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Monday, June 13, 2011

Giving Kids Choices

Are you giving your kids a choice for their future?

My parents are in their eighties. When they were married in the 1940s, it wasn't unusual at that time for a wife to give up work and become a housewife after marriage. It was then hoped, not long after the 'I dos' were spoken, that the good news of a child's imminent arrival would be announced.

My own mother was no exception. She left her job at the local milk bar in country Western Australia when she married my father, and never looked back. Her dream was always to stay at home with her children, and she did. She never 'worked' another day in her life.

Growing up, I had the same dream. From as early on as I can remember, I wanted to get married, have children and become a stay at home mum. I'm still glad that was my decision. However, I can't help but wonder some times: was it really my choice?

I want to preface this post by saying I am not blaming my parents for anything. I believe they only wanted for me what they thought was best, and would make me happiest - because the same thing made them so happy: a family life. I also think, had I gone to them at some stage and said, "I want to start my own business," or, "I want to do a writing course when I finish school," that they would have supported that too.

It's just that, I don't recall my parents ever suggesting a career for my future. There was certainly never an expectation that I would go on to university or undertake any further education after I finished high school. In fact, when it came to schoolwork in general, my parents never placed any sort of pressure on me at all to excel. I was always told, "Just do your best."

Which sounds wonderful in a way, don't you think? These days, I think kids are placed under an enormous amount of pressure to succeed, and from a very early age. With the workforce being far more competitive, a good education is paramount.

However, whilst I have no desire to place my children under any sort of stress or anxiety about their future - especially at such a young age - I truly believe kids need a certain amount of encouragement and motivation to do well. They need to know what's expected of them (within reason). Although my husband can't recall being told either directly or indirectly that university was expected of him and his two brothers, it always seemed to him that going on to further education was a given (and all three boys did). He is very glad he did so.

In contrast, it was always assumed by my parents - as it was the case for them - that I would leave school, find a job, then eventually marry and have my own family. End of story. For me to have a career wasn't important, in their mind. They probably figured that, as a woman, I would eventually have someone to take care of me, just as my mother had. (And my father has done a terribly good job of looking after her and my sisters and I, just as my mother did an excellent job looking after all of us.) 

When my parents told me to just do my best, it didn't make me actually want to do my best at all. For me, it was almost as though they were giving me permission to take my foot off the pedal and sit back and see where life took me. With no expectations to produce a good report card, I had absolutely no reason - nor motivation or desire - to do well in school, no matter what my potential was. As far as I was concerned, my path in life was already set.

As it turned out, I am happy with my life. Being a SAHM is a dream 'job' for me. However, I do sometimes wonder, had there been an expectation for me to go on to university or TAFE, would I have, for example, perhaps pursued my writing? Pursued something else that would fulfil me alongside my role as a wife and mother?

That, I will never know.

However, what I do know for certain, is that if I had girls myself, I would never assume this future for them, as beautiful as it is. As I do with my boys now, if I had a daughter I would tell her the following: "Work hard. Always put 100% effort in. Do well in school, because if you do, you can then go on to further education and decide exactly what you want to do some day. You will have choices, and having choices means you can choose any job you want to. Doing a job you love is the greatest thing."

I want my boys to know they can do anything they want to when they grow up. That working hard will give them choices. I don't want to set a path for them per se, but I do want to help them to achieve whatever it is they want for their future, and be happy.

By giving them choices.

What's your thoughts on further education? Do you expect your children to study after high school? Were you expected to go to uni or TAFE as a kid? Do you think your parents modelled your future for you, whether unintentionally or not?

Image: We Heart It


Mum on the Run said...

Hee hee.
I get the guilts - because I do the opposite to my son.
I heard myself saying the other day "well, I guess if you've changed your mind about being a doctor and now want to be a pilot, that's okay. You could even be a doctor who flies planes to help sick people, buddy."
He's two.
No pressure there.

But I want him to know the world is his oyster. Until his school reports shatter that dream, anyway!!

It's a balancing act - to let them know they're awesome just as they are - but that setting goals and achieving them is awesome too!!

Thank you for your post.
It's all about choices, options isn't it?

AlyceB said...

My husband and I have always said our kids can do and be whatever they want, as long as they do it to the best of their abilities. If they want to work in a cafe - go do a barista course and make the best coffees you can! Or go to TAFE and train as a manager. We don't want them to just be complacent in whatever job they pursure - we want them to become better at It.

Jodi @ The Scribble Den said...

WE encourage our girls to follow their intuition. They are only young and have already suggested a myriad of answers to the what do you want to do when you grow up question.
We will encourage them 100% in their choice whether it be a singer, dancer, doctor, SAHM. WE will support them when they change their mind and be there for guidance when they need it. But it will be their choice. That is what we parent for. For our children to have opportunity and choice.

Christie said...

I can absolutely relate to this one Jodie. My parents did not put any expectations on my future, to the point where they didn't give me any suggestions or ideas at all. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Like you, I heard the "just do your best" line all throughout my childhood. Whilst I don't place any blame on them, I am after all, in charge of my own life now, I do believe I will give my children options, show them opportunities and guide them into adulthood with a little more gusto than my folks did.

