September 19, 2016

Parenting your child’s career

By Robert McFarland


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As parents, we can and should be intentional about leaving the legacy we want to leave, and that includes parenting our children’s careers.  When I say, parenting our children’s careers, I am not talking about the Hovering Parent Syndrome, where the parent treats their kid like a marionette and does everything for them.  What I am talking about is proactively steering our kids the right way and setting them up for success.

The Missed Opportunity

Our kids really miss out if we leave them on their own to seek their own career path.  Parents can fall prey to the temptation to be hands off and uninvolved in this process.  But as a result, kids lose the opportunity to learn from their parents’ experience in the work world.

When I was a teenager, my dad never talked about his work when he was at home.  He wanted to leave work at work, and I can appreciate that.  But it would have been helpful to hear the work world terms so that they would have become familiar when I was younger.  By hearing those different work terms at home, I would have had more of framework to figure out what I wanted to pursue eventually as a career.

Asking the Right Questioons

As parents, we should help our kids figure out their future career by asking them good questions.  We should try to find out what makes our kids tick.  And that involves asking open-ended questions to find out what they’re interested in.  But it also involves listening to them and understanding what’s important to them.

We should also make sure we’re asking the right questions.  Well-meaning people ask high school kids, “What do you want to do?”  That’s the wrong question.  The right question is “What problem do you want to solve?”  We should help them to develop a vision for the contribution they can make to society that allows them to incorporate their faith and their values.  That gets to the heart of their life purpose and points them in the right direction for a career path.

Developing a Real Plan

In high school, my plan was to get good grades so I could to a good college. Period. So I graduated sixth in my class and went off to the University of Virginia.  But I didn’t think a lot about what would come afterwards.  In fact, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I didn’t know what I needed to prepare for.

On the other hand, my high school best friend knew exactly what he wanted to do.  He went to a school that didn’t have a big name, but it was the best school in the field he wanted to go into.  And that set him up for success right out of college.

But going to the right college is not necessarily the answer.  Proactive planning is the answer.  We have to accept that our kids may not want to go to college.  Maybe they want to get some vocational training.  Or maybe they want to start a business.  But regardless, they will need to plan out where they want to go, so that they know what kind of preparation they need to get there.

To jump start our kids’ careers, internships and apprenticeships are the way to go.  That way we can give our kids exposure to a job or skill.  And that will help them gain credibility and set them up for success on their career path.  When I’m hiring someone, experience counts more than education in my mind.  I’m not so much interested in “Where did they go to school?” as I am in “What have they done?”  And I don’t care so much about “What do they know?” as I do about “What can they do?”

A Personal Example of Planning

When my oldest daughter was considering her college options, she wanted to go a non-traditional route. She told me at 14 that she wanted to do college online. Having gone to a bricks and mortar school, I had no idea what that would look like.  But I kept my eyes and ears open.

We came across a consultancy called College Plus that was started by a homeschool kid who graduated from college in six months with $5,000 in expenses.  They taught kids how to navigate the educational system to be able to get the degree they want, in the timeframe they want, with the least amount of expense.  And they could do it all online.  Now that got my attention.

So we enrolled my oldest daughter with College Plus. The first thing her coach did was help her plan out her life purpose, which helped her develop a career path.  Through that process, she realized she wanted to be an attorney.  She took CLEP tests for college credit at a local university and eventually transferred 66 credits into an online degree program.  She graduated this year Magna Cum Laude from Liberty University with a B.A. in paralegal studies, and now she is preparing to take the LSAT.  Her planning paid off.

How to Get Started

My best advice: Listen to your kids.  Pay attention to what interests them.  Encourage them to involve their faith and values in their decision making.  And keep a log of the statements they make about their career interests and more importantly of where they invest their time.  As they are trying to figure out their career direction, share with them your observations about their interests and abilities.  But be careful about how you tell them so that they will be open to what you say.

It is never too late to start parenting your child’s career.  But they have to know that you have your best interests at heart because, after all, it’s their life.  We should not live our lives vicariously through our kids.  But we can offer them the wisdom we’ve gleaned through our mistakes, so they can benefit from that experience as they start to live their own lives.


Robert McFarland is the Blogger-in-Chief at 

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