Marilyn Heins

When I was a girl, reading and daydreaming were my favorite pastimes. I was the star of my own daydreams, both fantasies and serious dreaming about what I might do when I grew up.

I loved school but also loved finishing my homework, grabbing a book and an apple (yes, just like Jo in Little Women). I would close the book and start to daydream. Like many little girls, I dreamed about being a movie star or marrying one.

Reality always coaxed me back from Hollywood to the real world. What should I, would I become? How could I make a future I dreamed of happen?

I loved my own pediatrician and thought it might be fun to be a doctor. In my early teens, I read a book called “Kings Row” by Henry Bellamann about a young man who went to Vienna to became a psychiatrist. (Ronald Reagan starred in the movie)

I was fascinated by the book and went to the library to learn what I had to do to become a psychiatrist. Medical school? OK. I talked to my parents about my dreams of becoming a doctor and both parents were enthusiastic. I never heard a single, “girls can’t do that” or “girls get married and have children.”

My mother was my role model. She worked as an artist for department stores, drawing merchandise for newspaper ads. People, snidely behind their backs and loudly to her face, disapproved of my mother working outside the home. These were the days when mothers stayed home with the children. Remember the Dick and Jane books? As I recall, Mom was always in an apron and Dad left the home in a suit.

I can attest to the fact that my mother’s children were fed good meals, lived in a spotless house and grew up OK. My mother was an organized dynamo with enormous amounts of energy. She came home from work after a visit to the grocery and put the spaghetti water on to boil before she cut up the fresh vegetables. My father, who was a very good dad and husband, did the dishes. I wish I could say I voluntarily helped my mother, but I confess I had to be coaxed or ordered.

I ponder about young people today who are vague about their future or don’t seem to expend much energy figuring out how to get there. Could this be related to the fact that parents today tend to give their children too much stuff? Maybe children who get everything handed to them think that’s how their future will arrive, boxed up like a game.

Our youths seem very oriented to now. They live in a sound bite, texting language, instant-communication world. There’s lots of action but perhaps not as much thinking or introspection.

Hey, parents and grandparents out there! Here’s an idea: Many children today are deep into instant gratification and being nonchalant about their future. Let’s all become dream throwers!

For those readers who are not steeped in Southwest American Indian culture, let me explain. Legend has it that if you hang a dream catcher, available in several sizes at many local gift or tourist shops, near your bed, the web will catch good dreams for you. I often give them as gifts, since everybody should enjoy good dreams, right?

Talk with your children or grandchildren about your life as a child and how much you daydreamed about your future when you were young. Tell them how you decided what you were going to do when you grew up and how you got information about careers.

Talk about your daydreams and what your life was when you were a child. When you see something in the papers about an interesting or new kind of career talk about it. Never discourage a child who talks about a possible future career. Be especially careful to avoid negative feedback to daughters who want to be firefighters and sons who want to be dress designers.

Take your children to work with you on occasion. Expose them to careers or professions they might be interested in. My husband, who was a veterinarian, always made time to show interested kids the “back rooms” of his veterinary hospital, invite them to watch surgery and to follow him around. He was especially interested in telling girls they could become veterinarians and hired a woman veterinarian long before 2009 when women first outnumbered men in that field.

If you throw dreams out there maybe your children will look beyond today’s now into their own future. It can’t hurt.

Throw dreams to other children, too, not just your own. When I was 10 or so, a neighbor saw me carrying a pile of library books home and asked me what I liked to read. I was deep in the Bronte sisters at that time. She went in her house and came out with a biography of the Brontes. After I read it, we discussed them and their books. I was treated like a grown-up, given my first taste of literary criticism, and started out on the path of becoming a lifelong reader.

There are also children from disadvantaged families who, because of economic hardship and less than adequate schools, don’t aspire to a future that includes college, for example.

If you can spare some time, be a dream thrower to a child who does not have the advantages your own children have. I have several friends who tutor children in reading at their school. One woman told me she always talks to the children about what they can become if they work hard and become good readers. She asks them what they want to become, brings them library books about what they dream of and encourages them to keep dreaming and working hard. I admire her!

Take the children with you when you take food to the Food Bank or wrap a new toy for a child who would not otherwise celebrate the holidays. Talk about kindness that can be defined as the virtue of finding ways to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

One more task: Talk about character. Explain what the Golden Rule is ... and how ancient it is. Tell children and grandchildren how important it is to tell the truth, how truth is the bedrock of honesty and trust. And, come to think about it, civilization itself!

Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your questions on topics throughout the life cycle. Email info@ParentKidsRight.com