Life’s Lesson

It’s Friday at last. The weekend is upon us. It might seem an odd time to get upon my soap box, but several things have happened recently in the news, to my friends and personally. So I want to talk today about the lessons we need to teach our children…and perhaps learn ourselves.

Two headlines jumped out at me yesterday. The first was about the £630,000 per year pension for former Royal Bank of Scotland boss, who was primarily responsible for that bank’s failure. The second was about a teenage girl, who was fired from her job for posting about how boring it is on a social networking site. Combine these headlines with a friend’s guilt for asking her son to take his lunch to school so they can save money for their holidays and my own hurt that we have cancelled my son’s eighteenth birthday party because of bad behavior by him and his friends, these are the impetus for today’s topic.

When did we start to believe that life ‘owed’ us? And when did parents begin to feel that they must give their children everything they want…whether the parents can afford it or the children deserve it?

How can a man, who is responsible for costing thousands of honest, hard-working people their jobs, sending hundreds of thousands deeper into debt, and costing the tax-payers billions of pounds; honestly believe that he deserves any financial remuneration? Let alone one that is twenty or thirty times more than what the average family, who is now paying for his mistakes with their taxes, makes in a year. Likewise the young girl who complained her work was boring. I remember well my first job for minimum wage as a cashier in a grocery store. I stood on my feet for about twenty hours each week…and was damned thankful to have it, because it afforded me the chance to buy the clothes I wanted, save for a car and the little luxuries such as movies and eating out.

My husband talks often about how growing up he and his brothers got jobs as paper boys or running errands. Their parents both worked. His dad was a conductor with Transport for London. Then when his father came home, his mother, who had already put in a full day’s work cooking, cleaning and caring for a husband and three sons, left for night work cleaning offices. My husband and his brothers knew that they were responsible for keeping their rooms clean; in fact his father would throw away anything they left just lying around. As they got older, they learned to cook for themselves as well. As a result, my husband has both a deep and abiding respect for his parents, a pride in ownership and an understanding of the value of money. I too was raised in a similar way.

Yet today I struggle to instill those same lessons in my seventeen year old son, despite having been relatively successful doing so with his three older siblings. One of the problems is that his friends come from upper class backgrounds and are given everything they want without any demands that they earn it. So when I ask him to do chores around the house, keep his room clean or suggest that if he wants more he should get a job; all I get is anger.

Today will be especially hard. I had planned a birthday party for him and about a dozen of his friends. I was going to make lasagna and spaghetti bolognas. But in the past week, we have begun to receive crank calls from his friends, those same people we would have hosted in our home. My husband put his foot down…no party. He will not have those same people, who show us such disrespect, eating his food, drinking his soda and playing his games. I can completely understand…and agree. But the mother side of me screams out that there is only one eighteenth birthday. So it is that I must lecture myself on how this is the right thing; that I am trying to teach him a valuable lesson that this world needs. You want something…then earn it; sacrifice for it.

I think my friend did it absolutely perfectly. She wants the family to have a nice summer holiday, but we all know how tight things are becoming. So she looked at ways she could cut back. One thing she saw was that her son’s school lunch cost over £60 per month. So she asked if he would mind taking his lunch for the rest of the year. He agreed, but like me she immediately left guilt about not being able to give him everything. I encouraged her that I thought she was teaching him wonderful lessons. Imagine how much more he will appreciate this holiday, having eaten sandwiches for months to help out. I applaud her.

I know that her feelings and my own are natural for any parent; we want to give our children everything we never had. But the nasty truth about that is that in doing so, we are sacrificing something far more important their core values. Like the banker and that teenage girl, they come to see the world as owing them everything. I think about the wonderful television shows that I grew up with, the Waltons and Little House on the Prairie; each week the lessons our parents were instilling was re-enforced with the morals of those stories. We must return to that…teaching our children the value of hard work and sacrifice…even if like today it hurts us. So now I am off to make a cake and dinner to celebrate his birthday…for our family.

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