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Guest Posting: Parents… Why You MUST Feed Your Kid A “Reality Sandwich”

I read with great interest, Rene’s piece called, Parents: 5 Ways Not To Raise A Spoiled Brat! As a university professor, I spend a great deal of time trying to feed reality sandwiches to these kids. They are scared to death to apply for jobs; they’ve never had to do anything so important without mommy and/or daddy running blocks for them.

We had a senior a year or so ago who was shocked, as was her mother, when a job offer was withdrawn because Mommy attempted to negotiate the final deal on behalf of Baby Girl. Really? Are you of this earth, mom? This is the toughest job market in ages and playing the game effectively is essential. Mommy and daddy are not allowed on the playing field, whether they like it or not.

These issues have grown to the point that I decided to devote part of the last course for my seniors specifically to the job search. Students are each are required to submit online resumes to the campus career center, go to that center’s training sessions (including, among other things, an etiquette dinner), create and post an online portfolio, create and post a video resume, bring to class and discuss/dissect job listings for positions they want–getting feedback and support from classmates who know them well from two years of classes and teamwork together, and they are required actually to apply for multiple jobs and report back on the results throughout the semester.

The results for the first two years blew me away. Last year, that class’ full-time employment rate was 50% higher than the national average six weeks after graduation. This year, every student graduating in May had at least one full-time job offer before they received their diplomas. All they needed was guidance and confidence that they can do it—without parental interference.

To paraphrase an old Bible lesson, parents need to stop handing their children fish sticks and start teaching them to fish for themselves.

They also need to stop letting those kids camp out endlessly on the family dole after graduation.

My own college student faced a horrendous 2001 job market and was intimidated to search for a job. I fed that kid reality sandwiches until she couldn’t wait to get a job and get out of my house–and ten years later, having owned her own home since she was 27, she repeatedly thanks me for it.

Before she graduated from Texas Christian University and moved back into my home, we had a meeting to discuss the ground rules:

1) She now was my roommate and must treat me the way she had expected her college roommates to treat her. If she did not do so, she would have to find another roommate.

2) She had three months of living free in my home, during which she must work full time (at least 40 hours each week) making job applications and going on interviews.  If she did not do so, she would have to find another roommate.

3) She was responsible for cleaning up her own messes, leaving shared living areas in the same condition as she found them, and cleaning her own living area. If she did not do so, she would have to find another roommate.

4) After the three months were up, she would be responsible for paying her own car insurance, buying her own groceries, cooking her own meals, and paying the difference in household expenses caused by her living in the house (I calculated the percentage of difference for each utility bill, based on actual costs before and after she moved in). If she did not do so, she would have to find another roommate.

5) We would have a status meeting at the end of each month.

After a couple of weeks, she had not done much in the way of job hunting and I reminded her of the rules and told her she needed to kick into gear or start looking for another roommate. She said she couldn’t move in with someone else if she didn’t have a job. I responded that she also couldn’t continue living with me if she didn’t get a job. She started seriously job hunting and I helped her in any way she needed, including buying her an interview wardrobe, helping her organize her resume more effectively, and going through job listing she picked to help her translate the jargon into what they really wanted from applicants.

She went on interviews, but was disappointed that her dream job was not materializing. Reality sandwich was on the menu, again: You don’t get your dream job straight out of college. You get your foot in the door with the kind of organization where you can work your way into your dream job. And you will get a job or you will move out of this house.

At the end of month two, I gave her the list of expenses she would be responsible for in 30 days. She said she couldn’t promise to have a job in 30 days; I responded that I didn’t care if she waited tables or worked at Six Flags (her pre-college job) at night while she went on interviews during the day, she would cover her own costs or she would move out. That did it. She finally was receptive to a serious conversation about the effects of a recessionary job market on the fashion industry, her skill sets, and her employment goals. She agreed to apply for contract jobs, as well as full-time positions, to expand her chances for getting the requisite experience needed beyond her internship—excellent as it was, fashion trending and launching the initial women’s line for Kenneth Cole in NYC, it wasn’t enough to compete with experienced applicants.

By the beginning of month three, she had landed an extended contract with Fossil, which led to an extended contract with Toni & Guy. More than a year of working contract gigs gave her the experience required to land her first full-time design job with a boutique women’s line at Haggar. By the time the economy took its toll on boutiques and Haggar was forced to close that line, she landed a design job at the Cheerleading Company. I told her I always knew her fashion degree from TCU would pay off, but it never occurred to me that her cheerleading experience would, as well! And what better job security can there be in the fashion industry than designing for cheerleaders in Texas?

When health issues forced her to leave fashion a few years later (not unusual because breathing fabric fibers all day often leads to bronchial illness), she took seasonal furlough from the company and interned—for no pay—with this region’s NBC-Universal Artworks Studio to become a broadcast graphics designer. She then free-lanced for that studio until she worked her way into the full-time position she has held for the past few years.

As parents, our responsibility is to teach our children to fend for themselves in the real world, not spend our lives running interference for them. Our role is to mentor our children into independent, contributing members of society who can manage their personal and professional lives without running to us every time they hit a snag—not dependent, depleting members of our households who cannot function without our constant supervision.

That’s my story; I’d love to hear yours. What did you do to help your child transition from home to the working world? How successful were you? Would you have done anything differently?

More from GEM:

What Makes A Marriage Work? THIS!

Field of Dreams: Church, Little League and Lessons in Equality

Life Lessons: Shelby Alexander Griggs


Dr. Gay Wakefield is associate professor of and area coordinator for the Public Relations & Event Management in the Department of Communication Studies at Tarleton State University, where she also is director of assessment for the university. Dr. Wakefield previously spent a decade as director of the Center for Professional Communication in TCU’s Neeley School of Business. Her professional practice has included director of PR and advertising for the Hyatt Regency Dallas/Reunion Tower/Union Station complex, writer for a major full-service agency in Dallas, and instructor for the U.S. Department of Defense Information School. Dr. Wakefield has dozens of PR publications and presentations to her credit, has been named an Honored Member of Strathmore’s Who’s Who Registry of Business Leaders, and was proclaimed an International Woman of the Year.








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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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