More Than Just A Paycheck

A friend told me her son started crying when his dad stayed home from work a few days ago. He was distraught, finally explaining between tears, “If daddy doesn’t go to work, we won’t have any money, and we won’t have food to eat and a house to live in!” “So…” my friend concluded, “I guess we need to take a new angle on that.” Inevitably, our kids are going to ask why we go to work, and it can be tempting to tie the answer to money. It may feel like a learning moment to teach our kids the responsibilities of the adult world, and help them to be grateful for the food, clothing, entertainment, and shelter they are provided. However, if we’re focusing on money, we may be missing out on another important teachable moment for our kids. Answering the question of why we work allows us an ideal opportunity to have a conversation about passion, philanthropy, and our roles in the local (and even global) community.

It may sound idealistic, but I want my kids to grow up to do something they love. I want their work to feel fulfilling, meaningful, and enjoyable. Our own jobs may feel like burdens some days, but at the core, I hope that we also chose work that we find some value in. Which is why I have started talking about our jobs like they are important, constructive, and intriguing duties to perform. I work in the mental health field, so when my kids ask why I’m going to work, I tell them it’s because I want to talk to people who are sad and help them feel better. When they ask why my husband, who is a teacher, is rushing off to work every morning, we tell them that there are lots of kids who are excited to learn things and Daddy wants to be the one there to teach them.

These explanations of why we are going to work shifts the focus from what we have to do to what we feel compelled to do as active members of a society. It increases our chilren’s awareness of the people all around them in the community, and the unique ways they are helping make other people’s lives easier or more pleasant. It also encourages our kids to think about what they will want to do to help the greater good when it comes time for them to work.

As a bonus, this focus might just help us reframe our own understanding of the work we do. When we’re rushing off to our jobs, maybe we will do it with a little more enthusiasm and compassion, remembering that there is more to our work than just a paycheck. We all know that old response given when someone is complaining about their job: “It’s supposed to be hard, that’s why it’s called work!” Maybe this exercise in talking to our kids will remind us that it’s more about sharing our strengths, and allow us to consider the idea that it’s called “work” because it’s all about us working together.


I’ve started to play this game with other professions, to test my theory that every job can be explained in a positive, altruistic, (and child-friendly) light.


Pizza Deliverer:
“I’m helping take delicious food to people who are hungry.”

Computer Software Engineer:

“I’m helping other people figure out ways to make their computers work better.”

 Market Research Analyst:
“I’m helping people read charts and graphs so I can tell them what will help their companies work even better.”

Medical Records Processor:
“I help doctors keep track of all the important information they need when they are keeping people healthy.”

 Bank Teller:
“I’m helping take care of people’s money so that it’s safe when they need it to buy things or go places.”