Are We Undermining Our Children?

imgres-1Over the years I have become kind of obsessed with millenials and the workplace. While writing about teens at the same time as my son–an amenable and highly capable serial underachiever–was applying to college, I became stuck on the horrifying notion that the way we are bringing up our children today is preparing them poorly for tomorrow’s workplace.

Rather than worry about college, I started worrying about how my kids were going to find their way through the work world.

The model my husband and I show them through our own work behaviors is one of extreme diligence born of a deep-seated and authentic interest in our work. This is combined, for both of us, with a clear understanding that in order to do what we do, we MUST work well with other people. So we live with compromises; we have learned to persuade, manipulate and direct; and we respect others while also having firm opinions.

In my case, this has been earned only after decades of experience. There’s been a fair amount of failure and pain along the way for me, but that’s been necessary for me to learn. Navigating the work world did not come all that naturally to me, but I am a doer with high standards for others and for myself, and so by nature I just kept forging ahead. I trusted that each hurdle had some hidden reward.

imgres-2When I wrote my first book, I was astonished to learn just how guilty mothers felt if they didn’t focus 100 percent of their energy on their kids. Since that’s basically impossible, most mothers feel guilty most of the time.

Except me. I love work so much, I don’t feel guilty about doing it. I also need to do things like shower, lounge around, and go out with friends. Anyway, my point is this: it was and still is truly perplexing to me that modern (western) attitudes to parenting seem to require that we dedicate ourselves exclusively to our kids or–so goes the accepted theory–we’ll screw them up.

I think the opposite is true.

Now, years later and in the middle of working on my 7th or 8th book, it’s all coming full circle. I’m reading about how ill-prepared these kids we’re raising really are. They are driving employers crazy because they are demanding without having earned the right to be so. A recent Wall Street Journal article explains these kids expect high pay, flexible schedules, promotion within a year and great vacations. When they don’t get this, they quit, knowing of course that they can always fall back on their parents.

And then at the end of the article, I read this: “After all, the grumbling baby-boomer managers are the same indulgent parents who produced the millennial generation.”

Payback. Yikes.

imagesI loved this Harvard Business Review article that looked at work from the touted “find your passion” perspective. It offers up four things kids should focus on in order to prepare themselves for a satisfying work life:

  1. Develop situational awareness: “There’s too much focus on knowing the self. Balance this with knowing the world.”
  2. Look into problems that affect you in a very personal way. “We’re more likely to be motivated by problems we can relate to on a personal level.”
  3. Connect with people working on big problems. “In a world where problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved.”
  4. Take time off and travel. “Forget about traveling as a tourist… The broader and richer experience pays dividends down the line.”

And I would add here are a few things parents can do, too:

  1. Let your kids fail every now and then.
  2. When you say no, mean it.
  3. Model a good work ethic, and talk with them about your work.
  4. Make them get real jobs when they are teenagers.
  5. Think long term instead of short term.
  6. Take time for yourself when they are little, so they grow up understanding they’re not the center of the universe.
  7. Feel less guilt, and enjoy the moment more.
  8. Forgive yourself for being imperfect.

What do you think? Email me at author@katrinschumann.com, I’d love to hear your opinion.

 

Locked Up

Writer-s-block...-1

The Norfolk County Courthouse is right in the middle of town, and I pass it many times a day. Today, I park, gather together my notebooks, computer, I.D., take a deep breath and march in.

The Asian police officer at the front desk barely glances at me as I put my bag through the X-Ray machine and walk, stoop-shouldered, through the metal detector. A curving stairway lined with stained marble leads upstairs to the room where, a few years ago, I listened to the jury foreman say “guilty.” The Judge’s chambers are up there too, where I sat and watched as my friend was sentenced to four to five years in prison. I watched the police cuff him and lead him away in front of his wife and children. That night, I watched it all over again on the evening news.

I hitch my bag up on my shoulder. To my left, behind tall oak doors with etched glass panels, is the Clerk’s office. Inside is a messy warren of mismatched desks and file cabinets. Enormous windows overlook the High Street.

No one looks up as I enter.

“Hi?” I say, putting my bag down on the floor between my legs. Half the space in the narrow entryway is taken up with a counter upon which piles of papers are stacked haphazardly. No one appears to hear me. “Hello? I’d like to see a court transcript. Of a trial. From a few years ago?”

