An Unfair Playing Field

“You can be whoever you want to be.”

If you heard these words from your parents in your childhood, it’s probable you were born into an upper middle class family.

“Don’t try and be better than your own.”

If you heard these words from your parent in your childhood, it’s probable you were born into a lower class family; possibly even one in poverty.

Parents in both were doing what they believed was correct; preparing their child for life ahead. How they did this was either by laying the world before their child and encouraging them to dream and then follow that dream, or to keep their head out of the clouds and prepare for a predictable life of work ahead.

The reality for many of the poor is a different value system than those in both the middle and upper classes. While there will always be the odd exception; that child who aspires for more and finds an inner determination to climb the social classes, the majority face what often turns out to be insurmountable struggles. Education for example, highly valued by those who can afford it, is often a precursor to success. For children growing up in poverty, they may have families who frown on education as unnecessary; many of the parents themselves poorly educated and as a result, not in a position to assist with or encourage home study time.

It’s a sorrowful reality of course. Well, to be fair, it’s sad for many in the middle class who work with and support those in poverty. As an example, we might take our own values and beliefs – writing a cover letter and error-free resume as a given. We’d take steps to ensure our applications were proofread, our sentences grammatically correct and the content precise. Many living in poverty would be more inclined to try and get a job by meeting someone and asking for it directly; no resume, certainly not a cover letter. Where a resume is required, it would be of an inferior quality; spelling errors, blunt and repetitive, a single word or two for a bullet, scant in content and length.

This is no knock against the poor, more an observation of reality. It’s a tough life when you think about growing up to be an adult in a world of digital technology and social media when you haven’t got a high school education, you lack basic computer skills, your literacy level is low and more doors are closed than open.  How sad it is that young children start off in life with such roadblocks to success already set in place.

When working to support the impoverished, it’s vitally important to be aware of our own value system and check frequently to ensure we don’t transfer our hopes and expectations onto others. While we might believe we can be whomever we choose; that hard work and persistence will pay off with success, it’s not the case for all. Think about how daunting it must feel for someone living with literacy issues, a skewed view of higher education and to read over and over again that a high school diploma (not to mention a College Diploma or University Degree) is required for many of the jobs they find. Completing high school and graduating with a diploma is like someone in the middle class graduating with a degree or getting their Masters.

One of the best ways to fire the brain at an early age and open a child to language is reading to them as their parent. It’s great bonding time for parent and child as a bonus, and it sends the message that reading has value. Regular, daily reading time stimulates the imagination, each word sounded out and pronounced correctly creates confidence and builds self-esteem. However, a parent who finds reading difficult themselves isn’t likely to showcase their personal weakness to their child, and may either tell them to read to themselves or actually discourage reading altogether as something of little value. “I never needed it and you don’t neither.”

Each day I work with those in receipt of social assistance, I find many have literacy issues. This manifests itself in the words they use in conversation, their inability to spell common words, sometimes their comprehension and as a result their ability to learn and put into practice what they hear.

Here’s the thing though…these same people are some of the most generous, giving people. They are truly inspiring and while their hope is fragile, many show a determination to be better than they are and for their children to have better lives than they have. Hire some of these people and you get paid back with great employees. Not always of course; sometimes their going to make poor choices – but again, likely because they lack good decision-making skills and haven’t had encouragement and supportive coaching.

They have incredible barriers to success to push through however. Having had poor parenting themselves, often having grown up in single-parent families, they don’t have the knowledge or skills to build on many of us take for granted.

Looking for work is difficult because they aren’t on a level playing field. Many of the advantages we have in middle/upper classes we take for granted; not even recognizing or appreciating them.

Want to help? Be kind, understanding, empathetic, maybe forgiving and always courteous. Give someone a chance, perhaps a second chance.

Coddling And Cocooning Have Drawbacks

Could very well be that you see yourself or someone you know in this piece. You know, that overly protective parent that wants the absolute best for their growing child and in a misguided effort to protect them from some of the rough patches, sets them up for some tough life lessons later on. They raise a person who has been and perhaps continues to be sheltered, coddled and cocooned against the normal growing pains and then with little exposure and experience eventually has to fend for themselves.

When their small, parents generally safeguard their children from potential danger. Everything from sealing up electrical outlets to buying furniture with rounded edges is done with the little one in mind. As the child grows from baby to toddler; from youngster to teen, most parents adjust their protectiveness somewhat. There’s that first time the child gets to ride around the block without a parental escort, that first independent walk to school, being left alone for a few hours while the shopping is done etc.

All the above are just a few of the normal activities which set up growing independence in our children, preparing them for the time ahead when they’ll be on their own and will need some life skills upon which to build their own. For many, the first time away is in College or University; that 2-4 or more year period which often signals the transition period from living under the parents roof to eventually getting their own.

Now some parents are better at setting their children up for successful transitions than others; just as some young adults are better adapted to taking on personal responsibility for their success or failings than others. Eventually everybody comes to the point when mom and/or dad aren’t there and you’re on your own. If mom and/or dad have done their job to lead and the child/children have done their job to learn, the odds rise for reaching success.

At play here are a number of issues for most adults as they raise their children. For starters most parents want the best for their children. Most of us also recognize that while we’d like to insulate them from the catastrophic disasters in life, it is necessary and actually a good thing that they struggle with manageable challenges. Why? Primarily because in dealing with challenges, whether ultimately successful or not, there are lessons to be learned which make future challenges of increasingly more significance easier to tackle.

