How adult children can tolerate parents’ unsolicited career advice, according to experts

Career transitions
(Luca Bravo/Unsplash)

By Mollie Rotmensch
Medill Reports

Financially independent adult children perhaps join The Great Resignation to freelance or become the next Bozo. Or, maybe The Great Return is a dealbreaker and they quit their current job for one with greater flexibility. Switching a profession or job is tough and can become more stressful if parents express their unsolicited opinions. Insofar as careers go, adult children and their parents can clash over something as seemingly innocuous as the job search.

A little over half, 55%, to be exact, of 18- to 29-year-olds said today’s young adults have more difficulty finding work than their parents did, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. The same study said 47% of parents 50 years or older with adult children in that age range disagree. Yikes.

Parents and adult children typically grow up in different eras, which can inform views and value systems, according to Dr. Linda Rubinowitz, senior therapist and assistant clinical professor of psychology with The Family Institute at Northwestern University. When they disagree on transitions, such as with careers, listening and managing individual expectations is key.

“Say a family has a small or mega business and want their child to take over so their legacy continues,” Rubinowitz said. “Maybe this isn’t their adult child’s goal. That can raise tension. The hope is they won’t cut off from each other because they have some differences.”

So how do adult children navigate parental wisdom (or, uhm, opinions …)? Here are some recommendations to keep the peace in an emotionally fraught time of change.

Talk to the back of the head
If parents’ commentary starts to overwhelm their adult children, they can consider a clever conversation starter involving chairs. The parents sit in the chairs facing away from their children, who then get to have the time of their life unloading to the back of their parents’ heads. “The parents then turn around and tell what they heard,” Rubinowitz said. “It lets (the adult children) know if (the parents) understood what was said. If not, (the adult children) help them.” But don’t think this technique is one-way. Children also sit in the chair and hear out the parents. Turnabout is fair play.

Start a ‘Do Not Discuss’ list
Hard-earned financial independence gives adult children the freedom to make their own career decisions. “If an (adult child) shares about their career, they might want the parents to hear it as an update, not as necessarily asking for feedback,” said Shemiah Derrick, a licensed clinical professional in private practice. Adult children can internalize feedback as judgment or criticism. If conversations about employment turn into arguments, adult children can add the topic to their ‘Do Not Discuss’ list, Derrick said. As in, children can veto talking about their career with their parents. The end.

Strap on the parents’ loafers
If parents’ emotional investment in their adult children’s careers sounds like an issue of power and control, rewind a little, please and thank you. “Sometimes they have their own career and workplace trauma,” Derrick said. “‘It was really hard to break into this industry because I was a woman, because I was a minority, and I don’t want that for my child.’ That’s entirely fair.” Try to remember parents also have lived experiences. Another reason parents might disavow a career switch: the fear adult children move back home, Derrick said. Parents are either living their golden years or that new life-chapter is fast approaching. Best not to blame them for this particular anxiety.

Channel Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal
Ah, yes, the Shaq-Kobe feud. DJ Watson, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Pinnacle Counseling, uses this competitive basketball analogy to help patients reframe approaches to tough conversations. “Try to treat each other like you’re on the same team,” Watson said. Parents might want some of the same things adult children potentially want for themselves: work-life balance and financial stability for the long-haul. “You might have different skillsets, different ways of getting to the goal, (but) both might be feasible. (You) have to remember you’re on the same team.”

In the end, parents probably want what they believe is best for their children. After all, they’re parents. And, face it, the possibility their children become just like them is pretty strong.

Mollie Rotmensch is a magazine graduate student at Medill. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.