Our fab guest poster is Emily Theis, a junior at Ball State University studying Journalism Graphics and Spanish. She is sharing her perspective on ways parents can help their children in college with future decisions. You can get in touch with Emily via firstname.lastname@example.org or at her website, theiscreative.com.
You remember when you were 21. You didn’t any kids to put to bed, and you weren’t tired at 9 p.m. You had a big group of broke friends who always found money to party, and you dreamed about making something better of the corrupt world you discovered. You lived on the fuel of your dreams. That is, until you went home and told your parents, who treated you like a high-schooler and snuffed out your dream fire with something like “Let’s be realistic.”
But now you’re the parent, and your little baby somehow jumped off to college and keeps coming home all irritable about your thoughts for her future. Each situation is different, but as a college kid myself, I can give three pretty solid guidelines on how to sail these wavy waters of the future with your college kid:
RESPECT THEIR DREAMS – As weird as it is, do your best to think of your son or daughter as a functioning adult. Often, that means looking back at yourself and realizing you two aren’t that different: Didn’t some of your huge painful mistakes as a young adult make you a much better person? What regrets are you experiencing in your own life/job that you’d never want for your children? Don’t live vicariously, but do try to relate.
Respect also means encouragement – point out strengths your son or daughter has (and here’s the kicker) WITHOUT any weird angle to point him or her in a certain career direction. Just help create a safe environment. If they don’t respond well to your encouragement, just let it go.
LISTEN – Parents often just need to be a sounding board for the exploration many college kids start to do as they look forward. My mom is great at this. She lets me get irritable and frustrated with her while I try to talk things out. I think she understands that most of us have short-term dream phases that we go through until we figure out they don’t make any sense.
Keep directing the conversation back to your child and what he or she is thinking. Once at dinner with another family, my brother asked the misdirected teen son “What do you love to do that people will pay you for?” This is a great question, because it gets to the point of doing fulfilling work while still staying alive.
So if your daughter calls up with some whack-job idea and wants to tell you about it, ask probing questions that really get to why she came up with it. Then, let her fight for it. Let her try to figure it out. You’re on her side, but you don’t have to build a wall between her and the world anymore. It’s good to get a little banged up on the path to a dream. It’s horrible to get excited about a dream and call your parents just to have it shut down immediately. Often, the bad dreams will get shut down on their own.
DON’T GET HUNG UP ON MONEY – I once had a great opportunity to fly out to a conference for freelance work and networking. And I misread the flight time and completely missed the plane. My dad was obviously angry, but after I went and forked over another $500, got on the plane and cried the whole way, I called him when landing. The emotions of anger had subsided, and he told me something I often think of now: Money is a renewable resource. This is coming from the man who had us separate our allowance every week into four different budgeted slots. But he’s right. Money matters, but it isn’t the end-all. You have to teach your children to know that if things get tight, they’ll just have to work really hard and figure something out. No one is going to starve here. Take some risks.
There’s no set formula for this sort of thing, so the most important thing to do is always act with more respect for your child than you probably want to. They probably need more space than you want to give them too. Be a catalyst for growth, not another hoop they have to jump through. Growing up is a weird process, so don’t worry if things get off for a while.
Remember: you were young once.