Question:

A while back you wrote a column about going to work in an office versus teaching. Can you address the issues that can occur in an office? If my daughter doesn’t care where she works, in an office or in a school, is there a reason to guide her towards teaching rather than an office that may not be a good place for a frum girl? I am asking this question because we live in a community where the girls are not encouraged to go on to seminary or higher education and the two options available are usually office work or teaching. I want to know what to do with my daughter and her post-high school plans.

 

Answer:

You want to know what I really think? Keep her away from an office.

But that is a ridiculous thing to say—or to advise—so pretend you did not read that sentence and go on to read the rest of this column.

A little psychology here. Which should not be a problem because you are addressing this question to a therapist, so you have to expect some psychological stuff. Right? Yes, I always am. (Ha, that line was for the benefit of my children who love to argue with me.)

In any case, let’s look at the number of issues you managed to bring up.

1.Your daughter’s uncaring attitude where she works post-high school. 2. The limited diversity (if you can call 2 choices diversity at all) of available opportunities. 3. Your need for involvement in her work choices. 4. Your (valid) concerns about an office environment for a religiously sheltered girl.

I am going to get a little side-tracked here about your main question and address points 1 and 3 in which your daughter appears to have no opinion about her life’s work choices, and your involvement in an adult child’s choices about her future. Although it would be normal for your high school daughter not to know what she wants to do after school, part of raising an independent and productive child is the ability to think and make decisions. And that’s where the psychological stuff comes in. Because just like there are physical developmental stages a child passes through, like learning to crawl, walking, and being toilet trained; so too are there psychological stages a child must pass through to be fully developed. And those are stages in which they learn autonomy (ages 1-3), initiative (3-5), and industry (5-11); all crucial skills she needs today to assert her autonomy about what she would like to do after high school, take initiative and find a job herself, and be industriousness/competent at the work she chooses.

But you are asking about issues working in the office so we will leave this topic for another column….In the meantime think about how you have raised this daughter without these crucial ingredients necessary for healthy psychological development….

The first question I would ask you is why does your daughter need to go to work at all. Probably, as any normal person would answer, is that she needs to be occupied. You may even say, “She needs to have something to do until she gets married. Once she has a baby or two that keeps her occupied, she can stop working.”

Fine. I hear you.

You may even say, “She needs to earn money.” Another very important reason to go to work. To pay for present expenses, to learn how to budget her finances, to possibly pay for her wedding expenses, to put away money for after her wedding so that her husband can learn in kollel or buy a house.

Yes, all very valid points.

But I refuse to get stuck on the office versus teaching conundrum because of the differential pay. Because it would a hypocritical position—after raising a daughter for 18 years to be a frum, ehrlich woman, that it all becomes irrelevant if she needs to earn money and an office pays more. Because using that same hypocrisy, it would be a smarter financial decision to allow her to go to college, one of the many frum ones around, and allow her to continue working in a sheltered school environment as educator or therapist, a larger pool of opportunity.

And this touches on the 3rd issue you brought up without meaning to; the limited opportunities from which to make choices about jobs. Another topic that will not be addressed in this column but food for thought for a future column….

Now finally, let’s get to the office problem and why I began with an unequivocal, “Keep your daughter away,” statement which sounds as narrow minded as can be. But I stand behind my statement because my explanation addresses the later development stages in psychologically stable functioning. The stages of forming an identity (12-19), the ability to be in successful relationships/marriage (19-30), and the ability to engage in generativity/productivity (30+). And off course, because some daughters would rather work in an office, and they need to have that liberty and autonomy to choose, we will talk about how the office environment can be a healthy one too.

Let me explain.

The psychological task of forming an identity is about knowing who one is. As a woman, as a religious Jew, within the culture (Chassidish, Litvish, Sefardic etc), and any other aspect that answers “Who Am I?” The task of forming relationships, ultimately the most important one of marriage, overlaps this time as well for the adult from 18/19 and older.

Abruptly throw a girl into an office and the possibility for confusion in sorting out these 2 tasks of identity and relationships are real. Why? Because of the realities of an office. The power resides with those who are earning money and earning it well. Jews who look like Jews may not be the role models for a girl sorting out her identity as a Jew and what role her religion, gender, and culture plays in her life. This power may distort a girl’s reality as to who she is and what is important. She is suddenly faced with a whole different value system, in which what is respected is far different than what she (hopefully, presumably) taught at school and in her home. Her view of relationships may become skewed, as her boss or male workmate becomes idealized in her mind. Especially when they are supportive of her work, complimentary, knowledgeable; seem to be “on the same page,” in ways a potential may not be. It’s a challenge and a very real one.

In addition, put a girl into an office doing work that is mostly mercenary and has little value beyond the materialistic aspect of it (selling, buying, earning money for the boss) is in essence not the productivity necessary to achieve the future task of generativity. For the most part, offices are places where the overarching achievement is to earn money. Generativity is about productivity in a deeply meaningful way. The office usually does not teach those values.

Working in a school environment, for those lucky enough to love it, as therapist or educator is deeply meaningful in of itself as they are part of the helping professions, as the environment is aligned with a frum girl’s needs.

But it would truly be ridiculous to discourage all girls from working in an office. While the work itself may not necessarily be meaningful, what is learned may very well be; work ethics, social skills, responsibility, acquiring knowledge, financial independence, and more. So what to do?

Guide your daughter to set boundaries of her social and professional interactions with a male boss or workmate to prevent potential problems with achieving relationships necessary in this development stage. Give your daughter the backbone to solidify her identity in ways that are aligned with the persona she has developed as a teenager. Give her opportunities to stay in some way within a familiar social and spiritual environment such as attending nigh seminary and maintaining her high school relationships with friends and teachers. The details of this guidance should be addressed individually within the value system of your home and culture.

The path a girl takes following high school is a critical one as it comes at a time where she finishes her task of finding her identity and begins the stage of forming the ability to achieve marital success. And although the family and community play critical roles, as does her past milestones, so much can be done—and undone—at this juncture.

(I can’t wait for all those indignant emails from all those fabulous girls and women working in their fabulous offices!)

 

NOTICE: THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BINAH'S BI-WEEKLY COLUMN "QUESTIONS YOU NEVER DARED ASKED BUT ASKED ANYWAY."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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