“I want to give my children everything that I didn’t have when I was a kid?” Have you ever heard someone say this? Have you ever said it yourself? Every time I hear that statement I wonder two things, a) what exactly does it mean? and b) why? As a parent of twenty somethings, I see a lot in them, their friends, and their generation in general, that suggests that we parents may be giving them entirely too much.
When we say that we want to give our children everything that we didn’t have growing up, my sense is that we are referring to “stuff”: more toys, more gadgets, more vacations, more luxuries than were at our disposal as kids. And, when I say “we” I am really including myself because although I have never made that statement or actually even thought it, I stand convicted of being an overly indulgent parent. Sometimes I try to rationalize it and sometimes I don’t. I just do it because I can, and it’s fun. Fun, that is, until my children through their behavior and/or attitude point out to me that I have done too much. Here’s where my experience as a mom of twenty somethings comes into play because it wasn’t until years later that my husband and I realized the mistakes that had been made as they were growing up.
I am the product of an overly indulgent mother. My father was the one who was reasonable and frugal but, Mom, not so much, although, neither one of them told me “no” very often. So, when I became an adult and graduated from college, life stepped in and slapped me right in the face. And it was brutal. Suddenly, my parents expected me to be responsible, pay my own bills, set goals, save money, chart my own path…things that I had never done before. Then I found out that I was pregnant and that, my friends, has been the single most grounding and defining moment of my life. The fact that I was going to become responsible for another little helpless, beautiful person put my feet firmly on the ground, and quickly, I might add. Thankfully, none of my children have found themselves in this position (and I implore them to keep it this way) because I often wonder about their ability to adjust to the real world.
The real world. The world where you can’t call home and ask someone to put money into your bank account because you spent it all over the weekend (but, you had a great time!). Where you can’t come home on break from college to your comfy, fairly large bedroom that you don’t have to share with anyone. You know, the one that connects to it’s own private bath or, maybe you share it with your sibling and it connects both rooms (Did I mention that this is all really well decorated?). Where you can’t sleep until noon or 1:00 then go out to the back yard and dive into the pool. The real world, where you pay for your own car; mommy and daddy do not buy it for you. They don’t owe it to you. In fact, they don’t owe you anything. See, I have had to tell my adult children this very thing more than once, “We don’t owe you anything!”
Do you watch “House Hunters” or “My First Place” on HGTV? Every time I see these shows, I am amazed by the first time homeowners who really are insistent on buying a house that has a gourmet kitchen complete with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances, four bedrooms, a master suite complete with a whirlpool tub in the bathroom, all in a 3,000 square foot home. No one, no matter what their age or stage in life expects to have to work and save and plan for anything. Instant gratification. We live in a microwave society where we expect to put a few loose plans into motion and expect instant success. And it’s all our fault, parents. We have created a generation of people who feel entitled.
Why? Why do we do this? What is it that we are trying to make up for? Were our childhoods that bad? I can recall playing games of “Pickle” in the yard across from my house until the street lights came on. Or, asking my dad for a quarter to walk to the store and buy a soda to drink while reading Tiger Beat magazine in the aisle. Or, walking down to the new cinema (notice, there was a lot of walking?) with my friends to see the first Star Wars movie…nine times. Nothing elaborate, but it was all good. Why do we feel like we have to go bigger with our own children ? What was wrong with what our parents gave us? I know that times have changed but, I submit that it’s because we have artificially upped the ante. We have become so obsessed with “stuff” and status that we have forgotten that we, parents, have a bigger purpose than just keeping our children entertained and coddled.
Tell me, do you put as much effort into teaching your children how to be altruistic? Do you realize that kindness and compassion have to be taught, they are not intuitive? Do you feel the need to teach your children the value of hard work resulting in delayed gratification? This is hard stuff and I must say, that I find it just as daunting 16 years later than I did when I had my first child. Fortunately, or unfortunately if you look at it from my younger children’s point of view, I am parenting from the rear view mirror and I can see clearly. To set the record straight, my older kids are good kids. They have their bumps and bruises but, they are figuring it out. So am I.