Explaining Work and Work Demands to Kids

Julie Pippert
May 19, 2009

For Mother's Day, my kids delivered a heap of wonderful, handmade presents. In addition to beaded necklace and earrings, countless drawings and sweet notes, my older daughter made a little "book" in which she told a story about me.

Usually, we tell our children stories, typically about made up characters or baby stories about themselves. Until I sat and read what my daughter thought of me, I hadn't paused to wonder how she perceived the things I do. After each prompt on the page, my daughter answered (correctly) that I like chocolate best, enjoy singing in the car, and give her and her sister cuddles every day. The last was most important to her. But when it came to the meal I make best, she'd scratched out "cooked" and replaced it with "gets." Even harder to read was that I dislike working at the computer. I wasn't sure that I had conveyed that, and I wasn't sure whether it was really me she meant, or herself.

Sometimes it's hard to be a working parent, especially one who works from home. The children leave to go to school, as does their father, but I stay home, and work from here most of the time. The purpose of this is that my career can be done remotely, and because we both wanted to make sure there was a primary parent available for the kids.

So how do I explain to my children that home is also a workplace for me, and how do I explain my complicated job to them? How does any parent explain, especially when dealing with a child's resentment of how the work intrudes on what a child wants from a parent?

I've explained to my kids that I'm a writer and editor. This is a pretty easy job to explain. Kids understand some people write, and they understand that someone will always "grade" what other people write. I can also show them books I've co-written and also books I've edited, and the pieces of building a book. I've even published a children's book, so there's actually something I did that is interesting to them, with nice picture as well! My husband is an architect. That's an even easier job to explain. He has shown them how he thinks about designing buildings using legos and blocks, and they've gotten to tour buildings he's worked on.

Handling their frustration and disappointment when work "steals" us from them is harder, but I find the key is following through on my promises. What my kids usually want is my time and attention, so if I promise that at a specific time we'll do a specific thing, and then follow-through, it usually keeps the balance in place, and builds their trust that even though mom is working now, she'll play a game later.

How do you explain jobs and work to your kids? And how do you handle that work-demand and child-demand conflict?

Julie Pippert is the Houston City Editor for The Savvy Source. You can read more of her work every day at Being Savvy Houston.

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