Parenting: Are We Getting a Raw Deal?

12711307_10206480078338131_5829653117437408897_oSummer 1974. I’m 9 years old. By 7:30 am, I’m up and out of the house, or if it’s Saturday I’m up and doing exactly what my father, Big Jerry, has told me to do. Might be raking, mowing, digging holes, or washing cars.

Summer 2016. I’m tiptoeing out of the house, on my way to work, in an effort not to wake my children who will undoubtedly sleep until 11 am. They may complete a couple of the chores I’ve left in a list on the kitchen counter for them, or they may eat stale Cheez-its that were left in their rooms 3 days ago, in order to avoid the kitchen at all costs and “not see” the list.

If you haven’t noticed, we’re getting a raw deal where this parenting gig is concerned. When did adults start caring whether or not their kids were safe, happy, or popular? I can assure you that Ginny and Big Jerry were not wiling away the hours wondering if my brother and I were fulfilled. Big Jerry was stoking the fires of his retirement savings and working, and working some more. Ginny was double bolting the door in order to keep us out of the house, and talking on the phone while she smoked a Kent. Meanwhile, we were three neighborhoods away, playing with some kids we’d never met, and we had crossed 2 major highways on bicycles with semi-flat tires to get there. Odds are, one of us had crashed at some point and was bleeding pretty impressively. No one cared. We were kids and if we weren’t acting as free labor, we were supposed to be out of the house and out of the way.

My personal belief is that the same “woman with too little to do”, that decided it was necessary to give 4- year old guests a gift for coming to a birthday party, is the same loon who decided we were here to serve our kids and not the other way around. Think about it. As a kid, what was your costume for Halloween? If you were really lucky, your mom jabbed a pair of scissors in an old sheet, cut two eye holes, and you were a ghost. If her friend was coming over to frost her hair and showed up early, you got one eye hole cut and spent the next 45 minutes using a sharp stick to jab a second hole that was about two inches lower than its partner. I watched my cousin run directly into a parked car due to this very costume one year. He was still yelling, “Trick or Treat” as he slid down the rear quarter panel of a Buick, mildly concussed. When my son was 3 years old, we had a clown costume made by a seamstress, complete with pointy clown hat, and grease makeup. His grandmother spent more having that costume made than she did on my prom dress.

At some point in the last 25 years, the tide shifted and the parents started getting the marginal cars and the cheap clothes while the kids live like rock stars. We spend enormous amounts of money on private instruction, the best sports gear money can buy, and adhere to psycho competition schedules. I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve bought the $300 baseball bats with money that should have been invested in a retirement account, traveled from many an AAU basketball game, or travel baseball game, to a dance competition in the course of one day, and failed to even consider why. Remember Hank Aaron? He didn’t need a $300 bat to be great. Your kid isn’t going pro and neither is mine, but you are going to retire one day and dumpster diving isn’t for the elderly. My brother and I still laugh about how, when he played high school baseball, there was one good bat and the entire team used it.

Remember your clothes in the 70’s? Despite my best efforts to block it out, I can still remember my desperate need to have a pair of authentic Converse shoes. Did I get them? Negative. Oh, was it a punch in the gut when my mother presented me with the Archdale knock-offs she found somewhere between my hometown and Greensboro. Trust me. They weren’t even close. Did I complain? Hell, no. I’m still alive, aren’t I? We’ve got an entire generation of kids spitting up on outfits that cost more than my monthly electric bill. There were no designer baby clothes when we were kids. Why? Because our parents weren’t crazy enough to spend $60 on an outfit for us to have explosive diarrhea in or vomit on. Our parents were focused on saving for their retirement and paying their house off. The real beauty of it is that none of these kids are going to score a job straight out of college that will allow them to pay for the necessities of life, brand new cars, and $150 jeans, so guess who’s going to be getting the phone call when they can’t make rent? Yep, we are.

Think back; way, way back. Who cleaned the house and did the yard work when you were a kid? You did. In fact, that’s why some people had children. We were free labor. My mother served as supervisor for the indoor chores, and the house damn well better be spotless when my father came through the door at 5:35. The battle cry went something like this, “Oh, no! Your father will be home in 15 minutes! Get those toys put away nooooow!” The rest of our evening was spent getting up to turn the television on demand, and only to what Dad wanted to watch.

On weekends Dad was in charge of outdoor work and if you were thirsty you drank out of the hose, because 2 minutes of air conditioning and a glass of water from the faucet might make you soft. Who does the housework and yardwork now? The cleaning lady that comes on Thursday, and the landscaping crew that comes every other Tuesday. Most teenage boys have never touched a mower, and if you asked my daughter to clean a toilet, she would come back with a four page paper on the various kinds of deadly bacteria present on toilet seats. Everyone is too busy doing stuff to take care of the stuff they already have. But don’t get confused, they aren’t working or anything crazy like that. Juggling school assignments, extracurricular activities, and spending our money could become stressful if they had to work.

