Our job, our role, our purpose for our day is so linked to our identity. I’m a… My job is… or I work at… however we introduce ourselves is what people recognise us as.
But what happens when we don’t have that? How do we feel then? How do people categorise us? Do they feel sorry as we flounder with I’m just …’ We’ve all heard stories about people who retire and say they lost their identity on the day they stopped work.
Debra and I once had a hard time getting a job when we returned to Australia. We’d always been in work, and the difficulty came as a bit of a shock. And when you say you haven’t got a job, people do look at you a little different. And you feel a little different.
But for the most part I’ve been lucky. I’ve always had a tag to put to my identity, although I must admit it’s not always been the title I would want to put to myself. Published novelist I am not, but I’ve always had a purpose to get out of bed of each morning.
And so this is one of my big fears for my daughter. To not have a purpose to her day.
She would like to get up in the morning, make breakfast very early, and then go on her tablet/computer/Xbox and stay there all day. But what she doesn’t know yet is that is not purpose.
At the moment she goes to school, and as Debra says, teachers are like an annoying boss who tells you what to do. But when that isn’t there, and her workmates – her class friends – have all gone, what then? Who will she interact with?
I don’t know about you, but most of my days aren’t spent with friends. They are with work mates, and then family. If I didn’t work, I still wouldn’t spend all day with friends because they’d be off doing whatever they do to earn their livings. And so if my daughter didn’t have work, or a key purpose to her day, I think it unlikely she would spend all day with friends.
And that could be the problem. Without a purpose she would regress into her own company too far. She would lose the ability to deal with people, even if they are annoying teachers and classmates who don’t always see everything her way.
I know I’m preaching to the converted when I say we need to find a purpose for our children after they finish school. And I know many of you are in the same position as me with children whose special abilities aren’t particularly job friendly. With the best will in the world I don’t imagine my daughter ever being over-qualified for any job. But I do think she would be diligent to the point where it could be written as a strength on her CV and as Sam, in this week’s podcast, talks about making sure her CV showcases her strengths.
So the ultimate goal for us all is paid work for our children – that goes without saying. Supermarket chains in the UK are well known for making extra effort when it comes to employing people with additional needs. But no matter where we are in the world we need to look for opportunities for our young people, because opportunities won’t just come looking for us.
Through my own day job I know a mother who has a son with additional needs, who made his way across London, negotiated two buses to get to his college course. He was so happy that he had a purpose to his day. Then, as any college course does, it came to an end. Suddenly he had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. He felt that acutely. He sat at home, not quite knowing what to do with himself.
To cut a long story short, she arranged an interview with a local supermarket. What she didn’t tell her son was that it was a voluntary position, not a paid role. So now he goes to work one day a week and she puts a £20 note in a brown envelope which she gives to him at home as payment. He has purpose. Obviously this is not a long term solution and has its own issues but it gets him out of the house and he is learning new skills which one day may help him get a proper paid role, maybe even with the same employer.
The real point is, though, she’s carved out a purpose for him. That’s admirable. But it was her that went that extra mile to get him something, and I think it’s what many of us will have to do to get something for our children. I can’t imagine my daughter being able to imagine all the possibilities for her to find where work is, and so I will have to help. I will have to ask my friends, and anyone else I know.
But if we can’t find paid work for our children we will have to do the next best thing, and that’s give them a purpose to their day. Whether that be with a £20 in an envelope or in a voluntary capacity. It may even be in an activity centre. Regardless, I know my daughter and her online world need to be parted for the best part of the day. They need to so when someone asks in conversation what do you do, or where to you go in the day, she can answer. She can say ‘I’m a…’ or ‘I go …’
Thus far in this blog we’ve talked about identity. But then there’s money to consider too. I’m not going to stray too far into money here, but I want her to have a place to go more than I want her wage to sustain her. In the money blogs we talk about strategies and tactics, but if I’m honest I don’t think she will earn the wage that will give her everything she wants unless she is incredibly lucky. We have to help plan for that. Maybe that is knowing the entitlements she’s allowed. Or maybe that’s us thinking we should cover the big expenses, like accommodation, and let her pay for the rest from her own earnings.
I think I’m saying for me it’s not the wage that’s important so much as the benefits a purpose adds to my daughter’s mental health. A purpose allows her to say ‘I’m a…’ and have pride in her identity. Going somewhere, working for the boss, is a bit of a bind, but at the end of the day it can also be sanity too. I don’t want my daughter to wander through life from 20 to 70 not quite knowing what label she can apply for herself so that she feels comfortable having an identity.
I do think there are plenty of opportunities out there, we just have to work hard to make them come our way. But then we’re used to working hard for our children, right?, because that’s what we’ve always done. Neither we nor them have expected the challenges our lives have thrust at us, but we deal with them. We’ve battled for them since the day they were born. And this is another battle. But it’s an important battle because it can easily be overlooked – I don’t want to ever think that because my daughter is quiet inside her online world she is fulfilled. Fulfilment comes with activity.
For us at Journey Skills purpose is one of the three main areas we focus on. Every parent looks out for their child’s education. But we also need to think about relationships and daily living skills, as well as purpose. A purpose, a point to the day, is a big part of why we are alive. We just need to be pro-active in finding a purpose for our children.