Since I was 15 years old, I have always had a job. My jobs have ranged from scrubbing toilets as a chambermaid to selling pots and pans door to door to working at a fruit stand to donning a very gay looking blue uniform as a security guard. My mother was a single working mother long before there ever was such a thing and I unknowingly inherited my work ethic from her. The thought of not working never crossed my mind, in the same way getting up and putting on a dress, pantyhose and high heels never crosses my mind.
Following all three pregnancies, I took whatever maternity leave was allowed, tagged on a couple of weeks of saved vacation and made the best of it. It usually meant I had about three months off. And then I was right back into my full-time job feeling ragged, out of shape and missing my kids. But still, the thought of not working never crossed my mind.
I think I was a better mom because I worked. While I cherished the time I had with my kids, having time away from them allowed me to be a multi-dimensional person with better balance. I know my kids saw my struggles as I tried to juggle work and them. And, I failed a lot. Sometimes the milk was sour, sometimes I missed a deadline to sign them up for a sports team, sometimes their shoes were too small, and sometimes I just forgot they needed to be somewhere. Regardless, instead of failure I think they saw an unwavering commitment to get over the endless stream of the obstacles life throws at you. And, more importantly, they saw that I was happy in spite of what some might describe as chaos.
Now, let me tell you something about my three oldest kids. They are all very different. I often like to use a coloring analogy to describe them. My daughter Julia was — and still is — one to always push the bounds and always colors outside the lines. My son Shaun is someone who always took rules very seriously and would never, ever color outside the lines. And my son Patrick didn’t know you wanted him to color, but would be happy to start coloring now if you still needed him to.
For as astonishingly unique as they are, they are bound by one clear strand of my DNA — the need to have a job. Each of them has had a job since they were about 15. Shaun and Patrick work 60+ hours a week in the summer at a very busy restaurant on the Cape. Julia has always somehow juggled two jobs at the same time while consistently making the Dean’s list in college. Yet, I don’t ever remember saying to them: “You need to get a job.” It’s as if they inherently knew at age 15 that in order to achieve balance and accountability in one’s life, work is something that you just need to figure out. Trips with friends, tickets to concerts, or meals out don’t just happen. Having the independence to do the things they love comes at a price. And, if they have learned in the process that you can be happy while maintaining the requirements of life — school, work, whatever — then I’ve done my job.
I must have blinked. Today, I have two kids in college and one graduating high school in about eight weeks. Yet I have an incredible calm when I think about their future. I don’t know what they’ll be, but I have a feeling they will be happy. Because as innate as having a job is to them, I know that they are driven by a greater cause — the need to be accountable, responsible and self-sufficient — independent of me but forever marked by my DNA (and, thankfully my mom’s).
Do you think having a working kid is nature or nurture?
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