By: Paula Cabrera
Given the demands of my work as well as its flexibility (by which I mean I am not confined to an eight-hour desk job), there are times when I get to (or have to) work at home. As such, my daughter hears me say, “Wait, baby, Mama’s still working.”
One night, shortly after dinner, my two-year old eagerly wanted to play with me, but I had a pleading I needed to finish right away. My husband immediately stepped in and said that the two of them will go read books while I had to finish work. I heard my little one say, “Mama, you’re always working.” Mom guilt kicked in faster than I could process how my toddler made such observation. I have to admit – the honesty of our kids enables us to see things through their eyes.
I realized that I can’t underestimate my toddler and I shouldn’t disregard her comment, which really bothered me (Mom guilt. Mom guilt. Mom guilt.). I also realized that it would cause no harm to somehow start explaining to her the concept of work. Of course, I know that my two-year-old cannot fully understand i. the fact that both her parents are lawyers; ii. what exactly it is we do; iii. how we do our jobs; and iv. why we even do it to begin with. But I had to try. I didn’t want her to feel that she isn’t a priority or that I can’t spend time with her because of my work, and so, I started talking to her about work (in general) and relating it to concepts she could already grasp.
As working moms, we need to take baby steps in helping our kids comprehend the whats, wheres, whys, and hows of our jobs. Here are a few suggestions on how to talk to kids about work:
1. Introduce the concept of a community. Talk about the home, school, church (if any), clinic or hospital, park, shopping center/mall, market, grocery, etc. By starting with this, we get to introduce our kids to the fact that there is a whole world existing beyond the family. It will be easier for kids to understand, for instance, when they’re sick, we bring them to the doctor; in school, the teacher helps kids learn, and so on. This way, they get the picture that people have different roles in the community and we, as their moms, take on some of these roles as well.
2. Use media and concepts they are familiar with. Kids don’t understand the vocabulary our work usually deals with; hence, we need to talk to them using words and concepts they understand. There is room for creativity here. Draw, use clay/puppets/building blocks, etc. to talk to your kids about work. For example, my job involves a lot of paperwork, and so I sit down with my daughter and let her scribble on scratch paper as I tell her stories about my work. Also, my daughter loves to sing so I make up songs about going to work, dressing up for work, talking to my friends at work, etc. I find it easier this way to engage her in the topic.
3. Incorporate the concept of work in story-telling time. There are plenty children’s books that talk about different kinds of jobs. We can also use our imagination and make up stories that involve simple problem-solving scenarios and include our job in the equation. This allows us to use characters kids can remember, and hopefully, they can start grasping the idea that our work helps answer problems people encounter.
4. Talk about how the day at work went. We should share with our kids mini stories about what we did at work during the day. It could be as simple as telling them that we used the laptop or more detailed such as telling them about a meeting/class/court hearing/check-up or operation, etc., of course, in terms they can grasp. This is just like story-telling time, except here, we are the main characters.
5. Bring your kid to work – if possible. If work permits and if it’s not anything dangerous to kids, we should bring them to work or to our offices just so they can see where we go to when we say we’re going to work. Most children absorb information visually, and letting them see our offices will help them understand the concept of work. There are times I bring my daughter to the office when I know I won’t have any meetings or hearings and she already knows that in “Mama’s office, people are working so Ceecee has to be quiet and Ceecee can color but only on paper.”
6. Encourage pretend play. It can’t be all work, no play, right? Let’s remember that our kids learn during playtime. We can play dress-up with them to explain our work. We can take on roles and act out scenarios. There are no hard and fast rules here. Explaining our work to our kids can and should be fun!
7. Set a routine. It will help our kids understand that there are work days and rest days, that we dress up to leave for work but we will be home later, that while we are working, somebody else will take care of them, and that we have to leave the house for a while so we can help the community.
8. Spend quality time as a family. As working moms, we shouldn’t just focus on letting our kids understand our work, but we have to make sure they don’t develop ill feelings about working. Hence, we should make sure that as a family, we get to spend quality time with one another. Again, we’re not working individuals; we’re working moms.
Kids are sensitive human beings and they’re eager to learn and to discover. Simply because work is an “adult thing,” it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to our kids about it. We shouldn’t underestimate their capacity and willingness to learn. After all, they’re really probably wondering what other super powers their moms have!
Paula Cabrera is a working mom and a devoted wife. She and her husband are both lawyers who are continuously learning to embrace the joys and pains of both work and parenting. Reading and writing have always been some of her hobbies, and so, despite being busy, she finds time to do both even for just a few minutes everyday. She hopes to be able to be able to reach out to other parents through her short pieces and remind them that they are not alone in the crazy yet fulfilling world of parenting.