My daughter, a budding third grade artist, has begun to reflect on what she likes to do and whom she looks up to as a source of career inspiration. A few weeks ago, without prompting, she announced she was going to become either a teacher or an artist. This led me to do some soul searching about what kind of guidance I ought to give, and what kind of father I ought to be.
We have visited my mother’s cousins from Mexico City several times over the past year and a half, during which time they’d shared an anecdote that seemed to apply directly to this experience. My mother’s cousins are children of holocaust survivors. My great aunt and uncle were conservatory-trained classical musicians who barely survived the war only to start over with nothing in Mexico. Their sons, bearing the weight of responsibility for rebuilding the family legacy, became a banker and attorney, respectively.
The banker’s middle son came home from his first quarter at a premier Mexican university and informed his parents that he wanted to major in philosophy with a minor in music. His parents interpreted this as, “blah blah blah unemployable blah blah blah,” and promptly informed him that his choices of major were limited to economics and engineering, after whose completion he could find a secure and high-paying job. Once this job let out for the day, they advised him, he would be free to play piano or philosophize to his heart’s content on his own dime. Their son most recently worked as a consultant at Bain, a prestigious and well-compensated job, although I can’t pretend that he seemed particularly happy in the position. Only time will tell.
While I could see the appeal of their blunt but candid approach, I did not feel a similar approach would yield the best results for my kids. I want them to be financially savvy and independent, but I don’t intend to force them to choose from exclusively high-paying career paths. The best I can hope for is that they enter their adult lives with a more common sense than I possessed and eyes wide open.
With this in mind, I encouraged my daughter to look at the type of places her role models lived. She began to notice that we see more artists working booths at street fairs than we do at our annual block party or at pick up time after school. We also began to openly discuss the nice neighborhood we live in, and the type of careers that support the ability to live here. This is less about turning the kids in little Gordon Geckos than it is about helping them to realize that life is not all about unicorns and rainbows, and that the path they choose will ultimately impact the lifestyle they are able to lead.
I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive she was to these conversations, and how she began to inquire what other outlets might exist to channel her creativity. We don’t completely shield our kids from reality, but we try not to bludgeon them with it either.
Am I prematurely robbing my child of her dreams by introducing her to financial realities, or planting a seed that will help her adopt a more mature perspective in designing and assuming responsibility for her future? What approach do you take?