Sunday, June 6, 2010

"I Don't Owe You a Thing"

I added a new friend today on Facebook.  He is someone that is related to someone that I actually know (haha).  I debated adding him at first but after inspecting his wall I relented and confirmed him.  I haven't even met the kid but after reading a few of his comments that he had posted on his FB wall, I could sense that he was a bit angry with someone or some people, maybe life or heck, maybe even the universe.  His comments sparked a great deal of thought on my part and those that know me will admit that getting my wheel spinning can be a dangerous thing.  So I'll try and share my wicked train of thought with you all though sometimes it's like chasing a rabbit through thick brush.

We don't owe that kid a thing.  I remember hearing my mom (yes, I'm talking about you again mom) saying "I don't you owe you anything".  Now that I'm a parent and I think about this, I once again shake my head and realize her wisdom and can admit that she wasn't as full of it as I once thought she was.  And I'd like to expand as a parent a little on what she said...

True, I brought you into this world, and I've fed you, and clothed you and sheltered you.  I've even nursed you when you were sick and corrected you when you were wrong and more still I've even punished when you went against me.  But I've also praised you when you did right and I've tried to celebrate when you've accomplished.  I've even gone so far as to try and entertain you-i.e.- any time I've heard "I'm bored...there's nothing to do".  I've tried to give you a leg up when I could...and God knows I wanted to give you a bigger leg up than I could.  God wanted me to do all that.  Because that's what he programmed good parents to do.  But when you really get down to brass tacks, beyond all that, as your parent, I don't owe you a thing. 

As parents that's got to be one of the toughest lessons to teach our kids because we spend all this time-years and years and years-giving to our children.  Toys and ball games and education.  Movies and pool trips and vacations.  Candy treats, soda pops and junk food.  Nutritious meals and cooking lessons and how to get the best deal at the grocery store.  Let's face it, in the animal kingdom we seem to have written the book on how to take the longest to bring your offspring to maturity.  So when they reach that golden age when we suddenly stop giving or at the very least when the well begins to dry up a bit, they're left standing there almost hyperventilating.  Thinking about this made my thoughts jump track and head in a different direction-follow me...I promise it's related.

My neighbors son is 15.  He wants a job.  He wants to LEGALLY earn some money.  He's looked around and tried to find something local that he would/could be allowed to do and nobody will hire him because he isn't 16 and/or he can't drive.  I recall that you can get a job when you're 15, you just have to get a work permit (at least that's what I was allowed to do when I was that age...the law may have changed, heck, that was when Pluto used to be a planet).  Anyhow, try as he might he can't seem to find a job. 

I got to thinking further about this and I realized something-well, two things actually but here's the first one-a hundred years ago kids were EXPECTED to help on the family farm or in the mill or at the local grocer's by doing whatever was necessary to help the family.  It was a team effort. 

If little Johnny wanted to eat come winter time, his rear end would be busy pulling up weeds in the garden, plowin' the back forty or shoveling horse excrement from the stalls. 

 Little Sally would be in the kitchen snapping beans, shucking corn or helping mama put up the veggies Little Johnny helped grow.  The littlest Sally and Johnny would be set to work picking rocks out of the garden or setting the table. 

They'd also help feed the old nag in the stall or help herd the goats.  Point is-it was a team effort-and it worked.  It worked, because everybody worked.  If you were big enough to get around, you had a job-however big or small it might be.  When kids reached adulthood they'd already know what it meant to work their fannies off and to know that when they did, they would see results.  It was never a question of when or if they would work-they always worked.  So I imagine Pa and Ma didn't hear quite so much whining about having to work as modern parents hear.

Okay, next point-my neighbors son that wants to work is prohibited in a roundabout way by legal restrictions designed to protect his health and to prevent employers from overworking or abusing our youth in some way.  That's all fine, well and good.  

