Jobs I had that prepared me for parenting a toddler:
#1 WAITRESS. An inordinate amount of parenting involves passing out food and drink to your kid, and doing it calmly, quickly, and without a whole lot of deference to whether or not you’ve been asked nicely. Of course it is always lovely to get a “please”, but when you are on a long car ride with a toddler, it’s best just to give them the damn milk already, without making everything a teachable moment. In order to do that without feeling like a glorified robot, having humility gained by countless hours on your feet, serving everyone from grumpy seniors who never, ever tip, to tables full of teenagers who seek to embarrass you and stiff you on the bill entirely, comes in handy.
#2 SOUS CHEF. When you’re working in a kitchen, you get yelled at, a lot. Holding on to your self-worth while having your ear drum pierced by a sour-breathed chef is a skill, and really helps when your child is yelling at you about wanting a particular toy that her friend is playing with. Scream away, little girl, you won’t rattle me! The chef usually had a hot pan or a huge knife in his hand, so your stuffed animal is not scaring me right now. I hold my ground and stay calm under her drill sergeant-like demands.
#3 CAMP COUNSELOR. Singing ridiculous songs at full-tilt, dressing up in costumes to delight the campers, running in fields for hours on end playing capture the flag — these are all skills you can put on your parenting resume! Then, when you are leading kids in yet another round of “Hokey Pokey”, you won’t feel like an asshole, you’ll just be reliving your time at Camp Winnapawtahuck.
#4 MENTAL HEALTH WORKER. When I was working in Philadelphia with severely mental ill, drug addicted, chronically homeless folks, a big part of my job was taking them out into the community to teach them Activities of Daily Living. This meant that I was out in the city, at the supermarket, the bank, the social security office, and discount furniture stores with people who were in various states of disarray, saying completely inappropriate things, and usually stinking to high heaven. I wore a little essential oil under my nose, and became completely unshockable. In line at Washington Mutual, with the urine dripping out of my client’s adult diaper, and the other bank patrons loudly complaining all around me, I’d calmly strike up a conversation with my client about what she was going to cook for dinner, ignoring the cacophony of sighs and hand waving. Now, when my two year old is acting a fool, having a tantrum on the floor of the grocery store, or has just inexplicably cursed while trying to find her toy (“Where’s my shit?” came out of her mouth the other day), I’m able to have a sense of humor about it, instead of turning puce and pretending she’s not my kid after all.
#5 SWIM INSTRUCTOR. Being a lifeguard meant waking up way too early, enduring physically uncomfortable temperatures in a chlorinated pool, and putting up with a lot of scared children. Countless toddlers hated putting either their face or the back of their head in the water, and it was my job to persist in the face of their screams, slowly gain their trust, and teach them the skills they needed to survive if they fell in the lake. Now, when Olive is frightened of climbing up the next rung on the monkey bars, stuck in a tire swing, or wanting to jump off a step but needing some help, I tell her, “Try one more time, and then I’ll help you.” Usually, she’s able to do it on her own, and we celebrate, but when she needs a little more support I summon my patience and give her a hand. Of course, she completely hates swimming entirely, so this skill is going to really be put to work as she ages!
You never know what little skill gained in the lower echelons of life is going to save your life as a parent. My Masters degree in Counseling Psychology does help, of course, in understanding child development and talking to Olive about her feelings, but really, when it comes down to it, it’s the entry-level jobs I held in my teens and twenties that I fall back on most days. What jobs did you have that taught you how to parent, or that you think will support you if you have kids?