It’s their parents. It’s also young men’s parents. In fact, according to new research commissioned by LinkedIn in celebration of LinkedIn Bring In Your Parents on November 5, nearly 70 percent of parents bow out of their adult children’s professional lives long before their kids want them to.
As a parent of four adult children myself, all I can say is, “Oh, the irony!”
After all, you spend about a decade – when your kids are roughly eight to 18 – leaning hard into their lives. You’re in their faces day and night, whether you work fulltime or not. Helping with homework. Checking out friends. Meeting with teachers. Counseling, cajoling, disciplining, encouraging.
During that whole decade, most kids are begging their parents to lean out. Way out. “I can do it myself.” “You don’t understand what it’s like.” “I’m old enough.” All the usual dismissive missiles, launched with increasing frequency as your kids age up through high school.
I will never forget the time I left my eldest son in a room with his computer and one last college essay to write, probably the twentieth we’d wrestled through together. He was a smart and talented high school senior at the time, wait-listed by his first choice for early decision, and spending Christmas break rushing to complete fifteen applications he thought he’d never have to do. As anyone who’s been through it knows, the college process does not seem to bring out the best in anyone. He and I were prime examples.
“By the time I return to this room, that essay better be done,” I warned.
An hour later, I opened the door. My son had a sly grin on his face, and when I walked behind him to see what he’d written, one word appeared on the screen.
That was eight years ago, and my primal scream is still reverberating through the streets of our hometown.
OK, a bit of exaggeration, but his “No” said it all. “Back off, Mom.”
Should I have? I’ll never know. Parenting is a one-shot deal per kid, no do-overs. I went on to helicopter parent his three younger siblings, with more or less the same level of resistance, and they’ve all turned out to be loving, productive adults, so either it’s a happy coincidence, or my form of parenting worked for them, intense as it might have been for all of us along the way.
But here’s the crazy thing, and it gets back to that LinkedIn research.
That “No” son — he ended up going to a fine school; his first choice did indeed accept him, once April rolled around. On a beautiful September day, we dropped him off, as the school choir serenaded the parents with “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Talk about a sob-fest. This was goodbye, I thought. I even remember telling him, “We’ve launched you. You’re ready now,” as if I was parting with an actual adult.
Over the next several years, I was to discover, through that son and my other children as they too went off to college, that college is when your kids need you more than ever. Social experiences are vastly more complicated and with steeply higher consequences. Same for academic choices. And summer internship decisions. And then, woah, there’s getting a job at the end of it, especially in an economy that is not particularly inviting for anyone without an engineering or computer science degree. (Mine have majors in poetry, music, history, and animal studies, God bless them.)
College made my kids clamor for me and my husband to lean in with advice and counsel, and after the shock wore off, we complied. In particular, they were worried about their careers, and shaping resumes that, with their majors, would help them find decent jobs once they graduated. But social situations brought their share of questions too.
Occasionally, my husband and I would look at each other and ask, “When does this stop?” but after awhile, we realized the stuff they were asking about was important. We both feared “helping our kids into helplessness,” as the saying goes, but since that didn’t seem to be happening – in fact, quite the opposite — why would we back off?
Now, I’m sure there are people who disagree with such a hands-on approach, and I’m also sure some of their reasons are sound. I get that. At a certain point, everyone needs to step out on his or her own, and take the lumps that involves. You love your kids, but you cannot make their mistakes for them, nor would you want to. Failure is often where the most learning occurs.
While our youngest has two more years of school to go, the oldest three of our kids have graduated, and all are undertaking professional pursuits they love. No surprise: unlike 70 percent of parents found by LinkedIn to be leaning out, and the 55 percent who say they don’t even really know what their kids do at work, we remain in the small minority who continue to ask questions and offer opinions. And not really about the content of their work – that’s their job, and none of our business – but more about their performance. Are they over-delivering? Are they team players? Are they learning from everyone? Do they feel as if they’re contributing? Are they being candid and authentic in all their relationships? Are they taking enough risk, or too much?
Maybe some would call this overkill.
We call it friendship. And if that’s what parenting becomes as your kids build their careers and, as the study shows, yearn for your companionship along the way, I’m happy to lean in. All the way.