TAKING YOUR CHILD ''NICHE'' HUNTING (WITHOUT GETTING AN ULCER)

"When I grow up, I want to be a fireman." "I'm going to be a policeman like my Uncle Frank." "I want to be a brain surgeon-- or if that's too hard, maybe a politician."

The innocence of childhood is a place where the line between dreams and reality is barely perceptible; where change is the only constant. And there are virtually no restrictions on desire, or ability. Clearly, the future seems present now. Then we become molded through years of selective reinforcement for various learning at home and at school, only to emerge more confused about the future!
As our youth reach their late teens and early twenties, especially as they finish college and graduate school education, these individuals-- and their parents-- are pre- occupied with one thought: What am I going to do to establish myself? Where will I get a job? Generally, parents are willing to help their children find a niche in life. However, by the time a youth is ready to pursue a career, the parent-child relationship contains long- established patterns of communication that are counter-productive to such a cooperative venture. Specifically, parents of young adults often relate judgmentally, authoritatively, protectively; and in some cases, indifferently. None of these qualities facilitates an accepting, productive collaboration.
To keep a child safe from hazards, to teach responsible behaviors or even certain social skills, it is often useful for a parent to assume an authoritative posture. To help a child find a job in which to feel fulfilled, a parent must change the way in which he or she relates to that child. Here are some suggestions:


  • Listen on the "outside". It is not uncommon for parents to pre-empt a conversations with their children, even when those children are seasoned adults. In this regard, a parent will often be "inside" talking to himself about what to say, then offer a solution even before the child has adequately described the problem. Listening carefully allows that parent to gather sufficient information to determine where the child is "going wrong", lacking direction, or otherwise having difficulty. An example will illustrate:   "Four years of college, and I still don't know what I want to do. So many choices-- what if I pick the wrong field?" "How would you know that? What would you like to be able to do or have as a result of taking any job?" "What do you mean? All I know is that I want to travel, live near a beach and make a lot of money." Invariably, some of that childhood innocence slips through. Time for the parent to sculpt this morass of muddled meaning into a clearly identifiable direction in which the child can move, resourcefully. "Good start! What strengths do you have? And what type of work would enable you to use them?" "I don't know-- I majored in art in college. I'm pretty good with computers, but I don't like programming. Before I changed my major, I took a lot of math and aced most of those courses." "Hmm...I wonder if there's a way you could combine art and math that would eventually become remunerative, involve travel and allow you to afford that beach house. Take some time and consider the possibilities. Then if you like, we can talk some more, okay?"

  • Assume the role of patient advisor..."Grasshopper." Rather than joining your child's state of panic concerning the pressing need to find a niche with an accompanying job, model the wisdom of calmly, clearly and thoroughly examining the situation. Offer comments that provide structure, yet are flexible enough to allow your child to make choices, resourcefully. In showing respect for the child's thought process, you are altering the more authoritarian, didactic parent-child dynamic in a useful way.
  • Beware of "tradition". Despite the fact that the last three generations have been doctors, or worked the dairy farm, filling traditional shoes can lead to difficulties maintaining a firm footing down the road when it comes to feeling confident and respected for making independent choices.