Wishing and Hoping

I was listening to Woman’s Hour last week (as you do) and there was a segment about research showing that hairdressers are among the happiest workers in the world. A hairdresser was on the show explaining that the job was creative, flexible, pretty much recession proof and could lead to a great career if you’re good. What’s not to love? 

Except, said presenter Jenni Murray, SMART girls don’t become hairdressers, do they? It’s seen as a bit.. common. Smart girls don’t want to be hairdressers – and middle class Mums don’t want that for their little girls.

Here’s the thing.

I want to be all outraged and liberal about this. I want to say that I have no ambition for my daughter except her happiness and good health. I want to say that I'm happy to never push her, and let her find her own path in life. 

But is it really true? Really?

My job (journalism) has some downsides: it’s a horribly ruthless, insecure, badly paid profession – and that’s on a good day. But it also gives me more autonomy and freedom than almost any other job I can think of, and I'm constantly learning new things and meeting new people, after more than 12 years on the job. I get to travel all over the world and have amazing experiences – from riding steamboats on the Mississippi to interviewing inspiring charity workers about safety training for warzones. 

I admit it – I am ambitious for Flea. 

I am not ambitious in the sense that I want her to go to law school or become famous or rule the world (though it would be handy). I'm ambitious because I want her to reach adulthood and be in a position to make choices. If autonomy and creativity, or flexibility, or intellectual challenge is important to her, I want her to be able to choose a career that will fulfil those interests and make her happy – rather than ending up on a factory floor because she doesn't have the skills or education to do anything else. 

I'm not sure if that's very wrong of me. Am I putting pressure on her with those expectations, or does it just mean I'll encourage her to reach her full potential? Should I be leaving it all up to her, and not minding if she becomes a surf slacker or an office drone? 

I suppose Life’s short, and I just want Flea to live it to the full. And I do think one of the best ways to do that is by having choices – what job to do, where to travel, where to live, how to spend your free time… 

It’s certainly not that I’m day-dreaming about watching Flea graduate from law school, or perform her first aria at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s more than I hope for her to have a good education, a good job, a good standard of living. And the health and happiness is often easier to achieve when you have a good standard of living, of course.

I suppose I just wish her the whole world. What about you? Do you have ambitions for your kids? Do you think that's a good thing, or are they something we should keep to ourselves? 



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. Billieguru
    4th June 2011 / 9:01 pm

    You’ve hit the nail on the head; it’s about giving them all the options. When I was 16 I was offered a tv presenting role with Sky, any teenagers dream job. My parents were petrified that I would take it up and not do my a levels. Luckily I was born a 40yr old woman so at 16 I knew the industry was fickle and I could be dropped at any point and if that happened I wouldn’t have any a-levels to fall back on. I then completed my a levels and went onto university I did a tv presenting course with sky in the summer along with 99 other teenagers. I then realised I didn’t want to go into presenting but I could at a later date and if it didn’t work out I HAVE qualifications to fall back on. If Mimi told me she wanted to be a hairdresser I wouldn’t be over the moon but I would encourage her to have qualifications in other areas and experience in a range of sectors. It’s all about providing as many choices and options!

  2. 4th June 2011 / 10:05 pm

    All the positive things you said about a hairdressing career are true. You can make it into an exciting life if you are freelance and choose interesting clients. I used to be a terrible snob about careers but life has shown me that you just need to make enough money in something you are happy doing. I will insist that my daughter finish her academic career, whatever that will mean in 20 years time (providing she is able and that I’m still in a position to insist anything), but as long as she is financially independent, don’t mind what career she chooses.

  3. 5th June 2011 / 11:10 am

    I am ambitious for my children, I would love them to get brilliant exciting jobs and achieve their full potential, but I also want them to be happy and I realise that what I perceive to be a fantastic job may not bring happiness. Would I be happier if I was now a doctor instead of a computer programmer? or would I have been so busy studying that I would never have found the time to have children.
    As a parent I want to be able to give my children all the opportunities I can and hope that they choose to make the most of them. I think you have to have ambitions for your children and show them all the possibilities they have. I wish someone had given me better advice when I was younger 🙂

  4. 5th June 2011 / 11:18 am

    Sounds like you had your head screwed on when you were younger – and your story is really interesting because had you leapt at that opportunity you’d have missed out on so much!
    I agree, if Flea has a good education and choices and chooses to be an office worker or a hairdresser, I’ll be happy for her – I just hate the idea of her being limited in her options.

