As a parent, I often notice a recurring theme in conversations about my kids: what our children are going to be when they grow up. You know what I mean: Jamie likes to role-play her doctor visits, so maybe she’ll be a doctor. Of course, she’s so expressive and energetic that maybe she’ll be an actress or performer. Cameron’s birth parents were 6’2″ and 5’10”, so maybe he’ll be a basketball player, but with his long fingers maybe he’ll be a concert or jazz pianist.
And so it goes. Almost any time they show a new skill, role play something they’ve experienced, or display even a minor interest in something new, we want to map out their college and career plans.
Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with wanting your children to be happy and successful, finding careers that allow them to utilize their skills and passions. And I’m all for encouraging kids to follow their dreams, even if they are unlikely to grow up to be an firefighting astronaut puppy doctor*. No sane parent is going to lock their child into a career path before they lose their first tooth.
*I am often reminded by family members that when I was young (4 or 5?) I said I wanted to be a microphone when I grew up. Not an announcer, actor, singer, DJ, performer, or game show host. A microphone. (Familial history is a little cloudy on if I wanted to be a normal microphone or one of the long skinny ones like on Price is Right or Match Game.) While some may debate if I have grown up, I can assure you that I have let to become a microphone.
But I’m struck by the disparity in the future careers we identify for our kids. When parents talk about their kids being something then they grow up, they usually talk about well-known jobs: doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, soldier, cop, firefighter, athlete, artist, musician, etc. I have yet to meet the parent who thinks their kid is going to be a janitor, cashier at Target, Starbucks barista, assistant to the regional manager, or any one of a thousand jobs that are vital to everyday life, but rank low on the glamour scale.
Why is that? Do we look at ourselves – a collection of middle managers, analysts, technicians, laborers, and fillers of unglamorous and unrewarding jobs – and project our unfulfilled career ambitions on our children? Or is it the simple fact that nobody under the age of 18 has ever aspired to be a project analyst, client services manager, or customer support representative (three job titles I’ve proudly owned, by the way)?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’ll continue to think of my daughter as a future doctor every time she pretends to check my ears, and my son as an NBA all-star every time he out-grows another pair of pants. And I’ll love them just as much if they end up in the most menial, dead-end job you can imagine – especially if it makes them happy.
But I won’t be disappointed if they aspire to be a microphone.