Parents’ influence on their college graduates

Dorie Fain
Dorie Fain is the founder and CEO of &Wealth, a boutique financial advisory firm dedicated to helping women who are recreating their lives, with offices in New York City and Baltimore.

Published 9/15/2019 in The Maryland Daily Record 

I often find myself in conversations advising college students and recent graduates about how to navigate the start of their career paths. These inquiries range from a parent’s insistence to a professor’s suggestion and sometimes from the individual by his or her own initiative. I’m often met with a shyness or resistance to engage with me. I have loved the way that young minds can be moved when they have no expectation of what they should do with their lives.

I have always felt this is a learning experience for me in that I gain the benefit of the inner thoughts and motivations of some who are much younger than me in how they share their thought process and approach about the pursuit of their careers.

Much has been written about the members of this young generation and their perceived work ethic, how they can be so delicate about really getting their hands dirty if they’re not digging into things that are their ideal passion or pursuit.

While I have seen some of this up close, I have actually found far more diligence from this group than I expected — certainly more than they receive credit for having. This has left me curious about the ways in which they struggle to get it right and how so much of their journey is rooted in expectation rather than in what they actually feel passionate about.

Strings attached

These expectations have been communicated in two different ways that really stand out. There are parents who make it very clear what is and is not acceptable for their graduate to pursue. There is at least one string if not many strings attached when parents have made a meaningful investment in their child’s education; this creates a sense of entitlement to what their child does with their reduced or debt-free education.

When these graduates want to exercise their independence by exploring jobs that aren’t highly compensated or prestigious or practical, a conflict ensues. This conflict is based in the parent’s perception of what they invested in and almost more so in the potential impact on them should things not work out. They view any financial shortfall as their problem to manage. Even more specifically, it is their financial burden to take on.

I have been so curious about why it would become the parent’s problem when their 20-something college- educated adult decides to take a job and create a lifestyle that turns out to be one they can’t afford. It occurs to me that it is the young adult’s choice, either to find a way to cover any income gap, to find a better-paying job or to make lifestyle compromises.

I don’t view this in any way as the parent’s problem to solve, other than to be a sounding board and to share advice and wisdom. The journey to adulthood is paved with these early decisions. Parents need to give young adults the independence to decide what works best for themselves.

Moving home

The other way that I observe this struggle is based in the confusion that young adults experience when parents suggest that after graduation they can move back home to save money. My response to this is simply – save money for what?

I do recognize that many young adults are leaving college saddled with significant debt to be repaid. The notion of living at home again to save on costs may be a necessary reality. That said, it is also true that young adults can manage their finances in such a way that living independently is affordable. They can move away from home after college and gain the experience of real life through how their decisions are informed about their careers.

It may surprise some parents to learn how conflicted their young adults feel about this well-intentioned suggestion to move home to save money. The suggestion creates a conflict for them; they feel that moving away or not living at home would disappoint their parents. This also put a higher priority on saving money than on being independent and using their 20s to explore the world and to learn about themselves, independent of their families and hometown.

I realize it is not without risk to write about parenting choices. It is such a personal decision. I am in no way judging what works for each family. As an employer, I do marvel at the ability of young adults to simply quit their full-time jobs with benefits and growth potential because their parents said they can move home. I now understand more fully how it may be more conflicted than I initially appreciated.

Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth