One of the downsides of raising kids today is that parents have turned everything and I do mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g into a competition. For example, what do you call a second-grade student who enjoys kicking a soccer ball and is halfway through his summer reading log challenge? In 21st-century parenting parlance that child is “gifted scholar/athlete.”
Once my son graduated high school, I thought I had seen the worst of it. I mean really what is there to compete over anymore? Yeah, in a couple of years it will be all about who got into what grad school and in another 10 years after that I have no doubt I’ll get accosted in the produce section at Hen House because some mom wants to gush about her daughter the neurosurgeon or her son the tech startup billionaire. (Dear Lord, hear my prayers. Please, please, can I be that mom?)
But really none of that is a big deal because it’s not the day-to-day trench warfare that is parenting a school-age child where everything from student of the month to getting the Sunflower citizenship award is plotted and strategized more meticulously than Eisenhower planned the amphibious D-Day invasion.
All this is why I was surprised and oh so very disappointed when I was introduced to the latest parenting brag for those of us with college-age kids. The summer internship and/or job.
Unbeknownst to me, now your kid just can’t come back home for the summer and have your basic, no-frill, minimum-wage job at a fast food joint to make some much-needed cash. Oh no, that is so, dare I say, common. For your child to be on the fast track to awesome he or she must be doing some sort of interning, job shadowing, profiling or apprenticeship.
What this really means is that you, the parent, will be shelling out thousands of dollars in transportation, lodging and food this summer for your child to go to New York, D.C., San Francisco, etc., so they can “work” for free. Now, while I have no doubt “valuable” contacts are made (as in you sure paid a lot for that connection) I must share that I think this all wrong.
The bragging rights shouldn’t go to the parents with the kid doing a “summer exploratory of Capitol Hill with the assistant to the junior legislative aid of a congressional representative.”
Nope, the “all hail my amazing child” belongs to the parent with the kid that has a super crappy summer job.
I believe there is nothing more beneficial to a college student’s education and future success than a summer job that sucks. Every human needs to, at some point in his or her life, work in entry-level positions in the food industry, retail or do some hard labor.
In 1983 when my husband was a student at the University of Texas, he spent one entire summer painting curbs at gas stations. The average heat index was 110. To this day he still talks about that job. He says it taught him to cherish the gift that is a college education and air conditioning.
That same summer I was working in a fancy pants (literally) ladies clothing store. It had air conditioning, I’ll give it that, but the boredom was soul crushing. Not only did I spend hours hanging up clothes, steaming clothes and folding clothes, I also had to wait on some seriously snooty women who were slobs.
There was this one woman who frequented the store at least twice a week, and as she constantly stroked her what Texas folks would call Barbara Bush pearls, she would demand a level of service that would make HRH Queen Elizabeth blush.
This woman would try on almost every item in the store and then throw all the clothes on the floor. From the bottom of the dressing room door, you could even see her standing on the clothes she had tried. Who stands on clothes, and, more importantly, who stands on clothes that they don’t even own? Someone needed to call this lady out. I thought there was a story for the local paper: former Junior League president who can’t figure out how a hanger works.
What I learned from that job is that I wasn’t cut out for any kind of career that deals with the public, unless it’s me tattling on them. So, I became passionate about becoming a news reporter. (It’s the grown-up and socially acceptable version of tattling.)
My son currently has a summer job working at a big box store. Every day he comes home with a new story. The saddest one to date is when he had to mop “like pretty much all day.” His father and I just smile and tell him it’s character building. He doesn’t get what we’re talking about. But one day he will and he’ll be a better person, employee or perhaps future CEO for it.