earned vs. given

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.

Reserve-Your-Nike-Earned-not-Given-T-Shirt-Now

What did I do today? (and confusing the Davids)

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When I have the time, I spend my day like a gatherer, a gatherer of information-some of which will hopefully ferment with enough experience to become actual wisdom.  Since I can not totally neglect my mother, homeowner, wife, volunteer and paid work duties for too long, my knowledge gathering days are also interspersed with other more (immediately) practical task days as well.  I find that at the end of either of these types of days, I can’t really list of what I have done in detail.  It all becomes part of some vague balancing of doing and being that is my life, but to try to retell it makes it seem dull and meaningless.  To me, that is far from the truth of it.  It’s kind of like why I feel like I am not a good story-teller or joke teller.  I can usually remember the beginning and the end/punchline/lesson, but the details in between get lost, and those are generally the meat, the buildup, of the story or joke.

I’ve talked to other mothers about the peculiar insignificance of our daily tasks.  Many days are primarily composed of what approximates 40, five-minute tasks.   Each task, while requiring completion, in and of itself is insignificant and should not be committed to memory.  None of the tasks requires rocket-science brain power,  just time.  But the math is clear, 200 minutes (5X40), or 3.3 hours of stuff that can only be described as… stuff.  Stuff:  put a few dishes in dishwasher, pick dirty socks up off couch, make a pediatrician appt., follow-up on school book fair info, pay club fees for soccer season, follow-up on confusing email about trip to the museum that I’m chaperoning, look for recipe for dinner tonight, send work related email, confirm carpool arrangements for tomorrow… you get the gist.  These are interspersed with a few other more time-consuming and significant tasks (that sometimes come from a hastily scratched, ever running, daily to-do list), and the bulk of my “kids are at school” hours are filled.

Looking at the “task days” as compared to my “information gathering days,” some ironic similarities and discrepancies surface.  Info gathering generally starts out with a specific purpose, something I have happened upon or thought about prior, that I want to follow-up or do more research on.  Today as an example.  Recently I listened to a “This American Life”  episode on NPR with Ira Glass.  While I’ve probably listened to the show before, it hadn’t really been notable to me until this recent listen.  Now of course I can’t remember what that specific episode was about (here’s the part where I’ve forgotten some relevant details which would make my story a good one), but it led me to look up the show online and listen to many of the excerpts from past shows that were played during the 500th show review highlights.  As part of that, I happened upon one of Ira’s highlights, which was an episode about Americans living in Paris and included Ira touring around with David Sedaris.  Except for some reason, as I was starting the episode, I got it into my head that it was David Foster Wallace that Ira was talking with.  And this led to a huge “does not compute” warning in my brain.  I have read works from both DS and DFW and liked them for entirely different reasons, combine this with having listened to DFW’s Kenyon College commencement speech a few years back, and I was thoroughly and utterly confused.  Here’s what’s running through my head… “DFW’s voice is much higher than I remember it and he’s much gayer than I would have thought…he’s much more odd too…his persona does not match his writing at all, I would have expected more of a quieter, intellectual type person.”   And then I had to go to bed, as it was too late for me to be up anyway.

Over several days I kept trying to reconcile the gap between who I thought DFW was, and who he seemed to be in this interview.  Today I vowed to look into it, as something just wasn’t right.  And sure enough, after a few google searches, the mystery was solved. I’d had the wrong David in my head.  This process then rekindled my admiration of all things DFW, and I watched several interviews that were done with him before his untimely death in 2008.  Somehow in that process (again, not sure of the details here) I ended up on a tangent of reading things about and from Leo Tolstoy, quotes from his “Calendar of Wisdom,” and vowed to myself that once I finish slogging through his “The Kingdom of God is Within You”  (and it is a slog, while there are some gems in the text, you have to get through a lot of other less interesting, more preachy stuff, to find them), I will read his “War and Peace” once and for all.  (I’m not sure how I got through high school and college without ever having that book as required reading.)   Which then somehow led me to looking at some excerpts from Susan Sontag’s published diaries “As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh.”

Through some mystical process, much of this fabulous knowledge then somehow osmosisly (not a real word) disperses into what is already in my consciousness and congeals itself into my broad philosophies of life.  However, to go back and try to pick out individual quotes, philosophies, beliefs to share with others is next to impossible.  It’s there, but just not as a separate, identifiable entity.  I could not tell you specific sources for individual threads of knowledge and belief, rather I could (only in writing) give you the bibliography of all that’s contributed to my philosophy of life.   However, this bibliography does not actually exist, so perhaps I should add to to my running to do list, to be completed on a task day.

Which then would actually bring this blog post full circle.