August 29, 2012

Working without a net

I have a friend who has been explaining to me how, very sensibly, she and her husband have taught their children to make money.  They have been careful since the kids were young to give them opportunities which have encourage their entrepreneurial ambitions.  They have nurtured them to be focused and disciplined and to pursue courses of study in science, technology, and business as their primary vocations.  When they have become established, then they can follow other dreams, if they have them.

I have another friend whose family similarly expects the kids to have fall-back careers.  They see business, computer science, and other practical pursuits as must-haves to insure their children have stable sources of income as adults.  If one of them is passionate about something else, she is encouraged to pursue it, but on the side.

Someday, if I have an adult child lying on my couch lamenting his bygone rock star ambitions or her subsistence-level librarian salary, I will sigh, knowing that my friends, their children ensconced in stable careers and well-appointed homes, can shake their heads and say, I told you so.

Still, I can't say it.  I can't look either of my sons or my daughter in the eye and tell them that their passions are secondary.  I do not have the heart.

Walking the heart-led road, I know all too well, is to risk its many potholes and dead-ends.  Ironically, although I am typically the over-protective parent, wanting to spare my children every sort of heartache, when it come to risks they might want to take in order to pursue their vocational dreams, I find I don't count the cost.

I want my children to discover their loves, to dream big, and, if necessary, to fail big.  I want them to live lives that say, in no uncertain terms, there are things more important than making a living.  There is art to make, for starters.  There is music to compose and perform, drawings of fairies to render, stories to write, Lego structures to build, and fantasies to be acted out.  Somewhere in the midst of their passion, they will find ways to make ends meet.

My friends say, reasonably, that if my daughter or daughters-in-law want to stay at home with their kids, they're going to need money.  I think, but don't say, that I stayed home on a shoestring.  We don't have a big mortgage.  Or an iPhone.  Or cable.  Or new cars.  Or fancy vacations.  Or lots of other things, including, I am quite sure, enough money in our retirement accounts.  (In the interest of fairness I must note that my financially practical friends are equally conservative in their spending but likely prepared for much more leisurely and secure retirements.)  I know I ought to care.  But I don't.

Life is wild and unpredictable.  Maybe we will have a rock star in the family.  Some people do.  Maybe librarians or Lego builders will finally get the financial rewards they deserve.  Maybe my kids will resent not being able to afford their own big suburban homes or iPhone contracts.  I don't know.

What I do know is that they will never be able to say that we didn't encourage them in their dreams, that we didn't value their passions, that we didn't offer them wind beneath their wings when they wanted to try flying instead of living with their heads out of the clouds and their feet on the ground.

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