"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life." ~ John LennonI grabbed this quote from the Facebook feed of an unschooling group this morning, and my synapses have been happily firing with "yeah, THAT!" recognition ever since. I'm going to attempt to say something halfway coherent on the subject, although I realize that my voice is just joining a chorus in progress: many others have already addressed some of my thoughts in a very articulate manner.
In fact, I've already discussed part of the feelings aroused by this quote in an earlier post. We are accustomed to the idea that one's life goal should be attaining, and defining oneself by, a career. What's more, it's one's obligation to pursue and attain the highest-paying, most widely-approved-of career of which one is capable. If that's where your priorities lie, well...congratulations; you're a successfully-conditioned product of 20th-century society. But it bothers me to think that that's really the bar we're content to set for ourselves. Yes, I have the aptitude necessary to have succeeded in medical school (for a sterotypical example); so does my life-choice of stay-at-home mother mean that I've fallen short of my potential (and am therefore wasting my life)? Should I apologize at class reunions when I admit what I do, and accept the implications of what I don't (egads, perhaps can't? or won't?) do? No thank you; I hold my head high (figuratively, as I have little desire to actually attend class reunions) and embrace what I have chosen and the reasons for which I made my choices. (And I hope that I never lose sight of, or take for granted, the fact that my option to choose this path--this occupation--is a gift.) To fall back on my chosen catchphrase, I would rather my children be the world's most content ditch-diggers than the world's most miserable executives. Not because I value one profession over the other but precisely because I value their peace, happiness, and well-being (and, let's be honest, define them) separately from how they earn a paycheck.
This segues nicely into my next two points, which I will introduce with an anecdote. My 5-year old has a very impressive sense of spatial relations which has prompted a lifelong fascination with and interest in construction. He builds with Legos, Duplos, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Erector sets, and a number of other specialized toys whose trademarked names escape me at the moment. He repurposes items, creates pieces from scratch, draws up plans (not yet technically blueprints, but it's only a matter of time), and many of his creations are machines with moving parts that work. He told me once that he wants to be an inventor when he grows up. My response?
"Honey, you already ARE an inventor. You just don't get paid for it yet."
He loved this answer, and now happily defines himself by his passion. Not by some dream of a "someday" job, but by what he loves to do right now. And why not? I'm a knitter. I'm a seamstress. I'm a chef and a gardener and a childcare provider and a home educator and none of that will ever be declared on a tax return, but if defining oneself by what one does is a valid point of reference, it's far more accurate and telling than my saying, "I am a part-time receptionist." He is an inventor. And a scientist. And a singer. And a comedian. And a philosopher. And more.
The second important point is recognizing the "already" part of my statement to him. We have this ingrained tendency as a species, I think (it really does transcend culture and society and changes over time and geography) to see childhood as a transitional phase...a preparing for "Real" life, which is the role (primarily economic, sigh) filled by an adult. True, children are intially helpless to care for their own physical needs. They're certainly less experienced in navigating difficult social obstacles, they have by virtue of their youth attained less knowledge and fewer practical skills, and they're sexually and emotionally immature. But they ARE people. Not some featureless little lumps of clay waiting to become, or grow, or be made into people at some distant future time. They are people right now...today. To attempt to define a child by asking him what career he might pursue a decade or more into the future disrespects the person he is today. A much better--and far more respectful--ice-breaker with a child would be, "What do you enjoy doing?"
But we don't often think to ask adults that, do we? We are far more likely to go for the job description. "Oh, where do you work?", "What does your husband do?" It's no wonder that when faced with a non-working, non-adult, people are often stymied for how to relate to them. My question is: does knowing that information about your adult companions really help you relate to them on any meaningful level? Sure, it might help to establish common ground, but so might questions about hobbies or birthplaces, both of which I'm convinced open up far more enjoyable conversations.
All of this makes for interesting musing, but as with all things, I believe in balance. Don't take away from this the message that I do not value preparing my children with the skills which will enable them to function in their future workplaces. Yes, I want them to be economically self-sufficient and free from worry about their immediate physical needs. I don't want them to be reliant upon others to survive, if they are capable of taking care of themselves. I'm not advocating that they follow their bliss if what makes them happiest is exploiting others, or causing harm to anyone. If you know me, you know how I dislike the restrictions of black-and-white thinking. Yes, of course I want them to do well for themselves as members of a wage-earning society.
But all that aside, I value the things that I tried to express here. I think that their interests matter today. I think that postponing any personal respect until they're wage-earners is absurd. And I think that "happy" is about the best goal that one can pursue.