I don’t recall anyone being worried about my workload being stressful, or my mental health in general. Jerry and Ginny had grownup stuff to worry about. As teenagers, we managed our own social lives and school affairs. If Karen, while executing a hair flip, told me my new Rave perm made me look like shit and there was no way Kevin would ever go out with my scrawny ass, my mother wasn’t even going to know about it; much less call Karen’s mother and arrange a meeting where we could iron out our misunderstanding and take a selfie together. Additionally, no phone calls were ever made to any of my teachers or coaches. Ever. If we sat the bench, we sat the bench. Our dads were at work anyway. They only knew what we told them. I can’t even conceive of my dad leaving work to come watch a ballgame. If I made a 92.999 and got a B, I got a B. No thinly veiled threats were made and no money changed hands to get me that A. Ok, full disclosure, in my case we would be looking at an 84.9999. I was the poster child for underachievement.

Back in our day, high school was a testing ground for life. We were learning to be adults under the semi-vigilant supervision of our parents. We had jobs because we wanted cars, and we wanted to be able to put gas in our cars, and wear Jordache jeans and Candies. Without jobs, we had Archdale sneakers and Wranglers, and borrowed our mother’s Chevrolet Caprice, affectionately known as the “land yacht”, on Friday night. No one, I mean, no one, got a new car. I was considered fairly lucky because my parents bought me a car at all. I use the term “car” loosely. If I tell you it was a red convertible and stop right here, you might think me special. I wasn’t. My car was a red MG Midget, possibly a ’74 and certainly a death trap.

Look at your coffee table. Now imagine it having a steering wheel and driving it. I promise you, it’s bigger than my car was. The starter was bad, so after school I had the pleasure of popping the hood and using two screwdrivers to cross the solenoids or waiting for the football players to come out of the dressing room headed to practice. Those guys pushing my car while I popped the clutch, is a memory no 16-year old girl around here will ever have, and it’s a great one. Had I driven that car in high winds, it’s likely I would have ended up airborne, and there were probably some serious safety infractions committed the night I took 6 people in togas to a convenience store, but I wouldn’t go back and trade it out for a new 280Z, even if I had the chance. I was a challenging teenager, and in retrospect the fact that it was pretty impressive every time I made it home alive, may not have been an accident on the part of my parents. Go to the high school now. These kids are driving cars that grown men working 55 hours a week can’t afford, and they aren’t paying for them with their jobs.

And those new cars don’t do a thing for telling a good story. I tell my kids all the time, the very best stories from my teen and college years involve Ann’s yellow Plymouth Duster with the “swirling dust” graphic, Randy’s Valiant with the broken gas gauge, and Carla’s burgundy Nissan that may or may not have had a complete floorboard. A story that starts, “Remember that time we were heading to the beach in Carla’s Nissan and your wallet fell through the floorboard onto the highway?” is so much more interesting than, “Remember that time we were going to the beach in your brand new SUV, filled up with gas that your parents paid for, and the…well, no, never mind. Nothing happened. We just drove down there.” To top it all off, most of them head off to college without a clue what it’s like to look for a job, apply for it, interview, and show up on time, as scheduled. If they have a job, it’s because someone owed their dad a favor…and then they work when it “fits their schedule”.

We all love our kids, and we want to see them happy and fulfilled, but I fear we’re robbing them of the experiences that make life memorable and make them capable, responsible, confident adults. For the majority of us, the very nice things we had as teenagers, we purchased with money we earned after saving for some ungodly amount of time. Our children are given most everything, and sometimes I wonder whether it’s for them or to make us feel like good parents. The bottom line is that you never value something you were given, as much as something you worked for. There were lessons in our experiences, even though we didn’t know it at the time. All those high school cat fights, and battles with teachers we clashed with, were an opportunity for us to learn how to negotiate and how to compromise. It also taught us that the world isn’t fair. Sometimes people just don’t like you, and sometimes you’ll work your ass off and still get screwed. We left high school, problem solvers. I’m afraid our kids are leaving high school with mommy and daddy on speed dial.

We just don’t have the cojones our parents had. We aren’t prepared to tell our kids that they won’t have it if they don’t work for it, because we can’t bear to see them go without and we can’t bear to see them fail. We’ve given them a whole lot of stuff; stuff that will break down, wear out, get lost, go out of style, and lose value. As parents, I suppose some of us feel pretty proud about how we’ve contributed in a material way to our kid’s popularity and paved an easy street for them. I don’t, and I know there are many of you that are just as frustrated by it as I am. I worry about what we’ve robbed them of, which I’ve listed below, in the process of giving them everything.

