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Every once in a while a familiar article sweeps its way through the press. From whichever angle it’s coming, the premise is that children whose parents ‘don’t work’ are less likely to work when they grow up.
Although I know that the article is mainly referring to a demographic of which I am not part, it still makes me bristle and ask a thousand questions.
What is ‘work’?
Does work have to be paid, in order to make it worthwhile?
Why must we all do paid work?
What is the value of parenting?
What if the work of a stay-at-home parent is more visible to their children than if they were going out ‘to work’?
Last year my daughter came home from Nursery with a smiling photo of herself holding a chalkboard saying ‘Mummy’. Apparently, the teacher had asked them all what they wanted to be when they were older – and this was her answer.
I expect I should have felt honoured that my daughter had watched me at work and wanted to replicate.
But largely I felt like I’d let her down. Here was a sharp, articulate, opinionated, creative, funny and thoughtful little person, with a huge range of talents. Why was she not aspiring to ‘more’?
Later on, I was able to see the full display of children’s photos in the classroom, with all the chosen careers of a bunch of 4 year olds. They ranged from ‘cleaner’ to ‘teacher’ and ‘doctor’, with the odd ‘pirate’, my personal favourite. My daughter’s response, however, was in the minority.
Of course the irony was not lost on me, and within seconds I realised my double standards.
Here I was, having made a deliberate decision to break my paid career in order to raise our children myself, never feeling like I was wasting my education, intelligence or talents in doing the demanding job of crafting small people into becoming confident, happy, selfless members of society, shouting about the pros and pros of this lifestyle to anyone who would listen – and yet, for my own daughter, this same decision was apparently going to cause me a lifetime of disappointment.
The truth is, of course, that none of my children could ever be a disappointment to me – but, if I’m totally honest, then I would love them to discover exciting and satisfying careers – and motherhood just doesn’t seem to cut it.
Money is not my motivation, although it is for some. (My husband, a former student pastor, was always shocked at the number of students from apparently Christian homes whose parents were putting pressure on them to enter well-paid professions.)
For me, the career thing is about finding yourself, discovering what you’re good at, and learning how to contribute your gifts to society. I suppose that what it eventually comes down to is my need to know that I’ve passed on valuable talents to my children. They reflect me – in genes, in upbringing, in the experiences I’ve opened up for them. If they can’t do anything brilliant with this cocktail, then I’m frightened for what it says about me.
But if it’s ultimately about gifts and talents, why can’t I reconcile myself with the idea of my daughter (or my sons, for that matter) using their innate abilities to become wonderful parents, crafting the next generation as I’ve taken pride in crafting theirs?
Perhaps I’m actually more concerned with status than I’d like to let on.
Can you relate? Do you hope and pray your children find careers which fulfil and satisfy them? Do you long for them to achieve financial prosperity through their hard work? Or status and recognition in their field of expertise?
Would you be ever-so-slightly disappointed if ‘all’ they chose to do was a voluntary job, looking after young children or a sick partner? If they chose a low-paid job for a church or charity? If they went overseas and lived by faith?
Trusting God over status
Let’s try and pull out a few ideas which might help us overcome these unhealthy leanings towards our children’s careers:
- Read the gospels and allow yourself to be changed by them. I don’t need to tell you how unconcerned Jesus was with status. Listen, if my son was Jesus I’d be the proudest Mum alive – and yet he had no academic qualifications, no impressive CV, no management role, no salary. And he invested time in others who had little or no status when it came to their jobs. He also lost patience with those who were successful in the world’s eyes. What do we really want for our kids? Success with man or with Jesus? Success in this life or the next?
- Admit it’s your problem, not your child’s. This is huge. Say it out loud to God. Admit it, repent, ask for His help going forward.
- Confide any fears you have regarding your children’s future to a close Christian friend. Being accountable to one or two others is such a great model, found in Scripture, not least because it removes the blinkers in our own lives. As well as admitting your fears to God, admit them to your closest Christian friend so that they can pray for and with you about these issues too – they probably won’t disappear overnight, so we can do with all the help we can get.
- Pray, pray, pray that your children would become knowledgeable of, and confident in, the gifts God has given them as they grow older. Pray that they would end up in jobs which used these gifts. As we pray, God changes us, so I strongly believe that if we pray for what we know we should, then eventually we find ourselves praying for it because it is what we want. (Here’s a GREAT resource to help us parents to pray.)
- Spend some time with those you know who do ‘alternative’ careers – whether that’s something unpaid, or low-paid; a caring job or administrative role; something which the world does not deem ‘valuable’ enough to assign a salary to. Talk to them, listen to them, hang out with them – how do they see themselves? Why have they chosen this path? Are they any more or less satisfied? Do they crave money, power, responsibility and status? Opening our eyes to the varied ways in which people work will give us broader perspective as our kids grow and we help them navigate their own careers.
Your child is also God’s child. Like you, He wants the best for them. But unlike you, He created them and designed them to be the way they are.
If we would only learn to trust Him with our little people then we might discover all sorts of new definitions for ‘great career’.