  5. 5th June 2011 / 11:20 am

    Exactly! But I do feel a little guilty for wanting her not to have a career that’s financially insecure – I know they say money can’t buy you happiness, but financial insecurity and the stress it brings throws such a shadow over people’s lives, and I would hate for Flea to live with that.

  6. 5th June 2011 / 11:23 am

    I agree – I’ve met a lot of miserable investment bankers and pop stars!
    It’s more that my role as a parent is to guide her, and as an adult with a bit more experience I know that financial security and education and choices make life easier and happier – and I do want Flea to have those things – like you say, I want her to have possibilities – how she uses them to make herself happy is her choice, I guess!

  7. Abi S
    5th June 2011 / 12:28 pm

    You can travel the world as a hairdresser… I met a hairdresser (working for one of the big chains) in Sydney who’d been working in Winchester the year before and was heading to Auckland next. The opportunities are out there in many professions.
    I hope that my daughter will do whatever makes her happy (though I can’t guarantee I’ll feel the same way when she’s 15 years rather than 15 months old).

  8. 5th June 2011 / 2:31 pm

    Funnily enough, i’m actually not bothered about what my kids do as long as they are happy. I’ve had the priviledge of a fairly interesting but low paid job, the hubby has the priviledge of a well paid but ‘boring’ job. At the end of the day you make your own opportunities in life and life is really what YOU make of it. I dont want to impose any ideas on my kids, its totally up to them and I will be there to support their choices and if it all goes wrong, well, I will be there to pick up the pieces and help them start again…

  9. Bumbling
    5th June 2011 / 7:53 pm

    I would just comment that the careers that allow more than stipulated holidays are few and far between, even for those high flying, potential-fulfilling careers, and those that do allow tend not to have the same financial security!
    My dad always said he’d be happy with us fulfilling our own potentials, not anyone else’s. And my sisters and I? We have varying educational successes, varying career achievements, but I’m pretty sure he’s proud of us all. Despite, as I recently admitted on Baby Baby, my difficulties with grabbing hold of that potential…
    I hope I can be as pragmatic with Moo. I think it’s natural to expect them to have similar aspirations to our own. But I’m sure we learn to roll with that as they get older – or at least I hope!

  10. 5th June 2011 / 10:34 pm

    Oh, absolutely, hairdressing is clearly a career people love – I just thought it was interesting that few parents will admit to having ambitions for their kids. I don’t think it’s the ‘trendy’ perspective these days.

  11. 5th June 2011 / 10:38 pm

    I think it’s easy to say, “I don’t mind what they do as long as they’re happy” but what I’d say is without a bit of guidance while they’re young the odds of them finding a job that makes them happy becomes substantially smaller. And that’s important – we spend such a huge part of our adult lives working, I admit I’m reluctant to sit back completely and potentially watch Flea end up with no option but to work at a job that doesn’t offer her happiness. Do you see what I mean?
    It’s similarly easy to say, we’ll pick up the pieces for our kids, but sometimes the choices make when you’re young mean you run out of choices later – there isn’t always a ready supply of second chances.
    It’s not about wanting Flea to be rich and prestigious (most rich people working in prestigious jobs that I’ve met are total dicks, to be honest) but it’s about her having freedom to do what makes her happy – and life doesn’t just hand you that freedom on a plate.
    Gosh that was a rant and a half – I do apologise!

  12. 5th June 2011 / 10:38 pm

    I don’t mean that I want her to have a job with long holidays (though good luck on her if she finds one) I mean I want her to have a life that fulfils her. I think way too many people just exist through their live waiting for their next vacation. Given how fleeting life can be, that always struck me as a miserable way to live.
    Also, I’d rather poke myself in the eye than watch Flea work in media. Ugh. I hope she chooses something a bit less harsh for herself!