That’s a key concept here; essentially using past experiences upon which to build moving forward. When facing a problem or challenge, drawing on what worked or didn’t work so well in the past to find how to approach things in the present. The more we’ve had experience with something, the greater the possibility that we can transfer what we’ve learned and apply it to a new challenge. While successes are wonderful and to be celebrated, failures are equally good assuming a something has been learned in the process. The learning that occurs not only helps us to approach this current problem with a new strategy or approach, but it also helps us when facing challenges down the road.

Cocooning a child, teen or young adult from such challenges may seem to save them some grief in the short-term, but down the road they may not be as well prepared to deal with a greater challenge having not had exposure or experience to resolving a somewhat easier challenge for themselves in the past.

Many of us have experienced or know of someone who benefitted from their mom or dad landing them their first job. They knew somebody and made a call or two, pulled some strings and got junior their first job. Nothing wrong with that is there? Well probably not. However, how many jobs should a parent ‘get’ for their child or intervene in any way other than to be a cheerleader from the sidelines?

Years ago I remember clearly a man who not only applied for a job without his sons knowledge, he drove him to the interview intending to sit in the interview with his son! When he was told that he wasn’t welcome to do so, he became indignant and took his son home without the interview ever having taken place.

Applying for a job and working with other people is a great experience that provides many learning opportunities. Applying for a job and being passed over in favour of someone else can be a negative experience. I’ve found however that young people are pretty resilient. They are generally good at looking for and finding other jobs to apply to and learning from their experiences.

Of course as parents we’ve got a role to play to guide, instruct, help and support our children as they transition from depending on us to being self-sufficient. It can be stressful trying to decide when to let our children learn on their own and when to give them the solutions which we’ve found on our own through trial and error. And our kids? They don’t always want our advice anyway do they? I mean they know and want to find out things for themselves.

Yes it can be a fine line sometimes. Maybe the best we can do is give them the benefit of our experience and then let them go. Perhaps we’ve done our job at that point.




The Single Parent Job Search

I want to preface this piece with an appeal to lay aside any of your own prejudices you may have about single parents. There are many people who find themselves raising a child or children on their own who believed strongly at one time that they would have a partner to share this experience with. So whether by design or accident, or by choices the other person in the relationship made, someone finds themselves in the situation of raising a child or children alone. That being the premise, let’s look at that person and the attempt to find employment.

Single parents have some added barriers to job searching that other people do not. Most obvious is the issue of child care if the children are not old enough to go to elementary school, and even if there is child care available, it now becomes an issue of finding enough money to pay the provider, and making enough after paying the provider to make a living independently.

I recall many years ago when I worked as a Social Services Caseworker in another jurisdiction than I do now. On my desk landed a file and the composition of the family was one adult and thirteen children. Some were multiple births, some in school full-time, some in pre-school and some not in any school at all. Just imagine the amount of money that person would have to be bringing in to not be on some form of social assistance. Again, refrain from somehow blaming the person for their predicament if you find yourself doing so. Without all the details, you’d only be guessing how anyone could be in this situation, and you might have a great change of opinion were you to know the details which I’m not sharing here.

More common is the situation where a parent of one or two children is looking to be financially independent. This adult; male or female I’ll argue, has unique challenges that people without children, or who have adult children do not face.

First of all many people will advise the job seeker to focus all their energy into their job search. How then does one do that with the responsibilities that come with single parenthood? After all, children need feeding, cleaning, clothing, watching and you can’t really expect most kids to amuse themselves for hours on end. In fact, just trying to keep some children occupied for a few minutes is challenging for some parents. Add to the mix a child with any kind of physical or mental health issue, a parent who themselves had parents with poor parenting skills from which to learn or a combination of the two, and serious job searching becomes problematic.

However, it is possible. It’s not only possible but it happens with regularity. The key as with anyone is to first take care of the basics such as a roof over the head and food on the table. Stabilizing just these two things for some takes years. When you have a place to call home, you’ve got a place to secure and buffer yourself against the pressures of ‘out there’. Once the raw essentials are in place, building a support system is critical.

A support system involves a combination of friends, family, contacts, social service agencies, health and child care providers and more. All of these in various combinations unique to each person’s situation provide the adult with the ability to devote some of their precious time to the job search and accept a job with supports in place. This is often the biggest reservation employers have with single parents. While they may love the work the single parent does, they are fearful of their dependability.

And it’s interesting that a potential interview question such as, “Tell me about an accomplishment of which you are proud”, can’t be answered honestly by many single parents in an interview the way they’d like. Relating the achievement of successfully raising a child, (or several) alone and having them be well-adjusted, especially if another adult left you high and dry to fend for yourselves is a fantastic personal story of resiliency and survival. And wanting more for you kids and a better life for all has great appeal. Unfortunately it’s a red flag from the other side of the desk most of the time however, as it raises the issue of absenteeism, and if you aren’t at work, you’re not productive.

So it’s advisable that the single parent who is job searching keep their children and their marital status out of the interview. Choose to talk of your skills, your ambition, your value and your willingness to work hard. The pride you feel in yourself as a single parent and your children themselves should be left for the future when you’re already receiving those pay cheques.

I can see the employer’s point of view on the matter, and I suspect you can too. But I do wish the single parent who was looking for work would be evaluated on their skills, qualifications, attitude and performance first and their status as a single parent much lower on the list. But take heart single parent, for you have 100% control over what you choose to reveal about yourself in that job interview.

And one last thing. If you are a single parent looking for work, when you get frustrated and ask why even bother, ask yourself what motivated you to start in the first place. They’ll thank you for it.