Grooming (Tale One)

I always seem to find out about tasks that I should be doing as a parent way too late.

Last December, Jonah returned from school for a month-long break. He spent the first three or four days mostly horizontal in bed. Which was FINE by me. Every college kid needs a bit of recovery after a long semester. Then there were the holidays and grandparents to entertain, so he was busy with family stuff.

After that, he had almost three weeks of nothing to do other than hang out with friends, go to the gym, and get in my way while I was doing my work. There wasn’t enough time to get a job. Maybe I yelled at him to clean his room or read a book, but it was mostly just downtime. I wasn’t terribly concerned though. I seem to remember that I spent my winter breaks from college being mostly slothful.

Turns out college kids around here don’t waste time anymore. Around the last week of that break, my friends starting asking me whether Jonah had used the break to find a summer internship or was taking a quick online class. Uh… what?

One friend told me that her daughter had used that time to line up interviews with alumni from her school. Every college now has a website of alumni who are open to giving students informational meetings. They host groups of students, tell them about their jobs, give tours, and then the students discretely leave their resumes on the worker’s desks with the hope — fingers crossed — that someone will call for an unpaid internship over the summer.

When I was in college, I worked as a secretary’s assistant in a local solenoid valve company. No, no, that’s not done any more. Your first job has to be at a fancy company in Manhattan. Jonah’s summers spent waiting tables are not resume-worthy. And in order to get those jobs, it’s necessary to pound the pavement all through January.

Now, I don’t mean to be judgy about kids getting internships and having a fully professional resume before they graduate from college. That’s just the new normal. But you know what was interesting about all those conversations with my friends? They all helped their kids with the task.

The parents found out about the alumni websites through the college’s parents newsletter. They told their kids to look on it. They helped them navigate the websites. They helped them create resumes. They nagged them to get out of bed and find an internship. They told them that they didn’t need a job to bring in spending money for school. The parents arranged the whole thing.

Grooming children to become UMC professionals is a Herculean task. It starts in utero and doesn’t end until the mid-20s. (This is just one tale. I have more.) How much of it is bullshit? I’m not sure. Maybe in ten years, I can line up Jonah with his friends – some have parents who are more clueless than we are and others have parents who actually read the parent newsletter — and see who’s successful and who’s happy (not necessarily the same thing.)

I’m a little suspicious about over-prepping kids for a career. I’m a huge believer in the benefits of downtime and exploration and random goofiness with friends. I think it’s good to be bored for a while. But do I believe in those values enough to let my kid sit on the sideline again next January break? Or will I also be surfing the God-damned alumni website for potential job prospects for my kid? I’m not sure.

13 thoughts on “Grooming (Tale One)

  1. You can help, but only if your kid takes the lead (and you can tell her/him that you expect them to take the lead). Kids who are managed thru life are the ones who get anxious. I actually think that my kids’ random HS and college (and post-college) jobs that were not with any impressive company or institution taught them a lot more. Being a roofer’s helper, selling beads in a bead store, helping people with disabilities navigate around, and many more — all very valuable. And they don’t work at impressive places now, either, but they are using their talents and happy.


  2. I wouldn’t worry that your son is behind. I’ve done those tours with current college students. I’ve never seen a student hired because of them. I personally think the value is in seeing real world jobs. I think they also function as a way to assuage parental anxiety.
    I do think your son might benefit from talking to someone at their school’s career center (assuming it’s decently run) about internship programs that recruit there. My company recruits interns that way.


  3. For your amusement:

    Parents now personally take the time to “G5” their children’s appointments, internships, and have been known to negotiate and strong-arm raises and promotions with their children’s bosses. They also have become personal travel agents for Junior and their friends, footing the bill for their dream five-star vacations well post-college. Such G5-ing renders the children prisoners to privilege and alternately gives the world’s most successful class a new title they can add to their illustrious resumes: Child Assistants! While G5 parents may genuinely think they are helping their progeny, a leading therapist summed it up: “They’re cutting their children off at the knees—and then they’ll never be able to walk alone.”


    1. But that’s not new, right? the very very wealthy have always provided that kind of support for their kids (and is (though not the only) reason whey generational wealth sometimes dissipates).


      1. I don’t know. I have a fondness for the genre of “unusual family situations.” An entertaining family history: _Dead End Gene Pool_.

