Talking to Kids About Work

Whether you love your job or just need a paycheck, it's tough to explain to your child why you leave her every day. These tips will smooth the way.
Working mother


I have a running list of milestones my daughter, Avery, has achieved in her first three years of life. At 4 months, she let out her first giggle in the tub as I sang "Who loves her bathtime, who, who, who, who?" to the tune of "Who Let the Dogs Out." She took her inaugural steps at 11 months, after weeks of practicing while harnessed into a ridiculous contraption called "Walking Wings" that my husband insisted we buy. And at the ripe old age of 27 months, Avery learned to utter the phrase that never fails to send me into an emotional tailspin: "I don't want you to go to work, Mommy. Why do you have to?"

Sixty-four percent of mothers of children under 6 are employed, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C., so I'm obviously not the first parent to struggle with explaining why every morning I leave the house wearing clean, usually unwrinkled clothes and return ten hours later tired, starving, and genuinely tickled to see Avery (and now her 15-month-old brother, Austin). Part of the reason I have such a hard time talking about it with her is that I, like virtually every working mom I know, wrestle with a degree of ambivalence about having a full-time job. Indeed, 60 percent of employed mothers say part-time work is most appealing, according to a study conducted by Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that only 24 percent of them actually work less than a full schedule. Another survey, conducted by, found that 43 percent of working moms would take a pay cut in exchange for spending more time with their kids.

"Talking to your children about work can be just as stressful as chatting about sex and death," says Janeen Hayward, founder of, a parenting resource service. "Parents often over-anticipate what kids need and want to hear, so they make the process even more complicated than it needs to be." Want some hints on how to tackle the topic with your child? These strategies will help streamline those challenging conversations.

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