I have two teenagers in my house, which means two people question my intelligence on a daily basis.
The years are long gone when my children thought I could bestow gems of great wisdom upon them or provide an answer that would make all things right again.
Their desire for my input has changed so much in the past few years that now I’m almost grateful when they ask me for anything but money.
And when they actually do seek my opinion, I want my words to be meaningful and memorable.
Unfortunately, that isn’t working out for me.
Take, for example, the other evening when my daughter asked me what career she should choose. Her question was preceded with an explanation that a few of her I eighth grade comrades have already decided. One, she told me, wants a job like Penelope’s on the television show Criminal Minds.
I was briefly distracted from the conversation by the thought that such role models as Penelope didn’t exist when I was growing up, and I wished I had known about that career option. But my distraction didn’t last long as I was drawn back into the conversation by Kendall’s insistence that I provide some clear career advice.
The best I could give her was, “Find something you love to do.”
That answer is one of the many reasons my children constantly question my intelligence. It’s the kind of answer that teenagers would consider “lame” if they actually used that word anymore.
And so, my daughter persisted.
“No, really Mom,” she said. “What should I be?”
I couldn’t give her a better answer.
Just that day I had been sitting in my office with my board chair discussing various issues related to my work for a non-profit, social service agency. I had launched into yet another passionate commentary about how to better help the people for whom we provide services while she listened attentively. When I was finally silent she said, “You are one of the lucky ones.”
Apparently, I had a confused look on my face because she added, “You have a job in which your values, your beliefs and your spirituality are all part of what you do every day. Few people are as lucky,”
She then told me about a former youth group leader at her church whose profession was building bombs.
“He lived in a perpetual state of conflict,” she said. “But he had to feed his family.”
I appreciated her comments. I didn’t mention that most of the jobs I’ve had could barely feed my family and that I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband who also works. Instead, I thought about the strange and twisted path that has become my career. I didn’t even know that the work I do was a career option when I was my daughter’s age. But somehow, through a series of both personal decisions and life events, I have landed where I am.
And I couldn’t be happier.
And that’s also why I couldn’t provide my daughter with a better response to what kind of career she should pursue. I don’t know how relevant my, or any other person’, input should be. She has so many choices to make and so make events to still experience.
What I really wanted to say was “Get an education in a field that interests you and experience life as much as you possibly can. If you do both, your career will fall into place. Even if you don’t always have a job you love, you’ll have the foundation for an amazing life.”
I would have said that to her, but I know she would have given me a classic Kendall look that can only be defined as a mix of pity and frustration.
And so, all I could do was repeat what I had already told her - make a decision based on her own interests and skills.
She still wasn’t satisfied with my answer, but I knew that giving her a list of professions wasn’t really going to help.
I also knew that someday she’ll recognize that maybe, just maybe, her mother was smarter than she once thought.