HOW MUCH SHOULD WE SUPPORT OUR CHILDREN?

“Maxwell, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a chef, a doctor, and a firefighter.”

I miss the days when the sky was the limit; days when I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. At various times during my childhood I wanted to be an opera singer, architect, doctor, probation officer, and a lawyer. I distinctly recall a conversation I had with a teacher who, upon hearing I wanted to be an attorney, discouraged me because (according to her) there were too many attorneys. She was the teacher, I figured she knew everything, so I stopped listing “attorney” as my career goal. One by one, each of my aspirations fell to the wayside: I hate math, so architecture wasn’t a good fit; needles terrify me, so a career in medicine wasn’t a good idea; and I am easily frightened, so being a probation officer didn’t seem ideal.

I didn’t revisit becoming an attorney until I took a class that required me to shadow a public defender for a semester. That experience convinced me that I was destined to defend the unjustly accused…clearly God had different plans; I started my legal career as a prosecutor.

As I listen to Max excitedly rattle off his career aspirations, various thoughts cross my mind: “Does he really want to be a chef, or does he just realize the quickest way to obtain chicken nuggets is to make them himself? Does he really want to be a doctor, or does he simply like the idea of administering “pokers” to other kids? Does he really want to be a firefighter, or does he only want to slide down the ladder?”

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I’m very cautious about discouraging Max from pursuing his career goals…Poor thing is going to be so tired running from the firehouse to the restaurant and then to the hospital. As parents, we have the unique opportunity to guide our children toward fulfilling careers that they absolutely love. We can instill in them the kind of confidence that makes them think the proverbial glass ceiling is made of saran wrap. Simultaneously, we can quash their dreams with unfettered criticism. The trick is balancing encouragement with a healthy dose of reality.

I think it is important to have open and honest dialogues with our children about what we perceive to be their strengths and weaknesses. We should acknowledge when we notice they are particularly good at something and encourage them to spend time exploring those talents. We should also gently nudge them toward alternatives when we observe unrealistic aspirations; I am sure my brutally honest dad encouraged me to only share my opera talents with the amazingly supportive audience found in the shower.

I also think exposure is key to helping our children excel. We must expose them to all kinds of careers; Utilize family outings as opportunities to discuss the various jobs that make museums, zoos and amusement parks possible. I recognize there are certain professions that I may have liked and excelled in-but didn’t pursue because I simply didn’t know they existed.

What do you think? Should we encourage our children to do whatever they desire even though we are aware of their limitations?

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4 thoughts on “HOW MUCH SHOULD WE SUPPORT OUR CHILDREN?

  1. You should write an editorial for the local newspaper, really! Your articles are always so well written & pulls your audience in. I remember, I wanted to be an investment banker or a lawyer, that’s all I talked about growing up & I wanted to live in New York City working on Wall Street (that’s why investment banker), no one ever discouraged me but as I entered college & took my first accounting course I fell in love! Then after having my twins in college I changed my major to accounting & no longer thought of being a lawyer because I knew I needed to make money sooner than later. As a parent of 3 sons, all of which are very different, I encourage them to be anything they want, however, I’m conscious of my twins being born prematurely & with challenges. So, I inform them about the learning aspect of the careers they want to be & ask if they are willing to do the work necessary to really make a living in that career. I encourage them according to their personalities of what careers I see them doing well in. So they can make informed choices. I try to bring them around people in those careers & let them know the other career choices in that field. I just hope whatever they choose to do, they find a sense of fulfilment in it.

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  2. Sandy, thanks so much for the encouragement. I hope your boys find careers that they love. They are lucky to have such a supportive mom! I can relate to your story. I went to college wanting to be a social worker and then grad school hoping to be a probation officer. As stated in the post I changed to the law based on a graduate school class. The sad thing is I don’t love what I do. In fact I realized that in law school but by then I had invested time and money and didn’t want to be perceived as a quitter. I’ve been a practicing attorney for 12 years and there are still days I wish I would have chosen something else. Perhaps that is why I enjoy blogging.

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  3. Right now, Fayth wants to be a hair & nail doer and Alix… a model. Because I’m a Professional School Counselor, I know that crushing these dreams could be detrimental to their little confidence. Therefore, I handle it the same way I do my students that have professional athlete aspirations… ok, so what’s your Plan B?

    I don’t know WHY I still went to Hampton thinking I was going to be a pediatrician after volunteering in the neonatal unit at Michael Reese in HS. I came home in tears everyday. College chemistry gave me that final reality check. My professional opinion is that it is okay to let children explore all of the possibilities and as they get older, reality will begin to set in.

    After we came back off of winter break, I had my Seniors explore the job prospect of their current career choices in the next 5 years. The also explored the actual duties & responsibilities of their chosen profession. After that… some of them have flipped to Plan B. Now my question, what’s your Plan C? Lol

    I love your blog Camile! I admire you for making time to follow your passions.

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