Last week, I wrote an article here on LiveMom about the career changes many of us go through when we become parents. I was struck by how few of the moms I heard from had planned how their job would integrate into their family lives when they started a family. Like me, they assumed it would all just work out. And why wouldn’t we? How could we possibly know what life would be like as parents when we were just kids?
I thought about how different the working world is now, when compared to past generations. How my grandfather worked for Gulf Oil for his entire career, and how my husband has worked at seven companies since we met. How I drive around Austin during the day and ask myself, What are all these people doing, running on the Hike and Bike Trail in the middle of the day? Shouldn’t they be working? And then I remind myself that I am also not working 9-5, and that because I’m running errands in the middle of the day, I will likely be working after my kid is in bed. How my husband and I are equal parts befuddled and jealous when a Parisian on an episode of House Hunters International decides to jump off the corporate ladder to start a cheese-making business in Nepal.
It’s also graduation season, which means my Facebook feed and email are picking up graduation addresses, full of advice for kids entering the “real world”. Although I am way past this stage of my life, I read them, wondering if there is anything I can apply to my own life (because I still don’t consider myself a grownup sometimes), and also curious about the observations these speakers make about the world these graduates are entering.
All of this, coupled with my own experience of still wondering what my next step for my career will be, led me to wonder: in the midst of all these changes in the workplace, how do we talk to our kids about what they want to be when they grow up?
When I ask the question, I don’t mean to give the impression that I grill my now-seven-year-old on where he will be attending college or test him on his multiplication tables so he can get in a good college. To the contrary, I embrace (mostly) his ability to live in the present, and not worry too much about the future. I try to reserve as much time as I can for his favorite activity: playing. I’m not planning to re-live my life through him, nor to encourage him to pursue what I see as a lucrative career.
What most parents really want for their children is to be happy, after all.
For some, work is a necessary evil and for others, it is a passion. And for many, something in between. When I think about the messages I want to send my son about what he wants to be when he grows up, here is what I came up with:
Do what you love. This sounds so obvious and so cliche, but it’s true. You can’t be happy if you are constantly looking at the clock, desperately waiting for “quittin’ time”. Yes, you need to find a way to make some kind of a living, but if you spend your working hours doing what you truly enjoy, you are less likely to worry about money and having enough to buy things, whether it’s a new car or some kind of electronic gadget. I still remember how, fresh out of college and even having to pay student loans in an expensive part of the country, my paychecks seemed so huge as compared to what I was making at my part-time college job at Baskin-Robbins.
You can change your mind. Life is not a straight line. Circumstances change. Your interests change. You may have liked a job as it was described during an interview, but realize when you start that it’s not a great fit. I’m glad I’m not a football play-by-play announcer, as I thought I might be when I was little, and when all the announcers were men. I must admit, I have probably learned more from my jobs about what I don’t want to do. You might need to take demotion to try something new, and that’s OK. Don’t be afraid of switching to a new job with steep learning curves, since it can take less time to get to the other side than you would imagine.
You can be many things when you grow up. I love the message that you can be anything when you grow up, but, really, how many people can be President of the United States, or a pro football player? I think I prefer telling my son that you can be many things, since that sends the message that you can do multiple things during your job career and it makes sure that kids feel they have the opportunities to explore many interests.
I also didn’t really know what a typical day would look like in whatever field I was considering, so I would certainly encourage my son to get some real-world work experience before starting a job, whether it means through an internship or by volunteering. As a kid, some jobs seem so glamorous, but it’s good to know ahead of time that almost every job has its mundane aspects.
Your work is not your life. I think this is what parenting has taught me the most. When I was working more than full time, I literally didn’t give myself time to stop and smell the roses. Every day after work, I had plans, and some nights I wouldn’t get home until my husband was in bed. After I had my son and was forced to slow down, I became not only a participant in the world, but also an observer. I noticed the snails inching their way across the sidewalk. I listened to the different birds chirping in my backyard. I paid attention to the color of the sky on our walks to school. My life was richer for it.
When I first stopped working, I remember feeling empty inside. So much of my identity was tied up in my work. As is the case with many stay at home moms, I had trouble feeling that what I was doing was valuable. As an extrovert, I missed being around adults.
Little by little, the hole inside of me grew smaller. My heart swelled, having the privilege of watching my little guy grow up. I spent more time at home than I ever had. I became motivated to eat healthier, so I tried out new recipes. I attempted some crafts. I found new ways to save money, knowing we would need to make things work on one income. I remember thinking I had embraced my inner June Cleaver.
When I started looking for work again, I remember sitting in interviews, and thinking that I was approaching them so much differently. I wondered if the answers I gave to questions sounded sincere. I wasn’t as enthusiastic in my responses, because now I was really searching for a job that fit this new life I wanted. One that made time for stomping in puddles in the backyard. One that motivated me to shut down the computer before all my emails were read. One that gave me time to enjoy the life I had spent thirty-some years creating.
I may never grow up, but I have learned some things along the way. Really, when I think about it, that’s all I can hope for my boy, too.
What do you think work will look like for our kids? What messages do you already tell your kids about your job? What do you hope they will be when they grow up?
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her newly-minted-7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]