By Andy Thomas
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself… You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Kahlil Gibran
I remember when I first received the call from Shelly. Her son—who after much tumult, finally managed to complete his collegiate career—was once again living at home and was, quite frankly, very lost. He lacked a sense of direction, his self confidence was nearly depleted and little attempt was being made toward true independence.
For almost a year, Shelly attempted to manage the situation on her own. She understood that her son’s lack of direction was one of the primary reasons he had struggled so much in college; but those four years had taken such a toll, figuring out how to help set her son on the right path seemed nearly impossible. By the time she finally decided to phone me, she was at her wits end.
As a career coach, her story is not foreign to me. Over the course of my career, I have come across plenty of parents working to stay afloat in the midst of this very quandary; one which has both financial and emotional implications.
You see, when a child has reached a certain level of success, parents are free to admit what so many of us already believe: that our children are a direct reflection of our efforts. So what happens when a child’s life does not pan out in the way with which we intended? Often times, it is the thought of failure which keeps parents from being honest and seeking guidance. Before you know it, your child is in their mid-20s, unemployed, living at home and comfortable.
The first thing that needs to be “checked” is parental ego. You have hopefully worked diligently enough to prepare your child for their adult life. Sure, mistakes were likely made; but seeking validation through your child’s success is a dangerous game. If you are too ashamed to seek additional help for your child, then you are perpetually putting them at a disservice. Finding an outside guide gives the child a clean slate and a chance to explore a new direction. Though they can easily refuse due to their adult status, there is little stigma in seeing a career coach, so it’s typically an easier pitch.
The second issue that parents need to tackle is the balance between tough-love and nurture. On one hand, you love and care for your child and would hate to see them go without. The thought of your child aimlessly walking the streets is horrifying. On the other hand, the task of managing a child who remains at home without actively seeking work or redirection can become burdensome. In order to contain this situation, you must create an environment which is safe, but not comfortable. What does this mean? Similar to the way a relationship coach might advise a single person to save certain luxuries for marriage, I am advising that parents reinforce the idea that the child must abide by their household rules: limit guests, assign household responsibilities, require them to meet with a career coach etc. Remain reasonable, yet stern.
The final item that parents must remember is that you have earned your freedom! You will always have a responsibility to your child, but you have the right to enjoy your life as well. Take some time to travel, shop, or socialize as you had planned. Do not allow yourself to become indebted to your adult child; you will only enable them and assist in what could become their burgeoning sense of entitlement.
You must not give up hope that your child will find their way to success. You also must remember the incredible impact that embarking on a true career path can have on a person’s life. The sense of responsibility helps to build confidence; and independence will easily flow from their newly earned self respect. Their self worth will increase; and this is the type of self-esteem that will bring them continuous good fortune.
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals