how to poison attitudes towards work in young children


My son Little Buddy isn’t so little anymore. He’s at an age where he can make observations and draw conclusions – often amusing – about the world around him.  One of the conclusions he’s probably started to draw is that ‘work sucks.’

It’s not an attitude I’d like to instill in anyone’s child, least of all my own, but it’s almost inevitable. From his point of view, here’s what he thinks when he thinks of ‘work’:

  • ‘Work’ means Papa will be gone all day.
  • ‘Work’ means Papa will be tired and less likely to play when he gets home.
  • Not often, but quite possibly, it means Papa might have to go out of town
  • ‘Work’ means his Mama will have to split her time between him and Pumpkin, his little sister

He understands the association between money and work. He knows I have days I don’t work and days I just choose not to work.  But what I wonder is not so much whether he understands the work/money dynamic, but whether children form an idea that ‘work’ is a negative activity before they really understand the positive.

Take a famous writer or a motivational speaker or a pro athlete. The children of those people might of course have a great lifestyle, but speaking tours or away games or book signing tours must surely upset them, too.  Maybe part of it would be the closeness of the parent-child relationship.  I read quite often that people who leave their corporate jobs do it out of a desire to spend more time with their children.  Yet if I quit my corporate job to become a famous problogger, for example, I’d probably still have to spend time away from home to write.  I’d probably need to do a better job of attending industry events and travel to promote the inevitable book, and so on.

That’s not to denigrate that lifestyle, since I think it would be preferable. I just remember a conversation I had with my parents shortly after I returned to the States after working in Moscow.  While living in Russia, I had received six weeks of vacation per year.  Twice a year, I flew home for three weeks and lived with my parents (this is before I was married).  When I returned home, my mother was happy that I’d be living closer and they’d see me more often – but they didn’t.  I never counted up the days, but I certainly doubt I came anywhere close to staying 42 days at their home in a given year.

I would like my children to have a healthier attitude about work than I do. I don’t know if that’s possible.  My parents both had what seemed to me to be fairly good jobs growing up, and although they had their fair share of conflicts and troubles I never got the impression that they hated what they did, at all.  I don’t know if my dislike of my profession leaks over into my attitude towards work.  I may be saying the word ‘work’ with an undercurrent of unease that kids can sense.

I also suspect that in some ways I might HOPE to poison my children’s attitudes towards work, as long as it’s focused on a certain type of work: work that’s not at least vaguely fulfilling or rewarding.  That’s a tricky path to go down.  I’m sure many of the motivational types whose work I read might wince if their children gave an honest opinion of their work:  ‘my daddy spends all day speaking and writing to inspire others, and hasn’t thrown a baseball to me in three years.’

I do know that if I have any influence at all on my young kids I’d like it to be this:  work is not bad. Work you don’t like is bad.  Work that makes you feel bad is bad.  But working, in and of itself, is good, for a variety of reasons.  It provides for you and (eventually) your family; it can provide a lot of meaning to your life; and it can provide a lot of value to people outside yourself, which is no small feat.  I hope they learn that work is not a thing to be dreaded.  I hope they learn that it’s tough to work, it’s hard to work, and it’s often a struggle to work – but I hope they never learn to hate working.

photo by Mai Le

11 Replies to “how to poison attitudes towards work in young children”

  1. It's more difficult these days. Entering the work force now (like myself) we want more of a work life balance. We are used to a standard of living and things like HDTV, ipods, cell phones, laptops are standards and it's harder to accept the reality of crazy work life.

  2. Oh, Steve, I don't think your attitudes toward work, and the activities you engage in to make money, have as much influence on your children as you might think. And it they do, it is unlikely to be in the direction that you might think.

    What is the best way to influence your children's attitudes?

    1. Be honest and upfront with them.
    2. Be fair and equable in your dealings with them. Don't lose your temper with them.
    3. Give them consistent positive guidance, and punish mildly only when necessary.
    4. Be a role model in your dealings with others; they are observing more than you think.
    5. Give them the experiences needed to gradually prepare them to be on their own.

    They will turn out better than you have any right to expect.

  3. It doesn't surprise me that they don't like you working. And I think that they'd like it less if you enjoyed working so much, you neglected to spend time with them.

    I wonder whether there's any mileage in explaining your need to work not (solely) in terms of the money to take them to Disneyworld, but your need to exercise your mind, have a focus outside the family, etc – whatever positive things that you get out of your work.

  4. Yo Steve.

    Been a while since I commented, but wanted to talk about this a little bit.

    I believe what you're doing, hating your profession but still doing it, probably will instill a lot of negativity on the whole idea of work.

    But it could have the exact opposite effect too in a semi-perverse way.

    Being the youngest child of three I saw my older brother grow up and not go to college. He decided to work hard and moved up to middle management. He works well over 50 hours a week and barely has time off where his store isn't running to him for answers.

    My sister took the other route and went to college. She's in over 60g of debt just to one person not including the other degrees she gotten. Now she's back in school for a masters after two years of bumbling through trying to find what she wants. She may just had found it, but it is in teaching if she does, so she will be in debt for a long time to come now.

    I looked at both paths myself, and because of this negativity outweighing the positivity… it did not seem to me to be the right choice at all.

    That's why I got into network marketing. Whenever anyone asks me what they should do… I tell them to start a business.

    It doesn't matter whether it is multi-level marketing, traditional or the internet. Just do it!

    Fail at it a few times and do it. Because only by starting a business can you leverage yourself to the point where you can have the ultimate freedom to do anything you want, when you want, and still be making money whether or not you are working.

    Look at people like Tim Ferris of the 4 Hour Workweek.

    Yeah he did amazing things but he is an ordinary man.

    Anyone can do what he did, if they put their heart and soul into doing before defeating themselves with excuses as to why it is too risky.

    Sorry bro, I'm really passionate about all of this. People should not sell their lives for less, especially people with incredibly intelligence and potential.

    Live the dream, or die trying.

    Anyhow, how you been Steve? It's been a while! How are the children and the new move to Florida?

    To the top,

  5. It might be of use to draw the distinction between work and jobs, or employment. Granted, they are often synonymous, but the distinction can usually be made, and it draws a fine but sharp line between getting what you want to do done, and simply being at the beck and call of others, for purposes of income.

  6. “I also suspect that in some ways I might HOPE to poison my children’s attitudes towards work, as long as it’s focused on a certain type of work”

    I think that poisoning your children's attitudes toward work MAY… be a good thing.

    As long as it is not poisoning it in the sense that working hard and sacrificing is made out to be a bad thing… but poisoning it in the sense that having a J.O.B. is bad and that being and entrepreneur is good.

    A lot of parents try to do that. But then again, there are some who will disagree with that.

  7. I was wonder whether there's any mileage in explaining your need to work not (solely) in terms of the money to take them to Disney world! I hope they learn that work is not a thing to be dreaded.

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