  13. 6th June 2011 / 8:11 am

    See, now this is the problem I have.
    I had an exceptionally pushy Mum. Whilst she had literally sat on her backside doing nothing after meeting my Dad at 16, and had no qualifications, she had all these OTT expectations of myself and to a lesser degree my sister. I had her constantly breathing down my neck if I got a lower than A grade at school- she was never constructive like a Teacher would be. I constantly felt like I was never going to reach the dizzy heights she wanted for me. I now have nothing to do with her at all. The worst one was when I got my GCSE results, and rather than saying well done for all the good and great marks I got, she focused on my Maths result, a lowly E, and made me feel awful. I think her exact words were “You’ve let yourself down, you’ve let your family down and most importantly you’ve let me down”.
    However, I want Chrissy and Ed to do what makes them happy. I’d prefer them to walk their own paths and settle on the career that they want. Neither my sister or I ended up at Uni, let alone doing what my Mums ideal was. You have to step back because we all want whats best but if you push too hard then ultimately (if I’m anything to go by) they’ll rebel.
    My Sis in law is a hairdresser and she rocks- she also is doing very nicely for herself so I doubt the “not a clever” hence that career thing from Womens Hour is a bit out of date.

  14. 6th June 2011 / 9:23 am

    Ooh, interesting. I can see where you’re coming from – any parent putting THAT much pressure on a kid is bound to get a counter-productive result. But by the same token, I think going to the other extreme is just as damaging. I think saying to a kid, oh, it doesn’t matter if you do well at school, or get a good job, or earn a good living, or be a constructive member of society, just as long as you’re HAPPY darling – I think that’s just as bad, because kids grow up believing nobody has any expectations of them, so what’s the point of trying.
    Certainly, I grew up knowing that my parents believed I was smart enough to do whatever I chose, and the deal was that they expected me to work hard and achieve the best results I could – in return, they were pretty happy to let me choose my own path. They haven’t worried overly about the status of anything we did – they had four kids and I’m the only one who went to uni, but they encouraged my brothers to do IT and social care qualifications and to achieve their potential so they could get careers that made them happy and secure. I think that’s important and I’m not ashamed to say it 🙂

  15. 6th June 2011 / 2:09 pm

    Completely agree- my sister in law (the middle one!) is laid back, she supports her two and rather than pushing just sets out that obviously home work has to be done, they have to be respectful etc. But with jobs, or what ones they feel now they want when they’re older (the eldest is 16 though so she’s pretty definite) she has left up to them. My niece wants to be a doctor, and although she’s like your typical teen, my sis in law has backed off on being an over bearing Mum and have to say she’s a the nicer teen, my niece you’ll ever meet. Whereas when myself and my sis in law were out at the weekend, my niece was also out with her friends, one of whom has a pushy Mum like mine. Whereas my niece came home on time (she didn’t have to, as we were out) her friend had lied to her Mum that she was staying at my sis in laws house, which created all sorts of panic when the girl couldn’t be found and the Mum rang my sis in law to ask where she was.
    Of course it work both ways, but I think the word to use is support, rather than over bear!

  16. Joanne
    7th June 2011 / 11:43 am

    Whatever people say, many Mums think hairdressing and beauty jobs are for people who are not as intelligent as others but maybe they’re the ones with their heads screwed on – they have the choice to make extra money on the side, they can work in any town, city or country, in a recession we still need hair cuts and they can go on to have their own businesses.
    It’s not a recent thing either – I remember a friend of mine taking her Mum to the hairdressing stall at a careers fayre because she knew it would annoy her!
    I want my daughters to be happy and I think I can be pushy or rather an anxious Mum! She’s only on level 1 plus reading books but her friends are on level 2 – ahhh, I worry about it even though I know it’s slightly pathetic! We do want our youngsters to succeed but we can put to much pressure on them for sure – of this I can be guilty at times!
    There seems to be so much more disposable income too – or maybe debts! I live in a normal area, not affluent by any stretch of the imagination but I know lots of parents who save and save to send their little ones to private school as they feel they will get the best of everything there.