What to do when your child doesn’t want to follow your career choice

How can parents accept that their children may not follow in their footsteps?

Should children be able to choose a career in which they’re happy or passionate? As parents, we consciously or unconsciously guide our children toward certain choices and away from others. But parental pressure on career choice is another matter, with parents expecting their children to choose a similar career because it’s familiar, lucrative, or a “safe” choice.

Many high school graduates base their career choices on what their parents do, and there’s a clear link between family influence and career choice. Facebook researchers have found that working as a nurse, scientist, or lawyer increases the likelihood that children will follow in your footsteps.

But what should you do if the idea of chef school appeals to your child more than law school you attended, for example? As a parent, you want the best for your child, and it’s true that as someone who has raised your child and experienced life, you’re going to know more than them about the world. All parents want the best for their children. And, of course, we want them to follow in our footsteps and succeed. But what if they don’t? Should parents have a role in career selection?

Put your concerns (and ego) aside for a moment and consider why you should support your child’s career choice.

Mind the generation gap

Most parents think they know what’s best for their kids, but there’s a generational difference. A parent may not be up to date on the latest employment trends. For example, you were probably encouraged by your parents to pursue a career that offers stability. However, with so many changes in the world of work, the days of a linear career are over. Companies have become flatter and less ladder-like, so advancement is less common. In addition, depending on the industry and region, companies are increasingly relying on outside contractors, temporary workers, and freelancers to fill their skills gaps.

Pursuing a career because of its perceived security is a thing of the past. And so is job “loyalty”. Your generation will typically work for four to five companies during your working lives. But a university graduate today may work for as many companies in the first ten years after graduation(1). Regardless of your child’s career choice, they’ll need to learn, reskill, and adapt constantly. Does the career you have in mind for them give them the space to do so?

Consider what jobs will be in demand

The rapid pace of technological change means that many of today’s skills and careers will become obsolete within a few years. A University of Oxford study concluded that nearly half of today’s jobs would be automated in the next 20 years. There’ll be an increase in positions that don’t exist today to meet new or growing needs, such as mitigating climate change or navigating the increased life expectancy of the world’s population.

For example, imagine a solar energy or wind turbine specialist job. There are predictions that there’ll be many other new roles too, for example AI psychologists, drone managers, and quantum data analysts. The number of health and wellness experts who can support an ageing population and keep people fit and healthy is also likely to increase.

Instead of focusing on current career options (including your own), open your mind to future-proof career options for your child.

Think about the skills recruiters look for in applicants

You may feel that the “math brain” or natural aptitude for statistics your child shares with you means they’re a natural fit to follow your career path. You did well with your career choice after all, right? But the world of work is constantly changing, and by the time your child is ready to enter the workforce, their stellar grades and college awards won’t necessarily get them the job you wanted them to have.

Employers look for more than just transferable skills, and in today’s recruitment process, they assess candidates differently. Psychometric tests are increasingly used as the first gatekeeper in the application process. Not only do they determine if the applicant has the right personality for the job, but employers also use the tests to look for passionate and motivated candidates. Your child may be stuck in an endless loop of unsuccessful interviews because they meet the right criteria on paper, but aren’t suited to the career they’ve chosen.

Rethink what success looks like

Culturally, we tend to place value on social status over personal happiness. If a child chooses a career that doesn’t provide a stable income but fufils them or gives them the balance they want, parents can feel like they’re underachieving. Which would you prefer: having a child who is successful in society’s view or one who is happy?

The reality is that this is your child’s journey, and there’s no need for you to play a role in career selection. It doesn’t matter if you approve of their career, lifestyle, or choice of a life partner. When your child becomes an adult, they need to take responsibility for their own life.

Be comfortable with your discomfort

Accept that your child won’t have all the answers to their career choice because much will depend on their mentors, work colleagues, and work. If you’re having an open conversation with your child about a career choice that’s different from yours, you’ve already done an excellent job in guiding them into being a young adult with emotional intelligence, conflict resolution skills, and resilience. They’ll make mistakes, no doubt, just as you did along your career path.

Final thoughts

We can’t let family influence on career choice be a burden for the next generation. Their career choices are up to them. However, we can support our children throughout the process and ensure they have access to opportunities. Part of supporting a child is ensuring they have all the information they need. When children choose careers that match their personalities and skills, they’ll usually be successful. Building a career takes time, energy, and money. Don’t let that go to waste.

Need help with a career choice for your child?

Today’s kids are faced with decisions about their career path very early, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right path. When that happens, it might be time to seek help, and career guidance is the next logical step. Career Fit can help your child discover the careers for which they’d be an ideal candidate, and then give personalised guidance on how to turn their passion into a career they love.