Our youth aren't allowed to drive farm equipment because it's too dangerous (and I agree with that law), or lift things that are too heavy, or spend too much time planting and working tobacco because it's too hot outside.  We haven't made them work as they've grown and the result is we've ended up raising soft kids.  We've also made it so unpalpable for employers to hire kids that they no longer want to fool with it.  They tell the kids to come back when they're sixteen and have a license-they tell them this because it's a pat answer and they a) don't want to be the ones to give the kids their first job because that requires them to hold their hands and/or b) know that if they wait, someone older will eventually come along and be willing to do the work. 

As for the whole farming thing-they know that they can hire migrant laborers-here either legally or not-that most likely won't complain about having to work long, hot hours and are jumping at the chance to work because they're desperate.  They need to feed families or send the money back home.  They also won't complain when they hurt their backs from having lifted something too heavy or straining something...they won't file complaints with anyone or try to get workers comp.  They don't require any amount of paperwork.  It's like hiring a ghost that busts his transparent butt to get the job done.  Once they're done-you pay them and they're disappear like vapor.

Okay, are you still with me?  This is the part of my blog where I try to tie it all together and sum it up.  Modern Little Johnny-from way back up at the top of the blog, bless his little heart, is still mad at the world.  He's soft because our society makes him that way. 

Sorry Lil' Johnny.  In our societies attempts to make the workplace safer for you, we've over-loved you.  

As parents we forgot to tell you each time that we gave you something that we really don't owe you a thing.  When we let you stay inside on hot days to play games we thought we were being kind but we weren't.  When we fed you, sheltered you and gave you an allowance without making you earn your keep, we were doing what's called enabling. We've made you what you are.

As I write this my oldest son is walking around outside in the yard as his father mows the lawn.  I sent him there to pick things up and move them out of the way for his dad.  He's probably cursing me to the firey pits of hell. 

You see, I didn't allow him to go with the neighbors to their pool-he started to argue about the unfairness of it but the mushroom cloud you may see on the horizon is me as I blew up at him.  I tried like the crazy at first to modulate my voice and explain things to him in such a way as to make him understand.  He's a teen now, without the ability to process the things I say.  But I don't want to raise him to be soft.  And I want him to hear me and hopefully he'll retain the same words of wisdom my mom tried to impart to me-she didn't owe me a thing-and I don't owe him a thing.

P.S.-If you're a parent reading this-remember we have to work harder to make our kids understand.  Even if they seemingly ignore what we say when we say it-they retain a bit of it.  Hey, if I could remember it, anyone can.

P.P.S.-If you're a lawmaker and you're reading this-help parents help their kids-let's try and think of a way to change things.  Is there any way to make it so we can raise our kids right-so they aren't quite so soft?  Is there any way we can make our kids as eager to get out in the heat to earn a few bucks as the migrant workers seem to be? 

P.P.P.S.-If you're a kid reading this-nobody OWEs you anything.  You gotta work for what you get in this world.


  1. It seems we have come full circle. I never dreamed you would remember things I said. For anyone that would like to learn something about child rearing, find the show on tv called " The Worlds Strickest Parents." It only takes a week for them to straighten them out. It took alot longer for my Dad to straigthen me out. Gail, I just passed on what my dad told me. I love you Mom

  2. We do "owe" our children but it is our time, attention and care, not things. That is where parents fall short and kids get soft. So many parents work so much and abdicate raising their children to institutions, all in the name of providing for the family. Family is not defined by stuff but relationship, family is not a house, it is who lives in the home. This young generation is over protected from hard work and we have worked too hard to be sure of that, as if the lessons learned through working, self-disciple and delayed gratification were not valuable in themselves! Gifts we can give as parents that will serve our children for a lifetime. But you can not "tell" a child( and certainly not a teenager) these things, we as parents, must live it and expect it! We don't owe our children stuff or a cushy fall or to fix their mistakes without consquence, what we DO OWE them is a strong foundation of love, time and teaching.