MummyK said...

I think education is important. I was brought up to think that I really believe it. Education and integrity are things no one can steal from you. I want my child to have the opportunity to educate herself as much as she can.

Jane said...

I'm going to put on my "I'm not a parent yet but one day I will be a perfect parent" hat (I seem to be wearing this hat a lot lately ;)) and say that my kids can be anything they want to be, without any judgment from me, as long as they try their best.

My parents gave me plenty of opportunities (expensive private schools, tutoring etc etc) I can't help but feel like I've let them down by becoming "only" a teacher. When I started my degree 3 years ago, mum made a remark (can't remember her exact words) that implied that teaching was a second rate profession. I didn't speak to her for a whole day and even now, I can't help but feel a little bit judged.

That being said, my dad once told my nanna (his mum) that my brother could drive a garbage truck and he'd still love him. That has stuck with me for a long time. I think having parents that are supportive, respectful and encouraging is the most important thing. xxx

River said...

Unintentionally I suppose, my parents did shape my future. I wasn't encouraged in my schooling, mum left us when I was 7 and dad raised me to know that when I was old enough to leave school, I would do so. Finishing high school was never in the picture. Also, they didn't handle money well, I think and I was never taught anything at all about earning or saving. It was understood that like you, I would marry an my husband would take care of things.
I loved being a mum and running the household! And I was good at it. I did encourage my kids to do well in school though. I wanted them to at least finish high school to widen their choices. None of them had any idea what they wanted to do after school, so they just took jobs as soon as they found them. There was no question of further education, I was divorced by then and there just wasn't any money available.
My grandchildren are a different story. University and careers for them! And they've learned about finances, mostly from their parents and my mistakes. I'm so proud of them all.

ClaireyH said...

I always knew that I was expected to d further training, preferably university, but if not at least a tafe course, or as a mimimum an apprenticeship. Something that gave me a training to fall back on, to support myself, to be able to do something.

I have a sister trained as a nurse and a brother as a fireman. In the corporate world I would be considered a success in my role. In my parents eyes I amine of those people that do nothing. That don't really help out the community. A job that the doesn't really matter. Over paid for nothing.

So while I wasn't pressured to do anything specific, 20 years later I am pretty sure that Marketing would not have been supported if I indicated that is where I would end up.

As for my miss 5, tonight she decided that considering she is in Kinder and can read all of Hop On Pop with no help and is also good at putting bandages on people. She could probably be a doctor without even going to school and that seems boring so maybe she might be a magician instead...whatever my kids do, I just hope they do it with passion.

E. said...

Very interesting post. My mother and grandmother both worked so I guess I just assumed that I would to. I was encouraged to go to Uni (neither of my parents made it to Year 10) but I was also had to get a job 'because there would be no jobs once I got out of uni'. So I studied part time for 6 years while working full time.

With my children we do use the Try your best line. I guess we use try your best as try as hard as you can adn don't worry about where others are as long as you have put in your best effort. I never thought that it could be interpreted as coasting is okay. I hope they don't.

Boy is 12 and has been talking about Uni for a while. He is quite academic though. His career choices have been Author, Illustrator, Architect and the latest is PE teacher.

Girl is 7 and has wanted to be a hairdresser, a McDonalds worker and a Heart Dr. Her latest is singing / songwriter.

I don't want to pressure them and hope they know we will support them in their choices.

Sarah@Mum'sgone2Aus said...

Thanks for the thought provoking post. I grew up in a family where the expectation was that I’d go to university, which I’m grateful for. I have a close friend who often reminds me that she only ended up at uni because she became friends with me and other girl, and we talked about it all the time; her family just didn’t have those expectations but being friends with us pushed her in that direction.
I think education provides choices, these days possibly more so than when I left school. That said, if I want to be very critical of my choices, I believe I could have thrived from a more vocational TAFE-type diploma. I had great fun at uni but the course I studied didn’t have much to do with the career I’ve had. I now catch myself talking to my children about university being an option but not the only option.
Maybe we should be providing (or feeding) our children with possibilities, by ensuring they mix with people from all backgrounds, and who have made a wide variety of choices in order to achieve things that make them happy; whether that’s raising a family, gaining success in a certain profession, or building their own business. It sounds a bit grand when I put it like that, but that’s what I’m trying to do!

Jodie Ansted said...

Christie - it certainly does sound like we had a similar upbringing, as well as a similar outlook for our own kids! I really want my boys to believe they can be/do anything they want to.

Jane - that's such a shame your parents see teaching that way. Teachers have one of the most important jobs in this world! (And your comments, for someone who doesn't have kids, are so, so thoughtful..I feel VERY confident you'll make a great teacher!)

For me, it's not about my kids becoming a doctor, lawyer, stockbroker...it's about reaching for the sky and having options so they can decide from there what they want to do. They can choose, and not be limited by their lack of education.

