Sep 24, 2012 0 Share

Mama Bear Instincts

Mother bear on hind legs with cub behind her.

I found myself taking a dose of my own medicine last week. During my stint as an Independent Living Skills Instructor, I often found myself grumbling about parents undermining my best-placed intentions. While slipping their children an extra $20 for pocket money may have seemed harmless, it undermined my ability to teach about living on a budget. A quick tidying of the apartment as they drop off their student after a weekend visit may be second nature to some parents, but to the staff member trying to assess behavior change from week to week, these innate parental actions can be a real hindrance. And yet last week, I found myself dangerously close to becoming one of those parents that interferes with a staff’s well-laid plan.

Cameron’s school has a new teacher coordinating internships this year. She has quickly been able to implement some improvements over last year’s program. For instance, instead of going to the job each school day, interns now spend Mondays and Fridays in the classroom learning valuable skills like interviewing and resume writing. Interns will be participating in mock interviews in which various faculty members interview the interns in an office setting. Interns are expected to wear appropriate attire for the interviews. In my mind, this is all really good stuff.

But when I received an email from the internship coordinator, asking that I please remind Cameron to bring long pants on the days when he works in the restaurant—and by the way, restaurant interns are asked to refrain from eating during working hours, so I should please remind Cameron of this as well—I found myself bristling a bit. Somehow Mama Bear instincts kicked in and I started mentally forming a list of counterpoints to these internship rules: 1) Cameron has worked in this restaurant in the past, and wearing shorts to work wasn’t a problem before; 2) Cameron’s main motivation for going to work is the promise of free food; 3) If Cameron is expected to decline food while on the job, how am I supposed to enforce this?... And so the list of my concerns began.

But then I stopped, and took a deep breath. Cameron will have many jobs and many bosses in the course of his lifetime. And with those many jobs and many bosses will likely go many different sets of rules. Shaking things up a bit within the confines of a familiar internship is definitely a good thing. Cameron may not like it at first, but just like eating his vegetables, he will learn to get through it and do what is expected of him. This type of pushback is good for Cameron. It is why, after all, I was so determined that he find paid employment. When someone is paying you to do a job, you are held accountable for doing your tasks. An unpaid intern is, in my mind, easier to forgive, and therefore may not be held to the same level of accountability. So in spite of my maternal instinct to make things easier for Cameron, I’m glad that I thought better of making those excuses for him. And I’m sure Cameron’s teacher is glad I thought better of it too.