I witnessed something truly wonderful after church today. I mean, it was so touching, I may have needed a tissue or two. A few college Freshmen were home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I noticed that they seemed really happy to be back. So happy that they were doing the strangest thing: Hugging. They were hugging their former teachers, coaches, neighbors and even their friends' parents. Then, (get ready) they said, "Thank you" to these people for all that they had done for them in their life. But, what really took it over the top was when they hugged their own parents, or at least stood close to them and the siblings got a little lovin' too! Crazy!
Why did this scene make me so happy, you ask? Well, here's my honest answer: It's not what I'm used to seeing in teens these days, or most young people for that matter. What I'm used to seeing and hearing from them is a whole lot of whining, griping and complaining. Just the other day I stood in line at Target and listened to a little princess ranting on and on about how her room just isn't big enough, how she just can't take it any more, and how her mom and dad are going to buy (her) a bigger house, because their house sucks (sorry for the verbiage, I'm just quoting here). All the while, she's piling an armful of clothes, shoes and glitter-laden crap up on the conveyor as her mom pulls out the plastic, never once attempting to shut down the disprespect. Let me tell you I had a white knuckle grip on my cart, because I knew if I let go someone would probably have to call security.
This isn't an isolated incident, oh no. Go to any restaurant, and kids are plugged into their gadgets like it's life-support and they only look up at the parents long enough to give them an eye roll or sigh of discontent, or to see if their free nourishment has arrived. Cruise the mall and just start making mental tally marks for every time you hear kids begging for $200 shoes in one breath and disrespecting their parents and copping a serious attitude in another breath. You better be able to count pretty darn high.
Maybe you're thinking, "Oh, you have no idea how hard it is to raise a teen. You just have little ones, and they're easy." Easy? Oh, right, because toddlers and pre-teens can't throw fits, nag and get sassy. My oldest, who is about to turn 12, is suddenly very much into very pricy athletic wear. And, it just so happened that just the other day he was up for a new pair of tennis shoes. I agreed to take him into the "cool" sports apparel store in town, where he proceeded to pick out a pair that were $88.00. Um, no, son. No can do. Right then and there he whips out the attitude, and I whip out my "I don't give a rip what you think, $40 is my limit, and you can take it or leave it." Okay, $40 doesn't go very far when it comes to tennis shoes, but baby you have to know how to shop! It's called, wait for the sale and use a coupon! So, baby did. He waited for the sale, used a coupon and knocked those kicks down to $50, handed me a $10 bill to make up the difference, and we both walked out happy. Ya, he was perturbed at me for about a day, but that's normal, and I just ignored him as usual.
The point of the story, is that thanks to some tips from Dr. Ray and Love and Logic parenting, I am finding that if you set up a foundation of responses for these behaviors early on, the kids not only respond to your firm and consistent direction, but they also GROW from it. And, they learn to FUNCTION in ways that are healthy, respectful and responsible. For example, they say things like please, thank you and how can I help? They get jobs to pay for the things that they want and appreciate that you provide the things that they need. They help out around the house and recognize the needs of others. It's possible, people, I'm not lying!
I have also learned, and earnestly believe that our kids don't need or even really want a lot of stuff. They want us, our honest time and attention, they want to make memories with us, to be heard, to be interested in and to be offered material gifts that represent a our sincere appreciation for a job well done, gifts that reflect the goodness and virtue of the child. They know when they're just being pacified with stuff or being put up with, and if they don't feel love in the gift, you bet they'll ask for anything and everything under the sun, because they know it's the closest thing to love and attention they're going to get.
What if that's true? And, what if we're missing something really big here - bigger than the biggest sale that you just can't pass up? What if we're missing an opportunity to teach our kids some very valuable lessons about the honest reality that the economy is in the tank and yes, that is stressful to parents and should affect even the kids. Sheltering them from financial burdens may, at the onset, seem noble, because no one wants to see their kids do without (please understand that I'm not talking about necessities here, but about buying the basic jeans vs. the $150 pair that "everyone else is wearing."). But, in the long run, struggling to fulfill their wish list really just leaves you exhausted, unappreciated and frustrated, and it leaves them - dare I say spoiled??
How is it that our parents and grandparents were able to enjoy Christmas, many of them remembering it as their favorite holiday, with little or no gifts received at all, because they just knew that their parents couldn't afford gifts? They were happy to have a warm home, food on the table, an education and most of all family to share holiday traditions with. We often refer to those people as the Greatest Generation, people of character, and salt of the earth. Why? Well, it isn't because of what they have, it's because of WHO THEY ARE.
Tough times aren't wished for by anyone. But, the wonderfully paradoxical fruits of struggle is that it has the power to unify, to build character, and to strengthen relationships. If our kids are learning in the classroom that our nation's pocketbooks are strained, they must understand that means their parent's pocket book is strained as well. They must also accept that credit card debt is a heavy burden, and that time spent working extra jobs to pay for designer jeans is time missed out on being together with those we love the most. Bringing your kids into the heart of your economic struggle not only exposes them to the realities that are often outside of our control and how to fight through them, but it also teaches them compassion, understanding and fortitude.
Our kids need to dig their heels in with us. If your child drives a nicer car than you do and you're paying for the gas for that car, or has a nicer phone, faster computer, longer Christmas list....you get my drift.....and YOU are paying for it all during these tough times, then maybe we should stop the bus right here. However, if your kids work hard to contribute to the functioning of the home (chores, yard work, vehicle maintenance, sibling care etc.) then great! If not, then it's time. If you're shaking your head right now and laughing because you think it's impossible to get kids these days to do those things, then you have wielded all of your parental powers over to them. Power? Oh, yes, you have power. It's called taking their phone's, i-pods and i-pads away, keeping the car keys, or taking up the philosophy of "no work, no gas for the car", or better yet, when the chores are finished then you may eat! Most kids really do live a very privileged life, they just don't know it. The goal isn't just to get our kids to be thankful, or to quit whining, but to teach them to honor and respect the source of their blessings - you (and the Lord, if you believe in Him).
Of course your teens will hate this "new way of life," especially if they have believed since birth that you're their best friend seeing how you do buy them everything they want (no problem!) and let them do everything that they want (no problem!) being the cool parent that you are. Cool is over. Concern for character is the new best friend in town.
Designer jeans and overpriced kicks might be your child's current unrealistic reality, right along with not having to do chores or hold down a summer job. But, that can change. If we don't allow them to share in the strains of life now, and offer them the tools (family unity, strong work ethic, character and virtue) to press on through difficult times , how will they ever handle the challenges of holding down a job, or fighting to find one, staying true to vows or accepting the grit that it takes to raise a family?? Bringing them into your economic struggles is not going to be easy, but it will bear fruit in the long run.
Please know that I'm not suggesting a bah-humbug Christmas here. Quite the opposite, actually. Scaling back on the gifts won't only ease financial burdens, but it can very well open the door to what matters most at Christmas and at all times, quality time with family, a focus on people instead of things, making memories together and being thankful for what we have instead of thinking about what we want.
Alright, I'm stepping down from the soap-box. I hope you feel encouraged and not criticized, supported and not suppressed. I wish you a blessed Thanksgiving and safe and sane Black Friday, if that's your mission!