So many drafts, so few published posts… Here’s one just to skew that balance a bit…
I’ve been thinking lately about my kids’ views of my life and our family life. I think it’s easy for my kids to look at me and think that I’ve got it pretty easy, and in many senses I do. I work in a part-time, flexible, well-paying job. I have a great husband who provides well for our family. I am home with my kids and play a large role in their lives, which is important to me. In recent years, I have found time to pursue some of my personal interests (including writing this blog) and do meaningful volunteer work. What my kids don’t seem to have a sense of, and I what I feel that I need to impart more to them, is how hard I’ve worked and the sacrifices that I have made to get to where I am. There were many years of harder times: the long hours worked, the studying for professional exams, the sadness of having my kids in childcare while they were young, the paying off of student loans over many years, exhaustion when the kids were young, and the personal and professional sacrifices my husband and I both made to have our family be our priority. A lot of this happened before our kids were born or while they were too young to really remember. I want my children to have an awareness of this, not to change their view of me, rather to give them a sense that getting to where I am now is not a given, that it requires hard work and sacrifice and I don’t want them to be resentful if they don’t get to an ‘easy life.’ I also want them to have a sense that there are no guarantees that my ‘easy life’ will last forever. There are many things that could derail my current path, some of which are within my control, but many of which are outside of my control.
Which brings me to earned vs. given. Most things in my life have been earned by me as opposed to being given to me. Earning something is ‘harder’ in many senses than being given something. But for me, the things that I’ve earned mean much more to me than the things that were just given to me. While included in my general definition of ‘things’ is the material stuff, it also means job promotions, respect, wisdom and a vast array of other intangible things.
I’ve noticed that, broadly speaking, this generation of kids, more so than my generation and the ones that came before, has been given a lot of things. And it seems to have bred a culture of entitlement in some areas- a false expectation that the world owes them more than it should. There seems to be a belief that “If my parents have ________, then I should too.” That blank can be filled in by many things: the latest smartphone, designer clothes, a luxury car, fancy vacations, an easy life, power and prestige, a flexible schedule, choice to do as I please, etc. and the kids aren’t entirely to blame for having this mentality, as many parents have (knowingly or unknowingly) promoted it. The missing piece that is being forgotten is that, for the most part, the parents have earned these things, while the child has not. Most kids on the surface love being given all sorts of things (and will even demand them) and parents can feel good about all they are providing for their kids, especially if they were lacking the equivalent of most of these things in their own childhood. The short-term effects can seem positive. Though in the long run, I think this mentality and the expectations that go with it, will bring all sorts of discontent and meaninglessness into the lives of our children, especially as they journey into adulthood.
What if this generation of kids can’t ever earn for themselves all these things that they’ve been given freely? As a parent I do not plan to continue to support my children financially into adulthood, nor do I plan to allow them to live off my coattails-professionally or personally. I want them to have a sense of earning things for themselves, and the pride of accomplishment, and the experience of living short-term sacrifices in order to attain longer term gains. But it’s hard to go backwards, it’s hard to downgrade and downsize from where they’ve been. It’s also hard to work for something that you were just given before.
I think we are misguided as parents to try to make our kids’ lives ‘easy’ and to try to save them from life’s disappointments and pain; I think we have to have lived through the harder parts of life to truly appreciate the easier parts of life. I think that many things that we are given have a hollowness to them and can’t be fully appreciated for what they are. Truly, I think we all need to have meaning in our lives, to know that the things we’re doing matter and that our lives have purpose. I believe that things that are given to us can eat away at our own fulfillment, while things that we’ve earned can enhance our sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.
I’m curious to know how others feel about all of this.