How kids really feel about the working mother debate

I love women. I really do. I’m one myself. Over half of my friends are women. My mom’s a woman. My daughter’s a woman. My doctor, veterinarian, hair stylist, dentist – all women. I see women as strong, powerful,compassionate, and loving, and I’m proud to be one. For the most part.

A caveat – women compare themselves to other women. This sometimes means that they have trouble supporting your decisions if they run contrary to their own. Even if they are tolerant of different opinions, there’s still that slight feeling that their decision is the better one, and they can back it up with solid reasons and justifications. Interestingly, men seem to have little concern for other men’s decisions about their lives. Women, however, have turned comparing into an art form, and it’s not pretty.

The biggie, when it comes to female divisiveness, involves working mothers. I won’t bore you with the arguments and justifications for both sides. We’ve heard them all, ad nauseum. Instead, I’ll tell you how teens feel about their mothers from the perspective of someone who has heard countless comments from teens over the years.

Moms, they love you.

If you stay at home, they love that you’re always there, just a phone call away. They love that you’re waiting when they get home from school, that you’re available to drive them anywhere they need to go, and that dinner is always on the table at the same time every night. They love the feeling that when they are home, you’re exactly where they left you, taking care of the family and giving all of your time to them.

Working moms, they love that you have a career that you navigate along with every other responsibility in your life. They love seeing you dressed for work and knowing that you have this cool, mysterious life that is separate from them. They love that hour or two after they get home from school when they can just “veg” and have some downtime before their parents descend on the house again and remind them of their homework.

While we women are arguing about what makes a better mom, our kids are going about their lives, knowing only what they’ve always known, and loving whatever kind of mom they have. Trust me, they’re not thinking about whether or not you work, any more than they’re thinking about your weight or your age. They just love you.

So women, let’s stop the debate and the judgment and the self-doubt. Let’s stop inserting “should” into our daily vocabulary and start accepting the fact that every family operates differently. Your kids love you just as you are.

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More than minimum wage – the benefits of summer jobs

How many of us have waited tables, sat in a lifeguard chair, or worked the register at the local grocery store? We can look back at those times and tell ourselves that it built character, and we would mostly mean it. But do you remember how hard it was to see the benefits of that summer job when we only had a couple of months to ourselves and the sun was beckoning us to Popsicles poolside with friends? Today’s teens feel the same way we did, so they might need a little encouragement right about now. Here are some benefits of working that you can share with them as the new job excitement wears off.

1. Every job provides invaluable experience. It may not seem like there is much to learn tearing tickets at the movie theater, but there is. My daughter held that job one summer, and she learned that people don’t clean up after themselves. How is this valuable? It made her realize that she should, so other people don’t have to. If that’s not a life lesson, I don’t know what is.

2. Every job exposes you to people who are unlike you, and you learn about them and yourself in the process. For every kid who has grown up with other kids from the same socioeconomic background, there’s a whole workplace full of people to remind him that people hail from all walks of life. Suddenly, your son realizes that not everyone was raised like him. He will envy some and be astounded by others who never had what he has. It’s a huge, eye-opening experience for kids who have lived a relatively sheltered life.

3. Hard work brings rewards. If they don’t like the size of the reward, they must figure out a way to work for more satisfying results. Early in life, they begin to think about how hard they are willing to work for a certain amount of compensation. I’ve known a lot of kids who go to college or a trade school because a summer job showed them that they don’t want to dish out fries for a living. Better to discover this at 16 than at 36.

Don’t expect them not to complain. They will. But maybe a gentle reminder of these rewards and others will keep them on the working path and help them to strive harder for what they really want.

I would love to hear about your best and worst summer jobs. Please share!

How to get teens to care about others

If I had to pick one attribute of kids that drives adults the most crazy, I think I would pick this one: adults see kids as myopic in that they are concerned with the bubble in which they live, with very little regard for others, including people living different lives. Think about what makes you angry as a parent. For me, it’s every time that my kids don’t clean up after themselves, when they assume that someone else will come along after them and do the dirty work for them. And believe me, they weren’t raised that way.

I’m sure you’ve felt the same way about your own pet peeves with your kids, your students, or just teens you encounter in life. They seem to be wrapped up in their own lives, their own problems and pressures, to the exclusion of other people, especially their family. I guess it’s true that we hurt the ones we love the most. Kids definitely solidify that notion.

So what can you do as a parent, role model, teacher or coach to help kids to recognize the needs of others and to respond appropriately?

1. I HIGHLY recommend getting kids involved in community service. Opportunities are endless and can be found through school, church, or direct contact with the organizations themselves. A huge part of my childhood centered on community service, and it played an enormous role in who I am today. Nothing shows kids that there is a whole world outside their bubble better than stepping directly into it and working to make a positive change.

2. If at all possible, travel, and not just to places that are comfortable. Exposing children to different cultures, various socioeconomic groups, people of color and people with entirely different priorities is key to awakening the sense that we are all small cogs in a much bigger machine. Suddenly we realize that our way isn’t the only way. We begin to think critically as we are exposed to other ways of living, and our fears of differences begin to weaken. With less ignorance comes less fear and greater understanding.

3. Stress family, always. This sounds antithetical to opening them up to the world, but it’s not. The family is their primary source of knowledge and connection. They must live within the family environment daily, and here they must put to practice what they have learned by studying the world. Teach children that they play a crucial role in the family dynamic and that if they shirk their responsibilities out of disregard for the other family members, it weakens the unit and hurts their relationships. Once they understand that all people are different, they can appreciate that same realization among their own family members. They may not give a flip about dirty dishes in the sink, but they understand that their mother does, so they clean up for her benefit, not for their own.

These steps can help to create people who think and love beyond themselves. I can’t imagine a better contribution we can make to our world.

The good ol’ summertime

I’m sure you’ve heard the reports that surface this time every year warning parents that kids lose half of their acquired school knowledge over the two months they are home for summer break. As if parents needed yet another thing to worry about, now you feel the pressure to make your kids hit the books when all they really want to do is hit the pool.

Studies show that we need brain breaks to maximize our learning. As teachers, we build those breaks into the school day to help kids recharge and stay alert. I view the summer as a much needed extended brain break. Kids are under a great deal of pressure during the school year, and oftentimes just knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel helps them to hang in there until summer. We need to give them that light that they crave. Now, more than ever, kids’ lives are over-scheduled with a full day at school, followed by homework, sports, activities, family responsibilities, and so on. But they are only going to be kids for a very short time. Let’s encourage them to relax, to play, to be creative. Just as we need vacations to de-stress, kids need time to just be kids.

This doesn’t mean that they have to quit learning; it just means that their learning shifts from textbooks and notes to hands-on experiences. Take your kids on an exploration of the yard, the neighborhood, your town, the nearest big city. Go to museums, zoos, aquariums, and free concerts in the park. If you can, travel and expose your children to other cultures and types of people. At home, encourage your kids to read for fun by taking them to the library and setting an example in your home. Engage in creative activities with them: puzzles, building with legos, drawing, and playing cards.

I promise you that your kids will rejuvenate and enter the new school year relaxed and ready to learn. Now, play on!