The Surprising Question My 5-Year-Old Asked

by Jess Gilardi
Originally Published: 
Arief Juwono/Getty

My five-year-old daughter just asked me, “So, Mommy, when you were a little girl, you wanted to be nothing when you grew up?”

I know she asked it innocently and naively, but that still didn’t stop the knife from cutting deep into my heart. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last seven years and I’ve gotten used to some people assuming that I’m an unintelligent, non-contributing member of society, but I never once thought about how my children would see me.

The truth is, I worked hard before I had kids. I earned undergrad degree in three years (summa cum laude, just FYI) and I went on to get my master’s degree (where I only received one grade that wasn’t an A, again FYI). I worked in the school system providing extra mental health therapy to the kids with the greatest need and when I had my first child, I put the Independent Clinical Therapist License I had worked tirelessly for on hold. You see, to be a great therapist, one thing you need to be is reliable and consistent, something that I cannot be with three young kids and a husband who’s job is inflexible.

But no one sees that. I barely remember those days. It’s been a long seven years of diaper changes, nap time routines, laundry, mommy and me classes, drop-offs and pick-ups, tantrums, and constantly cleaning up only to have it undone in seconds.

I always tell my children they can be whatever they want to be. There are no limitations or restrictions. I had been so caught up in helping them to believe that no profession would be out of their reach. But I never once thought that my children would look at the choices I’d made and see it as nothing. I wasn’t prepared for that question.

I could have went off about how being a stay-at-home mom isn’t nothing. I could have ranted about how we idolize certain jobs in our society because of the amount that they get paid, but neglect or under-appreciate some of the most important and vital roles. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up, so I could have gone off on a tangent about how she will know what it feels like someday. I really wanted to tell her just how much I had sacrificed for her and her siblings so that they could be available when daddy had free time in his absurdly packed schedule.

But I didn’t, because she is only five. And I know that she will understand my sacrifices, my decisions, and that I don’t do “nothing” if/when she becomes a mother. I (probably not so subtlety) choked back tears and simply said, “Not everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up when they are young. All I knew was that I wanted to help people.”

It was a quick conversation, maybe one she won’t remember a day from now. But it is one that has forever changed me. Yes, because my pride was hurt and my heart was broken. But more importantly, I realized that I had been putting the wrong emphasis on what my kids, and all kids for that matter, should hope for when they are grown.

It’s not “what do you want to be when you grow up.” Your career path doesn’t define who you are as a person. It doesn’t determine your value or worth. It’s “who do you want to be when you grow up.” Your character is what is important. I’ll start putting my emphasis on kind, caring and constructive, instead of doctor, lawyer, or CEO.

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