A few weeks ago, the tweener kid of a small local business owner strode through the Friday-night throngs slapping flyers into strangers’ hands. “Chili fundraiser down at the Distillery!” he shouted.
Raising money for a cause, he leveraged his parents’ place of business — a second home of sorts that kids with self-employed parents are so fortunate to have.
Ten-year-old Patrick at Mod’s Thai in downtown Basalt says he enjoys hanging out with his mom and dad, and that he’s proud of them.
Purchasing wine for a friendly gathering, I see my buddy’s son doing homework in his dad’s wine store office talking to grown-ups, absorbing a work environment.
My daughter has surfed my lap at board meetings and toddled about job sites. As I’ve carried her sleeping body out of yet another meeting, I’ve sometimes wondered: Am I doing the right thing?
I decided to talk to other kids and their self-employed parents.
El Jebel’s Mane-ia Salon co-owner Kirsten Pamp-Friel and husband Tom mix work and after-school camps for 8-year-old Isla.
“She puts on a hard hat with Tom and goes out to a landscape job site, or she’ll hang out with me at the hair salon,” she says.
“I like to see what they do all day,” Isla adds.
Her favorite part? “If you do something for someone, they pay you!”
“Yes!” her mom laughs. “She likes to walk around the salon and ask for ‘add-on services,’ like hand massages. My clients will usually tip her out a little money, so she thinks that’s cool.”
She’s learning to save at an early age and wants to buy a fort soon.
Googling “kids in the workplace” shows a hotly-contested subject, primarily around safety issues, liability concerns or distraction in a professional setting. Small but bright voices in the melee advocate for children in the workplace, pointing to its many benefits.
“I think Isla’s lucky,” Pamp-Friel says. “It’s a very different scenario than dragging her into a high rise where you have to be quiet, sit in a corner and draw. I certainly encourage her not to interrupt, but there's certainly a lot more freedom.”
A significant complaint from employers about graduates today is incompetence, a term which covers a lot of conceptual ground, from punctuality to responsibility. Tag-along kids are ahead of the curve.
Pamp-Friel acknowledges that “Isla sees the benefits and the hardships of it. This gives her a head start on what owning your own business looks like. She sees us doing books a little at night, trying to catch up. More than anything, it’s showing that there’s a work ethic involved.”
All this work, work. How does an 8-year old girl feel about this? What would she prefer, if she had a say?
“Sometimes work, sometimes camp,” Isla chirps. “I like to make money, but I like to play!”
What if work is play?
“I’ve discussed with her many times, finding something you love to do is the most important thing,” Pamp-Friel says. “She definitely sees we love what we do. And she’s never unhappy to go with us. It’s healthy to show them this.”
As for Isla, she already contemplates admirable dreams: being a chef or an astronaut. She wants to work at the Santa Barbara Zoo and rescue sick animals.
Is she proud of her parents?
“Yes,” she says definitively. “Very proud. They work hard and charge on!”
Where might this lead? What about the kids who then start working with their parents?
I visited with Javier Gonzalez-Bringas at Tempranillo to find out. He and wife Laura have raised their children, Robert and Carmen, in their Basalt restaurant, which they have owned for 12 years.
“I grew up here,” Robert says with a smile.
At 14, he exudes poise and maturity.
“When I was younger, I’d hang out in the back and I would watch everything,” he says. “Working [for two years] now, I get to meet a lot of interesting people.”
In the age of iPhones, Gonzalez-Bringas “thought it would be a much better experience to deal with people. In the beginning, Robert was a little shy, but then we got so many compliments. It’s amazing. I think it’s good that kids have responsibilities. I think it makes them happier. It’s good for their personality, recharging them and building self-esteem,” he says.
“I agree. It’s more than just about the restaurant,” Robert adds. “It’s also given me a background. When I apply for another job, I can [reference that]. I’ve got something I can do, it’s given me experience.”
As for his own aspirations? His reply is immediate.
“Food and owning a business,” he says, measuring his words. “Being the boss has its ups and downs. During Christmas, we had to work seven days a week. But then in the off-season, we can go on more vacations and relax more. So it’s a little bit of a give and take.”
“It’s also good to get orders,” emphasizes his father. “For someone to tell you what to do, and say ‘Yes.’ Most kids do not understand that. They rebel. I don’t think the new generation is socially prepared, you know? That’s what I want for Robert.”
“When I first started out, I tried to please everybody,” Robert admits. “I soon figured out some people just don’t want to be pleased.”
From the mouths of babes.
When kids spend time with their parent(s) at work, they begin to grasp the intersecting roles and identities we as parents have in the community. (Parents wear a lot of hats, and as our kids see us in other contexts, they develop a deeper understanding of us and who we actually are outside of them — thus, deepening their respect for those who gave them the gift of life (you hope, anyway).
A peer of mine grew up on his dad’s job sites. In addition to learning every facet of the business, this salty, headstrong youth grew a deep respect for his dad. What started as an eyebrow-raising “kid in the workplace” became a profitable career path when they formed Down To Earth Landscapes together.
So, my final conclusion? I will carry on with my miniature leader-in-the-making with confidence. The voices against kids in the workplace simply ring hollow.