Who Do You Want To Be? : On the Future of Children’s Futures

I am twenty three.  23.  That is two whole decades and then some.

When I was ten, I thought twenty was lightyears away; that to get there, time and space would move so quickly that I’d wake up and one day my life would just be laid out for me.

I remember we would have to tell adults what we would want to be when we grew up.  It was and still is my least favorite question. Hell, I didn’t even know what I would be doing during recess…how was ten year old me supposed to know what I wanted to do as a viable career?

At the time, I didn’t know why I disliked the idea of thinking about my future so much.  But, looking back, I know.  For children, and even for adults, there is no wiggle room and definitely no such thing as a gap year.  Your future as a grown up meant a job title.  Lawyer.  Doctor. Teacher. Defined roles and no time for a discussion of you as a fully functioning little human.

I am doing my damnedest to reverse that thought process.

Maybe because when we teach children occupations as aspirations instead of qualities or convictions, we will inevitably become adults that focus on structure, on job titles, on climbing the ladder.

Children are grown enough to take stock of what we ask of them.  They’re smart enough to realize what others value and what they don’t.   So what if we gave them real opportunities to show us who they are now and who they could be down the line?  They may not know what they want to do for a living, but we can teach them how to live.

And sure, maybe “compassionate” or “inquisitive” isn’t exactly a great selling point in asking for a pay raise.  But what if it was?  And what if those things weren’t just words we used to make us feel better when the world deals us all a shitty hand?  What if we put true value in qualities that make up beautiful, loving humans?  What if instead of asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, we started asking children “Who do you want to be? And how are you going to get there?”

I am going to try and do this with the young ones in my life, and I encourage you to do the same.  What are some other questions we could be asking children in our lives?  Share what you do to help validate our children and encourage their growth!

 

What Happens When You Reach a Certain Age

And no, I’m not talking about the oh-so-ridiculously high drinking age of 21 (thanks, America).

Being considered an adult is circumstantial.  Life in America tells you that you become a legal adult at 18.  You can vote, you can be drafted (with some considerations), you can start doing your own damn laundry (although you should probably have started doing that on your own way before that).  The government can treat you like an adult and throw responsibilities at you, but for some reason, your parents can’t, or don’t, or won’t.

So, when you finally reach an age when you are perceived as a real life, normal, human person with enough emotional capacity to pitch a tent in, it’s a little strange.  Because all your life, you’re given excuses for your behavior or your points of view.  When you’re a child, you’re naive.  It’s cute that you think you want to be a ballerina scientist princess singer.  When you’re a teenager, blame the hormones.  It’s “just a phase” that you slam doors and whisper expletives under your breath when you fight with your parents.  When you go off to university, you’re homesick or stressed out.  It’s fine that you’re preoccupied with deciding on a major or juggling classes.  And all throughout your life, no one tells you things.  Not real things, anyway.  Adults are a part of a not-so-secret society and until you’ve reached a certain age, you just aren’t invited.  People shelter their children, anyone’s children, from emotional and physical realities because they think it will stunt their growth or traumatize them to no end.  No one really talks to you in a way that is normal.  Conversations are not real conversations. And you’re expected to just be fine with that.

And then suddenly, sometimes with warning and sometimes without, you’ve reached a certain age. It sneaks up on you most of the time.  I know it did with me.

One day, when you call home, your mom doesn’t just say she’s fine.  She’ll actually tell you things about her life.  She’ll still give unsolicited advice, because that’s what she does.  But, she also asks for your opinion.  She asks because she needs affirmation and consideration–something that you just couldn’t provide before because you hadn’t been that certain age quite yet.

And now you are.

And one day, when you phone your dad, he’ll tell you what’s really wrong with grandpa.  He won’t say it’ll be alright like he did with grandma.  You were young back then, so it was okay that no one told you the truth.  But now you’re a certain age, and for some reason, that deserves the truth.

The thing with being a certain age is that it isn’t a sturdy, standard age.  It comes in ebbs and flows.  You get exposed slowly, incrementally, and then all at once.

You’re no longer considered a child that didn’t know better.  Sometimes you just don’t think about it though.  It seems like a natural progression, but when you look back, you realize that it’s only been one year or two or three since you were just a kid. And now, you’re just a person that can provide support and words of encouragement or bereavement or whatever kind of emotion is necessary for a particular time and place.  And in a way, it’s kind of for lack of a better word, nice.  You are, at a certain age, considered a real person capable of contributing your own voice and thought.

It’s not confusing or extremely uplifting.  It’s just nice.

Because the relationships that are the nicest are the ones that are mutually satisfying.  Traditionally, parents support their children.  And it’s not to say that until you’re a certain age, you don’t appreciate their affection and love.  It’s more that when you do reach a certain age and you find yourself helping your parents as much as they help you, it just makes more sense.

And, I find that when you reach a certain age, you stop thinking about reaching a certain age.  I don’t know if I’ve hit that obscure number yet, but I think I’m making my way there.

When you reach a certain age, it’ll be okay to see your heroes sad.  It makes them human.

When you reach a certain age, you’ll stop saying you’re older than you really are.  The pre-mature wrinkles won’t be sources of pride anymore.  You’ll hate society for being ageist, but you’ll do everything in your power to not be called “old”.

When you reach a certain age, you’ll believe in love.  And loss.  And love again.  It will still be hard to let go, but it will happen.

When you reach a certain age, you will still care what people think.  You’ll just learn that it matters more what you think.

When you reach a certain age, you will see that no one is immune to hurt or heartache.  You will also see that no one is immune to smiles or kindness or a really great smelling loaf of bread.

When you reach a certain age, you will stop saying you will get to it eventually.  You will get to it today.  You won’t wait for a tragedy to strike or a parent to yell at you.

When you reach a certain age, you will sometimes wish you stayed in touch with everyone you ever were friends with.  You will soon realize that it’s okay you haven’t.

When you reach a certain age, you will understand that what you think and say matters.  You will apologize when you do something wrong and stand strong when you know you are doing something right.  You won’t be ashamed for not following the crowd.  You will be a hero in your own right.