I wonder how many young people we have stressed out by asking them silly questions?
If they’re between diapers and acne we ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. As they near their senior year we up the ante and ask a more pointed question about college, because it’s time to make those decisions. I feel sorry for all the 17 and 18 year olds, but I’m guilty of striking up the same cliche conversations.
We train the good answers right into them, and we unintentionally teach them that when you grow up, your life will really begin.
I remember playing with the neighborhood kids growing up. I was usually the teacher or the secretary, but if we played house, I was the baby. (Basically, what this says about me is that I want to be in charge and have all the ducks lined up neatly, but at the end of the day what I really want is for someone to take care of me.)
Over the years my goals changed – there was a period where I wanted to be a writer, like, for real. I even submitted some poetry to a magazine once and made sure they knew where to find me incase they wanted more, precocious child that I was. But then the responsible people in my life helped me aim higher and in high school I pointed towards physical therapy, sports medicine, or nursing.
After six months in the nursing program, I quit and changed my major to elementary education.
Today I homeschool 4 children, try to manage the books for my husband’s business, write my heart out for strangers and family, and in the evenings I curl up and ask my kids to bring me a blankie.
We ought to pay more attention to the dreams our children have, before logic and sensibility and financial security over-rule them.
My husband owned a logging company for 20 years. He worked the long hours from dark-to-dark, drove the long distances, managed acres and acres of timber and worked on equipment on the weekend. He was successful. He was responsible. He was tired.
Now he builds houses, and he’s still successful, responsible, and tired, but he’s satisfied. The person he is has lined up neatly with his work and his ministry and God does the greatest things when we get on board.
He’s always been good with people and good at fixing things and when he was a boy, I’m told, his mom let her three sons play with her dollhouse. Coincidence?
We are whole people, raising whole children, and our whole selves are so much more than what we do or what we want to do or what makes the most career sense.
We had this conversation, my daughter and I. It’s time to talk colleges and majors and tentative plans and we talked it out on the way to town one day.
She said the truth when she said it was hard to decide. I remember being her age and feeling that I had to all of a sudden make this decision – how will I spend my life? What do I want to “do” ? What are my strengths and weaknesses and where will I excel?
Those silly aptitude tests don’t work on most 17 year olds, especially if you’ve had so many years of being pressed into a mold. What teenager knows themselves well enough to answer those questions objectively?
We aim too far ahead, I think. We set the mark so far into the future and we expect a long-range mind to be in a teenager’s body, to be in a small child’s body even.
What do you want to do when you grow up? has to be one of the biggest disservices we commit.
“It’s not so much about what I want to do, but what kind of person I want to be,” she says.
And maybe I’m wrong again about these young-adult people, about them not knowing themselves well and how can they possibly decide at 16 or 17 what they want to “do” for the rest of their lives.
I remember the things my kids did when they were young and carefree. I remember how they played, how they lit up and unwound. I know there were boxes of miscellaneous screws and do-hickeys, stacks of books and blocks, cars lined up in a row, Lego towers and battles, copious amounts of abstract art and tea parties and glitter.
They are still those creative people, thinkers, outgoing and helpful, some social and some private. They are the best kind of people, each different, each wonderful.
When they grow up, I hope they’ll just be larger versions of themselves.