Imagine a doting mom who works tirelessly to build her daughter’s confidence, help her to recognize her value, teach her the value of education – a mom who wants her daughter to know that she can be whatever she wants to be when she grows up.
Now imagine that little girl wants to be a mother.
Is that a disappointment? Let’s say I quit my job and stay at home to empower and nurture my warrior princess to give her confidence to break the glass ceiling, then she decides to be a blogger in yoga pants? Let’s say I work 3 jobs to put her through college so she can support herself and never depend on any man to provide for her, then she decides to get married and homeschool her kids? Let’s say I sacrifice my dreams of success in order to cultivate her opportunities, then she sacrifices those to open the door for her own daughter?
I really do want my daughter to know she can be anything she wants to be. She’s 12 and wants to go to college to be a babysitter. More than anything in life, she wants to be a career-long babysitter.
Wait! Don’t you mean the CEO of a national child care network? Don’t you mean you want to use those STEM skills to build a new kind of child safety seat, cure sick children of disease with your pharmaceutical prowess, or build the world’s first iNanny? You mean that…right?
But what if she “just” wants to babysit? Or baby-make, for that matter? Perhaps my hopes and dreams about her taking on the world are just that – mine. Maybe she’ll be happy to simply conquer the carpool and the laundry pile.
And while we’re on it, why don’t we think our boys just want to be dads?! I know some fantastic stay at home dads. I know one who took 3 kids under the age of 4 to Disney this weekend. By himself. On purpose. And stayed longer than intended because they were having fun! Huh? So what about that guy? The guy who doesn’t want to be a mechanic or an architect or a software engineer. What if he simply wants to be a dad?
How do we assign intrinsic value to the job description of parenting? How do we script their inner voice to scream opportunity and success, while giving solid footing to the family comes first concept many of us don’t grapple with until we’re juggling a job and a family? Few of us start out as stay-at-home-moms. We are often something else first, then we leave our careers or “put our dreams on hold” to raise children. Can we prepare our kiddos so that – when the two roads diverge in the yellow wood for them – they don’t view it as putting down one dream to pick up another, but rather view it as a strategic part of their overall career planning?
While parenting is unequivocally a lifelong career, for most of us it’s a temporary, finite-lived “job”. It’s like being a professional athlete. You dream of it your whole life, then your moment comes and you are all in – mind & body. But eventually, you “age out”. Your knees are bad, your fastball is lackluster, your kids are grown…then what?
My 9-year-old son intends to be a professional baseball player. He played 2 seasons of little league, which we all hated, so I’m not sure why this one is sticking. (His other answer is to be soldier, which makes my stomach turn; so I’m encouraging the baseball track however unlikely it is to come to fruition.) He wants to go to college to be a baseball player. We explain that you go to college to be something else, you just get lucky if baseball is your job for a while before you start your actual career.
Is parenting so different? I say it’s great for girls to want to be moms. I always wanted to be a mom. Moreover, I wanted to be a young mom. (I had my first at age 25, which seemed awfully old to me at the time.) But I knew I couldn’t always be a stay-at-home mom. Eventually kids move out and then I’d just be a stay-at-home…person. Not my style.
So let’s start a dialogue. How are you positioning these values with the little mommas and tiny papas in your house? Do you present parenthood as an acceptable answer to the age-old question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Do you encourage your children to have a second answer at the ready, a dream without an 18-year expiration date? Do you have a second answer, mom? Does dad express his passion for parenting to your son? If your kids are old enough to be planning career tracks, have you encouraged them to consider how they can lay the foundation now for incorporating parenthood later? They can design budgets in the early years to save in preparation for stay-at-home stretches; network from the start of their career with an eye for future freelancing opportunities that will help in a work-from-home scenario; and collect recommendations along their professional path so that they don’t have to track those people down when they want to get back into the work force at the end of a 7 year hiatus. Imagine a young mom with her emotional bags packed with these tools! She doesn’t have to look at her swollen belly, biting her lip, trying to decide if she should “give up” her career to stay home. She just executes her professional plan.
Or, if she’s my daughter, she just takes her new kid with her to her work. She is a babysitter, after all.