Parenthood
The Diary of an Office Mum: The life lessons I'm teaching my kids
Turn working mum guilt into invaluable work ethic inspiration for your little ones

Tell me something about your day,” I say to the seven-year-old, as we’re eating dinner.

“I played Duck-Duck-Goose in the yard, and I got a new library book, and we all switched desks,” she says.

“Great! And how about you?” I ask the five-year-old. “Tell me something about your day today.”

“Hmm, let me see… I went to school,” she says. “And, oh, guess what, I had lunch too.” Every family has a smarty-pants.

“What was your day mummy?” asks the three-year-old; the only child who ever reciprocates my question.

And I always answer truthfully. If it was a good day at work, I tell them so. And if it wasn’t so good, I tell them that too.

I guess I’m trying first and foremost to be honest with them, but there’s also an underlying attempt to show them the realities of the working world.

Because while I don’t work solely to be a role model for my children (I’m not crazy – I can be a role model in lots of ways without going out to work) I am conscious that by having a job, I’m teaching them some lessons, and I want to get it right.

Here’s what I hope they’re learning from me:

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That work can be great

If it’s a good day, I tell them that it was a good day – that I got a lot done, and felt tired but good when leaving for home. I want them to know that work is something that’s good for me; that I get a lot out of it. I want them to know that I enjoy what I do, and that I don’t just go there to pay the bills. I want them to grow up with the sense that a job can be a career, and that a career can be something great.

That work is not always great

If it’s a bad day, I tell them that too. That a few things were tricky, that work was a bit harder than usual. I want them to know that bad days are OK too. That everyone has them. That we talk about it, and then we can move on, and try to have a better day the next day.

That my time away from them has a positive value

I also want them to know that when I’m away from them all day every day, I’m doing something that has value. That my time away from them is not lost time. If we must be apart during the working week, then I may as well be getting something good out of it. I am, and I want them to know that.

That I have wider interests than housework

I’m the picker-upper of things off the floor, the reluctant maker of school lunches, and a very occasional baker. My talents in all of those fields are questionable, but my kids don’t seem to notice, as they call simultaneously for more pasta, another drink of water and help buttering bread. I need them to see that I do other things too, to understand that sometimes I have to send an email before I sort out the pasta and the water and the bread. And to know that when they grow up, they can have wider interests than housework too.

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That there’s a value to working hard and earning money

While I don’t burden or bore the kids with conversations about mortgages and negative equity, they do understand that my husband and I earn money by working, and use that to pay for everyday living, and for nice things like holidays and family outings. Which is probably why they offered to gather up their old toys and go door-to-door selling them to our neighbours. I may have gone too far on this lesson...

That if you love to do something, you can make it your job

Work doesn’t have to be the miserable place that serves to do nothing more than separate us from our children and pay the bills – that’s not what I want to teach my kids. I want them to know that if they love doing something – whether that’s cooking or writing or talking or selling – they can turn it into a job. Sometimes it’s the obvious one – the child who loves to draw goes on to be an art teacher or to open an Etsy shop selling paintings. More often though, it’s the less obvious stuff – the talker who ends up in sales, or the diplomat who goes into communications. I want my kids to learn that while we can’t all be pop-stars or princesses, we can find ways to turn something we enjoy into something that earns money.

That women can do anything they want to do

This one’s the biggie. I want my kids to grow up knowing that they can do whatever they want to do. They can be astronauts or engineers or scientists or doctors or teachers. I want them to know that they can be stay-at-home parents, or work part-time – that it’s about each individual having choice. And I hope that by the time they grow up, all of that will be even more true than it is today.

Are my kids picking up on these lessons? Mostly yes – they talk about their plans to set up businesses in the future, and they don’t see my job as something negative – they think it’s normal that I go to work.

There was one recent hiccup however, when I asked my daughter her opinion on changing careers:

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“What do you think I could be if I changed jobs?” I asked.

“Hmm, a cleaner?” she said, “Because you’re very good at cleaning?”

“Um right. And what about dad?” I asked.

“A footballer,” she said, not skipping a beat.

We may need to work some more on our lessons.

 

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Diary of an Office Mum