Early Career Success: The Parent’s Role

Raising strong, independent children requires that we ‘let go’ so they can separate and find their own way, yet stay connected enough for them to check back in for shelter and refueling as their needs dictate  (From my book Connect For Success, 2010).


As the transition from school to career gets more complex and challenging, we parents feel even more pressure to actively “help”.  But exactly how do we translate our helpful intentions and healthy protective instincts into actions that our nearly adult children will be receptive to, feel supported by, and actually be helped by in the short and long run?  The suggestions that follow are based on conclusions I have drawn from:

  • Facilitating workshops with young men and women transitioning from to college and career
  • Exploring these issues in greater depth with clients as a psychotherapist and coach
  • As a parent of three children now 28, 25 and 23h.
As an art and inexact discipline carried out by highly imperfect and unique individuals,  parenting is far from one-size-fits-all.  There are universal principles of effective parenting to guide us, but  each parent must discover their own parenting “sweet spot” over time.  So any feedback, suggestions, or stories you can share below after reading this will add to the collective wisdom and usefulness of this blog.
Four ways we can leverage our role as parents

1. Listen: Your child will learn the most from those with whom they feel safe sharing their most difficult experiences when they are feeling most vulnerable.  We want one of the people they seek out to be us!  For this reason, honing and activating non-judgmental listening-for-understanding skill is the most important priority.  Effective parenting at this stage is all about listening loudly, and advising very quietly and selectively.  It is about connecting with your children in a way that gives them the good feelings that will encourage them to keep you in the loop and share more and more honestly what they are struggling with at a given moment.  Most of the problems our children face on the job are ones they will be able to figure out for themselves or identify peers and mentors with the right expertise to help them (an important collaboration skill that will grow as we pull back).  Rarely do they need direct advice as much as they need to vent, think things through, get validation and support, and feel a connection with a strong family support system to which they can turn whenever they need it.

2. Help them to see the best in themselves.  Our job as parents is mostly to keep them confident enough to keep trying, even when they feel like giving up.  The more quickly we instruct, the more they are reminded that we will step in, and the less likely the chance they will discover and access their own resources.  Achievement is rarely about talent, knowledge and skills.  Rather, it is about optimizing what we have.  And that requires pushing the envelope and taking chances, and being willing to fail on the way to success.  The path to success is always through adversity.  So let’s not deprive them of that by giving solutions prematurely.

3.  Manage your own worries and fears so it doesn’t become their job to protect us from being upset. Our kids have a way of sensing when we are anxious and worried about them.  They then respond by taking care of and protecting Mom and Dad by telling them what they want to hear, and by having to create a facade.  This can include giving a parent the satisfaction of being their coach and advisor.  They don’t need the advice as much as they know how much being helpful makes you feel good.

4.  Help our grown children take the risk of responding honestly to us when do give them guidance.  Encourage them to disagree, push back, and let us know when we are being helpful and less than helpful. And then we need to respond to their feedback in a way that encourages them to give us more.

To achieve this, we must be prepared to feel frustrated, useless and helpless.  Their struggles stimulate our parenting instincts and we have to get used to the frustration of not being able to comfort them.  But like the lessons learned the first time we drop them off at kindergarten, they can’t begin to grow until we separate from them.

Raising strong, independent children requires that we ‘let go’ so they can separate and find their own way, yet stay connected enough for them to check back in for shelter and refueling as their needs dictate.  It means living with the immediate risks attached to flying out of the nest for the first time to face the world at their most vulnerable. But there is no escaping those trials and tribulations.  Calluses don’t grow on feet that never touch the ground.  And self-confidence cannot develop without being on your own to sink or swim and live with the consequences.

Two final thoughts to keep in mind:

As much as we think we teach our children by what we say, we all know that what they learn from us is what they see us do and how they experience us day in and day out. Who we are is who we are, and that is what we give them.

As life goes on, they will have increasingly more access to people with subject matter expertise that match their needs at that time, freeing us up to fulfill the role we do best – being Moms and Dads and the No. 1 source of the unconditional love upon which they rely.

Let me know what you think?

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