How many times do we parents sit around the dinner table and feel frustrated that our children aren’t telling us anything about their day? In reality, they’re probably just following the example we’ve set.
As an entrepreneur and mother of two young boys, one of my top priorities has been to make sure my children understand what I do for a living. I’ve become a better mother and a better business leader from doing so.
First and foremost, we are parents. Our children mostly see our jobs as the “other” things we do that help pay the bills and buy them toys. But how many of them actually understand and value the hard work we put in every day?
Some jobs will be easier to describe than others but it is important to start the conversation. As the founder of a company that produces drug-testing kits, I initially thought I had one of the tougher careers to explain. As you can imagine, I wasn’t ready to delve deeply into the topic of substance abuse with my two boys.
Since then, I’ve learned that even if your job involves adult themes, you shouldn’t shut your kids out and assume they can’t (or aren’t ready to) relate to the topic. I didn’t go too deeply into the complexities of drug abuse, but I absolutely discussed the passion and problem-solving skills that go into my work every day — something both kindergartners and CEOs can relate to.
Here are three tips to help you start (and continue) the conversation:
1. Keep it simple.
In addition to focusing on bigger themes such as interpersonal skills, hard work and overcoming obstacles, it’s also important to share specifics about your job in a way that’s easy for children to understand. Rather than tell your kids, “I help people maximize the return on their investments,” simply say, “I help people make good decisions with their money.”
I told my boys that I help businesses make sure their workers are healthy. Even small children can relate to going to the doctor, and they can grasp the concept of tests that ensure grown-ups are taking care of their bodies.
2. Show and tell.
Most children are tactual and kinesthetic learners. They learn far more from experiencing something than they do from being told about it. I’m a firm believer in taking your children to work -- not just on “take your child to work day.” Whenever appropriate, have them sit in on meetings or visit your job site. I’ve taken my sons to a few of the treatment centers that use our testing kits, granting them a first-hand look at the people we help and why I’m passionate about my work.
Bring home elements from work whenever possible. Even something as simple as a latex glove or an old business card is bound to spark conversations.
3. Turn business trips into family trips.
Whether it’s for trade shows or vendor meetings, I’m on the road a lot. Recently, I’ve begun to incorporate my entire family into some of these trips. We even took one of our sons on a trip to China, and it was an amazing learning experience for him. Not only did it help him understand the global reach of our firm, but he also got to see how our kits are made in the factory.
Things that adults take for granted -- such as the massiveness of convention halls or the precise synchronization of packaging machines -- can often be memorable teaching moments for children.
Opening up to my children about my job has made me realize our days have much more in common than I thought they did. After all, being an entrepreneur encompasses passion, problem-solving, listening, teamwork and leadership -- all of which my children also encounter throughout their school day.
All entrepreneurs know the value of teamwork. Our children are valuable members of our teams, and they’re smarter than we often give them credit for. Start talking to them about your day -- no matter what your job is. You have as much to gain from it as they do.