Have we taught our children what they need or did we miss the boat?
In the days when my generation–baby boomers–were children, it was clear what the norms of our society were, even with existing minor differences between societal groups of the time. Boys and girls were supposed to get married and produce a couple of offspring and maybe mom went to work at some point when the kids were older, but dad’s job was certainly the important, income providing focus. Those who were different were shunned or devalued. The so-called western world was still a rather small place and the media had not turned electronic yet. The first TVs slowly came available to the general public when I was about eight years old and broadcast only for a couple of hours on some days and no commercial break existed. Hard to believe in our present world where the TV and easy access to everybody by electronic gadgets rule.
In the late sixties the world started to change; within the time span of only fifty years we now live in a global society where the new developments in Syria are as prominent on the network news as our own local Occupy movement in Vancouver.
Always pay cash became a vague memory of an old-fashioned, and we believed, a narrow-minded belief system. We have done financially well as a generation; our parents’ parsimonious and frugal spending habits (Never go into debt!) we considered a redundant belief system, or so we thought. Since our parents’ retirement a new belief that you need money to make money took a hold of the world. Credit cards and other types of borrowing opportunities allowed us to buy goods or invest into business or real estate without the money in our savings to back that up. To be fair, we were encouraged to borrow by our lending institutions, in the belief that the funds would be there in the future to pay back the loans when needed, due to an ever increasing economy. Everyone knows the prevalent mantra in business: Buyer Beware. I guess the lending institutions dealt with private citizens as if they were entrepreneurs, as if they knew what to watch for. Alas, most of us are not, but were just greedy for the good life.
In our wish for our children to have an even better future, we have taught them our values: for one, that education is important, and it is. Rather than teaching our darlings frugality and accountability and helping them look for a job after school as early as age 12 (which I did and many other kids of my generation), we told them that spending that time on doing homework is better. We believed that our kids would learn employment skills and resilience later, when they would have finished their post secondary education, or so we believed. Does this work for them? Are your children spending all their spare time working on school assignments and are they getting top grades for their hard work, maybe graduating early?
For another: creating self esteem at all cost became new belief. Many of us believed that our children’s fragile egos should be protected. They should not look any different than the kid from next door, for fear they might be teased or thought of as poor, or just weird. We had the money, so what harm would it do when we provided liberally for our brood? So mom and dad coughed up the funds for that gadget or those jeans that don’t come cheap. Our kids should have what we did not have growing up, or so we thought.
I now wonder, did we do them a favour? Or did we instill a striving for sameness and blending in? Did we give our kids the opportunities for standing up for themselves and so develop more important life skills? Some level of experiencing conflict and struggles in life in fact provides the “sufferer” with an occasion for developing pride, confidence, and a positive identity, but only after having overcome adversity. It cannot be taught any other way—the experiential factor is essential. In other words: a society that is celebrating and teaching their children the courage to be unique, to have tolerance for adversity and respect for differences, and to have compassion for those who struggle, might be the wiser avenue for creating adults with a positive identity. What that asks of us as parents is to stay the course and remember what is being taught, not giving in and be weak when we see our kids going through some adversity. We can’t bail them out, or we will enable them falling back into dependency. Our parents did know something it seems, after all.
I wonder what the generation that caused Wall Street to fail, thus causing the global recession, learned from their parents? What did the little voices in their subconscious tell them, while they were concocting their schemes for trading non-existing insurance shares on mortgages that were designed to fail, clearly a case of greed without boundaries? Let me try:
It’s not your fault when your success left others behind.
You can be whatever you want to be.
We will be there to help you when it did not pan out: trying is what counts.
There’s always more where that came from.
You have to make your own luck.
Now that we are seeing the end of limitless economic growth and reality has set in, we should reconsider our values and messages we give to our kids. Now that we know, that our children are not likely to have the same level of wealth that we had, even worse: that we as a nation collectively spent ourselves into debt that we can’t repay (in Canada), and that we are owing 50% more than we earn, then should we not change our thinking?
If you still have children at home, quickly, teach them how to save, and lead by example. No, do not buy that extra large TV when your old tube is still working. Nobody promised you can buy a newer home when you wanted to. No, kids do not need their own TV or X box in their bedroom; they’ll be much happier playing games with you for their entertainment, or even better, get out the house and hike somewhere. Get your children used to the word “no”. Your children will have to get tougher and earn their pocket money early in their lives with a paper route, or with babysitting the neighbours’ kids, or bag groceries.
After they turned 15: your child does not want to work flipping hamburgers? Too bad! For his own sake, do not give him the money he thinks he needs, because telling him the truth is much better preparation for adulthood. “We can’t afford it, as we will have to pay down the Visa bill, or mortgage/rent, whatever, sorry sweetheart.” Does she need a new set of skies or a snowboard? “Sorry, you will have to go to the ski swap and see if you can find something there. By the way, we are not buying a season’s pass this year; we can’t afford it. You could take the bus up to the ski hill and go on cheap Friday nights.”
Graduating this year? Want to go to college? “You might have to get better grades and apply for scholarships, as we cannot afford to pay your tuition fees and starting with a fifty thousand dollar student loan debt is no way to start your life as an adult in your mid-twenties.”
To young couples, I would suggest you might have to rent a little longer and save, save like Scrooge to scrape that down payment together. Don’t count on your retired parents’ savings, as they might not have anything left to leave you, now that their retirement nest egg is seriously depleted, or at the very least, has decreased its payouts. Lots of retired people are returning to work, when they lost a third to half of their invested savings with the stock market crash of 2008. No, it’s not a right to be able to buy a home. You might resign yourselves to renting lifelong and apply for that rent subsidy program.
Life is pretty difficult at the moment and no assurances exist that, even if you work hard, the job will last, or that raises are forthcoming. In spite of the relatively small effect the global economic downturn has had in Canada so far, we are hitched to the US and the European markets; all we hear is the gloomy forecast on the news. Realistically speaking, we will not be able to escape its long-term effects in Canada.
Save the environment, what a great cause. Save the Polar Bear, decrease global warming. Let’s walk to school while teaching our kids the independence skills and create physical health that we ourselves were given, because our parents did not drive us to school each day.
Cheap organic veggies? Reserve a corner of your yard for growing your own vegetables or sign up for the city’s community gardens. At least you can use the free sunshine and a bit of water during the glorious summers we have in the Okanagan. Your kids would love to help you with the miracle of raising those tasty tomatoes and pulling the potatoes from the dirt.
Most of us seem to have fully equipped kitchens in Canada, often with the latest style in appliances for the affluent among us. I noticed in many homes that the bigger the appliances, the less cooking is happening. Our status symbol is not the fine cuisine that comes from such kitchens, but the fact that one can afford spending the $60,000 for the renos. Another big savings can easily be achieved by visiting the kitchen for more than brewing coffee or cooking eggs for breakfast. Instead of ordering take out food (stop eating that fatty, salty pizza), make your own crust with a bit of flower and some elbow grease for the batter and top with fresh veggies and homegrown tomatoes. Bake your own organic bread with a no-knead bread recipe, easier than pie and so delicious!
Going grocery shopping? Instead of that processed ready-to-eat dish, buy the raw ingredients and involve your child in the kitchen while making the meal. The advantage is that you will miss eating all the crap that is put in processed foods.
Does this sound like the After-Christmas Grinch has arrived? I guess is does, on the surface. But really, the gift is to get your children involved in life as it is, not hold up some far-fetched dream land where they might not ever arrive. Kids are a very resilient bunch and depending on how we parents present the facts of life, they will run with it.
I wish you a happy and productive 2012.