  • Delayed gratification is a really good thing. It teaches you perseverance and how to determine the true value of something. Our kids don’t know a damn thing about delayed gratification. To them, delayed gratification is waiting for their phone to charge.
  • Problem-solving skills and the ability to manage emotion are crucial life skills. Kids now have every problem solved for them. Good luck calling their college professor to argue about how they should have another shot at that final because they had two other finals to study for and were stressed. Don’t laugh, parents have tried it.
  • Independence allows you to discover who you really are, instead of being what someone else expects you to be. It was something I craved. These kids have traded independence for new cars and Citizen jeans. They will live under someone’s thumb forever, if it means cool stuff. I would have lived in borderline condemned housing, and survived off of crackers and popsicles to maintain my independence. Oh wait, I actually did that. It pisses me off. You’re supposed to WANT to grow up and forge your way in the world; not live on someone else’s dime, under someone else’s rule, and too often these days, under someone else’s roof.
  • Common sense is that little something extra that allows you to figure out which direction is north, how to put air in your tires, or the best route to take at a certain time of day to avoid traffic. You develop common sense by making mistakes and learning from them. It’s a skill best acquired in a setting where it’s safe to fail, and is only mastered by actually doing things for yourself. By micromanaging our kids all the time, we’re setting them up for a lifetime of cluelessness and ineptitude. At a certain age, that cluelessness becomes dangerous. I’ve seen women marry to avoid thinking for themselves, and for some it was the wisest course of action.
  • Mental toughness is what allows a person to keep going despite everything going wrong. People with mental toughness are the ones who come out on top. They battle through job losses, difficult relationships, illness, and failure. It is a quality born from adversity. Adversity is a GOOD thing. It teaches you what you’re made of. It puts into practice the old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It’s life’s teacher. Our bubble-wrapped kids are so sheltered from adversity, I wonder how the mental health professionals will handle them all after the world chews them up and spits them out a few times.

I know you are calling me names right now, and mentally listing all the reasons this doesn’t apply to you and your kid, but remember I’m including myself in this. My kids aren’t as bad as some, because I’m too poor and too lazy to indulge them beyond a certain point. And I’m certainly not saying that our parents did everything right. God knows all that second hand smoke I was exposed to, and those Sunday afternoon drives where Dad was drinking a Schlitz and I was standing on the front seat like a human projectile, were less than ideal; but I do think parents in the 70’s defined their roles in a way we never have.I worry that our kids are leaving home with more intellectual ability than we did, but without the life skills that will give them the success and independence that we’ve enjoyed.

Then again, maybe it’s not parents that are getting the raw end of this deal after all.

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1,519 thoughts on “Parenting: Are We Getting a Raw Deal?

  1. Fantastic article on Parenting, I agree with the difference of then and now. Funny how I still practice the “way back when” days with my teenage son. His father, whom I haven’t been with since our son was 2-1/2, is all about the materialistic things in life, everything having a monetary reward and instant gratification. Thanks for sharing this article, hope more parents read and learn from it.

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  2. Great article! Breaks my heart that we have gone down this path. I’m totally guilty of letting my kids off the hook. Paying the price with my youngest!

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  3. This is how I was raised and this is how I raised my sons. You worked for what you needed, you scrimped and saved for the occasional”want” and you took good care of what you had! Leave your bike out all night on the lawn and be on foot for one week while all your friends are riding off to the community pool. I babysat from age 11 onto to high school. That money bought school clothes and supplies and Girl Scout dues. My sons mowed lawns,worked at the car wash and learned to care for themselves, e.g. laundry, cook, and clean in addition to yard work and hauling trash. They still talk to me and help me when necessary. At this point in our lives they have become loving caring adults and my friends although they will always be my sons!

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  4. I was in a generational differences class which showed that children since 9/11 have been so protected. The theory was, prior to 9/11/2001, society wasn’t as scared for the safety of their children. Now, after Columbine in April 1999, 9/11, and other terrifying events, we are more likey to want to please and protect our children. IDK. It was an interesting thought.

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    1. That explains a lot. For me, older than the author, I was raised with a severely handicapped, bedridden brother 4 years my junior. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have responsibility. When my younger, perfect brother was born 4 years later, he was just an addition, though he could do no wrong. When my only child, a daughter, was finally born aftee 14 years of marriage i went to great lengths not to dump everything on her. Now, 22 years later i have many regrets and a surly, angry child who has trouble “adulting.” Your article hits home in so many ways. Thank you.

