Thursday, July 19, 2012


Man kids are bratty. Self serving, lazy - no work ethic at all. They have amazing education, at no cost to them. They consume a delicious never-ending supply of food, for free. They expect to have name-brand clothes, they're own rooms in capacious houses, their own cars. All this and most can't be bothered to work a minimum wage paying job, or heaven forbid a job that requires manual labor.

Right about now I sound like the curmudgeon who complains about "kids these days," and who had to walk to ten miles to school uphill, both ways, in the snow. I realize that lazy teenagers have always been around. In fact, I remember my own grandfather complaining about my ability to work. Every generation has the propensity to be critical of the next. The situation really becomes a problem, I think, when when there is a change in economic standing.

I'll use myself as an example. My parents had humble wages. My father was a musician, my mom a teacher. There were 4 brothers, 2 sisters and at one point a foster child. So that makes 9 people, all living under the same roof. By roof I mean 3 bedroom apartment. When it came to budgeting there wasn't a whole lot of excess, but my folks made it work and we were happy. I never thought of us as poor.

To compensate for the small budget we all pitched in. We had chores. There was no dishwasher - we were the dishwashers. We shared rooms. I remember having the 4 boys all sleeping in the same bedroom. We worked. Most of us had some way of getting spending money (what's an allowance?) like paper routes, or berry picking in the summer. From the age of 12 or younger we were all required to have at least a summer job. If you didn't have a real job by the time you were 16, you spent your days looking for one. Most of the money we earned we saved, because this was going to pay college tuition. We shared everything. There is a 12 year gap between me (the youngest) and my oldest brother, and I specifically remember "inheriting" some of his clothes. I didn't have toys - we had toys. The 1966 Beetle which was to be my first car, was shared between my brother and myself - and the only reason we had it to begin with is because my brother built the engine for it.

Now I loved my upbringing. I never felt deprived or over worked. I don't want to give the false impression that I had some sort of hard life. I have a very loving and close family and I have fond memories of my young life. Indeed, it wasn't until I had a family of my own that I realized what an amazing feat my parents had pulled off. My "impoverished" upbringing was my normal. We didn't expect to be given anything because our "normal" dictated that if you wanted something you worked to get it.

My wife had a similar upbringing and consequently hearty work ethics. Partially due to our ability to work, we are financially better off that my parents were at the same age. This has enabled us to have certain comforts that I didn't even know existed when I was a kid: a house in which everyone has their own room, a color TV, a computer, video games, a dishwasher, two cars. We are happy that we are able to extend these comforts to our children. Here's the problem though. This life of comfort and ease has become my children's normal. Whereas, we expected to earn our comfort, our kids expect comfort. I think that's why a little bit inside of me dies when ever I hear my kids say, "There's nothing to do," when its a beautiful sunny day outside, or when they complain when I ask them to take out the garbage or unload the dishwasher. I can see them in my mind becoming the teenager that complains about the phone their parents bought them or the car they're made to drive.

Don't think for a second that I'm going to toss the dishwasher, or that I'm going to force my kids to sleep in the same room, but it seems some kind of balance must be found. On one hand I want my kids to have fun and be comfortable, but at the same time I don't want to do them the disservice of limiting their development by handing them everything they could need or want on a silver platter. I'd like to think that my kids have it better than I did, but do they really? Whats more important - the comfort of having something done for you or learning the value of that comfort? There is a saying that I constantly hear echoing around in my skull and it has greatly impacted the way I parent:

"We work so hard to give our children the things we never had, that we forget to give them the things we had."

-Brother Brett