It's great to brag about your children. I do it all the time. However, some parents are unable to resist the urge to think, advocate, and intervene for their sons and daughters. I’ve had mothers call in sick for their college age children: “Her temperature’s normal but I told her she should take a day to rest up.” I’ve had parents call to explain that Junior will be late today because, “We’ve had a lot of family issues lately.”
That might have worked in school but I’d have a hard time coming up with something more demeaning to a young person’s confidence or more intrusive in my business. Real world bosses have no time for excuses for poor performance, especially coming from parents of employees.
If you want to help, do not allow your kids to argue for their limitations. It will hold them back mentally and professionally. Saying you failed to complete your project on time because you’ve got ADD (attention deficit disorder) or you’re bipolar and lost your medicine, even if it’s true, will usually fall on deaf ears. I hear those and many similar excuses often. As politely as I can, I say, “I appreciate you sharing that with me. It must be tough. But I will not let you use that as an excuse for poor performance, ever.” And please don't blame your family. My newest favorite, "I will be late today because my mom made french toast."
No boss expects or wants employees to show up with broken arms that need setting or sweating out a high fever. Barring a legitimately disabling illness or injury, we’re interested in developing people who think and act professionally, and give their best efforts to their work.
So, Mom and Dad, here it is, from the horse’s mouth: treat your kids like helpless children and that’s how they’ll behave. Protect them from failure or criticism and you only make it worse for them when they inevitably do fail at something or get negative feedback, and you aren’t around to make it better. We know you mean well, but sometimes you’ve got to let them learn the hard way not to touch a hot stove.
When my two children, still in grade school, decided they wanted to get some cute baby chicks to raise, one of the images that popped into my head was my daughter sobbing her heart out—and breaking mine—while holding a lifeless ball of yellow fuzz in her hands. The laws of nature are immutable: some chicks won’t make it, and chickens don’t live very long.
It would have been easy to make some excuse why we couldn’t have chickens—dirty, unsuitable for the suburbs, the dog might kill them, they attract foxes that might carry rabies. But I would rather my children’s introduction to the fragility of life and to feelings of grief be over the death of a baby chicken than someone they love. My wife and I encouraged their interest and the chickens became part of our family, each one getting a funny name, and the ones that died getting a proper burial.
Your parental knowledge and instinct may tell you your son or daughter is making a career mistake, but you aren’t a fortune-teller and they have long lives ahead of them. Think about your own life and the lives of people you know who you consider to be successful. Opportunity knocks on its own schedule, often in unexpected places, and frequently after a series of failures. Make sure you give the loves of your lives the chance to explore and learn, even when you know the lessons will sometimes be painful.
(For more on the topic, check out Forbes contributor Kathy Caprino's blog, 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders.)
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by John Wasserman
Proceeds benefit Children's Dyslexia Centers