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  5. All parents are doing is delaying the life lessons these kids will ultimately need to learn once their parents are gone. The hard times will come and they will learn. They then will raise their kids the way you were raised to make sure it doesnt repeat. I honestly think it’s a cycle.

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  6. I don’t know why it’s good to let a teenager drive a death trap. Some teenagers die because of their unsafe cars, you know, even in the “good old days.”

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    1. It’s much worse to give them a car with more power than they can handle. It’s the Audi’s, Beamers, etc. that end up wrapped around a tree.

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  7. Great story. BUT why are many children now like this? They learn from example. Happy to say that I see lots of parents taking back the role of being a parent and learning the word “No”. Working great for my two.

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  8. Love this and wish for a Do Over. Alas…how bout an article for parenting these adults we ruined and grand parenting their kids?!

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  9. Oh god, another article on how bad today’s children are and indulgent parents are the reason. Frankly, I enjoy my adult children. They are all hard working. They all had jobs in their teens. They are kind, generous, and intelligent. They managed to be excellent adults despite the fabulous birthday parties, dance competitions, and other activities. Bottom line, raising children to be independent caring hard working adults has very little to do with dance competitions, birthday parties, or other material things. It is more about how you teach them to think and act.

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  10. Yes!!! I always say we’re raising a bunch of pansies nowadays. When a parent has to walk over and tell a kid not to play sports with her son because he can’t handle losing, we’re losing something. I don’t recall a parent ever getting involved in our neighborhood tiffs!! You went inside, cooled off and came back out when you were ready to play. No helicoptering required!! Ugh
    Kids gotta learn how to lose with some grit! You win some, and you lose some in the game of life.

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  11. This is a great example of our generations I am the oldest and growing up was interesting for sure but my husband was the second youngest and didnt have the list of too does I had. I’m the evil parent having her do chores and pay for some of her own activities and treats. To me I’m educating her and preparing her to be an adult one day. The more she grows my husband realizes how important it is to be preparing her independence respect morals and work ethics 💖

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  12. I think it’s great you want your kids to work for things and know the value of what they have. Kids should also learn that sitting around on Saturdays shouldn’t be a thing…but I would say some of my favorite childhood memories is my parents screaming on the sidelines for me and telling me I should’ve won after the game. Parents defending their children’s hard word is a display that we should stand up for ourselves when we know we’ve put in the work. Your working ideas are good but your total dismissal of your children’s feelings and we’ll being is slightly alarming.

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    1. Trust me, I was at every game or performance that didn’t require me to lay out of work and I require my kids to approachbteacher and other authority figures on their own, while still under my supervision, because that’s what you have to do in life. You have to learn how to negotiate and compromise. There’s a lot of hyperbole and sarcasm in this piece, so it has to be approached a little tongue-in-cheek. Please don’t be alarmed. My kids are well-loved, well-prepared, intelligent competent., and wickedly funny. Thanks for reading and for what I’m sure was well-intentioned concern!

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  13. Meh. I can relate to some of this, but whenever I read one of these types of articles, it’s always with a grain of salt. Our parents probably have or had a much different take on our childhoods than we do and our kids likely are going to think they had it tougher than their kids will. Every generation goes through this. We had it way easier than our parents. Let’s stop acting like life was soooooo hard for us.

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  14. I love this. I just stopped by back to read it again after reading it a few months ago. I’ve decided my mantra needs to be “What Would Ginny Do?” It sure as heck isn’t what I’ve been doing! And I’m harder on my kids than most. I’m in the workforce with Millennials and I often come home and think- I cannot raise one. I have to raise adults who can think for themselves and have ambition and drive and the desire to work for their goals. Yup- WWGD….

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  15. I get that this is tongue-in-cheek but it paints all of us in this generation of parents as idiots. There’s a happy medium between the stuff our parents did and now. I agree with you on not giving in to every whim and desire. I don’t and didn’t. I’m too damn broke to do it.

    That said, I’m really tired of hearing that I’m an asshole because I don’t accept bullying. I didn’t accept it for my own kid and I stand up for anyone else who’s being bullied. Bullying ISN’T your best friend telling you your hair looks like shit. Bullying IS every kid in the class telling you that you look like shit and that they’re going to beat the snot out of you just because you exist. That was my life as a 9-year-old and it sucked. Today, it’s 100 times worse because not only do we sit here and tell ourselves that being mean little shits is part of life, it goes on 24/7 and if you dare to stand up to it then you’re a whine. No, sorry, I don’t accept that. It does real damage. I have a real hard time making friends and trusting people because of what I went through and I’m 51 years old and yes, I have been through therapy. We need to stop blaming kids and parents for wanting the world to be less mean. Why does anyone think that being shitty to another human being is an acceptable or necessary part of life?

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