3 Ways NOT to Talk to Your Children About Work

I have often wondered what my kids really think I do all day.

Every morning, I hug and kiss them goodbye after breakfast and then I’m out the door, not to see them again for 8 or 9 hours. I know what they do, at least mostly – it’s a routine that’s pretty ingrained in our family by this point. It’s a mixture of classes, playtime, homework, and getting ready for the next day. But I wonder – do they know what I’m doing all that time when they’re solving math problems or playing on the monkey bars or reading books?

They should. At least in part. It’s not that they’re pining away right now, wondering what daddy is doing, but I do want them to know me in an ever-increasing kind of way. Furthermore, talking with our kids about work also prepares them to understand what it means to work hard out in the world. That being the case, there are some ways, I believe, that we should NOT talk to our children about work. Here are three of them:

1. “My boss is a jerk.”

I remember old sitcoms that sounded like this. The dad would come into the home after a long day at work and flop down in the recliner and then proceed to talk about his jerk of a boss. Away from the world of television, this still happens in many homes on a regular basis. It’s easily justified – maybe your boss really is a jerk. Maybe he or she really does place unrealistic demands on you. And where can you talk about your frustration with your boss if not at home? Consider, though, exactly what you are communicating to your kids if they hear about how terrible your boss is over and over again. It’s a distinctly different message than the one Peter gave to us about the nature of authority:

“Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good” (1 Peter 2:13-15).

Our submission to authority is a reflection of our submission to God. Because we believe that God is sovereign, we believe that He has placed us in this job for this moment under this authority. Of course, this is not limitless submission, but does mean that we willingly and respectfully acknowledge the authority over us. We do this not because our boss necessarily deserves it, but because we ultimately submit ourselves to the Lord and His wisdom who has seen fit for us to be in this position to begin with.

What, then, do we communicate to our kids of they hear the refrain of complaint over and over again? It’s not just about our boss; it’s about authority in general. And ultimately, the authority of God.

2. “I am better than this.”

Entitlement lurks deep within us all. Most of us, at some point or another, will look at something or many things we have to do at work and think, I’m better than this. It’s amazing how quickly that attitude passes from one generational to another.

We might wonder why our kids are so disgruntled when they have to clean a toilet. Or do an assignment from school they don’t want to. Or have to wait instead of getting the next piece of technology. Where did they get this idea that they deserve more than they’re getting? And that’s when conviction comes with a sledge hammer, for perhaps part of that entitlement has its root in the way we talk about our own jobs. As with the first point, it’s easy to justify feelings like this – maybe you do deserve better. Maybe you are too educated for this role. Maybe you are over qualified for this position. Maybe you are too talented to be sitting in that chair.

But that’s where you are. And in this moment, this is the opportunity God has given to you to bring Him glory, no matter how small and insignificant and, yes, even beneath you it might seem:

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory” (1 Cor. 10:31).

3. Not at all.

We might talk about our terrible boss. Or we might talk about how much better we are than our job indicates. But we also might make the mistake of saying nothing at all.

Even when we say nothing, though, we are still communicating. We are still making a statement. And when we say nothing at all, we are communicating that work, our work, is not important. But it is. Our desire for and capacity to do meaningful work is part of what it means to be created in God’s image.

God is a worker. Even today, He’s still working in big and small ways – in the unseen and the seen. He’s busily making all things work together both for our good and His glory, all the while bringing all the cosmos under the head of Jesus Christ. As creations in His image, we are meant to extend His good rule and provision in all the little spheres of influence we ourselves have on a daily basis. When we neglect our work, then, we are denying part of what it means to be truly human. And we are denying our responsibility as God’s image-bearers in the world.

Our children should hear from us about our work because our work matters. It matters not only in the sense that it’s the means by which we put food on the table; it matters in that we are those that God has chosen to extend His common grace through our work to the world.

So, parents, we should talk about our work, but we should make sure that even this conversation is “seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6), so that our children not only know us, but begin to form in their own minds what it means to work responsibly, joyfully, and gratefully in the world.

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