What Messages Are We Sending Our Kids About Work?

CN_Marc_v1_eI’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of messages that parents may be sending to children when it comes to work and the role work plays in how we approach our careers. I think we might be surprised at the things they take in – and the influence that it may have on the rest of their lives.

As the old saying goes … little pitchers have big ears. Kids learn from what they hear and see around them. And I would guess that they carry what they learn from their parents – and the rest of us – well beyond their school years.

What I took away from my own parents

I’m fairly sure my parents would be surprised by how much I was absorbing, even from the snatches of conversation I heard while walking through a room they were in.

By the time I was nine years old, my father and mother both worked for the same company in non-managerial positions. And I was getting a lot of information about what work could and couldn’t be. And quite honestly, a lot of the messages were about how powerless we are.

The bad things I learned about work

While I don’t have kids of my own, I know that some parents are very aware of the messages they send about work. As a result they may decide to not talk about work at all when their children are around … or carefully censor what they do share. And then again, some may just let ‘er rip!

Although based on reality and not necessarily bad to be made aware of, here are some of the less positive messages that I took in from what I overheard:

  • You have no control most of the time.
  • Work often makes you very angry.
  • What the boss says you have to do.
  • Bosses don’t know much, but that doesn’t stop them from talking.
  • Your union can sometimes be in cahoots with management.
  • Don’t expect anyone to notice how good you are.
  • Other people can try to make you look bad just so they can look better.
  • Other people can be out to get your job.
  • We have to be careful about stepping out of our designated roles.
  • There is a class system.
  • You can’t trust anyone else to be looking out for your best interests.
  • Don’t throw away a sure thing even if there is more out there for you.

Luckily, I also was getting some important positive messages.

The good things I learned about work

While they each had a very strong worth ethic, my parents weren’t exactly of the same mind about what work was for them. My dad had a tough job that involved manual labor and less-than-pleasant conditions. He did it to keep us clothed and fed. Although he and his co-worker did manage to find ways to have fun whenever they could.

For mom, it was different. We needed the money, but it was also a chance for her to get out of the house and be with other people. Not that she didn’t enjoy being a mother (well, most of the time), but she was hungry for something more. And she found it in her work.

Some positive messages about work I got from my parents:

  • It feels good to bring home a paycheck.
  • It feels good to know you’ve done the very best you can.
  • You can build relationships that last a lifetime.
  • There are people who will go out of their way to help you.
  • There are bosses who will be there for you in tough times.
  • If you do a good job, in some cases, there will be rewards.
  • It’s best if you can find a way to make yourself invaluable.
  • Work can be fulfilling and even fun at times.
  • Eventually, even with all its faults, if you’ve been there long enough, a job can feel like home.
  • There might be other opportunities if you look around and build good 2-way relationships.

Other things that contribute

You’ll notice that there were some conflicting messages here. But luckily for me the positive messages that I got were probably the saving grace. I got to see that we weren’t completely powerless, even if it took me many years to learn how I could best make that work to my advantage.

And although I am no expert in child psychology, I am pretty sure that the other messages children take in and take with them play a huge role too. Messages about who they are as people and what they can forge in life for themselves, beyond what’s simply handed to them.

And these messages, both good and bad, can come from anywhere. From friends, classmates, teachers, leaders, music, TV, film and the whole world of social media. But I still think that most important of all are the messages sent by parents and other adults who are close to them in their earliest years. And I think that’s something we should all remember.

So what messages are we sending our kids?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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