In this week’s Mom Before Mom post, I wrote about what I wanted to be when I grew up it made me think about what my kids say now that they want to be. For some kids, they set their minds on something and never waiver. For other kids, the ideas change weekly, their interests broad and open.
Michael just today came home and announced, “Mom, do you want to hear what I want to do when I grow up?” I was stunned and thought, “Be a psychic?” He had no idea what I was writing about! This most recent idea, though, was more of an event plan than a career path, he wants to climb Mount Everest and glide off the top. (Ugh, see my Boys and Bruises post!)
What do your kids want to be when they grow up? How do we nurture the things that make them happy? How, as parents, can we encourage them to explore and guide them to discover their strengths?
It begins young with exposure to many different experiences. Going for a walk and taking the time to stop and touch some moss or poke a mushroom with a stick is a beginning. So are things like kicking the ball in the backyard, marching through the house with musical instruments or early forays into watercolor still-lifes and Play-Doh sculptures. These are valuable activities at all ages.
Offering varied opportunities isn’t generally the hard part, there are a million and one possibilities, activities, teams, clubs, events and chances to try things out. It’s harder to know how to limit what our kids join, as in all things parenting, it’s about finding that balance.
In the adolescent years, kids tend to begin to specialize in certain activities, they’ve narrowed down their sports and extracurricular time to more focused interests. Those activities may not be what they would pursue as a life path. Or could they be?
I was recently talking to someone about how her brother loved skateboarding and became a top executive at a sporting goods company. A friend of our family is a professional surfer, getting paid and endorsed for doing something he’s passionate about.
How do we nurture their aptitudes, interests and spirits? Nick and I have found that it’s helpful to teach our kids time management and prioritizing skills (that’s an ongoing life skill for us as adults, too!) It seems exciting to sign up for every class or team that catches our interest, but we talk them through things to find what really matters to them right now. If they are less than enthusiastic about something we nix it.
We’ve always had the rule that we offer something to the kids, or they could ask to participate in something. If they choose an activity, they are committed and have to see it through but then they don’t have to sign up for the next session if they don’t want to. This gives them a say in how they spend their non-school time and it helps them tease out what they care about most.
I like to listen to what they want to be at any given time because it’s like a little window into their self image. A glimpse into what they like, think they’re good at or what they can envision themselves being. Michael already calls himself an engineer. He’s got an inventive and technical brain. He visualizes things three dimensionally in ways that surprise me; he’s fantastic at robotics and computer coding. Who knows what he’ll be when he grows up, but I’d bet it’s in that vein (aka: things-I-don’t-really-understand).
Often kids will list a string of things they want to be when they grow up. I love when Anna says she wants to be a Mommy and a doctor and an artist (totally possible, but then she continues) and a photographer (still manageable) and a doula (cute, she wants to be like Mommy) and a chef (with the other things taking her time, maybe she’ll have time for a microwaved meal!) Then again, we Moms are the doctor and nursemaid, the in-house arts and crafts director, the family picture-taker and well, doulas are nurturers, supporters and guides, and we Moms do all that for our cherubs, and we cook! So perhaps her list just describes Mommyhood!
I struggle to encourage them and their dreams without layering in my practical-adult-evaluating-brain. I try to just listen, ask questions, drop in a tidbit or two to seed some thoughts. What makes you interested in doing that? Are there things you are doing now or could try out now that would help you to do that later? How could you learn more about that subject?
As Ali nears college, some of that practicality, while still far off and not essential to worry about yet, does become a bit more important. If your child is talking about being a veterinarian but hates science and only wants to take creative writing, being realistic about the requirements to become a vet could be useful in guiding them. In the high school years, have them do their own research about requirements to be accepted into an architecture program or med school so they can look further down the line.
Adults can see around bends that children and teens cannot. They not only have less life experience but their brains are still growing and not yet fully developed. We have a responsibility to assist them in anticipating the road ahead. Sure, they won’t always (or even often) listen, but they do hear us and file it away.
As parents, we can help our kiddos identify their strengths and encourage them to build upon them. Usually what you love is what you excel at. What a gift to steer and guide them toward a profession that encompasses both.
Take notes on what your kids say they want to be when they grow up, they just might do it.
© Copyright Leah DeCesare 2013