I was struck the other day with just how different my parenting style was as compared to my coworkers. It all started over an office conversation with one coworker complaining over the deplorable condition her grown son—who still lives with her at home—left the bathroom and bedroom he uses. The other coworker, who has a daughter who will soon be leaving the nest for college, lamented how she did everything in the home and feared for her daughter’s ability to take care of herself once she left home.
When I learned that the mother of the messy grown son was spending her evenings ironing her son’s work shirts and that the other coworker loads money on a credit card for her high school senior, I felt the parenting divide between us become a canyon.
I came from a family of mothers who pushed their children to be independent and to work hard. It got me thinking of why this one mother would spend hours ironing her son’s shirts while he went and played pool or golf with his buddies after work. Didn’t she just put in a full day’s work herself? He obviously pays no rent, why doesn’t he pay to take his own shirts to the dry cleaners? Is it just me or is this raising a nation of entitled and spoiled adults?
I was still mulling this over when I met up with my 90-year-old friend for our annual Christmas lunch. While waiting on our food orders, she made a comment about young people today that got me thinking again about those mothers in my office. My friend stated that people today have no idea what a depression is and that when she was young, men in their teens and early twenties were fighting wars.
She also talked of walking her young daughter to a caretaker who would keep her while she went to work all day in a factory. She said it was at least a five mile walk from her home to her job and that the winter was the worst. She grew up outside of Decatur, Illinois on a family farm and she knew what lack and hard work was.
All of this got me thinking about which parenting style is most effective for raising successful children, meaning raising young adults who can function independently both emotionally and financially, think for themselves, and be empathetic enough to be an asset to a healthy community and country. In other words, what’s the secret sauce to not raising special snowflakes?
I can’t say that my parenting style is one my grown children will agree with, but the end result is that both of them, ages 29 and 30, are independent adults. I don’t solve their grown-up problems and I certainly don’t iron their work clothes. Just the opposite, I have children who want to buy me smart phones and computers, things they know I can’t afford on my own salary, and one who wants to take care of me when I can no longer work full-time. I am extremely proud of both of my children and I probably don’t tell them enough how much I admire them. Absolutely nothing is more gratifying than seeing them become the bright, caring, and independent young people they are today.
If you have come to the realization that your preteens or teens have become spoiled, lazy, or entitled, here are three things you need to do right now to turn it around and get them on track.
Teach Them to Fish
The two ladies in my office not only wash and fold their grown children’s clothes, one actually puts her “child’s” clothes away. I don’t call this good mothering, I call it enabling. When I found myself doing loads of unnecessary wash every weekend because my own children would either not put away their neatly folded clean clothes, or in the case of my daughter, tried on multiple outfits for school, discarding the newly washed clothing in a heap on the floor, I knew something had to change.
I know that many of you may be appalled, but to solve the lack of respect and curtail the expense and time of washing countless unnecessary loads of laundry, at ages 11 and 12, my two children were made to do their own wash. After all, clean jeans didn’t just fall off a tree and land on their beds. If they were going to be too lazy to put away their own laundry, it was time to learn what it took to have freshly laundered clothes. Trust me on this one. If your 11 year old can reach master level on the Xbox, she can work the dial on a washing machine.
An old proverb says that if we give a man a fish, he will eat today, but teach him how to fish, and he can feed himself forever. Take the time to teach your teen a life skill, whether it is doing his own laundry or cooking a meal.
Make Them Do Chores
One thing that struck me about the mothers I work with is that neither one of them ever made their children do a chore. Their child never ran a vacuum, washed a dish, cut the grass, or raked a leaf. Mind you, I did have friends growing up that were used as house slaves by their parents, literally scrubbing down kitchens every Saturday and otherwise spending up to five hours of hard labor each weekend before they could leave their own home and go play with a friend.
Not so with my children, they were made to do chores, but nothing as time-consuming or arduous as this. They were responsible for cleaning their own rooms on Saturdays, including stripping their sheets on their beds so I could wash them (I did do this for them). They shared a bathroom and took turns cleaning the bathroom each weekend. During the week, they took turns washing, clearing the table, or drying the dishes. During the summer months, my son helped mow grass and my daughter had to run the vacuum and do other chores.
The data also suggests that chores are beneficial. Marty Rossmann of the University of Mississippi used data over a 25 year period beginning in 1967. She tracked children who did chores beginning at ages 3 and 4 to see whether it was predictive in the children’s success in their mid-20s. She found that those who had done chores as young children were more likely to be well adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family, and be more successful in their careers. So go ahead and assign your children some chores that they won’t like and will complain loudly and often about having to do. If tasks are too easy, they aren’t a chore and the character traits you are trying to instill in them won’t stick. Just be balanced and consistent.
Make Them Get a Job
My children didn’t have two parents who could give them a car or all the spending money they desired as teens. They went to work, as I did all throughout my preteen and teenage years. I babysit, cut grass, worked at fast food joints, anything to earn my own pocket money. Not so for the mothers I work with. These women hand over loads of money each week so that their teen can go out to eat with friends, go to the movies, or otherwise entertain themselves.
The rationale I was given for handing these teens their own credit or banking cards is so they could order items online that they wanted and mom didn’t have to keep cash on hand. But anyone who uses a debit card all of the time knows that money on a card inherently has the quality of not being “real” money, which is why debt experts exhort us that if we want to get our spending under control, we should use cash. It’s a tangible way of seeing where our money is going.
Instead of loading up a credit card for your teen, make her or him get a job. The excuse I heard from the ladies in my office is that their teen was too involved in sports or other extracurricular activities to work. These mothers are knee deep in the ideology that education will make their children successful and level the playing field as they compete with peers who have more privileged parents. They are less concerned with building character than with emphasizing sports and SAT scores because they believe it will position their teen for career success.
Turns out, however, this might be flawed thinking. First, middle-class parents will never be able to compete with wealthier parents, who can afford a lifetime of endless tutoring and other training. Second, when parents give children everything they want, particularly rich kids, they show serious levels of maladjustment as teens, displaying problems that tend to get worse as they approach college, this according to an article published in Psychology Today.
Making a teen don a work uniform and go somewhere they don’t want to be on a Saturday night, teaches them responsibility. Although team sports can teach team work and fulfilling a commitment, a job teaches teens how to deal with adults in an adult world. It might just be that having your teen work at the local fast food restaurant could be the best incentive you could give them to make them want to succeed in school.
As my older friend reminded me, it wasn’t that many years ago, that men went to war in their teens and women became mothers and factory workers right out of high school, often before.
If you don’t want to contribute to the number of college snowflakes demanding safe spaces rather than learning to navigate the real world, you have to make some parenting sacrifices that don’t necessarily require you to taxi your child to yet another sporting event, but will be just as inconvenient.
Be prepared for the complaining, stalling, and whining. It will wear you down. And if that doesn’t do you in, there is the constant comparison of how Johnny’s parents don’t make him do what your teen or preteen has to do. And you will be judged. There is no doubt that the women in my office most likely believe I was unfair to my children, though they didn’t say it, but you have to not care what others think. Parenting spoiled and protected teens is easy. The secret sauce to not raising a special snowflake is teaching them to fish. Reign well.