So I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the point of it. And I’ve come to certain conclusions about the kinds of things I care to encourage or discourage in my children.
Call me crazy, but I don’t care about my kids’ higher education. I also don’t care what work they do in life. And I most definitely don’t care about how much money they aspire to earn. I… don’t… care!
I really don’t.
But there are things I do care about, and these are them:
1. I care that they want to learn and choose to be learners in life, with or without school. My husband and I each have five years of university education under our belts, we are educated folk. But although I value my education, there is so much that I value from my years at university that had absolutely nothing to do with what I learned in the classroom. And there is also so much I feel I missed, certain regrets that are rooted in my decision to attend university.
I remember when I was in my graduating year of high school, the teachers brought all of the graduating students into an auditorium to speak about the next steps in our education. They made it clear that if we were smart, our only choice was to continue to university, and if we were not smart, well, too bad. In high school I was known as a smart kid, the only outcome that I and my teachers foresaw was that I would go to university. I remember being excited as I flipped through university course manuals, devouring all of the possible learning I could have. When I got to university however, I was more bogged by deadlines than excited by the material, I was more bored by the structure than inspired to devour. I heard about other kids from my high school who had opted not to attend university, who had either taken a year off to travel, or who had gone to community college to learn a specific trade and began in the work force right away, who had started living their lives, and I couldn’t help but feel envy. I realized that while I was initially excited about university, in hindsight what I was actually excited about was living away from home for the first time. That is what was driving me toward university, not the actual education. I was a fully independent spirit who had chosen a means of independence acceptable to my parents rather than do what my 17 year old self really wanted to do, which was simply just to live on my own and earn money for travel.
I was learning, and I am grateful for what I learned, but I wasn’t following a deeper instinct I had, a deeper craving for life that at the time felt way more important than anything a textbook could provide. When I look at my university degrees on the wall, I don’t look at them with pride, but rather with a tinge of regret.
Now, my husband would not agree, his university education is in fact highly valuable to him. He did not feel as I did that his life was on hold, but rather that he was fully living a very important stage of his life. I respect that. And what I respect about it is that he knew he truly wanted to be there. Which is what I wish for our kids down the line. Not that they attend university for the sake of attending university, but that if they attend, it’s because they truly want to be there. Or if they attend a trades school, it’s because they truly want to be there. Or that if they decide to travel, or if they decide to enter the work force right away– that whatever it is they decide to do, it’s because they truly want to be there, doing that thing, and learning all they can from it.
There are so many forms of learning that life can provide. The most important, in my eyes, is learning to listen to our insides–our hearts, our guts, our souls– and marching in any direction we feel called toward. Whatever I or my husband or their teachers have to say, I feel my kids will serve their lives best by learning to listen to themselves first.
2. While I don’t care about what work they choose in life, I do care that they are workers, and I care that they choose meaningful work. If they choose to be waiters, they’d better be the best damn waiters in all of town. If they choose to be engineers, they’d better do their work with integrity and social awareness. If they decide to be doctors, they’d better remember that people are made up of many inter-relying parts, all of which require their due respect. If they choose to be artists they’d better damn well be producing art. And if they choose to be teachers, they’d better remember that their students are open vessels, capable of being inspired to go forth and make the world a better place.
While I don’t care about the work they choose, I care that they have work ethic up the wazoo, I care that they are doers, and I care that they are socially minded to bettering life in and out of the workplace.
I care that they’re happy. I care that they’re happy because when you are happy, the world is automatically a better place. I care that they are doing work that is aligned with their values, because when you are doing work that is aligned with your values, you automatically are grateful for the work that you do, and so do better work. I care that they are fulfilled, because when you are fulfilled, you are automatically more inspired to be service-minded and begin helping others.
3. I care about money. But I don’t care about how much money my kids earn.
I care that money allows us to do the things in our lives that we love to do. I care that my kids earn enough money to support whatever lifestyle they choose. But since, for example, living the high life in NYC would require they earn more income than, say, living in a one room cabin in northern Quebec, chopping their own firewood in the winter and growing their own vegetables in the summer, this is all very relative. Which is all that money is, relative. It’s just paper that people use to exchange for things they value. It’s purely subjective. So while in my life owning my own home was always something that held importance to me, I have to admit that it’s a huge pain in the butt. I continue to do it because it holds value to me, but I wouldn’t begrudge a child of mine for wanting to avoid the headaches and hassles of mortgages and maintenance. If my kids chose instead to work from their laptops and live like nomads, I would be OK with it, as long as they were working, and as long as they were consciously supporting their lives, and as long as they were fulfilled.
I want my kids to earn to live rather than live to earn. I don’t want their paychecks to be their only purpose in life. I don’t want them to be owned by their homes, I do want them to own their lives.
Parents throughout history have talked about wanting what’s best for their kids. Often these “bests” are defined by the parents in very specific ways, and often based on things the parents themselves found lacking in their own lives. We might hear, I want my child to be a doctor, I want my child to go to the best schools, I want my child to have solid investments, I want my child to give me grandchildren, or I want my child to run the family business. How often do we hear, I want my child to beat their own drum, and to march by the beat of their own drum?
I want my children to be courageous enough to choose for themselves. I want my children to follow their instincts. I want my children to care about society. I want my kids to live in eco-conscious rather than ego-conscious ways.
I don’t care about what profession they choose.
I care that they share that value with the world.
That’s pretty much all I care about.