When it Comes to Making Career Choices, Let Your Child Do the Driving

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter just turned 15, and I want to start preparing her for the future. Specifically, I want to make sure that she’s on the right career path, whether than means going to college, trade school, or something else after she graduates high school. She’s only got a few years left, and I’m a little concerned that she doesn’t seem to have much direction. How do I steer her toward the right career choice?

A: As parents, we all want our kids to succeed in everything they do, from getting good grades to finding the right life partner to landing the perfect job. But parenthood is an ongoing lesson in the difference between control and influence. When our kids are young, we’re pretty much in control and we’ve got a huge amount of influence. As they get older, they take on more and more control over their own lives. We have influence, but a little less every day. And by the time they’re around your daughter’s age, we have almost no control at all, and whatever influence we still have is much more powerful if we wait until we’re asked to help rather than offering unsolicited advice (which a lot of teens and young adults will see as an attempt to control them anyway).

The big question is what’s motivating you to worry about your daughter’s future? Be honest here. Most parents who plan their children’s career choices mean well, but some subtly or not-so-subtly try to push the kids down paths they wish they would have taken themselves. The fact that you’re open to college, trade school, or other options is a good sign that you’re not trying to live your life through your daughter. But tread lightly when it comes to offering opinions. The more you push, the more resentful she’ll be—and the less likely she’ll be to do what you think is best for her. It’s her life. She’ll have to live with the choices she makes. Fortunately, she’s young, so if those choices don’t work out, she’s got plenty of time to make new ones.

Okay, here’s a dirty little secret: Whether—or in which direction—you push your daughter, won’t matter much in the long run. How many adults do you know who are working in the same job they started when they finished school? Most of us jump from job to job, career to career, endlessly searching for that perfect fit, a new challenge, or something else. Your daughter will most likely do the same thing, working in one career until it’s no longer interesting or she can’t advance any higher, then it’ll be time for a change. That might sound unstable to you, but it’ll help your daughter grow as a person, learn new skills, and keep moving forward.

Instead of trying to steer your daughter towards something, why not see where her own internal GPS is guiding her? What’s she interested in, passionate about, good at? The old adage that if you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life, is dead right. Sure, a nice paycheck is a great thing, but if what you have to do to earn that paycheck stifles your creativity, crushes your soul, and makes you miserable, what’s the point? So rather then set your daughter on some particular path, help her find the one she’s meant to be on. Then, stand back and watch her soar.