I grew up in the 80’s and went to high school in the 90’s. My parents didn’t have access to the internet and didn’t read parenting books, but they did know how to work hard and they taught me to do the same. Although I was an ungrateful teen that felt their accountability was some form of adolescent torture, I now feel fortunate that they taught me real life skills so that I could become a successful adult. When I was composing this list I realized their focus wasn’t so much on building skills as much as it was giving me opportunities to build character, to practice being an independent, responsible adult before I had to be. Here are the highlights of what they taught me.
My parents taught me to be responsible for my own needs. When I was 12 years old I became responsible for earning my spending money. I used this for buying clothes, eating out, and school field trips. I knew that I needed to make money so I could do these things. At first I started out by not doing and having these things, but I found that lead for a boring life. So I went to work doing some of the only jobs available for a 12 year old: I babysat, delivered papers, and did odd jobs for neighbours.
My parents taught me to manage my money. When I started bringing home a pay cheque I had to give half of everything I made to my mom. She took that money and put it in a savings account. The other 50% went into my chequing account for spending money, as well as giving for charity. At first I felt robbed that I couldn’t spend all of it the way I wanted. But, by the time I graduated high school I had enough in my savings account to almost pay for my first year of college.
They made me find my own way to work. When I was 15 years old I got a job working at McDonalds. It was a half hour walk from my house. I know because I had to walk the route often. In reality it was less than a five minute drive. Sometimes I took the bus, other times I would hitch a ride with a friend, and sometimes my parents would pick me up. Ultimately I was responsible to figure out how I was getting to and from work and extra curricular activities. My parents made it clear that they were not some magical taxi drivers at my beck and call. They were supportive but firm that I needed to be responsible for my self and figure things out.
They taught me people skills. I used to hate it that my mother made me talk on the phone to schedule appointments for things such as the doctor and dentist. No matter how much I objected, she made me do it anyways. It taught me the people skills and the phone skills I needed to negotiate my first job interview.
They taught me to be a contributing member of society. I remember washing the dishes by hand when I was 7 years old. That was just the start of a long list of chores I learned to do over the years. By the time I was in high school I was responsible to make dinner for the family once a week, clean the bathroom, and do the ironing. I learned that families run when everyone pitches in, but also that I was capable of taking care of myself. It didn’t stop there. I volunteered teaching Sunday School, babysitting, and participating on school committees. I learned that giving is more than giving of your money, it’s also giving of your time. It created in me a desire to want to be a contributing member of society, that just like a family–we all need to work together. When I started college I was the one who taught others in the dorm how to do laundry and sew on buttons.
My parents taught me about work–life balance. School wasn’t easy. I had to study really hard to get decent grades, but I persevered. I joined sports teams, the school play, the yearbook committee, and more, but during different grades. I was juggling studying, work, and extra activities. I learned I couldn’t do it all simultaneously, but that life came and went in seasons. When I quit my job in grade 12 so I could be in the school play (maybe fired due to lack of availability is more accurate), my parents weren’t after me to get a new job. I lived off the spending money I had saved until the play was done and then I went back to work. I remember how hard my parents worked and at the end of the day they would relax together. They worked hard, but also took a break when a break was due.
They taught me to make goals. When I wanted to go on the school ski trip when our family was going on a weeklong ski trip for Spring Break, my parents asked me to choose between them because I couldn’t pay for both. When I wanted to go to college they asked, “how are you going to pay for that?” I remember my mom saying to me, “You’ve been given strong arms and a strong spirit so you can work for what you need.” In other words–don’t expect anyone to give you what you can earn yourself. I worked hard, applied for scholarships, and worked some more. I worked all through college and felt a strong sense of pride and accomplishment that by the time I finished four years of school I had paid for it all by my own hard work. My parents gave me a couple gifts along the way, but they were unexpected and I was very appreciative.
When I look back at how my parents raised me, I’m not sure how much of it was intentional, but I feel they did an amazing job to prepare me for the world of work. Now as I’m raising my own kids and I hear myself saying, “You’re too little. Let mom do that.” I have to remind myself that now is the time to give them opportunities to take care of themselves. A friend once said to me, “You have to let your kids help you when they are young and it’s inconvenient, because if you wait until they’re 12 they’ll say, ‘I don’t know how to do that, and it’s easier if mom does it for me.’” I’ve learned that now is the time when it is safe for my kids to try and fail. That now is the time for me to raise my kids to work hard, be responsible, and believe in themselves.
This article was written by Miranda Vande Kuyt, a blogger for the My ESC website. Find out more about Miranda through her website: http://mirandavandekuyt.wordpress.com.