Strained Credulity: The Career Counselor as Parent

by Ellen Weaver Paquette

"Mom, I want to be a television star when I grow up!"
"I'm going to be a vet, but I'm not going to put dogs to sleep."
"What do you mean I can't be a pro football player? Dad, wasn't I good when I played two years ago?


Few parents wish to dampen their child's career aspirations, but too often the initial choices of youngsters are unrealistic. Many potential options are portrayed by media or peers as "desirable" and information to the contrary, however realistic, is seen in a less favorable light. "Cool" is better than mundane at any price. Hence, the conflict between emotion laden career issues and decisions can serve to put a real pressure on the parent as career counselor. This "maelstrom at home", often acerbated by adolescence, can further serve to put pressure on the family unit as conflicting values are examined.

Parents As Observers

For the parent, a look into the rear view mirror may resurrect their own career ideas at a similar age. Reliving the past may produce "what if" statements and unfulfilled dreams of the parent and may serve to overshadow the individuality of the child/young adult living in the fast paced world of here and now. As a parent, the temptation to give advice lurks --often as a safety precaution or warning to the uninitiated. It has been the role of the parent to provide safety and security to their offspring while protecting them from harm until they were old enough to make their own choices. This temptation seems almost too much -- how easy it would be to dictate a choice, but how difficult to limit choices. However, the open response, "just do what makes you happy" is not always useful to a young person considering specific choices. Many look for a few guideposts along the way to happiness, wherever the location.

Often parents do know a great deal about their child's natural talents, if only through watching them for years. This visceral, unscientific method of observation when coupled with good career information may provide insights; the trick is to make these insights palatable to the listener. For children/young adults, doing anything but what their parents do for a living is acceptable. Too long have they heard the roars of discontent, the perceived grievances and the general angst that is commonplace in work related conversations. Today's Millennium generation sees the post industrial world as highly complex, international in scope and offering all the security of walking firmly on receding sand.

Counselors As Theory-based Practitioners

Counselor training prepared the practitioner to function as counselor, including applying knowledge of theory and research to the counseling relationship. Unlike trained counselors, most parent are unable to consider other influences on the career development of the offspring. For example, family values such as achievement, success, money, recognition, gender roles, level of education, socialization, competition, respect, and honor may be further strained by intergenerational acculturation into main stream North American culture. Gysbers, Heppner and Johnston (2003) offer clear insights into five key tenets of Western career guidance which may impact the family unit as future work choices are made. Family economic resources may not be available for all offspring to delay entry into the workplace, certainly not without the accrual of substantial debt for postsecondary training. Traditional rites of passage, such as marriage, maybe considered more important to the family than chasing a fuzzy (and possibly selfish) career dream.

Capuzzi and Stauffer (2006) as well as Gysbers, Heppner and Johnston (2003) offer insight into client resistance in career counseling. As many parents will attest to, adolescents experience considerable conflict in establishing their own individuality and are archetypal "resistant clients". Catastrophizing, fear of failure, zeteophobia, personalization and arbitrary interference are but a few areas of resistance that are a challenge to parent and career counselor.

The Dual Role of Parent and Counselor

Awareness of the complexities of the dual role is the first step in navigating this relationship. For the career counselor as parent, offering counsel or simply refuge may be a very important intervention. Providing a "listening post" for children/young adults as they sort out choices, however fanciful, may be a crucial intervention. The counselor as parent might be able to intercede during periods of undecidedness by refocusing upon the strengths and positive attributes of their offspring. Growing up means conquering new territories and establishing new identities which is well worth the journey.


Additional resources for the career counselor as parent include:

Career Coaching Your Kid: Guiding your Child through the Process of Career Development, 2nd. Ed, 2004.

How to Help your Child Land the Right Job Without Being a Pain in the Neck, 1993.

The Kids' College Almanac, 3rd ed. A First look at College, 2005.

Ellen Weaver is the Director of the Career Development Center at Rhode Island College. She is also a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) Master Trainer and Instructor, as well as a Master Career Development Professional (MCDP) and Master Career Counselor (MCC). She can be reached at Email: CareersbyEllen@gmail.com

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