Three sets of eyes look up at me simultaneously.

***

When does a story become ours to tell? This simple question had been haunting me since the trial. Over and over again, friends came up to me at parties, woozy with beer. “You haveto write about this!” they’d say, eyes on fire. It was all very exciting, for them. I perfected a frozen smile.

Meanwhile, I was living my own hellish reality that no one suspected: I wasn’t sleeping. My doctor put me on sleep medications and anti-depressants. I developed a mysterious back ailment I couldn’t get rid of. Almost every morning, I spent the first few hours trapped inside the deep and secret guilt of my stupendous hangovers. I suffered my first ever anxiety attacks. Twice I experienced vertigo so intense I had to stay in bed all day. Thank god I had a nonfiction book contract. I was surprisingly productive. I went on TV to publicize my book. I got steady editing work.

To the outside world, everything was normal. To me, everything had fallen apart.

***

“Transcripts?” a lady at the back says. “Well. We don’t keep those in here.”

“Oh,” I say, relief flooding through me. Easy. I’ll just turn around and leave and forget this project. It’s taken me years to gather the nerve to come back here, and now I can just go home and forget about it all.

The woman at the desk closest to me turns her eyes back to her computer. That leaves four eyes on me. No one bothers to get up. I’ve been dismissed.

I feel myself beginning to get irritated. I’m here now, aren’t I? I have a right to see those papers. Those files are public.

“Really?” I say after a moment, keeping my voice light. “So… where are the transcripts kept, then? You’ve got court documents here, right? I’m allowed to see those by law, aren’t I? I mean, they’re in the public domain.”

I smile my most guileless smile. Everyone is watching me now.

A thin, middle-aged woman in a fitted green T-shirt stares at me through thick glasses. “Case number?” she asks.

I say the case number.

“What kind of case was it?”

“Statutory rape.”

The two women at the back of the room exchange glances. The one who told me they don’t keep transcripts here leans back in her leather chair, pencil in hand. “You want to see the transcripts of a rape trial? Is it over?” she says after a while.

“Yes. Uh, a few years ago.”

“Was there a conviction? Did it go to appeal?”

“Both,” I answer. “He was convicted and then appealed.”

“You a journalist, or a lawyer?” the woman in green asks. “You need to fill out paperwork, you know. You’ll have to say why you want to see the files. Not everyone’s allowed to see the files. There are rules.”

“That’s okay. I can do that. I’ll fill out paperwork.” My heart is racing.

On the sheet of paper she hands me, I state my reason for the request: personal research. After “Relationship” I write:friend.

***

For years, I’d been locked up in a kind of jail myself. After a two-week writer’s residency during which I wrote 500 words, I finally admitted to myself that I might never write fiction again. This realization was relief and torture in equal measure.

One day, I decided that I was powerless to do anything to change what had happened or what was happening. I let go of my guilt. It wasn’t my job to fix this mess. My back pain disappeared almost immediately. I never suffered another anxiety attack. Eventually, I laid off the pills and booze.

As a writer, when do you have permission to write about someone else’s tragedy? No matter how hard I tried, I could not stop wrestling with the questions that lingered for me. Those were my demons.

Though I was no longer physically ill, I could not move on. I still wasn’t working on my novel.

***

That day at the courthouse, I succeed in getting hold of the court documents, and I sit there for hours poring over transcripts (incomplete), depositions (tragic), police reports (wordy), and appeal filings (indecipherable). It’s all horribly familiar to me. But I feel okay. I am sad, but not devastated.

A transformation is taking place as I read: the story is changing. It is morphing into my story. I’m not thinking about my friend, I’m thinking about my plot. I’m thinking about how to tackle the questions that have been bothering me. My imagination starts to kick in.

My eyes begin to hurt and I go home. Even though I have a deadline for other writing, I decide to work on my novel for a bit. To try, one more time. I’ll put in 15 minutes… half an hour…. maybe more…

I write 2,000 words. It’s been a very long time since I wrote 2,000 words in one sitting.

I take something I lived through, claim it as my own, and make peace with my discomfort. I am not writing that story, I am writing my own story. It doesn’t belong to others, I decide, it belongs to me.

It has taken me a long time to get here, too long. But I’ve done my time.

***

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? I would love to hear your story. You can reach me at author@katrinschumann.com.