How Much is Too Much Parental Guidance?

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

Graduation season is upon us. Bring on the cured meats, dinner rolls, deli salads and sheet cakes. Glad-handing graduates is always a good time. Plus, there’s no need to cook on open house days.

But as I stuff envelopes with overpriced and unoriginal greeting cards and bits o’ cash, (what is the going rate for grad gifts anyway?) the hubs and I find ourselves in a looping conversation about where to send our kids to college.

It seems adults tend to project their own experiences onto their offspring and it’s no different with us. For me, having lacked guidance and financial support during that stage of my life, I’ve always felt a bit short-changed of education opportunities afforded to upper-middle class students. Plus, when I was in high school, the college test prep and application process had yet to become an extreme sport for American parents. But either way you shake it, I’ve dreamed that my kids would receive what I lacked–access to the highest levels of academia. But I’m unsure how to get them there. I don’t micro-manage or even check up on their homework. But I have mastered the stern, eyebrow lifted look of disapproval at any lack-luster grades. And our kids are at least bright enough to understand their parents’ expectations regarding academic achievement and try to avoid “the look”.

But the hubs and I diverge when it comes to my hero-worship of well-branded institutions. He sees little incentive to pay big bucks so that our kids can have a well-recognized name stamped on their degree. Maybe he’s right.

But the hubs is also extremely cautious of steering our kids toward any particular degree or career choice. One of our boys excels in math and science. So I figure–since the world seems to be clamoring for brainy math and science types–that it’s wholly appropriate to chat him up about possibilities in the realm of engineering. I’ve poked around online for engineering school rankings and once signed the boy up for a career day at 3M–a math and sciencey type employer in our own backyard.

But the hubs is concerned that we might be pigeon-holing our son too early. That a high school freshman who shrugs whenever you ask about his “passion” is too young to know what he wants to be when he grows up. The fear is that without a burning desire to pursue any particular career, kids will just do as parents say and potentially end up stuck in a job they hate; bored and burned out. (Ahem, projecting our own experiences?)

On the flip side, our middle school son is an artsy people person. He has on occasion said he’d maybe like to be a schoolteacher or even a pastor when he grows up. Prepare to shake your frowning face and say “tsk-tsk” when you discover that I’ve nay-sayed both of these vocations. Why? Because I fear a lack of job satisfaction, job security and low income. (Gah! Projecting fear based on my experiences with being broke.)

What I’ve said to the younger son is likely worse than what I’ve said to the older one. Unless you believe a child with some idea what they want to do with their life won’t really listen to reason anyway. Plus the hubs, with his always irritating and irreverent logic, reminded me that becoming a pastor is a calling and is not something I’m likely to wholly negate with concerns about financial stability. His concern is more about kids who don’t have specific ideas. Kids who might aimlessly follow their parents’ advice and later blame them for any potential unhappiness. (Or credit them for success? I know. I know. Shame on me. Blah blah.)

Okay. So I am reminded of a friend’s struggle with this issue. She’s the mother of children exponentially more brilliant than my own. One of her brainy kids once said they wanted to be a schoolteacher. She scoffed at the notion since her then soon-to-be high school graduate was accepted into a prestigious smarty-pants college science program surely more suited to her child’s potential. But that didn’t last long. What followed was a couple of years in community college and low-skilled employment until these exasperated parents inquired about their twenty-something’s plans for the future. Welp, guess what? The kid sheepishly admitted to still wanting to be a schoolteacher. And God bless those parents for coming around to support that decision.

You see, this parenting thing is a learn by doing endeavor. And most of us really are trying our best. And that’s good because our children need our guidance and wisdom lest they cleave to the notion of becoming professional video game designers or athletes. Oh hush, it’s unlikely your kid will become a professional athlete. Just sayin’.

But how do we balance parental guidance with our children’s self-discovery? How willing are we to trust that our kids will be alright? I suppose it begins with recognizing that we are doing alright. We made it through. And if we’ve laid the proper groundwork, so will the next generation. Some will discover their passion. Others will stumble into a suitable vocation. And college is simply a step along that path. It’s not an end of the line–a win or lose gamble. So let’s all try to relax. Or at least help me try to relax.

Kudos to your graduate! May they navigate their next steps with guidance more divine than mine.

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13 thoughts on “How Much is Too Much Parental Guidance?

