a college degree is concerning enough, without worrying that they might not have a good job lined up when they graduate. In addition, you’re hearing stories of your friends’ children and your children’s friends who seem to either have something “fabulous” lined up, or are having trouble making ends meet on their own.
Besides being a parent, I have worked in Career Services for fifteen years, so I have watched this process from both sides. I sympathize with the concerned parents who call Career Services to see what they can do to help. Some parents just want general information on the current job market. Others ask for specific information so they can be closely involved in their son or daughter’s job search.
Wearing my parent’s hat, I can relate to your temptation to do the leg work for your busy children and give them a list of things they should do next in their job search. Up till now you’ve always been involved with the important decisions they have had to make. Wearing my Career Services hat, I see blossoming, independent, young adults excited about making their own way and looking for jobs of their own choosing, which aren’t necessarily what you think they want.
For instance, my older son who as a young boy only wanted to eat hot dogs and peanut butter, and who I thought would be a wonderful coach or teacher, is now a chef in a fabulous restaurant in Wyoming! I thought my younger son had the perfect skills to be an architect. His choice was to study geology and as we were celebrating his college graduation, he announced he had lined up a job in Alaska and was leaving in two days! After my initial surprise and uncertainty about their decisions, I’ve realized how both of them have made good choices and are happy finding their own way.
Based on the experiences I’ve accrued working in Career Services combined with those of my own family, I respectfully make this suggestion to parents: give your sons and daughters space to make some decisions on their own. I am NOT saying to back out of your son’s or daughter’s life; I’m just saying back up a bit. They still need you and you still need them. But they do have some serious decisions to make about the direction in which they want their lives to go; in giving them the freedom to make these decisions, and showing them you respect their ability to do so, you will probably find that the lines of communication between you are stronger than ever. Let them run ideas by you and ask for guidance without the added guilt of thinking you don’t approve, or worrying that you are disappointed by their choices. They do really care what you think, and want to please you, but also want to do what is right for themselves.
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.” Take note of what makes your child’s eyes light up and respect his or her need to pursue those things; they might choose a specific job that they love, or they might choose to live in a place that lets them enjoy favorite 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. They should also know that if a decision they make doesn’t work out as they had hoped, you still love them and support them.
I’m not suggesting that your sons and daughters will all head for the hills like mine did. Your daughter might think that NYC is the ideal location with the art, culture and night life opportunities, in addition to it being a center of the financial and business world. Your son may want to be in Miami, especially after the past two winters in the northeast. Your children may choose to be in Texas or Iowa because that’s where a fabulous graduate school opportunity lies for them. And don’t forget the significant other who might be a part of this decision…I remind myself that I married when I was 22, and that was a factor in some of the decisions I made gladly so that we could be together.
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 and learn about the programs and workshops, career fairs and advising sessions we offer them. Offer to help create networking opportunities for them with your friends and colleagues. Talk with them about their options. 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. Face time is still very important, despite the prevalence of email and social media. Think back, honestly, to your own decision making when you were their age, but also remember it’s a different world out there, with different opportunities and resources than we had.
In the end, what we parents (and Career Service professionals) really want for our (your) sons and daughters is for them to find careers they enjoy and excel in, and to live happy, rewarding lives.