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What Lessons Will We Teach Our Children?

I’m not a parent and even though I am already 34, I hope to be one someday. The clock’s been ticking for a while!

All of this waiting time has given me the opportunity to think about what type of parent I’d like to be. 

My father was harsh, easily angered and critical. When I was 10, he walked away from a lucrative career and for the remainder of my growing up years, we were in the poor house. I’m glad that we were. Nothing was ever given to us girls. We worked and earned what we wanted. Even if I someday strike it rich, I hope to instill that value in my children. 

Here are the lessons that I someday hope to teach my children:

1). Be kind to everyone. I felt like an orphan for most of my early adult life. Sometimes I still do. I was working and paying my own bills (albeit struggling) and was very fortunate to have some great families ‘adopt me’. These families were my friends’ parents. They welcomed me into their homes, shared their suppers and sometimes their extra rooms with me. Their generosity will never be forgotten and one day I hope my own home will be that “beacon on the hill” that will be filled with the non-stop activity of every kid from the neighborhood. I’ll supply warm meals and a listening ear.

2). Your situation is only as bad as you allow it to be. I, like the rest of us sometimes suffer from tunnel vision but when there’s a will there’s a way. I’m often reinventing myself and changing my own course. It’s sometimes scary but we’re so fortunate to live in a country where our dreams are as close as our fingertips. I hate to quote Mad Men but I love to quote Mad Men, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”.

3).Don’t live beyond your means. As a young adult I was careless with my money. I bought outfits instead of paying phone bills and went to restaurants instead of paying rent on time. The blessing in disguise was that I destroyed my credit before I thought to apply for credit cards. I can’t even imagine the how great that debt would have been if I’d been approved for credit back then! $1,000 in back phone bills is much easier to pay off than $20,000 of credit card debt. I’m smart with my money now and track every penny, every day. I know that if I’d had a credit card in my early 20’s, I would still be trying to pay off that debt.

4). Enjoy reaping the benefits of what you’ve earned for yourself. This goes back to my opening statement but I stand by it. My grandfather was an ex-farmer who served his time in WWII. After the war he became a glass blower. He and my Grandma never had much but they squeezed every penny and were able to build a nice home in Houston as well as a vacation home in the deep woods of East Texas. Nothing was ever taken for granted. To them, another ‘Great Depression” was always just around the corner so they lived without excess. When I do have children, I will help them by teaching them to help themselves. They will be expected to create their own earnings and I will match those earnings dollar per dollar. They will be their own role models and not the likeness of subsequent role models like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus.

5). Respect your own body. I gave in to far too many pressures as an adolescent. I wanted to be perceived as older. I wanted to grow up too fast and I did. I’m not religious so this isn’t a purity thing. I just wish that I’d waited until I was actually ready to have sex. My early escapades spiraled me into what in hindsight was probably clinical depression. At fifteen, I was not emotionally ready to make that decision but I just ‘let it happen’. My parents had never had the sex talk with me. They were old school and I don’t blame them for my decisions. I will be brutally honest and upfront about my own experiences.It might be uncomfortable but I’d prefer to bear the brunt of discomfort if it keeps my future children from feeling the shame I felt.

6). Drug use. I was an experimental kid but I never experimented with drugs of any sort. My eldest sister took one bad hit of acid which altered the chemicals in her brain when she was just sixteen. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and manic depression. She has been made a ward of the state,lived in and out of mental hospitals and is entirely unable to care for herself. She was the smartest person in our family. My only and beloved uncle died of A.I.D.S due to a shared needle he injected himself with while addicted to heroin. Drugs were around and I was pressured but knowing the facts kept me from tempting fate. I will share these stories with my kids in order to hopefully prevent them from making bad and sometimes irreversible choices.

7). Be respectful of your elders. Age doesn’t always make you right but the time put in to a life should garner some respect. I see so many bratty kids day in and day out. Their parents seem strangely frightened by them and ultimately acquiesce to their disrespectful behavior. As a child, I never felt particularly entitled to anything. If I chose to pitch a fit in a restaurant, my meal would be subsequently withheld from me. If I could not contain myself and lower my voice,I would be escorted out of the establishment by either my mother or father. At home I would be given one more chance to cease and desist my bratty behavior. If I chose to comply, I would be able to eat my boxed up meal in full. If I was still obstinate, I would go to bed hungry. This isn’t child abuse. It’s actually empowering to the willful child and teaches a valuable lesson about choices. I usually gave in to my growling belly, apologized and ate my my leftover meal in peace. When a meal was prepared at home, I could choose to eat it or go to bed hungry. As a former nanny, I was surprised to find guilty working mothers preparing 2-4 separate meals on a nightly basis. Power has shifted in the modern, nuclear family. One night of a child going to bed hungry will shift their perspective without causing long-term harm. It’s worth it to put your foot down once in a while to create a familial balance.

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