As students come of age and move through different checkpoints in life, parents and adults love to ask the same questions, “Where are you going to college? What are you going to study? What are you going to do when you graduate?” The expectations implied through these questions eventually shape the way students behave and make decisions in their life, driving them to follow a path designed by others, not by themselves.
It is difficult to decipher what aspirations are from parental influences and personal ones, according to Dagny Donohue, a senior biology major.
“Oftentimes I don’t know if my goals and aspirations are actually my goals and aspirations or if they’re influenced by what other people have wanted for me,” Donohue said.
Maria L. La Ganga, a staff reporter for the Washington Post, wrote an article in April 1990 called “Parental Influence on Career Paths,” which highlights potential detrimental effects of parental pressure.
There is a “lifelong diet of career advice” that parents feed their children, according to La Ganga in her Washington Post article. This parental advice can have strong effects on how their child chooses a career, which can lead to unstable mental health and job burnout.
“[Parental career advice] affects doctors who would rather be actors, lawyers who really want to write novels and accountants who dream of putting out forest fires,” La Ganga said.
Westminster students like Donohue face the challenge of pleasing themselves, but also those who have supported them throughout their college career.
Donohue spent her summer in Anchorage, Alaska working as a bartender and living with her relatives. Her inspiration to move for the summer was simple: experience a new place and meet new people.
“If the world were perfect, after I graduate I would literally just move to Thailand or something,” Donohue said.
“[My parents] helped me get through school,” Donohue said. “For me it would almost be rude to [them to do whatever I want.] But it would be a really cool thing, you know. It’s so hard.”
La Ganga highlights the experience of former college student, Loretta Foxman, in her article.
Foxman, who was President of Cambridge Human Resource Group in the 90’s, when “Parental Influence on Career Paths” was written, came from a family with high expectations.
“‘You play your parents’ tapes in your head over and over… [Parents] are putting their own values into what [their children] should do,’” Foxman said. “‘If a child reads that you are pushing [them, they’ll] rebel.’”
While rebellion isn’t necessarily on Donohue’s mind, she said her parent’s advice can be stressful to try to appease and compromise with her personal desires.
“It’s so mind boggling to me that [graduating in four years and going straight into a career] is the norm,” Donohue said. “For some reason society has made us believe that if you don’t do that, you’re somehow behind. But for what? What’s the timeline, why is there such a rush?”
Luckily, students’ skills and values will typically outshine parental advice, according to La Ganga, but she says that doesn’t mean that their skills and values haven’t been influenced by their parents.
“The influence of parents can be profound,” La Ganga said. “There is, after all, such a thing as good advice and parents often give it. But it’s tough to figure out what good advice is and even tougher to give it in the right doses.”
While Donohue speaks of her personal struggles to manage parental pressures on her career, she still hasn’t lost sight of the control she has over her life path.
“Obviously we have the power to get what we want out of our lives,” Donohue said. “We are capable of making those decisions of what we want our lives to be.”