Parent-college scandal, part one: Were your parents THAT cray-cray?

How your career challenges may tie back to your family —

No question: the scandal of parents paying into the millions for their children to attend a prestigious college crosses a whole new line of inappropriate when it comes to parental involvement.

While I haven’t seen my clients’ parents overstep with such disregard for what’s fair and just, my clients’ parents have had a profound impact on their careers, both intentional and unintentional.

Through our work together:

  • My clients realize their current career challenges are often twisted up in parental actions or messages – direct and indirect.
  • These may have happened recently or even decades ago – and they still have an impact on them today.

It’s not just my younger clients in their 20s. Even clients in their 50s and 60s come to see how family dynamics affected their:

  • career choice
  • ability to make tough decisions
  • confidence
  • ability to deal with negative feedback
  • tendencies toward perfectionism

This is a two-part blog. Below is part 1:

How your career challenges may tie back to your family

 Click here to read part 2:

 Why career choice is so hard and why parents want to help

As you read this blog, I encourage you to ponder:         

How are messages from your parents playing out in your career today?

Sometimes the impact is direct, other times indirect, but when clients begin discovering the connections, it brings the ability to better identify their own interests and also to overcome personal obstacles as they move toward their goals.

INDIRECT relation to career

Growing up in a home that felt safe and secure helps us feel confident and willing to try new challenges that help us learn and grow. When this is not present, it can create obstacles in how we approach a career exploration or perform at work. Examples that have affected my clients include:

  • Poverty, hunger, and in some cases, civil unrest where they lived
  • a parent with physical or mental illness
  • a parent who was absent or died
  • a parent who was overly demanding or withholding or abusive
  • a parent who placed pressure on a child to excel
  • parents who divorced, especially when the child felt stuck in the middle or was made to feel responsible for what were really the parents’ issues
  • parents who treated one sibling as the favored/smart/golden child. (Some of my clients were the “chosen,” others had a sibling who was the “chosen.”)

Any of these scenarios can inflict wounds from high anxiety and perfectionism to low confidence and self-esteem, from a heightened sense of responsibility to co-dependence, and from equating love and acceptance with performance and success.

Exploring a career, looking for work, performing on the job – all can be stressful. The fallout coming from the challenges we faced growing up makes the obstacles all the more difficult to handle.

DIRECT relation to career

Sometimes the parental link to career is more obvious, for example:

  • Receiving strong suggestions about career choice from our parents
  • Following (or avoiding) our parents’ career experiences
  • Trying to please or appease a parent
  • Having the option to work in a family business.
–  Receiving strong suggestions

I see this a lot with clients in their 20s and 30s. One was stressed because his mother was offering him many career suggestions, and he feared her hurt and anger if he chose something else. Another was worried because her parents were very critical of her job search efforts, and she questioned whether their advice was the way job search is even done today. Other clients have told me their parents keep suggesting they find a corporate job because of the security, but they feel that job security nowadays is not something they can count on.

However, I have clients in their 40s, 50s and even older still who are still feeling the ramifications of suggestions their parents gave them decades ago. Several went into careers because their parents urged a specific field, or in a few cases, only agreed to pay for college if the client studied what the parent wanted. They now wonder whether it’s too late to explore a career more in line with their earlier interests. They also speak of both the benefits of the careers they’ve had, but also the deep sense of regret for not pursuing their own interests, and anger at parents for unduly influencing their choices, or even taking them away altogether.

–  Following (or avoiding) our parents’ experiences

Clients of all ages talk to me about choices they made based on what they observed in their parents. Some talk of how unhappy their mothers were because they gave up their careers to raise a family, so they want to make sure to have a career while parenting. Others have seen a parent bone-weary from a job in a particular industry, such as sales, and thus shied away from it altogether. On the other hand, some have seen a parent be successful in a line of work and be a good provider for their family, so they choose the same line of work, even though they now realize they are tolerating it, at best.

–  Trying to please or appease a parent

Some clients chose a field of study in the hopes of pleasing the parent or trying to forge a connection that felt missing. They either chose a field they thought would make their parent proud or followed the same path as the parent to try to win their approval. Sometimes clients were well aware at the time that they made their decision to gain a parent’s favor. For others, it was so subtle that it only dawned on them through the course of our working together.

–  The family business

This can be a blessing or a curse – and sometimes both at the same time! My clients certainly speak of the opportunities they’ve had and connections they’ve made, and the financial and lifestyle benefits (e.g., travel) some have had when the business is successful.

However, there may be pressure to work in the business even though it doesn’t appeal. Another downside is relying on it as a safety net: it’s okay if I can’t figure out what I really want because I can just work in the business and be ok.

Why try to understand our parents’ impact on our career?

When we begin to untangle how our confusion or frustration or sense of achievement is not a personal failing but a combination of many factors and influences, it can leave us feeling lighter and more able to make the changes we want.

Want to know more?

Want a partner to help you explore your unique parent-career connections, move through obstacles, and go after what you want?

Shoot me an email or give me a call 612-922-4952!

career coaching with Freda Marver

  Parents & Career Implications
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