I’m a career counselor. I help people make career transitions by assisting them on their journey for insight about their lives and careers. Where did things go right? Where did they go wrong? For 26 years, I have listened to people’s stories about their careers — starting with early childhood fantasies about what they wanted to be when they ‘grew up’; their choices for colleges and majors; first jobs and the time they were fired; when they started businesses; when they made choices to stay at home with their kids; when they felt successful; and, when they felt like frauds. As a mental health counselor, I engage my clients in a psychological exploration of factors that may impact career development and workplace dysfunction. We are such complicated beings and I won’t digress into the nature versus nurture question, but one thing is for sure, we are all shaped by our parents and our parent’s parents and their paths and choices, successes and failures. This is very evident when we look at our own patterns and choices, both with career success as well as career problems.
Take my own life, for instance. My mother was a psychotherapist and while I liked what she did, I didn’t want to ‘be her’. I wanted to find my own career. Instead of studying social work like my mother had, I went to school for counseling and organizational psychology, ultimately specializing in career development. When I started my private practice, I needed office space in New York City. My mother offered to share her office with me. Then, it struck me. Despite all my efforts to ‘be different’ from my mother, I literally ended up in her very chair! Those years where we worked with and alongside each other were wonderfully informative — we talked about the fascinating dynamic between mothers and daughters; despite daughters’ desires to be different and find their own way, they nonetheless had a compulsion to repeat their mothers’ footsteps. This led to twelve years of my mother and me running mother-daughter relationship workshops, throughout the tri-state area. Sometimes three generations of women from the same family would attend, all working on aspects of their relationship with each other. It was amazing, powerful, meaningful work. It came to an end when my mother lost her battle to ovarian cancer.
After a seven-year break from mother-daughter relationship issues, I started getting email inquiries about these issues again, asking if these workshops were still available. An increasing amount of women clients told me stories about their mothers and I started seeing interesting patterns. It all began crystalizing — women’s careers (problematic or not) are directly linked to their mothers! Maybe all of us were somewhat aware of that all along, but I began to think about how to use this idea as a counseling intervention, to help women work out their career problems.
So, what’s Mom still got to do with it?
Everything! When you start exploring family patterns, expectations, disappointments, legacies, role models, you can see how much women’s current career situations still have something to do with their mother. If you ever found yourself saying: “I want to be just like my mother”; “I’m never going to end up like my mom”; “I’m going to exceed her dreams”; “I’m raising my daughter the opposite way”; “Why do I feel guilty or wrong when I make different decisions?”, you might want to consider the fact that somewhere deep down, you are not acting for yourself, you are still reacting to your mother!
When women explore their career ‘sticking’ point, (i.e., they are underemployed, or in transition, or looking to go back to work when their kids are grown, or not getting along with women bosses, or stuck in a thankless job), looking through the mother-daughter lens can set them free to create their best selves. Interested in the topic? Have a good story to tell? Consider contributing to the research!
Thanks Mom, for being a role model, showing me the way, pointing me in the right direction and letting me navigate the rest for myself.