A Facebook post yesterday by a friend got me to thinking. Her post was about being in a fast food place where a mother was telling her teenaged daughter that she had to pay for her own sub, and the daughter was acting out and called her mother a ‘cheap bitch’.
I think really the larger issue is not that so many teenagers have become total ingrates….but that our society has, to me, become such that we try to compete with everyone else to make sure our kids are ‘liked’ or ‘popular’ and hand them so much on a plate or it reflects poorly upon us as parents, that we would ‘deprive’ our children in such a way. I’m not saying my friend’s encounter above was with a mother who has spoiled her child, I’m saying that when you see parents spending ten, twenty thousand dollars on a ‘sweet sixteen’ party (and there’s a whole reality show based upon this practice) or go to a playground with kids jumping in mud puddles in two hundred dollar sneakers that they then refuse to wear because they are ‘messy’ and insist you buy them new ones…..is it really the ‘kids’ that are responsible for this….or the parents that do this and then the ones that follow suit just so their kid appears to be ‘just as popular’ as their friends?
I don’t really wish to judge anyone for how they parent their child or children, it’s just….I was raised very differently from that. I see a society full of mink coat wearing tweens and Mercedes driving sixteen year olds and remember my own experience of growing up with labels that said ‘Sears’ and ‘Anderson-Little’ and driving an AMC Hornet that I bought myself with my own money and paid for my own gas and insurance, and know that I do recognize the value of a dollar, and learned early on that my mother was not a ‘cheap bitch’….she was both not able to afford ‘more’ and was trying to teach me a lesson in life that has served me, and her, very well as adults.
Recently one of my children wanted a winter hat that has a little air pump and hose inside it and makes little knitted hands flip up and down. They cost 19.99, plus tax. Both my kids have numerous winter hats already, and this is simply a fad item. Were it up to me, I’d spend the money more wisely on something he needed and didn’t already have, but that’s just my mid-40’s middle class frugality speaking. I don’t pay attention to trends, other than to read certain news stories now and again. I don’t follow any crowd, or any style other than my own. That’s just the way I am, and have been for as far back as I can recall.
I told my son that if he wanted the hat, he had to pay for it with his own money…he’d received some for his birthday, and still had it tucked away. He agreed, even after I did caution him that it would take up most of his money, and then he wouldn’t have as much. But he wanted it, so…I allowed him to buy it. He’s been thrilled with it, up until the point where something happened to it yesterday and the hands no longer flipped. I discovered that the air hose inside had come loose, and put it back together for him. He hasn’t once bemoaned the lack of funding inside his wallet now. He’s happy with his purchase, spent his own money on it, and apparently hasn’t once looked back and had a case of buyer’s remorse.
Several people commented on my friend’s post that the girl deserved one or more of the following:
1. A smack for her disrespect
2. To be taken home without a sub and made to eat something there, or nothing at all
3. Being grounded
My friend commented that though she isn’t a parent, it seems to her (paraphrasing here) that kids get so much handed to them that they have lost sight of the value of money. I am a parent, and I agree with her. I take my kids into stores on a weekly basis and they want everything in sight. I say no, most of the time, and get told any range of things like (A) I never buy them anything, (B) I’m the worst parent ever, (C) All their friends have one and everyone will make fun of them if they don’t, and (D) They hate me.
I grew up with divorced parents and a mom who worked three jobs to keep a roof over our heads and food on our plates. Each year we engaged in the ‘new clothes for school’ shopping ritual. We then picked up school supplies. There were three of us to do this for. Each dollar was stretched more than the ‘truths’ that come out of politicians’ mouths. The sale rack was stop #1, and sometimes the only stop, on our journey through the Mall. Mom didn’t put things on credit, she paid for them with cash. She didn’t overextend herself to give us the latest, best, or most popular of anything. She couldn’t.
From age 11 I started earning my own money. I mowed lawns. I babysat. I never turned down an opportunity to earn money for something, no matter what else was going on. I spent Friday nights, Saturday nights, and even whole weekends babysitting for a family with three children in the neighboring town while their parents were active members of a Lions Club chapter and went out to socialize. I made dinner for the kids at times, helped with homework, played with them…and kept them ‘safe’…..and got paid well for it, for the time. For an entire weekend of babysitting, whether I stayed right there at their house or kept going back and forth to my own house, I would emerge with fifty dollars in my pocket. For mowing a lawn, I got anywhere from seven to ten dollars depending on the size of the property.
One of the perks of babysitting where I did, other than the money I made, was that the family had a huge assortment of classic books, leather bound editions, in the ‘library’ they had, which was really more like an alcove in the upper part of their split-level home that went from the front of the house to the ‘office’ (a desk, a chair, a love seat, a television, and book shelves) to the back. I found myself drawn to the look, feel, and smell of the books as much as I was to the stories contained therein. It was here that Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, and so many others became ‘friends’. I also had free reign over the television from 8pm on (when the kids were in bed) and slaked my thirst for Dallas and Falcon Crest every Friday night. They had an Atari system (which we didn’t) and cable t.v. (which we also didn’t). But my biggest joy of babysitting there was the books. Secondary to that was the money. Earning my own money gave me a sense of freedom that was overwhelmingly nice at the time. I could decide what I wanted to buy for clothing, books, music, and entertainment (to a large degree). I could walk into a store, and as long as I used my own money, I could pick out whatever I wanted. It didn’t have to be ‘affordable’ or ‘practical’…..it was up to me. Mom tried to steer me toward ‘affordable’ and ‘practical’, and sometimes I listened, but in the end, it was my choice.
