Shoes Too Big To Fill: Following in a Parent's Footsteps
By: Karen Sullen
How many times have you said that your child is a chip off of the old block? Your child looks like you, acts like you and may want to be just like you as an adult. A lot of parents envision their children following in their footsteps down the same professional paths they chose. I once asked a little boy, "Where to doctors come from?" He replied innocently, "From doctor parents, of course!" In his world, doctors have baby doctors, and lawyers have baby lawyers. While that career decision is not necessarily made at birth, many well-intending parents follow this same line of thinking when they proudly say, "He's going to be a fireman just like me when he grows up." Both the parents and the child seem to buy into the idea. Enthusiastic parents buy fireman, nurse or "Little Slugger" outfits and all sorts of future-career paraphernalia for their babies. However, while most children will admit when they are small that they want to a teacher "just like Mommy", when they get older, their desires may begin to shift as they realize that their parent's shoes may be too big too fill.
Looking for a perfect professional fit can be challenging, for both parents and their children. But how much influence does the parents' career choice have on what children want to be when they grow up? Whether a result of family income needs or parental influence, parents do have significant impact on their children's career choices. According to a recent study of the Class of 2005 at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, parents have a 38% influence rate on the career choices of their children. However, most moms and dads did not realize how much "parent power" they really possessed and felt that they should actually have a much lower influence rate, and that the current market, the child's skill set and other factors should actually take precedence.
Whether or not your child admires your career and wants to imitate it or has another path in mind, here are some helpful hints to make the discussion of your child's career choice as comfortable as a pair of broken-in loafers.
Set some ground rules. Parents often want to protect their children from dangers they foresee through the eyes of wisdom that their children's youthful eyes may not, including bad career choices. Parents may or may not agree with their child's career choice, but it is helpful to set some ground rules, i.e. the career choice must have a financially solid future or choosing a traditional minor to balance a non-traditional major so the child has something to "fall back on." Provide enough input to help your child avoid making poor career choices, but balance that with the child's need for self-expression and pursuit of his dream. And that brings us to another point parents must realize.
It's her dream and not yours. Too often, unfulfilled parents try to live vicariously through their children, forcing them to have the life they never did. Unfortunately, it's the life the child never dreamed of. Don't pressure the child, but help propel the child in the right direction, one that you both feel is best.
Career visualization works! If you can't see eye to eye, try the "consequences" approach. This is an excellent visualization technique I probably first saw demonstrated on an old episode of The Cosby Show. When teenage Theo wanted to skip college and get a “"regular job" as he put it, Dad Cosby didn't hit the roof. Instead, he applied this technique. After letting Theo tell him how much he thought he would make on this "regular" job, they began to deduct all the basic costs of living, starting with taxes, eventually leaving Theo with more costs than cash. It was a very realistic view of how things might play out. Rightfully disgusted, Theo conceded that he might need another life plan, one that would afford him the type of lifestyle he envisioned. Keep in mind that this is just an example and that your child's career decision should be based on more than just lifestyle and income. But it is a good way for you both to peer into the future and examine possible consequences. You both might amazed at what you see.
Children may not necessary follow the career choices of their parents, but it is evident that they will follow their parents' lead in a different way. Children value and welcome their parents' input in this important decision. This type of open discussion balanced with sound judgment will ensure that no matter what the final career choice, it will be a perfect fit!
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