Jewelry designer Lisa Zampolin was beading charm jewelry during quarantine when her 13-year-old son had an idea. “Mom, we should give your angel bracelets to all the nurses and doctors who follow you on Instagram!” Next thing she knew, Zampolin’s followers were messaging names and addresses of health-care workers from across the country, and her sons packaged and mailed 200 guardian angel bracelets from her business, Love, Lisa. “I have teenage boys. They never paid attention to my jewelry,” Zampolin said, laughing. “But now that I’m working from home instead of at the showroom, they’re seeing me in a whole new light: as a businesswoman.”
It’s 9 a.m. Do you know where your parents work?
Under various shelter-at-home orders, every day is now Take Your Child to Work Day as millions of parents are working alongside remote-schooling children. Challenges are considerable, as the many work-from-home memes will attest, but experts see a silver lining. Now kids can learn what their parents actually do for a living, see how hard they work at doing it and possibly gain a whole new appreciation for them.
“In my work as a family and child therapist, I ask a lot of questions, but the one that stumps almost all kids is, ‘What do your parents do for a living?’ ” said San Diego psychologist Ron Stolberg, professor at Alliant International University and co-author of “Teaching Kids to Think.” “I get blank stares, overly broad answers like ‘business’ and a look of amazement when they realize they have no idea.”
Seeing a parent’s professional identity — skillfully leading a Zoom meeting, getting treated respectfully by co-workers and being important in the corporate context — can have a profound impact. “Children are getting glimpses into [their parents’] professional lives right now in a way that we’ve never seen before, and there’s a huge opportunity here for learning, sharing, growth and connectedness — both for kids and for parents,” said Neha Chaudhary, psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and co-founder of Brainstorm, the Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation.
Fred and Maureen Schmidt, owners of Florida swimsuit company Shade Critters, have long involved their kids, 12 and 14, in their business, but in “fun ways,” such as putting them in a photo shoot. “Now that we’ve got swimsuits laid out all over our home, our daughter tries on fit samples between pre-algebra classes, and our son helps design textile prints,” Maureen Schmidt said. “Plus, they overhear us discuss the more mundane ins and outs of the business, from website and ad analytics to shipping. They’re seeing how hard we work.”
Ahhh, the workload. Often left at the office, this is now laid bare for all to see. “Witnessing their parent’s energy output during the day is staggering to kids, and many are finding a new appreciation for this day-to-day lived experience,” said Pasadena, Calif., therapist John Sovec, who specializes in adolescents. “I’m seeing teens taking on increased tasks to support parents in keeping the house running smoothly and not just looking for money in exchange for chores.”
When parents toil away at home, small children also get the message that life doesn’t revolve around them, and that work comes before play. Independent educational consultant Colleen Paparella Ganjian in Vienna, Va., models this by setting up her 7-year-old daughter with a daily planning board similar to the one she uses. “Once she finishes her work, she gets free time. Just like I do.”
Working at home with two young children, Bolanle Williams-Olley, chief financial officer of New York-based Mancini Duffy architectural firm, tries to set a good example. “My daughter and I were in my bed the other day trying to get in 30 minutes of productive time,” she said of her 6-year-old. “I had my laptop and she had her coding class. Watching me focus, she’s learning to be disciplined to get through her schoolwork.”
Older children can learn from the pandemic’s emotional toll on businesses, too. “Most of our portfolio companies have struggled through this thing, and a lot of my day is spent on Zoom helping CEOs work through plans to survive, often including decisions to reduce head count,” said Mike Troiano, partner in Boston-based venture capital firm G20 Ventures. He rarely discussed work with his three children (11, 14 and 18) living at home before, but now with an 18-stair commute to the dinner table, he’s arriving without the buffer of a podcast or Springsteen tunes and is more eager to share. “Now the kids are getting a more complete picture of what it means to lead, and the emotional costs of doing what’s required.”
Time will tell whether such proximity drives kids to follow in their parents’ career footsteps, but Seattle-based gastroenterologist Steven Shaw, who added home telemedicine appointments to his hospital rounds, believes it might. “Even though my patient video calls are behind closed doors for privacy, my [10-year-old] son has been saying lately he wants to shadow me at work. My 13-year-old daughter has long wanted to be a doctor, but she now appreciates how much work is involved.”
The pandemic also offers kids a crash course in the professional pivot, as working parents scramble to adapt to this virtual new normal. Natasha Augoustopoulos always taught yoga on-site at New York’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts but has since started creating YouTube video sessions for students in her apartment-turned-yoga studio. “I didn’t have a tripod, any filming equipment or anything,” she said. Augoustopoulos enlisted her 9-year-old daughter to act as iPhone director and video cinematographer, and as a participant in partner yoga videos. “My daughter says she loves my job because it’s helping people, and she beams with pride when I tell her she’s an integral part of it,” she said. The duo has recorded more than 30 videos together.
“Interestingly, this time at home has allowed for a different kind of learning for children,” said Harvard Medical School’s Chaudhary, who believes that helping a parent can be quite empowering for kids. “While book learning was the star of the show up until now, practical, hands-on learning has come into the picture.”
The shift to remote work can also flip the dynamic, as the reliance on technology has created an environment where kids may finally have a leg up on their parents. A Take Your Parents to Tech and Social Media School, if you will. Just don’t expect them to always see eye to eye. Shade Critters was brainstorming how to use TikTok and whether it made sense for the brand. “One idea was a poolside challenge, like a cannon ball or a synchronized swimming TikTok,” said Fred Schmidt. “But the kids felt it was best to keep TikTok to the professionals: teens.”