We Are Both Right

After-School Jobs Are Worth More Than A Paycheck

Hopefully my kids will have it all together on the school front, so they can get a taste of what's to come when they head out into the working world. © Kriss Szkurlatowski /stock.xchng

Any day now, I should be ready to retire. Because if you count the years since I first started working at age 13 — as a library clerk (who wins the prize for nerdiest job ever?) — I’m just about there. Come to think of it, there were a few babysitting gigs before that, so maybe I’m closer than I realize. But the point is, I’ve been working for, well, forever.

Could that be the reason why I’ve been feeling burned out lately? Makes sense.

But do I wish that I had waited to enter the working world until I was an adult? No. The truth is that I probably wouldn’t be as marketable as I am today if it weren’t for these first jobs. Not to say that scooping ice cream and mopping floors at the pool club snack shack set me up for the career path I’m on now, but that’s where I learned everything I know about manual labor, looking busy, customer service and not being above any job — all things that have come up time and time again in my working life (oh, and at home too.)

So when I’m thinking ahead to whether or not my children should have after-school jobs while they are in high school, the answer is as definitive as punching a time clock. As long as there are no other issues to contend with (failing grades, living in the middle of a cornfield with no employers within 100 miles, etc.) my children will be pounding the pavement just as soon as we can call them teens.

I won’t expect them to log long hours or work throughout the entire school year. But I do want them to get a taste of what it is to find and hold a job way before they become entitled new graduates with zero working experience thinking they are owed $80,000 in their first job out of college.

Maybe they will learn how to answer a phone, deal with difficult people (other than their parents), and get through the tedium/delirium of checking car passes at a security booth a few hundred yards from a beautiful shoreline packed with lucky stiffs who have a day off. Because character building activities like these are the only way to define the random jobs available to kids.

Whatever it is that they do, even if they don’t realize it at the time, will be teaching them what it takes to earn their keep (not to mention why they better shore up on those basic skills in order to get the job that affords a few weeks vacation every year so that they too can take a paid day off to sit at the beach).

If they’re lucky, my employable children will actually bring home a paycheck in the process, which they would ever so carefully spend on things that warrant the time they put into earning them. (Are those $125 jeans worth it when you have to pour two weeks pay into them?)

Even if they weren’t pulling in minimum wage or anything at all, it would still be a good job in my book. My son already has a plan for his community service requirement in high school, and somehow I don’t think coaching the youth sports he loves now will be quite as painful as unclogging a frozen ice cream dispenser five minutes before closing — paid as it may be. That’s a good lesson to learn too.

Besides, if my children never have the experience of waiting tables, polishing the high school basketball court, hosing down floors in a pet store or filing charts, they won’t have those great stories we all love to tell about our first jobs. Like the time when their mom had to break up a fight between old ladies in the library, going for the same periodical…

Amanda says she’s not letting her children work while they’re in school. I respect her choice, but now who are my kids supposed to barter ice cream sundaes for deli sandwiches with?

It’s Not Their Place in a 9 to 5 World


When my kids are in high school, their job will be to hit the books, nothing more. ©shho/stock.xchng

Remember high school? I do. I remember it being an awful lot of work. Every year I took a full course load, not to mention the after-school activities I participated in. From junior year on, I also worked at a local restaurant. I worked as a waitress mostly, but did other things too.

Until I turned 17, I worked no more than four hours a day, 20 hours a week and no later than 10 p.m. Once I turned 17, right before my senior year, the rules changed quite a bit. I could work longer shifts and more of them. Vacations from school didn’t mean vacations from work and Friday and Saturday nights were filled — not with dates or outings with my friends but with order slips and cash register receipts.

It was a good job (I stayed at it until I graduated from college) and I made a lot of money. Money that helped me purchase my first car and pay for college and the prom and buy whatever it was I needed. I learned responsibility and gained some independence. For the most part, working as a teen was a great experience for me.

Still, when it comes time for my kids to work, I’m not sure I’ll be so fast in signing their working papers. My son is only 11 now, so maybe I’ll feel differently in a few years, but I think I’d rather him focus on school while he’s in high school — his studies, his extra-curricular activities and his (sigh) social life. I may change my mind once I have to start footing his sure-to-be-expensive teen-years bills, but I think that our kids have to grow up so fast as it is, why not give them a little more time to just be young.

Having said that, I don’t want my kids spending their time playing video games or surfing the ‘net or doing whatever it is that will be popular five years from now. If they aren’t working they should be studying or playing sports or doing something goal-oriented. Down time is OK, but I do expect them to be productive in some way. I don’t think that will be a problem, they are totally overscheduled right now, I can’t imagine that will change much. And to me, that’s how the younger years should be spent.

Let me be clear, I am not against my kids working entirely. I would welcome any of them to get a summer job or take on some odds and ends, here and there — babysitting, snow shoveling, lawn mowing and the like — just nothing that requires a regular commitment, nothing that might take away from their most important responsibility — being a teenager.

What do you think? Did you work an after-school job? Do your kids? Will your kids?

Suzanne says as soon as her kids are old enough, they will enter the workforce. I know where I’m going when I want a scoop of ice cream!

Want to See My Kids? Their People Will Call Your People

Want to get together one afternoon? I’d love to. Except Mondays are out because C.’s got Cub Scouts and A. has Brownies. And Monday night, C. has basketball practice for one of his two basketball teams. Tuesdays are no good — both kids have religion classes. Wednesdays A. is going to start taking art classes so that won’t work. Thursdays C. practices with his other basketball team. Friday evenings he practices with the first team and that’s usually Pack Night for scouts. Saturdays? Ha. Don’t get me started on Saturday.

