How to Explain to Your Kids Why You Work

Has your child asked you why you work? Learn how to explain to your kids why you work and the benefits you and your whole family get.

How to Explain to Your Kids Why You Work“Mama, why do you work?”

My young kids have asked me that question a few times, and I couldn’t blame them. How do you explain the stretches of absences (or in the pandemic days, the impromptu workspace in the living room)? The getting ready to go somewhere, and why it happens on certain days and times?

Back when most of us drove to the office, explaining this elusive “work” was understandably difficult. With our kids in daycare or school, work could feel like the one thing that separated us from our kids.

And even now with work and childcare blurrier than ever, explaining to them what work is and why you do it isn’t that much easier. They’re clamoring for your attention and don’t get how you could be here… but not here.

From the point of view of our kids, going to work can seem like a secret meeting, the place we run off to and rush back from every day. Other times, it’s the thorny reason we can’t play a board game or why they have to be quiet during our online meetings, even if they’re at home.

I wanted my kids to understand the logistics of working and how it all, well, works. To have full transparency about why mommy is on the laptop or why daddy drove to the office.

And what I didn’t want was to make it work seem like drudgery, something they might come to dread as adults. Instead, I wanted to show the benefits of working, not only for our family’s life but for the communities we contribute to.

Interested? Here are different strategies on how to explain to your kids why you work:

1. Discuss working for money

Most families have at least one adult who works for money. And for many kids, their livelihood and entertainment are possible because of that money. Talking about working for money is one specific way to explain why you work.

When your child asks why you work, explain how you do certain tasks or offer value in exchange for compensation. Your family members use that money to pay for needs first, then wants next. This includes the home you live in, the car you drive, the clothes he wears, the food he eats, and the toys he plays with.

Expose him to monetary interactions as well, like paying for items in a store. He can see how you offer the money you’ve earned to take something home to use or enjoy.

And finally, explain how credit cards and ATMs work. That way, he won’t think the ATM is a magic building that gives you free money or that a credit card is an endless source of it.

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2. Discuss the benefits of work

While money may be the clearest way to explain why we work, it certainly isn’t the only reason we do.

Even if your day job isn’t your passion, you still reap plenty of benefits from going to work. You might go to work to feel challenged, work with friends, or make an impact, no matter how big or small. You’re able to solve problems, help others, and contribute to your community.

And know your “why,” or the result of your hard work. A marketing manager can help her company spread the word about its products and services. Even better: talk about your company’s mission and what it’s trying to do in the first place.

Happy business woman talking at work

3. Describe what you do at work

When my kids were in preschool, their version of “work” was different from mine. “Work” meant solving math problems and learning new words, tying their laces, or pouring themselves a drink.

No wonder kids can feel confused when you mention “work.”

The definitions vary, as each of us has different careers and jobs. Use this opportunity to share insights on what you do at work all day (without any hint of irony!). If your company hosts a Bring Your Kids to Work Day, this would be a great chance to show him your workplace.

Discuss the tasks you do as well as what your company does. Some careers are easier to explain while others take more time (Technical Operational Coordinator—huh?).

Check out these Bring Your Child to Work Day activities.

Bring Your Child to Work Day Activities

4. Explain your schedule

Work life is a bit blurrier these days than in the past, but you can still explain why you work the days and times that you do.

When I used to work in an office, I began my work day early—so early that I left the house before my family even woke up. No wonder my kids had asked me a few times, “Why weren’t you there at breakfast?”

Maybe you work full time in the office all day and don’t get to see your child until dinner. Perhaps you work flexible hours or have set up a home office at home. You may have even been a stay-at-home mom in the early years but have decided to re-enter the workforce.

Start by explaining how you came to have the schedule you do. You and your boss might have agreed on your early morning shift. Or explain that you work in the afternoons because that’s when your company needs you to be there.

Then, explain why you chose the schedule you did. I explained that I wasn’t home for breakfast so that I could pick them up right when school ended (instead of sending them to after-school care). Hearing the benefits of my working early helped them understand that I was able to be home in the afternoons.

5. Discuss different jobs

Different people do different things. Perhaps your child has a friend with a parent who stays home, or he wonders why grandma doesn’t work. Maybe he has relatives who work on weekends or an uncle at work during odd hours.

Explain how some families have parents who both work while others have one that’s home. That grandma has worked for many years and has saved up enough money so she doesn’t work for money anymore. And that his uncle works on the weekends because that’s when customers need him the most.

And most importantly, no parent loves their kids more or less because they see them during the day or not.

6. Identify people working

Another great way to drive home the idea of working is to identify people in the middle of their work.

“Look, there’s our mail carrier,” you might begin. “Her job is to sort and deliver the mail, including ours.” Talk about the vendors at the farmers market, and how they pick and sell the produce they bring. Point out the construction workers putting together a new building in your neighborhood.

When your child sees different people at work, he can understand that work varies. Lots of people do different jobs, at different times of the day and on different days of the week.


Your younger children might ask about work, usually out of curiosity and sometimes because they miss you or don’t understand why you’re on the computer all day. When you paint a positive picture of work and how it contributes to your welfare, they can see valid reasons why you work.

To start, talk about how working allows you to earn money, which you then use to buy, save, or donate. Share the benefits of work, from contributing to society to making new friends. Describe what you do at work and why your company exists in the first place.

Explain your schedule and how you came to work those days and hours. Discuss different jobs people have, and point out people in the middle of their work. That way, he sees that there are many types of work people do.

Whether for happiness, contribution, or simply for money, work is a necessary and positive factor in your family’s life. And it can certainly be something your child can look forward to doing on his own in the future.

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