4 Reasons Why Parents Sometimes Don’t Support Their Kid’s Dreams

So I stumbled on to the blog of Ian Ybarra, who edited and marketed an awesome networking book I’ve read called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I read his blog post called “Why Would Parents Do Anything Else?“:

“I get so angry when people tell me stuff like “It’s always been my dream to go to art school and paint, but my parents think it’s silly because I’ve already got a bachelor’s degree in engineering. So I really should get a master’s in engineering.”

Why do parents recommend to their own children such boring stuff they think is safe?

(emphasis added)

I really liked Ian’s gung ho attitude about doing what you love, but he seemed genuinely confused about why parents wouldn’t support their kids. So I sent him an email:


I’ve read some stuff in your blog. I like it. I got linked by the entry on 10 questions. I totally agree with most of your ideas about entrepreneurship and taking big risks. But it seems you are a litle confused by why parents wouldn’t just support their kids’ wild dreams. So, having ex-traditionally Chinese parents, and observing a lot of people at Stanford with parents like this, I’d like to offer some insights.

1) Parents don’t get much of the reward, but absorb a lot of the risk.

Paul Graham has talked about this. What happens when you move to LA to make it big in Hollywood. Your parents don’t get to go to the parties, meet tons of new people, acting in small roles, etc. They do have to deal with the risk of a broke, run down, crying and worse, coked-out child coming home to mom and dad when things don’t work out. That risk is a lot lower when someone becomes a doctor or biomedical engineer

2) Losing Face

Failure isn’t just a problem of taking care of your child. Its also dealing with questions of “what is junior doing these days?” It’s embarassing to have to say “oh, he’s staying at home while he looks for a new job”. Sure, this is shallow, but it is a real factor.

3) Not Wanting to See Your Child Hurt

Kill the dream early, so they won’t get hurt later on when they don’t get it. Yes, a terrible strategy, but one that actually happens. Parents tell their kids not to run across the street because they can’t bear to see their child get hit by a car. In the same way, they encourage kids to take the safe way in a career, in life.

4) Financial Concerns

Many parents, especially of the Asian community, rely on their children as their retirement. This is not a good thing, but it happens. They would rather their child be in a stable, corporate, big company job with benefits and a nice salary then off trying to start their own business. Because business man can better care for them and help them with their living expenses and health care costs. Again, I don’t support this, but it does happen.

There are more reasons, but I am out of time right now. Hopefully this has given you a little better understanding of why some parents might encourage the safe, instead risky but more likely to see big success, route.

He has some great responses. Read it here.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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  1. I think your 4 points are probably true for many parents. What I find more interesting is that most college students are dissuaded from pursuing what they desire most in life for the same reasons. Isn’t that much more problematic? You always have the choice, whether blessed by your parents or not, to make the risky (or foolish decision). We just like to think that those who ensured we didn’t make the dangerous decision in the past still have authority over us so we don’t have to face the fact that we don’t “possess the constitution, the depth of faith, to go as far as is needed”.

  2. You’re right, if a student is not motivated to pursue what they most desire, they will go nowhere. That is definitely most important. I was outlining what kind of challenges these students face even with proper motivation.

  3. With a degree in engineering it seems like the time to try painting. Creativity is needed in the sciences you & exploring that side could be an enhancement. Your points are good but there is another way to look at this issue.

  4. We all end up the same. Our peak of wisdom comes right before we die. 

    This is the only advice I can think of:
    • Spend 50% of your time pursuing happiness.
    • Spend the other half learning about money, because it will ruin everything.

  5. Joe Stone1 Currently spending most of my times aspring my dreams (aka Puruing happeness), but what are ways I can learn about money. via books? college courses? online videos? Could you please expand on the second point Joe, I would really appreciate it. Currently going to a college that is sucking me dry and my parents never taught me about money so this topic is something important to me.

  6. aruppani Joe Stone1

    My parents didn’t tell me anything, either, aruppani.  I think anyone can pursue any dream they choose if they understand some very basic concepts about money.  Dave Ramsey has some good beginner info. Lynda.com has good courses in personal finance. There are countless books on the subject.  

    The most fundamental advice I would offer is to always save money.

    1. Save:

    • Begin saving a percentage of your income as soon as possible. If you don’t think you make enough money to save, begin with just saving 1%. As you realize living on 99% isn’t much more challenging than living on 100%, ratchet up your savings to 2%, etc. 

    2.  Why:

    • Emergencies:  If you suddenly need money for an emergency, it’s usually better to use cash instead of a credit card. 

    • Freedom: The more money you have saved up, the bigger risks you can take, which can lead to greater opportunities.

    • Home:  You may want to buy a home one day.  You have to save up for that.  The money is not going to magically appear when you are ready to buy a house, you need to plan for it. 

    • Retirement:  There might come a day when you are too old to do much work, so get accustomed to saving money your entire life, just for retirement. 

    • Compounding interest:  Savings accounts, retirement funds, and the stock market often gain value as time goes on. The earlier you begin investing the more time your investments can gain interest.

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