"The conversations we think are important are often not actually the ones that make a difference"
My question touches on chinuch and careers, and my husband and I have disagreed about it for awhile.
The background: We spent the first few years of our marriage with him in kollel, while I worked full time. When I was ready to cut back, we were suddenly faced with the huge challenge of figuring out what kind of job he should look for, which took an enormous toll on us. Baruch Hashem, he has been employed for the past few years, but going through that stress influenced the way I thought about preparing our sons for the future. I don’t want them to have to experience the confusion we felt.
Whenever an opportunity comes up, I talk about careers, businesses, and how their talents can possibly be used at work in the future. My husband views this as a distraction from their learning, which we agree should be their focus at this point in their lives. But we also know that, as parents, we have a Torah obligation to prepare our children for a profession.
In your opinion, at what age is it important to have these kinds of conversations with children?
Your question is one that I’ve discussed with a number of couples, and it comes up often in conversations.
It taps into the challenge of real life as a Jew; we want to do our best to live all areas of life focused on the ultimate goal. Careers, parenting goals, and seemingly simple conversations are all part of that. As you stated, this is more of a chinuch question, but I’m glad to share my personal perspective as a frum career coach, as well as the response I received from a rav to whom I posed this question.
What I find interesting is that the conversations we think are important are often not actually the ones that make a difference. Think about the typical question we ask kids: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Not particularly useful. For most kids, the answer is either a fantastical idea, or something that will change multiple times as they admire different adults in their lives.
The challenge I see many adults facing is not that they didn’t have a conversation about careers early enough — we see people who’ve been discussing it for years who end up changing their minds many times once they enter the workforce. The real challenge people face is that they actually don’t know what they’re good at.
That’s the good news — because the real answer is that to prepare your children for careers, you don’t need to talk about careers at all. Instead, the best thing you can do for them is to help them gain a healthy sense of self-awareness about where they shine. This can be as simple as pointing out: “You’re such a great listener. I notice your friends always come to talk to you when they’re going through a rough time.” (Is he a future therapist?)
“You have such an eye for decorating, I love how you set up your room! What do you think of this couch I’m looking at for the living room?” (Could she be a designer?)
I find that when young adults have had those conversations throughout their childhood, making a final career choice when the time comes is much simpler. At that point, it becomes a practical decision based on their strengths, interests, and personal lifestyle decisions.
I posed your question to Rabbi Daniel Staum, a noted rav, social worker, and parenting expert in my community. He pointed out that in the same Gemara you’re quoting, which tells us to prepare our children to earn a living, the obligation to teach them Torah is mentioned as well. These are both parts of preparation for adulthood, and we can’t pick and choose one at the expense of the other.
The real question, he says, is how to make sure that you raise them with solid foundations for life in both of these areas.
His advice was to focus on developing your children’s talents in a way that will give them the tools and confidence necessary to make a living. As a mother, you can lay much of the groundwork by taking note of your children’s individual interests and talents and making an effort to provide them with opportunities to express those talents. It can be as simple as asking a musically inclined child to lead the zemiros, or one with leadership abilities to lead younger children in activities.
The number one thing to remember is that the most useful preparation you can provide is helping your children in being in touch with and confident in their natural talents. Having well-developed self-awareness along with a strong Torah foundation is the best way to prepare our children for success.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 885)
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