Geez ClaireyH...you can't win can you?! I think the toughest thing a parent faces, is letting go of their own ideas as to how their children should live their lives, and allow them to make their own decisions. I'm all for giving them choices, but then allowing them to make that final decision. You have to do what makes you happy. My husband is in finance and he LOVES what he does. Loves it. That's so important. I LOVE being a mum, but that's not for everyone either.

E - I think that's the thing...my family are not academic. People I know (including my husband) who come from family's that are, tend to go on to further education. Just seems to be the case. And hey - I think I wanted to be in ABBA when I was 7!

Sarah, I love what you say about providing our children with lots of possibilities through interaction when many people from different backgrounds etc. Makes a lot of sense!

Thanks all! xxx

Megan Blandford said...

I always wanted to go on to further study, so my parents had expectations of me that matched that dream. I was actually nervous when, at 27, I told them I was pregnant - like they'd be disappointed that I might be throwing in my career. Which of course they weren't!

I want the same for my daughter - do your best at anything you choose to do.

Mrs M said...

Education was very important to my parents and I was expected to go to uni. They didn't go and I think they regret it.

My father wanted to show off to others about how successful his kids were.

My mother wanted me to have a career for practical purposes. What if something happens to my husband? I need to be able to go out and work and provide.

I would love my kids to go to uni and to travel. Not because I want to push my kids to find the cure to cancer or anything.

I loved uni and travel and I think it has made me a better parent. Not because I think I'm a genius, simply because if I am my children's tour guide of life and the world for the first 18 years, I figure I should know about it.

Great post.

The Mummy Hat said...

It was always expected that my sister and I would go to uni (and we did) just as I kind of expect that my daughter will go to uni.
BUT if my daughter decides she wants to be a mechanic or a hairdresser, that's fine with me too, as long as she doesn't have to rely on someone else.
I'm a SAHM and I love it, now I rely on my husbands wage, because my job is paid in kisses, cuddles and smiles not cash, but I feel secure knowing I have a degree that I can fall back on if I ever need to.

Corinne – Daze of My Life said...

It's funny as this is something I think about quite a bit.
My dad is very, very successful in his career. He's highly intelligent.
He made sure that my brothers and I had every opportunity when it came to education and he expected us to do well.
My mum came from very humble background. Poor and little education. Later in life she ended up having a successful career too (after she'd raised kids for 20 years).

The only thing that was ever expected of me was to do well at whatever I did. Put 100% in and to make sure I was happy.

My dad never approved of my career choice. He thinks journalists are hacks. He actually prefers my blog writing to my professional writing. But he always respected it was my choice.

I have a lot of guilt as I often feel like I didn't use my opportunity to the full advantage. I think I should have achieved and done more career-wise than I have. I think that will always be with me.

The only thing I would like for my kids is to have a job they love. Actually I would like them to have a passion rather than a job, even if it's not considered successful by others. I want them to do something they love every single day.

Miss Pink said...

Okay, because my reply the other day kinda turned into a life story, i ended up blogging it over on my blog with links back to this post. I hope you don't mind?

Mama of 2 boys said...

Hi Jodie, I came over to read this post from Miss Pink's blog and I'm so glad I did. What a wonderful post. So much of what you have written here strikes a chord with me. My parents are in their early seventies and are from the same old school of thought as your parents. My Mum often talks about how when she married my Dad, she was expected to leave her employment, where she was doing very well as part of a large insurance company at the time, to start a family. This is exactly what she did. My parents had 7 of us, Dad worked 24/7 running a business and my beautiful, devoted Mum stayed at home forevermore. I always wanted to be just like her and received no pressure throughout my school life. There was plenty of encouragement, but I never felt compelled to be top of the class and definitely not expected to go onto uni, once I had finished high school. Both my parents instilled a strong 'work' ethic in my brother's and I and taught us the value of earning our own money. At times, I feel maybe my life has been too focused on earning money from a young age, rather than developing greater skills through education, but this is how I was raised. I ALWAYS wanted to be a Mama though. For me, it seemed the ultimate achievement and one that I longed for even as my career was taking off. I am not a career girl by any means, but sort of stumbled into it with some opportunities that working for a large company present. My hubby's childhood was quite the opposite to mine, he was pushed and driven into study and always being at the top of the game. I can see this influence in him already with our boys. I hope to find a healthy balance between the two of us, from our upbringings, so that my boys are well educated, but never feel the pressure from their parents to be number 1 all the time. As long as they are good people, respectful and willing to learn, that is all I can ask for.
Apologies for the ramble, I'm now following your lovely blog :o)

Jodie Ansted said...

Mama of 2 boys...Wow. Our lives sound so similar!

My father definitely instilled a 'work hard' and make sure your employers can't be without you kind of philosophy. So much so though, that when I announced I was leaving my first job, he was quite horrified! Why would I do that? I had a JOB. Just diff times. After my third move, he stopped questioning my decisions, as with each new job I had a better position and made more money.

Also like you, because our backgrounds regarding education are quite different, Hubby and I have to find common ground. I'm not all laid back and relaxed about their school work, but I'm not quite as focussed on it at their age as what Hubby is!

Thanks for dropping by. I plan to check out your blog! x

Thanks again all for your comments! A very interesting topic.