The kids are listening

What message are you sending about the work you do?

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If you are a parent, you send a lot of “work messages” to your children. They pick things up from what you say and do. You are their primary teacher about “calling” in the world of work.

If your work makes you feel happy and fulfilled, they too may look forward to someday joining the work force. But if you usually come home miserable, they may develop negative images about work and likely won’t think of it as a place to minister and manifest Christian values.

Even people who like their jobs can unwittingly send a negative message to their children if all they do at home is grumble about a lazy co-worker or bad boss. “Attitudes are like garlic. They ooze from our pores even when we don’t realize it,”  says social worker Gary Direnfeld.

Here’s a chance to test yourself by answering this quiz put together by career expert Barbara Moses. Keep track of your answers to learn how you’re doing at communicating healthy work attitudes.

  1. Do your children know what you do professionally?
  2. Do your children know where you work?
  3. From listening to you talk about work, would your kids conclude that you like your work?
  4. Do you check your phone, email or voice mail while engaging in family activities?
  5. Do you make a point of discussing money with your kids so that they have a realistic understanding of finances?
  6. When you come home from work, are you so exhausted that you have little left to give your kids?
  7. Do you often complain about your job, boss, colleagues and clients?
  8. Do your children know what you find rewarding about your job?
  9. Do you spend quantity time, as well as quality time, with your children?
  10. Would you be disappointed if your kids chose a less-ambitious or lower-paid professional path?
  11. When you return from work, can you put to bed whatever work problems you are grappling with?
  12. Do your kids think that your job takes precedence over them?
  13. Do you feel uncomfortable or think it crude to talk about money around the kids?
  14. Do you frequently use words like “jerk” or “idiot” to describe people you work with when kids are within earshot?
  15. When you have a problem or conflict at work, do you show your kids how you are trying to solve it?
  16. Do you ever use long-suffering or victim language such as, “I have to go to work, or my boss will be angry with me” or “I hate my job, but what can I do about it?”
  17. Do you frequently boast about your title or salary?
  18. Do you say “no” to non-emergency work requests that infringe on family time?
  19. Are your kids financially literate?
  20. Do your kids understand that all jobs have some frustrations?
  21. Would you be happy if your children showed the same attitudes and behaviors related to work and home life as you do?
  22. Are you distracted by or do you think about work problems when you are spending time with your children?
  23. From your family’s perspective, do you model a balanced work and home life?
  24. Do you constantly moan about your job but do nothing to change it?
  25. Do your children feel that your career expectations of them put them under too much pressure or are unrealistic?

If you answered “yes” to questions 1, 2, 3, 5, 8,  9,  11, 15,  18, 19, 20, 21 and 23 and “no” to 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 22, 24 and 25, you are doing a great job of modeling healthy work attitudes. On items where you scored differently, think about what you can do to change your behavior.

Setting the right example

Here are tips from Moses on setting the right example.

Do …

      Talk to your kids about work. Let them know what you do, where you work, the nature of your responsibilities and how you interact with others.

      Offer a balanced view. Talk about the rewards as well as the challenges. A compliment from the boss or a great presentation should be shared along with stories about projects that failed or colleagues you don’t like.

      Honor family commitments. Push back against unreasonable work demands. Do not check your phone, email or voice mail or allow your mind to drift to work during family time.

      Model healthy attitudes. Don’t come home every day looking completely defeated or constantly complaining.

      Show problem-solving skills. Discuss job conflicts and explain how you are resolving them.

      Respond effectively to adversity. If you’ve had a setback, don’t walk around the house moping. Instead, show how you’re trying to fix the problem and demonstrate optimism that your efforts will succeed.

      Tailor your message to the age of your child. A five-year-old doesn’t need to know that you are worried about your job; a 15-year-old can handle it, especially if you explain how you’re dealing with it.

      Talk about money. Kids need to develop a realistic understanding about income and work.

      Draw positive parallels between your work and their school. Make comparisons, such as both of you getting to learn new things.

      Spend quantity as well as quality time.  Kids aren’t programmed to turn on and off like taps according to your schedule. Fancy vacations do not replace regular daily interaction.

      Act on career desires. Don’t complain endlessly about hating your job. Show your kids how you are either trying to improve it or are looking for alternative employment.

Don’t …

      Avoid talking about work or make it look simple. Your kids will develop a slanted view about the ability to always be successful. They will also think that everything should come easily.  

      Complain about job demands. An endless litany about how you work too hard for what you are paid will leave your kids thinking either that employers are abusive or that you are a pushover.

      Moan about co-workers or bosses. Kids need to understand that no workplace is perfect and that there will always be people you don’t like. At the same time, they also need to know there are people you enjoy being with.

      Use suffering language. Instead of  saying, “Mommy has to go to work,”  says,  “Mommy wants to go to work.”

      Use anxiety-inducing words about money. For instance, if you lose your job, reassure your kids that life as they know it will not change drastically.

      Cling to a job you hate.  Bad work is toxic. By moving on, you demonstrate that nobody deserves an unfulfilling job, and that you have the power to change your situation.

Barbara Moses is an international speaker, work/life expert and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships and the Rest of Life and What’s Next? Find the Work That’s Right for You. For more go to. This article was first published in The Marketplace, the magazine of Mennonite Economic Development Associates.



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