Thursday, February 8, 2007

On Childhood and Parenting

Parenting is difficult; there's no question about it, and very few people would disagree (even those who do not have children). I gave it some thought this morning, and I'm realizing that parenting has a few hard-to-see challenges that I hadn't previously considered.

Take the situation with my son, for example. I'm a bit concerned at his level of emotional maturity (or lack thereof). He's 13 now, and arguably he should be much too old for whining and carrying on. Indeed, I look at where I was at his age, and the comparison is striking.

My son is starting to have a real sense of entitlement. He thinks the world owes him something, and he gets exceptionally wrapped up in his own ideas about what constitutes equity and fairness. I suspect that part of the problem is simply that he's never really had to work very hard. For that, I blame myself as well as others who enabled it.

As parents, we each want to give our kids a better life and childhood than we ourselves had. The tricky thing is that sometimes the bad stuff really does build character. As painful as it is at the time, there is no substitute for experience and some hard-earned credit hours in the School of Hard Knocks.

So the question is, how do you balance tough love and character building against making things better on your kids than you had it? I'm still trying to figure that out.

Those who know me will tell you that I had the type of childhood books are written about. Consequently, I sometimes think it's unfair to compare my son's life to what I went through. Still, I'm beginning to wonder.

I've only known hard work, and it was pretty rough sometimes. At age 13 & 14, I worked construction putting the plywood on new house roofs. I spent the summer on the business end of a hammer, 2 stories in the air, clinging to trusses while drinking in the sweltering 130 degree Las Vegas weather. For this backbreaking effort, I earned about $10 a week (also a great tan and a back injury). At the end of the summer, I had saved enough money to buy school clothes and supplies (about $90).

By the time I was 15, I had moved up to painting movie theater floors at night, while going to High School during the day. I don't recall being paid for that at all, but I was working for my biological father, so all proceeds went to help my family.

When I turned 16, I was relieved that I finally qualified for legal employment and could earn minimum wage (at that time, $3.35 per hour). I rushed out and got a job at Weinerschnitzel (a hot dog fast-food joint), and each time I cashed a greasy paycheck, I gave a great deal of it to my parents to help out.

At age 17, I was probably the only person in Basic Training who felt like he was making "good money" ($918 a month). By then, my parents had divorced, and I split my check 3 ways: part for my mom, part for my biological father, and part for my girlfriend (who later became my first wife) and her mother. I kept about $50 for myself to get haircuts and buy shoe polish.

Obviously, all this work was not fun, but it helped make me the person I am today, and I can't help but wonder if I'm somehow depriving my son of the beneficial side of hard labor. Sadly, it's probably too late anyway. If he were asked to do any of those things, he would simply refuse. It must be nice to have the choice.


Tracey said...

My husband and I raised 3 boys and 2 girls. I have to say you are right in the fact that boys don't mature as fast as we would like them to, LOL. As far as the tough love and building his self-esteem, it is a rough time for both parent and child.
My husband and I set the rules for each of our children. They had responsibilities for which they were held accountable. When they met the responsibilities they were rewarded privileges. We figured out early that sending them to their room was not a punishment if they had TV, video games, radio, etc... So we would discuss with them what their responsibilities were and the consequences if they did not meet them. They worked for what they wanted. We were not perfect by far. We learned together. When we made mistakes we would let them know if we felt we were wrong. I wish you all the patience and understanding you need right now. Remember he is only 13 once.

Anonymous said...

Unless you want to end up with some stalkers you might not want to tell us so much about what a wonderful guy you are.Just jokeing! Not many teenage boys would give their paychecks to both Mom and Dad.I do believe that pampering your kids doesnt do them any favors.

Dream Reader said...

I don't know how I missed this post...where have I been?

Anyway, while you obviously were an outstanding young man. Not everyone was/is like you. Keeping that in mind; there is a balance that can can be had between spoiling and nurturing.

My son is 15 and he too thinks the world revolves around him. But in spite of that he is still a good and loving and caring young man. We give him what we can (yes sometimes too much) but he has to work for it. He has responsibilities around the house that must be taken care of each day or each week. He's a good student and involved in school activities. I personally don't think that a child (and yes 13 or 15 is still a child) should have to go outside the home to work. They need to be allowed to be children, but teach them responsibility. They grow up so fast and they will never be children again.
These are my current words of wisdom. Take them for what they're worth!!