In acknowledgment of who introduced me to education consulting – an HR consulting partner who wanted to ensure that his daughters received the best guidance possible through the college selection process – this post is addressed primarily to parents rather than young applicants.
In Mommie Dearest (1981), Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford thought the road to perfection for her Black Market-adopted daughter, Christina (Mara Hobel), began with raising the girl exactly in her own image.
That strategy didn’t make either person happy, healthy and successful later in life.
Bravo’s new series Extreme Guide to Parenting may have been conceived in the vein of ‘Real Housewives’ as a presumed hit of “hatewatch” – the phenomenon of masses tuning into a TV series exclusively to criticize and poke fun at its stars. However, the series facilitates very healthy discussions about the ways that working adults can best enable their children to become successful professionals.
The (linked above) ABC News segment alone immediately left me pondering these questions: Are parents like the Eisenbergs steering their children into college and career success by pressuring them to commit to a year-round schedule of activities without any room for revision? Can the Machenberg-Neys and other parents really hypnotize their children into making decisions that give them “a leg up” in their careers from high school to retirement? Should we take people committed to so-called “extreme parenting” seriously as we explore ways to help youth fight the lethargy-inducing prognosis that their generation will be less affluent than their parents’ generation?
Although most of those questions probably won’t be answered for years, I know many of the parents featured on the series get this much right: Leaving children to find themselves unaided is a bad idea. I say that because even as an adult who entered the workforce in the 1990s, well before the popularization of social media, I’m sometimes exhausted by the blogosphere’s surfeit of conflicting messages about career moves. A LinkedIn article entitled “Ten Mistakes You Probably Made in Your Last Interview” trending with one entitled “Why What You Say in Your Interviews Probably Doesn’t Matter” doesn’t leave me reconsidering plans for my next interview or client meeting; it inspires me to beeline for a 90-minute Swedish massage. Can you imagine, then, how youth growing up in the blogosphere must feel as they try navigating a labyrinth of messages about the ways in which progressive careers will be difficult to impossible for them, while also wondering when their voices will stop cracking or whether now’s a good time to invest in a training bra? A massage and meditation conglomerate could probably be built entirely in their service.
The fact that children often need their guidance to be successful is why it’s so critical for parents – engaged, extreme, and otherwise – to at least do this much:
Beware burnout. It’s possible for parents to obsess over their children’s development at the expense of the health they need to usher their children through high school and college. I fear that some of the parents on ‘Extreme’ aren’t being mindful of how their parenting rituals are impacting their own mental and physical health.
Build bridges for their children. Don’t burn them. The parents detailed in this blog’s inaugural post tend to burn bridges even as they’re competing in cutthroat preschool admissions processes. Twenty years ago, it might be easy for victims of that sort of behavior to forget it. Social media now leaves it on record for everyone thrown under the bus to consider throughout your life course, your child’s life course and your grandchild’s life course.
In lieu of parenting methods that promote conformity, parents should consider teaching their children to rebel with them in success-enabling ways. Parents who are innovators or business founders should have no problem doing this. For the rest, traditional storytime might well be succeeded by stories-of-$100-startups time. After all, one of the best ways for youth to discover their own brand and potential is to establish small, self-reflexive businesses before adulthood – when the stakes are low because (at least for the time being) employers expect teenagers to have wide resume gaps.
Talk through their children’s interests with them, or find someone who can. Children may be resistant to this discourse at first. But gradually, as the blogosphere’s messages about education and career become more overwhelming, they’ll be grateful that an experienced adult professional helped them to separate what they want to do for themselves from what millions of other people are telling them they should do.
If parents are going to maintain a year-round schedule of activities for their children, they should block “?” slots that the children can fill with activities of their own choosing. One big problem with some of the “extreme parenting” tactics displayed on the Bravo series is that the parents are so committed to keeping their children engaged in a set list of activities that as our fluid world introduces promising opportunities, the parents don’t have time to take note of them. They may be raising their children to be successful at activities that simply aren’t impressive by contemporary standards.
Be honest with their children about the highs and lows of their own careers. No kidding – I know the glut of miserable and unemployed or underemployed attorneys is at least partially a consequence of many of my peers aspiring to become independently wealthy as early as age 5 by pursuing legal careers as their parents did. When we were children, their parents would emphasize the income potential associated with the legal profession while circumventing any questions about the work itself. Now armed with JD’s, enormous debt and unsteady work records, those thirtysomething-year-old children are finally asking themselves “What do I really want to be when I grow up?”
Instead of looking forward to “Take My Child to Work Day” alone, they should arrange for their teenagers to job shadow others in their (the parents’) professional and social networks. And long before the grand office tour begins, they should prime their children on asking good questions about the companies. I’ve seen way too many children finish “Take My Child to Work Day” with the impression that the majority of working adults specialize in poker-faced mouse manipulation.
Teach their children to advocate for themselves. I read about parents dragging their children around career fairs, forcefully introducing them to prospective employers, and shoving their children’s resumes into said prospective employers’ hands. All this does is turn a young adult who could have been a company’s star employee by his/her own efforts into its long-running office joke.
Engage with alumni and career offices on college and graduate school campus tours. This could mean parents offering externships, internships or jobs at their own companies for their children’s current and future peers, which is a great way to build reciprocity for when their children need a leg or two up in a field where their connections are inadequate. It can also mean building a network of recent and distant past alumni at various schools so that as their children decide which schools to attend, they have the benefit of knowing trends in the professional lives of graduates who shared their goals and socioeconomic attributes.
Consider financial planning for their children not just for the first eighteen years of their lives, but for the first twenty-five to thirty years. Yes, it’s possible that in the 2020’s or the 2030’s, some currently unimaginable technology will become ubiquitous and change the landscape of the working world just as the Internet began to do twenty years ago. It’s also possible that in those decades, a large number of adults will still try to move back into their parents’ homes due to employment issues just as they are now. Let’s consider a return to farm values while there’s still time: Children should do their best to help their parents so that their parents have better chances of maintaining the health they’ll need to assist them with building financial and social capital into adulthood. Parents should try preparing to help their children well into their twenties so that those children have a heightened chance of an upward career trajectory, rather than one characterized by the constant ebbs and flows that guarantee their unreliability to their ailing parents. Those are just my two cents.
What do you think the relationship is between parenting and children’s professional success, or between your career and your child’s career? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section, or if you think I might be able to help you answer this question for you and your child specifically, query me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founder of The Precocious Urchin Co.