Michigan State University recently surveyed more than 700 employers seeking to hire recent college graduates. Almost one-third of the employers said parents had submitted resumés on their child’s behalf, some without informing the child. One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their son or daughter. Four per cent of respondents reported that a parent actually showed up for the candidate’s job interview.
Not you or me? Not ever?
It’s a slippery slope.
As a parent of two young (almost) adults, I am often forced by facts to admit that I do too much for them. How much is too much?
It’s too much when instead of launching they’re leaning — or when they lean on us more than is developmentally appropriate. Try this: compare how much your parents knew about your lives (and helped with it) when you were 18 or 21, with how far into your kids’ lives you are. Then ask yourself: Has the pendulum swung too far? Are we helping them grow … up?
All of which is partly why it’s great for young people to get camp jobs.
Working at camp is, for many adolescents, their first job. Certainly their first serious job — a real job with big responsibility, supervision and evaluations, room to grow and get promoted (or not), and children’s emotional and physical safety to safeguard. Working at camp teaches our young people — and us! — not to be the people in the Michigan State survey.
Parenting adolescents in launch-mode is, in some ways, as challenging as parenting toddlers. The challenges are profoundly different, which is why it’s so hard for us to make this transition in our parenting style. When they’re 17 our job is remembering the “wings” part of the “roots and wings” equation. It’s so hard to let go … to stand by and perhaps witness them mess up aspects of their first job or travel or school or independent living experiences … and to remember that there’s usually only one way to learn those lessons — and it’s not by having Mom do it for you.
As parents we’ve been so well trained by 17 years of parenting to do it for them. We are hard-wired to take care of them. Practice has made perfect (sort of).
We are neither trained nor ready to let them do it themselves, mess up some of the time and learn from it. This is much harder than changing a diaper, harder even than the homework wars — because it is painful to watch our beloved kids either risk failure or actually experience it — and a small dose of failure is their best teacher.
This parenting difficulty is much more about our intolerance for their (possible or actual) failure than it is about their needs. They need to go it on their own. Mostly they don’t ask us to ride in on our white chargers and do it for them. It is we who mount our trusted steeds and gallop into the fray, unbidden. And truly unneeded!
What they need from us at that stage of development is paws off. The greatest gift we can give them during their launching period is to trust that they can do it on their own — and that when they mess up, they will learn from their mistakes and do it better next time.
Parenting columnist Joanne Kates is an expert educator in the area of conflict mediation, self-esteem and anti-bullying, and she is the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park.