© mai05/stock.xchng

© mai05/stock.xchng

Now I know why Sunday is designated as a day of rest.

Yes, we are busy. Constantly going, always moving. But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because yes, while it’s nice to have some free time, I want my kids to be engaged, immersed, engrossed.

Out of trouble.

I am a firm subscriber to the school of thought that the more occupied a child is, the less likely they are to find themselves in a less than desirable situation. Now my kids are good, they aren’t troublemakers, but by keeping them involved in lots of activities, I’m keeping them off the couch. Away from the video games. Avoiding the “Mom, what can I do?” line of questioning that is always so charming.

Plus, I want them to try everything to see what they like. By varying their after-school recreations, they get a taste of what’s out there. And what they like and don’t like. Art class? That’s a keeper. Soccer? We’ll leave the goal scoring to others thanks.

Scarily enough, the winter isn’t even our hectic time. No, things really get hopping come March when baseball starts up for C. and A. plays softball and lacrosse. And those are their “standing appointments.” I still have to factor in science fairs and teacher conferences and birthday parties and class parties and school vacations and doctor visits and field trips and playdates and other events essential to their childhood.

So I guess I’ll see you in…July?

It’s a good think Suzanne is patient and willing to get together at odd times, otherwise we’d never see each other.

Walking the Tightrope Between Involved and Overscheduled

© William Wilhelms/stock.xchng

I feel my grip slipping. On our family’s schedule that is.

With an eight-year-old sports fanatic, a three-year-old who likes to try everything, and two full-time working parents, just one more commitment will knock us off balance — a balance I’ve tried very hard to keep ever since my son joined his first team.  Because once he took a liking to soccer, he started asking about baseball, and then football, and basketball. The tricky part was that he didn’t want to give any of it up as new interests developed.

But as much as we would have loved for him to sign up for eveything from karate to guitar lessons, we knew it would be too much of a good thing.  Not to mention super stressful for us, considering that neither of us gets home until 6 and didn’t want to rely on other people to shuttle him between activities (even though it turns out we now have to).

So we implemented the one activity per season rule.  The schedule hummed along fairly nicely for a few years.  Soccer in the fall, swimming lessons in the winter, T-ball in the spring, and camp in the summer.   Aside from sprinkling in religious education on Saturdays, we kept it evenly balanced by substituting football for soccer and basketball for swimming once he reached first grade. 

And then the baby who was content sitting on the sidelines up until that point started to walk.  And throw.  And kick soccer balls.  And ask to be on every team her brother was on and then some. 

Some people thought I was crazy when I had her in gymnastics at age two, but she insisted she wanted to jump and swing in a big girl school. 

I took full responsibility for that one, having planted the seed in a Mommy and Me tumbling class that I signed us up for, feeling guilty that we spent so much time running around for her brother’s activities and she didn’t have any time focused on just her. 

She loved it.  So much that the little balance beam wasn’t enough.  She wanted to go to “jumpy class” and play on trampolines, and do flips on the uneven bars.  But after one session of gymnastics (which was getting kind of pricey), I convinced her to try out tap and ballet since it would be an outlet for her energy, as well as her princess tendencies. 

And so we adjusted our balance once again.  The new strategy this year has been that M. takes L. to religion on Saturdays, while I am at dance class with S.  During the week, he brings L. to an agility training class, and basketball/football/baseball practice, depending upon the season. 

Our little ballerina is loving her dance lessons (and I love that it’s on a Saturday and not after work), but she still talks about jumpy class every day.  So I’ve promised her that once this year in dance is over and she has her big show, she can start up with gymnastics again in the fall. 

First we have to squeeze in swimming lessons.  Oh, and this weekend both kids decided they want to start ice skating lessons.  

See what I mean?  We are teetering.  And I don’t know if I can do anything about it.  Or if I should.

I have always been pro-extracurrricular activities. I played sports all throughout my school years, and went to dance lessons, and participated in Brownies and Girl Scouts.  In high school, when my afternoons were filled with track practices, newspaper meetings and yearbook planning, I realized why people with the busiest schedules are the most productive — because their time constraints force them to be efficient and prepared.  My husband and I have always wanted the same for our children. 

And some of their activities I consider non-negotiables, such as swimming lessons for safety and religious education.  Kind of like your core courses in college.  The rest are electives of their choosing — and they seem to be choosing a lot these days.

It’s just that we didn’t think it would be so complicated. And even stressful at times.  I am still trying to avoid stepping into the quicksand of activities and looking back to find out we’re sinking with no way out.  It’s one thing if I have to be up past midnight catching up with the day, but I want to avoid having our children feel overscheduled.  

So we’re constantly checking the gauges and can tell right now by our son’s passion for sports, that these activities are something we would (and could) never deny him. 

Even if it means eating take-out more often than usual during basketball season with its twice weekly games and practices. Or rushing him from a full day of camp to a two-hour football practice in the heat of the summer three days a week, as either of us spend a good part of the evening standing around on the field in our work clothes, trying to keep his little sister entertained. 

Come to think of it, maybe we should just send her out there as well.  She might like it. 

I don’t know what’s more difficult, trying to keep the children’s extracurricular schedules in check or actually getting through a jam-packed week of activities, like Amanda does.