  1. Donna Trump says:

    You and I have talked a lot about this, Angela, but I’ll write it for these pages and the ages: college choice seems like a big decision but in the scheme of things it’s not. Let your kid decide, within your financial parameters. Lately, seeing the trouble some nieces and nephews have gotten into re: debt, I would also add that parents NOT support (i.e., withdraw all financial support for) a decision to go to a private school if it means real-life unmanageable debt for their kid (and I’m NEVER in favor of parent’s taking on their kid’s college debt.)

  2. Gail Maset says:

    Hi Angela!
    I actually am a teacher, and all three of my daughters are teachers as well. I think they saw/learned what a great Moms job it. Of course they all have there Masters degree as well, and teach in the public school system. So, after thirty years of teaching in the parochial system they all make more money than I do. I like to say I’m not in it for the income, it the outc

    • God Bless You Gail for sure! Teaching is certainly an admirable profession and one that is not nearly valued or paid enough. And therein lies my concern. But then, I suppose teaching can be as much a calling as shepherding. May my kiddos be spirit led to professions that benefit the world, satisfy their souls and for Pete’s sake, pays the bills. 😉
      SO good to meet you too! And I truly appreciate my blog readers. So thanks for reading and commenting.
      Have a great summer!

  3. I love Donna’s two cents, and glad to hear it because my husband is in major agreement that private college is not worth the debt. (Meanwhile, I went to one, which my parents paid for, so I feel a bit guilty–or something.) I would love to go to college now. It’s wasted on the young. That’s what I think.

    I remember when my parents were not too thrilled that after four years at that pricey school I wanted to be a . . . teacher. What I really wanted to be a was a writer, but that felt completely preposterous. So I did become an English teacher. And . . . now a writer. Though I could not really make a living as a writer without a husband who truly pays the mortgage. That might not be a popular thing to say, but it’s true.

    Sorry I just got way off topic and made it all about me. Oops.

    • Not to sound so completely last century, but I do think about raising sons who become men that can support a family.
      I would have never dreamed of being a writer at that age either, or a teacher for that matter. I wanted to wear a suit and carry a briefcase and play with the big boys. And that was fun for a while… 😉

    • Nina~ My family would have thought that being a writer or pursuing any future in the arts to be preposterous. Lots of folks in my hometown thought college was preposterous! Plus, after obtaining a business degree, working several years in the field of finance, and pursuing an MBA–I completely changed gears once we started having kids (topic for another blog post) So, even when I thought I had my future figured out, I changed my mind in middle age. (Like you, I have the privilege of not being responsible for the mortgage payment.) And the hubs has been wondering what his next career will be once our kiddos are grown and gone. I think I need to stop worrying about “wrong” and “right” college choices and trust that things will work out for my children. At least that’s my prayer.

  4. Donna Trump says:

    Not so really off-topic, Nina. I would have considered an English degree/early career as a writer but my parents wanted my 3 sisters and me to get college educations that led to reliable and well-paying jobs. Didn’t kill me, and it did make me financially independent, early on.

    • There’s something to be said for that Donna. Truly. I do appreciate knowing I can stand on my own two feet. But not gonna lie, I’m pleased as punch that I get to be a low-paid (for now) writer instead. 🙂

  5. This is a subject that has come up with my husband and I for our two sons – at the tender ages of almost-two and five. (Eep!) What my husband is seeing (he’s an engineer at a design and consulting firm, right now his specialty is designing the computer management systems for grocery stores, and before that it was designing the cold case layout and accompanying machinery) is a lack of good technical people in fields like the Refrigeration Technicians. Most of the really knowledgeable guys are in their 50s now, and there are very, very few intelligent, competent technicians to take their place.

    We’re planning to talk with our boys about the possibility of trade schools, is what I’m getting at. Once you’ve worked in the field long enough, you can hire on with an engineering firm as a consultant. True, you can’t stamp plans, but the men I know in my husband’s firm who have gone this route are very, very respected and have a great deal of knowledge. If they wanted to, they could sit for the P.E. (Professional Engineer test), but it’s really not needed. Also, there are so many free options for collegiate level education these days, that taking on college debt (unless it’s for a field that really requires a degree) is of questionable necessity. My husband and other younger men I know who went the traditional “engineering degree” route, wish that they had done field work first.

    • This is brilliant insight and something too few parents, in my opinion, are talking about. Thank you for sharing your husband’s experience as it broadens the conversation about what our children’s futures can look like.

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