Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My son is really struggling with work

The situation isn’t helped by your telling him what a genius he is all the time

Share

Dear Virginia,

My son is a very bright 21-year-old. He’s living at home, having got a good degree at university – but he can’t get a job. And he’s becoming lethargic, lacking in hope and very depressed. I’ve suggested he contact some people I know who are working in the area he wants to work in, but he says “things aren’t like that any more, Dad”, and refuses offers of help. At the moment, he’s stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s. I’ve said I’ll drive him anywhere, fund him if he wants to be an unpaid intern, do anything to help, but he simply refuses. How can I get him to see sense?

Yours sincerely,

Gerald

Virginia says...

In my experience, by the time children get to the age when they realise that to say “things aren’t like that any more” is total rubbish, they’re almost too old to take advantage of the career opportunities one is able to offer them. And by then, anyway, the parents’ contacts have long since moved on to other things.

But what you must emphasise to your son is that parents helping their children into jobs is a practice that has gone on since time immemorial. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. No doubt you, Gerald, were helped to get a job by your parents, and when your son has children he’ll be all for pulling strings to help them find work they enjoy.

I bet he thinks that this is some kind of class thing, that only upper- and middle-class people give their children helping hands. But he’s totally wrong. No outsider could ever get into the printers’ union when there were such things. Every job was earmarked for a printer’s son. Costermongers, miners – string-pulling went on in all walks of life. No doubt the Romans and the Greeks were pulling old Roman and Greek strings, and if we’re ever taken over by Martians, you’ll probably find the Martians pulling their own Martian strings to get their children ahead in whatever space race or new dimension is the latest thing.

I suspect your son’s “pride”, however apparently admirable, has nothing to do with real pride or strength of character but is actually connected with a deep insecurity. And that isn’t helped by your telling him what a genius he is all the time. He doesn’t need you to say it because he knows (and he’s right) that every parent thinks their child is the bee’s knees – the nicest, cleverest, most talented young person in the world. So in a way, your word counts for nothing. One “very good” from a stranger is worth a thousand “you’re a genius” comments from a parent.

What you must contrive to do is to get someone outside your immediate family to have a word with him and tell him what a talented bloke he is. A godfather; an old family friend – someone who can be relied on to be objective. Now, if someone like that could pull a string, I don’t think your son would mind so much taking up the offer. It’s not the string itself he doesn’t want pulled, it’s a string offered him by his old dad. How could he possibly accept a leg-up from the very person from whom he’s trying to become independent? I’m sure you could devise a way of quietly handing your strings to someone with less involvement in the family than you have. 

In the meantime, at least he’s stacking shelves. You should thank your lucky stars that your son doesn’t think this is “beneath” him in any way. And if he’s as pleasant and talented as you claim, someone at Sainsbury’s will soon be spotting him and encouraging him and offering him something better. And armed with that encouragement, encouragement from an disinterested party, he might feel much better equipped to accept help in future.

The sad truth is that it’s far easier to accept help when you’re on the way up than it is when you’re at the bottom, when help, since it comes from above, can often seem like charity and pity.

 

Readers say...

He needs your emotional support

I’m a “very bright” 21-year old and unemployed. You say your son can’t get a job, but he’s stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s, which at £6.81 per hour is better than most of the job listings I’ve seen on offer. He’s right – things aren’t the way they used to be, and he’s in the best place to see the way things are, so start by listening to him.

Your son has no experience, no confidence, not a lot of prospects and his sense of self-worth will be diminished. Being “very bright” doesn’t mean anything in this brave new world. If he’s refusing help, it’s because he wants to make it on his own merits. Don’t humiliate him by offering him a meeting with your friends in high places. I’m guessing he’ll be worried about the face he presents to them, and the way it will reflect on you.

The boy needs a direction in which to move, and a sense of confidence. Here is what you must do: offer emotional support. Ask him how he’s feeling. Remind him it’s OK not to know what he wants to do with his life. Talk it through, form a plan, and break everything down into little steps.

If he’s depressed, it might be worth looking up mental-health services in your area, but above all, let him know you have confidence in him, and that you won’t disapprove if he feels the need to hide under his duvet and despair for a while. If you seem to be on his back all the time, he’ll feel stressed and his confidence will be undermined. Let him decide what he needs to do, then give him only the guidance he needs to achieve it. I wish him all the best, but not too much of the best, because damn it, I’m a competitor in the job market, too!

Emily Marston, by email

 

Pull strings – everybody’s doing it

I experienced exactly the same situation after graduating in 1992. It is very demoralising, and galling to have to stack shelves when one has done what society asks, only to be cheated of one’s rightful reward. At least, that’s what it felt like at the time. My advice to him is to stay active by stacking shelves or flipping burgers or whatever else, and keep sending out those job applications. You should speak to anyone and everyone you know – everyone else is doing it. Get him an internship and send him to work – don’t give him the option of sitting at home.

Name and address supplied

Next week's dilemma

My mother has just died. She was only 60, and my children adored her. They’re very upset, too – they’re eight and 10 – but it’s so difficult because I try so hard to keep strong in front of them. But when they’re crying, it’s almost impossible not to show my grief, too. My sister insists it’s very important I don’t show them how upset I am, and my husband agrees, but another friend says I must show my grief because it’s only natural. I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I don’t cry, I just lose my temper with the kids and that’s even worse, I think. What do you think is best? I’m so confused.

Yours sincerely,

Bette 

What would you advise Bette to do? Write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemmas is published will receive will receive a box of Belgian Chocolates from funkyhampers.com

(twitter.com/funkyhampers)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent