What do you think of when you think of work? What do your family members, colleagues, peers, employees, and children say or think?
If you google, “define work,” you will come up with a definition that you will probably find surprising. Using the word work as a verb, it states, “be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a purpose or result.” Look at how far away we have come in defining work for ourselves and our children. What message do you directly or indirectly send to your children about work? What message do you directly or indirectly send to them about their work? What aspects of your communication are potentially constructive or potentially destructive? No matter what you are communicating, when was the last time you asked yourself, “Is my communication based on a misperception about work?”
So often, parents come home at the end of a day and complain about work or complain about having to go into work on Monday morning. There is exuberance in the air when Friday rolls around! How counterproductive is that for your child, especially if they are attending a Montessori School?! Maybe we aren’t modeling a desire to be at our chosen job or joy in our work. Often, parents either ignore their children as soon as they get in the car by being on their phone or they grill their child about their day, asking too many questions in what should be a moment of joyful reconnection. When a child says they do not know or they forget what they did during the day, it can cause friction between the child and their parent. This is a whole other blog post. The point here is to ask, what is the intention, the relationship, focus and understanding with work?
Think about this for a moment. Work is the engagement of the body and/or mind. The goal is to be in the moment during this engagement. Taking it another step forward, can you work on being engaged in something that you really do not feel like doing? The answer is yes! It may not be ideal, as ideal as knowing you are doing something you love. However, being able to find joy in that which just has to be done is an ability of humans. This is what I say to my students when they eventually have to do something in particular that they may not really feel enthusiastic about. I say, “Well it is a good thing you are not a deer or some other animal!” They usually look at me like a deer in headlights, pun intended. I say, “Well, for example, when a deer gets scared, it either freezes or runs away, or will, very rarely, fight. The difference between you and a deer is that you can choose any number of actions regardless of whether you want to do something or not. You might be scared and might want to run, but you can calm yourself down, or get a friend and ask for help. Just like, even though you do not want to do this work and have been avoiding it, now it is really important. So, I challenge you to figure out something about it that you can appreciate so you can learn and enjoy the process.”
Sometimes I also tell the children, “I really do not care if you get the work right or not. What is important to me is your brain and your learning experience. There are certain things that your brain will go through during this experience and you are going to feel and do better for it, regardless of the outcome of the work. I care about your learning, not just about the spelling in your final report or whether you’ve memorized all the times tables.”
All work is noble; the only ignoble thing is to live without working. There is need to realize the value of work in all its forms whether manual or intellectual, to be called 'mate,' to have sympathetic understanding of all forms of activity. - Maria Montessori
I find that we do not all have the same understanding of what is considered “work.” As Montessori implied, you are working at home when you are playing basketball. When you choose to talk about a conflict with a friend, that is work as much as doing multiplication or a science experiment is work. In fact, social and emotional “work” is sometimes more important for children than what is usually considered school work. Academic work can almost always get done or reviewed if it is missed at a particular time. Developmental markers, including work of the emotions and mind, sometimes seem to have small windows of opportunity compared to the length of one’s life. You could be the greatest mind in the world (this may be an exaggeration), but if you are not emotionally and mentally healthy too, there is no enjoyment in the more academic gifts you have.
I want to urge you to carefully consider how you communicate about your perception of work in your workplace, school and home. Think about what you are communicating to yourself and to others, especially children. Try to act with the premise that work is the engagement of the hands and/or mind. See how this changes your world and the world around you. Share your comments and see if you believe what others are already thinking and not saying or maybe you’ll gain a new perspective from what others have to say, which is helpful, too.