        In my opinion, generational wealth generally dissipates due to:

        #s of heirs (as families grow, the wealth is divided between more people)
        expensive tastes
        concentration in fields about to go obsolete

        Also, difficulties in succession in family businesses. The family founders seem to be unusual people (generally), often shrewd, cold, daring and lucky. Those aren’t qualities that heirs possess to the same degree, or even at all. It’s an unusual family that admits that they need to hire professional managers for the family businesses. (And manages to find the right managers & pay them appropriately.)

        Shrewd, cold and lucky people don’t always choose a spouse to counterbalance their weaknesses. A friend once related the story of a friend who had to schedule appointments to see her father–as a child. That leaves traces on the psyche.

        The fortunes being made today are often made in tech or hedge funds. Neither field suffers fools gladly. They aren’t sinecures, and even a bright but not driven heir will wash out quickly (in my opinion).


      2. Not just the very wealthy. There was an article in the Yale Alumni Magazine about a year ago: an Asian neighborhood has apparently coalesced not too far from campus, composed of grandparents of Yale students who have clustered around to help and support their offspring. (The parents presumably have to work for a living.)


      3. That looks like the “expat grandparents” story? Pretty interesting. The grandparents appear to be there to support their adult children as they have children (i.e. the grandparents grandchildren). Not to support the college student grandchildren, I think. The phenomenon is very common in Asian communities (both in the US & in the countries of origin).

        But, I’ve noted it being fairly common in the US as well. There were several grandparents providing primary child care to children in my kids private school classes. Anna Quindlen has a new book out — “Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting” and there’s someone else with a grandparenting book (a journalist? I saw a column in the NYT or Washpost, but can’t remember who it was).


  4. My oldest has said that the post-college time, when she was working odd jobs and figuring out what she wanted to do, was a really valuable time in her life. Managing your child’s career doesn’t give him or her the space to grow up.

    It’s like the kids who are bassoon players in high school because they liked it in 4th grade. They’re not allowed to drop out of the band for other interests, like DECA or theater, because colleges might need bassoon players. A life spent catering to others’ decisions.

    And yeah the vacation thing seems real. I’ve run into families that make a habit of vacationing with adult children in glamorous locations (Christmas in Hawaii, skiing, Paris, etc.) Then again, the very, very wealthy are often older parents, not young parents. They’ve had enough time to realize that life is finite. It may be greedy to want to monopolize your adult children’s time, but it is human.


    1. “A life spent catering to others’ decisions.”

      That was the really dark sentiment of “How to raise an adult” that gets lost in all the discussions of learning how to do laundry. Kids need to learn to laundry. But it’s not a difficult skill. People can pick it up pretty easily. The skill of figuring out what you really want and what you need to do to get there and what you desire to do get there is much more difficult. Learning how to deal with setbacks and regroup, learning how to deal with people who don’t love you, those are the hard skills of being an adult.


      1. Yes, and I think it’s hard for parents of any generation to let their adult children do the necessary exploration. My parents stressed when I spent much of my 20s temping and traveling (I knew how to live on very little thanks to them). But I learned how to get along with all kinds of roommates, how to find jobs, and how to fix my mistakes.


  5. Back in the 80s, after my freshman year of college, my dad lined up an internship for me with a company he had contacts with. I (stupidly) wasn’t involved in getting it at all, and had no idea what I would be doing. Turned out it was a miserable job involving cold-calling places and asking them for information about their real estate for a survey we were doing. I hated the cold-calling so much that I would sit in the parking garage until the last possible minute every day. We got to do a few different things a little later in the summer related to compiling the data – this I liked. The supervisor was very nice. When I volunteered that I could type and enter data fast, and would be happy to work on that, she told me that was the sort of thing I should not admit to – if I could do secretarial work, I would have to do secretarial work.

    It was well-meaning advice, but the next year I took some initiative and signed up with Kelly Services, and spent the summer in various temp secretarial jobs. I was much happier there. Also when people have reached the point that they’re willing to hire a temp, usually there is a lot to do and they are extremely happy to have someone who will work hard and is capable. I did this for the next several years and even, years later, for one summer during grad school.

    I think these types of jobs were typical for my friends – restaurant jobs, secretarial jobs, even manufacturing. One of my friends who went on to get a PhD in engineering had a summer job that involved putting flowers on welcome mats.


    1. Yeah, I also don’t think that those internships matter at all two or three years down the line. Once you get your first real job, all those volunteer stuff is useless.

      I think that jobs are very helpful is giving young people a glimpse of a real job. It might let know what they absolutely have no interest in ever doing — like sales work. If an internship teaches a young person that lesson, that’s useful.


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