It’s probably not something most parents think about on a day-to-day basis. I know it wasn’t something that crossed my mind until someone mentioned it to me in passing. When we think about all the things that we do for our children, like stressing out over which kindergarten they should attend, we’re really focusing not on what our kids are, but rather what our kids will be. Put another way, we’re focusing on the future value of children, what they will be able to do, create or contribute “some day.”

Oh, and when I say that “someone” mentioned this to me “in passing,” what I really mean is that Fred Rogers pointed this out in Won’t You Be My Neighbor. The documentary on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is streaming now on Netflix, by the way, and I highly recommend it. In the interview clip, the venerable Mister Rogers asks a rather poignant question. Why does society only value children from what they will be?

Let’s Go to the Mall

Looking to the world of marketing, advertising and entertainment, society values that child for the good consumer he or she will grow up to be. That’s why so many companies try to instill a certain level of brand loyalty into kids at a very young. This is also why products that tap into our nostalgia, like the NES Classic and SNES Classic, work so darn well. I’ve always been a Nintendo kid, because apparently I’m a good little consumer. They drove that into my head as a child and it has paid off in spades for brands like Nintendo.

Even looking beyond brand specifics, we can plainly see how children are being trained to be good little consumers. Absolutely, it’s important for kids to learn how commerce works. They should know how to interact with a cashier, and the steps it takes to complete a transaction. But this all feels like much more than that, training kids to want to buy more and more in our consumer-centric society. Believe me, I’m hardly immune to this either… as I type this on a new laptop I recently purchased.

Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers…

There’s a popular meme listing the four main career options that Asians have: doctor, lawyer, engineer or disgrace to the family. It’s something I discussed in the vlog asking if I was Asian enough.

It’s a stereotype, to be sure, and while my parents never really pushed me into any of those careers, there was an underlying expectation. Between my brother and I, our family would have an accountant and a doctor. We ended up with neither (though my brother married an accountant).

Regardless of how you feel about “guiding” your children toward certain careers, it’s undeniable that we also value our children for what they will be. How they will contribute to society (and to our retirements) when they grow up. A future doctor. A future lawyer. A future taxpayer. It’s not so much about what they’re doing now; it’s much more about how what they’re doing now will lead to what they will be doing as adults.

We want to raise our kids to be good human beings, but are we missing something along the way?

Life as It Is Today

In Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Fred Rogers brings up exactly this point. We get so caught up on how these children will turn out as adults that we lose sight of how the children are today as children. What about the intrinsic and undeniable value of a child as he or she is? What about how children make the adults around them better people?

I’ve stated several times before that the transition to fatherhood has been, far and away, the biggest life change I’ve ever experienced. More than marriage, career, or home ownership. Parenthood is all-encompassing, utterly and irreversibly altering my outlook on life. I see the world in an entirely different kind of way because of my daughter.

She has been my greatest teacher. Because of her, and my concern for her, I’ve grown much more cognizant of gender roles and gender inequality. And I hope that these lessons are making me a better father, a better husband, and a better human being. We’re getting there.

Children are infinitely valuable not only for what they will be, but perhaps even more so for what they are. We just need to take the time to truly see them.