Teaching Kids About Dreams, Jobs and Dignity

 “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Adults love to ask this question of children and relish the answers we’re given.

We love to hear the originality and confidence children possess when saying they’re going to be an astronaut or doctor. Out of love for them, but also pride in the way it reflects upon us, we actively nurture our kids’ highest aspirations.  We want to believe our children can achieve anything. The bigger the goal, the more incredible the feat, the more our hearts yearn for its fulfillment.

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Encouraging our children to dream is one of parenting’s most beautiful endeavors.

But there’s another component to consider when talking with children about their career ambitions, and it warrants just as much cultivation as dream-building. This component may not be as romantic, but it’s intrinsic to many of the disparities facing our society and thus deserves to be equally emphasized.

We simply need to do a better job of teaching kids that all work, done with dignity, has value. All work, not just the coveted positions, is necessary to the world we live in. All people, no matter their occupations, are deserving of respect and appreciation.

The Messages We Give Our Children

When I was in high school, steeped in honors coursework, I was asked by a teacher during class to share what “I wanted to be.”

I told him I wanted to be a school bus driver.

His response was not a favorable one. I was lectured in front of my peers on how each one of us is called to “dream big” and use every ounce of our talent to pursue these  dreams. Otherwise, we were wasting our potential.

I wanted to be a school bus driver because I enjoyed driving. I liked the idea of taking children to and from school safely. I loved country roads and the idea of having a route in a rural county appealed. I was also from a low-income household and somewhat uncomfortable with the culture and assumptions that surround an “honors” education.

The teacher’s perspective seemed especially nonsensical to me later that afternoon as I stepped off the bus and said goodbye to the woman who had once again ensured I’d made it safely home from school.

Alas, I went off to college and never became a school bus driver.

Americans love a strong work ethic, but we also have a blatant hierarchy of “worthy” and “unworthy” jobs which consumes much of our discussion surrounding employment. This has caused a tragic cycle of injustice and heartache over what makes a person a worthy contributor to society.

There’s currently a great deal of frustration surrounding the disparity of work, the ability to make a living and the giving and receiving of respect. I’m not an economist or a sociologist, but the lack of dignity given to huge segments of our workforce seems central to our woes. How can we make changes and ensure our children grow up with genuine appreciation and respect for all those who make our society function?

Lessons in Work and Dignity

Millennials in particular are criticized for not wanting to take jobs considered menial or unglamorous. I have not found this to be the case. But even if were true, the irony that Millennials are faulted for having the very attitude perpetuated by so much of society cannot be lost.

Most of us heard at some point in our education that we’d be condemned to “flipping burgers for a living” if we didn’t apply ourselves – having a job flipping burgers being portrayed as a negative thing.

With the economic difficulties, I think we are at a crossroads. There’s a great deal of learning to be done, but we can use our experiences to be more intentional about fueling dreams and teaching our children the dignity of all work.

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As parents we can be intentional about stepping outside our niches and ensuring we have friendships and meaningful relationships with people from a diversity of occupational backgrounds. Exposing our children to this diversity will open their minds to new possibilities and drive home the point that no job is above or beneath them.

We can ensure that the quality of our interactions with others is not dependent on their job statuses. There are few things as painful to experience as a human treated as less important because of the type of service they are providing to society. Our kids need to see that their parents acknowledge the personhood of all. The person cleaning the doctor’s office is just as worthy of respect as the doctor doing the examination. The person serving our food is just as deserving of a sincere “hello” as the CEO dining at that establishment.

We need to debunk the myth of the “lazy poor.” It’s served as a convenient excuse to justify disparities in our society, but we all know deep down that the families working the hardest are often the ones getting paid the least. There is nothing “lazy” about a person holding down multiple part time jobs to put food on the table, or someone who is rolling up their sleeves and doing the job most are unwilling to perform. If a service is necessary for our society to function, but the person performing that service is not receiving a living wage, how can we teach our children that this is a just or sustainable situation?  

Fundamental to all of this is our openness to our children’s dreams, even if they diverge from our own. Perhaps we imagine our kids as Nobel Prize winning scientists. But they may not want to follow the course we have laid out for them. If we give children unconditional love and support, they will grow up reflecting these same virtues to all those who labor alongside them.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have dreams for my children. But the only one I’m really comfortable sharing with my children at this time is a hope that they will live their lives and do their work in a way that treats fairly of all those whose paths they cross.

Between you and me though, the kid who becomes a school bus driver may end up being my favorite.

How do you emphasize to your kiddos the respect due to all who work in our society?