It gave me a sense of the value of money early on, and the sense of reward that comes with having something that I both worked for AND earned. I knew that when it was gone it was gone, and I tried to make my choices wisely, and rarely did I ever regret them.
It also gave me a sense of the struggle it takes to maintain a home with one or more children….especially when you are single parenting without help. When you realize that there’s no fat guy in a red suit coming down your chimney once a year to deck your halls with all kinds of pretty packages and that mom/dad are the ones doing it….and you realize that they are struggling to maintain the home as it is, and how long they likely had to work to earn enough money to buy all the stuff you are unwrapping and then dismissing in ten minutes time on Christmas morning….you learn to value it, and hopefully them, a little more. ‘Things’ don’t buy happiness, and I learned that early on…that the measure of a parent’s love is not ‘how much’ they buy for you.
So, to my kids who occasionally label me as the ‘worst parent ever’…..here’s an apology:
I’m sorry that I don’t buy you everything you want. I’m even sorrier that you are in small ways learning how to earn money and manage your own finances. I realize that to offer you the chance to rake leaves and get paid for it when there’s that episode of SpongeTurtles on that you have seen a million times is cruel and unusual punishment. I know that your video games get boring after thirty seconds, and you NEED a new one, and it’s really testament to my laziness and lack of generosity that you have to play the same games you just played the day before because I either can’t afford or simply don’t want to buy you another one and then hear how boring it is after a day or two.
I am aware how gross vegetables and other healthy foods are in comparison with GMO’s, processed ‘chicken’ that is only really about 2% actual bird, deep fried everything, and it’s one of my favorite forms of torture to give you a healthy-ish diet. I feel like such a failure about this I can’t tell you, but you must realize it when I give you ice cream for dinner now and again or something like that ‘just because’.
About bedtimes? You’ve found me out. I know I tell you you need your sleep, and that a lack of it can lead to a lot of difficulties…..but…..you apparently have discovered the truth. I do it to watch THE COOLEST THINGS EVER on television, or play with all your toys, or eat things I deny to you, and deprive you of all that fun. I know, I know…..I suck.
I feel a confession is in order about something else, too. School is really just a brick and glass torture chamber that I send you to each day and force you to learn things. All parents, when we have kids, enter into this agreement that we will wreak havoc on our children’s lives in this manner, and not allow them to become uneducated, unemployable sloths, because we know how much fun it is to struggle for every dime you earn in today’s world, to lack the necessary ‘educational requirements’ to pursue something that might be a lifelong dream for us,….but we don’t want YOU to participate in that particular joy in life, and therefore we make it so that you have to suffer through class work and homework and go learn to integrate yourselves into society rather than sit on the couch all day and avoid human contact altogether.
That said, I know the downward shame spiral that can plague you your whole life after school is done when you aren’t dressed EXACTLY the same as your friends are or don’t have the RIGHT labels on your clothing or see every new movie that is released or have your pockets stuffed full of Wrestling Personality trading cards each day to show off to everyone else. Don’t let the school fool you….grades are not important. The ONLY THING that goes on your ‘permanent record’ is what you wore each day or had in your lunch bag, or what kind of notebook you carried and what pop singer flavor of the month was on it, and what everyone thought of it. That’s it. They don’t even keep track of grades. I made that mistake, to think they did, and now, at age 45…..it’s the absolute ruination of my life that my entire wardrobe didn’t come from Chess King as a teenager, and that I missed seeing Friday The 13th part 53, Jason On Ice! at the theaters and had to view that piece of cinematic genius on something less than a 4,000 square foot screen although EVERYONE ELSE IN THE FREE WORLD got to go see it. My parents, like me, were sadists too….they hated me….they wanted me to miss out on the things that make someone a better person because they hated me, plain and simple.
Now that you know, I cannot promise that it will change, because obviously even if I could give you everything you ever want I don’t care enough to do it. Even if I won the lottery tomorrow and could afford everything in the world that you wanted, I’m just having too much fun torturing you to stop! I know you’ve promised me that if I will just buy you every shade of BeyBlade in the spectrum you will love me forever and will take THE BEST care of them, and they’ll ALWAYS be special to you, but….I really AM just that mean…..and beyond that, I just don’t ‘get it’…..I have no idea what it’s like to be a kid…..I’m so old, I can’t possibly relate to you or the day to day torments of being a kid.
So, for all this, and for ruining your life with rules, structure, nutrition, practicality, and discipline…..I really do apologize. I hope you’ll be able to function in society one day, perhaps with years of therapy, despite all my bad parenting.