I wonder if we parents, trying to make things “better” for our children, have not, in the long run, made them worse off.
When I was a kid, we had little money, but lots of love. There were five kids in our family. My mother hired me out to do housework for people, and to iron their clothes. Mind you, I didn’t ask to be hired out. She hired me out because she wanted to teach me how to be self-sufficient, AND she hired me out to her friends with explicit instructions to make me do whatever I was doing over if it wasn’t done right. “Right” was the standard that my mother set …The money I made was my allowance – for one didn’t get paid for doing chores around the house. If you lived in the house, you were expected to carry your weight.
I didn’t make a lot of money, but I learned to work.
I not only learned to work outside my home but inside as well. We cleaned house when it was already so clean you could eat off the floor. Every Saturday, without fail, my mother would wake us up EARLY, saying, “Get up! There’s work to be done!” We could see no such work, but that was no issue. We washed windows, using vinegar, hot water and newspapers to dry them; we washed all the sheets on the beds in the house; we dusted furniture and baseboards; we scrubbed floors, on hands and knees, because my mother said a mop couldn’t do nearly the job a little “elbow grease” could do. We washed clothes and ironed them all …and the house ethic was to get all this done before noon! All of our friends, or so it seemed, were asleep, and there we were, up, working and being warned to keep grumbling to a minimum.
We knew that we were to not only eat breakfast before we went to school, but we were expected to make our beds and wash the breakfast dishes …and still be on time. There was no “bailing out” if we were lax or slow and missed the bus or left so late, walking, that we were late to school. No, if we were late, we were punished. If we forgot our lunches (we didn’t buy our lunches) it was really too bad; Mama didn’t run up to the school to save us from imagined starvation. We’d just be hungry that day…and if we “forgot” enough times and were hungry enough times, we’d learn not to forget, she’d say. “Life don’t love nobody,” Mama would say, “so you’d better love life and live it so you can love it!” I didn’t know exactly what she meant, but I was sure it was an important bit of advice.
There were no elaborate Christmas gifts; we often got one toy (not a brand name) and always a book. Mostly, we had each other and good food. My neighbor always got the latest stuff, and I was jealous, but in the end, it was the books I got that meant the most to me. We never had the latest clothes; we got our sneakers from Sears – Keds, they were – and we wore them until we could wear them no more.
I raised my children well, I think, but I wasn’t as hard on them as my mother was on us. I felt like she had been a little dramatic, like it wasn’t necessary to make one’s child work like a Hebrew slave in order to teach them life’s lessons, but maybe I was wrong.
So many of us wanted, once we grew up and had children of our own, to make things easier for our children than they had been for us. We wanted them to have “the things” we never had. So, we did that- many of us – made things easier, and got them the “things” that we never had, but at the end of the day, what have we done? I didn’t buy my kids expensive clothes and shoes, but I did a fair amount of bailing them out. I left meetings to get lunch money to my son, or a left-at-home assignment for my daughter. I felt my mother had been a bit too hard on me, and so I was not going to repeat her parenting methods.
But I think I might have fared better had I adopted more of her standards. I talk to so many parents who think, in retrospect, that they gave their kids too much, that they made things too easy for them. The result is a fair number of young people who are floundering because they are so used to being accommodated. There is no glory in that, no power. My mother (and my dad, too) insisted that we learn to not depend on anyone. They made it clear that wearing “the latest clothes” did not equip us to deal with this life that “don’t love nobody.” We would never have thought of expecting a gift that cost $300!
There must be a balance between the methods of my mother and my own methods. Don’t get me wrong; my children, both of them are a joy and a delight and are doing well. But sometimes, I find myself bailing them out, and I pray that I am not doing them more harm than good, my son especially. There is a fine line between helping and hurting, and because I want them to be all right, I might be overstepping the line too often.
I hope not. I think we baby boomers have had good intentions but we might have created far too many economic cripples, which is not good. I hope I have not done that, and I hope that other parents reading this will think twice and fight the urge to bail our kids out. It seems that there was real value in the “hard” ways of our parents.
Or at least that’s how I see it.
It’s a candid …observation.