 

 

A Woman for All Seasons

Join me in welcoming guest writer, Allison Aylward to the blog! A PhD candidate and new mom, Allison explores the birth pangs of early motherhood and her growing confidence to navigate the changes it brings.

I am a new mom, currently juggling the needs of my one year old son, my husband, and my PhD. My husband and I welcomed our son during the second year of my PhD; my Annual Progress Review was actually scheduled the day before my due date. Sweating out a progress review by panel (literally) at nine months pregnant was one of those life experiences I’ll never forget or not mine for laughs.

Prior to getting pregnant, or even as we woke up each morning, wondering if that would be the day I’d go into labour, I had not considered how I’d feel about my career path as a new mom. I had not considered the fact that I’d be pulled towards, and be completely satisfied with, a much more slowed down pace and direction for my professional life. As I approach the final stages of this PhD, my priorities are with my young son and my husband, and making sure my family’s needs are met. My desires for the trappings of an academic career have faded into the background, almost like a dream. Thanks to the wisdom of a kind friend, I now realize I’m simply moving into a different season in my life, and there will be other seasons in the future for new opportunities.

I struggled with accepting this while at the same time relishing the rebelliousness of this realization. Part of this discovery was a natural result of the PhD process. As an aspiring academic, I see academia for what it is – warts and all. Inside the ivory tower, all is not dusty old tomes, tweed jackets, and erudite conversations with leading scholars (though there is a bit of that!). It’s full of people who work incredibly hard, pushed beyond reasonable professional expectations, to deliver for the university and their students. It’s full of people who are expected to maintain a grueling research output schedule, while still handling a full teaching and administrative load that only increases each year. Academics work in uncertain conditions, knowing that their jobs could be ended without much notice.

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Allison finds parallels in the landscapes surrounding her home and her own life journey

As PhD candidates, we see all of this. And, in its own way, it’s useful. We are confronted with this reality and have to ask ourselves – do we want this for ourselves? Knowing what we know about the realities of academia in the 21st century, do we want to joint this relentless cycle of publishing, admin, grant writing, and if we are lucky, the odd bit of truly satisfying teaching and mentoring?

This process of professional planning was only compounded when I found out I was pregnant. We live in a society that tells women we can truly have it all, if we just ‘lean in.’ But, what society also tells us, is that if we don’t succeed in every single way at work, if we don’t embody the ultimate in domestic goddess, and if we don’t kill ourselves for our children’s well-being, then we’ve failed. Well, the truth is that no one can do this alone.

As a Type A person, recovering over-achiever in school, and having grown up in a very competitive area, I struggle with this dilemma. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this post-partum period. I actually can function on zero sleep and I have learned to make peace with clutter and laundry that was done and folded weeks ago, but never put away. A grimy bathroom doesn’t give me nightmares anymore. In a previous job, on one annual review, I was told I was a ‘pillar of patience’ when helping my colleagues learn to use a new filing system. I was amused, thinking if they only knew how short my fuse really was. Now, I own that title. I can handle a willful, angry, baby that is wrecked but doesn’t want to sleep and takes an hour to settle. I can get up again and again in the night, with a smile and a cuddle, because my son needs me. I accept that everything will take longer than it used to, and that’s ok. That’s just where my life is right now.

And it is in this current season of life, learning so much about myself, that I realised I don’t want to remain in the ivory tower. I don’t even know if I want an academic career. My priorities have shifted, my interests diverted. I know I want to continue working after the PhD is finished, but it’s not on the original path I had thought. And that is ok. Maybe later on in my life, but for now I am satisfied where I am. And in accepting this desire, I feel free. Free of the relentless pressure that society places on women, particularly mothers. Free to say that I am in the season of my life where my family takes priority. Perhaps later, in a different season, I will return to a more career focused outlook.

I want my son to see all of this. To see a mother that is confident in her choices in life; who can keep evolving and developing as she grows in years and experience. I hope that this inspires him to realise his own life will be made of seasons, and to weather their passing with confidence, just as is mother is weathering her own.

Many people experience liberation in letting go of the pressure to “have it all”. Have you experienced seasons in your life? How can children learn from these experiences?

Allison bio

Allison is a PhD candidate in the UK, researching the Colombian peace process. Her work focuses on confidence building and negotiations in the context of ongoing violence. She enjoys spending time with family, traveling, swimming, yoga, and writing. Brand new journals, full pots of coffee, and soul music make her happy. All opinions and thoughts expressed on this page are her own and not affiliated with any organisation.