Over the long weekend I spent some time pondering how to answer a message in a text conversation with a friend. I mentioned to her that my daughter, who graduated from a nursing program last year, had found a good job on the orthopedic floor of a local hospital after passing the licensing exam.

My friend, whose children are younger, replied “That is very exciting! I am going to feel sooooo good as a parent when my kids graduate college and then get their first real jobs. I imagine feeling like I’ve done something great and no longer need to worry.”

Somehow that sentiment, which of course is not at all unusual among parents in today’s world, sent my thoughts flying off in many directions at once. Yes, getting one’s kids through college and then into good jobs is indeed a reason to celebrate! But I wouldn’t say that it marks a sharp dividing line—or a finish line—where a parent’s job is done and there will never again be any worries. So many unpredictable things can happen, both in the workplace and in other areas of life.

And in a culture that measures success in terms of diplomas hanging on the wall and prestigious jobs, most people fall short. At present, there are nowhere near enough of those jobs to go around. It’s not snobbery that creates such demanding expectations. Rather, we worry that our kids will struggle through a hard life if they don’t get off to the best possible start, and we feel responsible for making sure that doesn’t happen.

Because most of today’s young workers will change jobs many times and perhaps change careers as well, a first good job does not have as much predictive value for lifelong success as it once had. So it’s not nearly as useful of a benchmark for judging what we have accomplished as parents, which is what prompted me to write this post in the first place!

I believe we can’t go too far wrong if we measure parenting success in terms of raising children of good character, just as our ancestors did. When I finally gave that reply to my friend after working through my thoughts, she agreed that raising kind responsible loving kids with creative curiosity and some ambition is all that is needed to feel that they might do well out there.

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