May 14, 2017: Givers and Takers
|What road do we teach our children to take?|
This has always stuck with me. In the age of helicopter parents, sometimes it is too easy to lose sight of this simple goal. As parents, our job is to equip our children to be good people who are productive members of our community. Instead, we get caught up in our kids making the best select teams and getting accepted to the most prestigious universities. It is all about their personal achievement and receiving a participation ribbon.
The unfortunate result is a selfish child. One who knows how to work an A and earned entry into all AP classes, but without a hint of empathy on how to spend time with an aging neighbor in early stages of dementia. A child with no sense of knowing how to drop everything and make someone else feel important.
In the words of a favorite columnist of mine, John Rosemand, on the goal of parenting:
"The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship. The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened."
Let me offer a story that I believe demonstrates a giver rather than a taker. I will use a 'Ben Lane' story, only because it is top of mind. All three sons have many similar stories (some good and some bad), but I will use this positive one.
Last winter, Ben was home for Christmas break. It was a sunny, but cold, December day. A week before Christmas. I had decided to have my piano tuned. My father-in-law, Larry, was staying with me. My Aunt Joan loves to play my piano. Mine is the family piano that she played as a little girl. With the piano badly needing a tuning, I thought scheduling this on a weekday would be an 'event' for my aunt and Larry. The frosting on the cake was that Joan had known the elderly tuner for years, so a plan was hatched.
In my mind, Joan, Larry, and Pat (the piano tuner) would enjoy each other's company on this cold afternoon. I never drew Ben into the equation. But I didn't need to, as Ben would naturally do this on his own.
The day was busy for me. I stopped home after work to greet Pat and Joan sitting together at the piano while Ben and Larry watched TV in the family room. I needed to run some errands and pick up animals at the vet, so left to go about my business. When I arrived home a couple of hours later, I was surprised to see that Pat's car (couldn't miss it with the fake fuzzy reindeer antlers attached to each front window) still in the drive along with Joan's car.
Wow, I thought. Pat is really doing a deep dive on that piano.
Walking in the door, I found the fab four still hanging and happy. They were laughing together in the kitchen. The blender was in the middle of the island with a variety of martini and drink glasses. The older crew of three quickly updated me on how young Ben (newly hired bar hand at Barry's Bar) was making specialty drinks for them. He also grilled chicken breasts in various sauces for their taste testing.
Trying to ignore the stickiness covering my counters and blender that appeared broken (it was, by the way), Ben explained how he had made candy cane martinis, Irish car bombs, and Ben's island special for his patrons. The chicken options included a hot rub, teriyaki, and buffalo. His customers appeared more than pleased. As for me, I bit my tongue wanting to know who was going to clean up the mess in the kitchen.
Instead, I sat down and tried a candy cane martini.
Pat quickly said she need to go on to her next tuning, as she had stayed longer than anticipated. Giving everyone a hug, she took off in her antlered car.
That night I had planned a 'girls night' of driving around Omaha looking at Christmas lights and enjoying some adult drinks. I had asked Ben to be our Uber driver. It was a paid position and he was more than willing to accommodate.
What I didn't expect was that Ben was going to ask Joan and Larry to join my girls night.
Although it is always a joy to have Aunt Joan around, I had not originally thought to invite her to be part of my gal pal excursion. Likely Pat would have come along as well if she hadn't another piano to tune.
So we all moved on to the evening festivities. Going against the original script, we first stopped to visit Ben's grandparent's, Russ and Cookie, at their new assisted living facility. Joan was happy to see them, as were Russ and Cookie to see her. At pick up, my friends were a little surprised to see a car already half full with Larry and Joan in tow, but no one knew the better and we had a glorious night of fun. Ben was an awesome driver.
A week later I received a handwritten Christmas card in the mail. It was from Pat the piano tuner. She wrote on both sides on the inside of the card. As I read it, my eyes teared up. Although she said many kind words, the gist of the card was that she felt special that day at my house. She had so much fun with Joan, Larry, and Ben. She thought Ben was both an excellent chef and bartender, but most importantly, a really nice young man. Pat felt joy in my house and proclaimed it as the highlight of her holiday.
Ben had no motive to entertain his mom's orchestrated geriatrics unit that day. He could have hidden in his room upstairs and closed the door. He could have made an excuse that he had other plans and left. But he stayed. And he gave for no other purpose than to give. Although his act was a mere few hours out of his day, they meant a ton to the three people he entertained on that cold holiday afternoon.
When I share stories like these, people comment to me "You are such a great mom" and then they compliment me on raising my sons. But that is not my intent and it is simply not the fact pattern.
I didn't raise them. WE raised our sons. Their dad, me, both sets of our parents, and with a lot of great support, mentoring, and example by our extended family and new spouses. We do the same for each other's kids. With honesty, love, and zero tolerance for poor behavior. Grades do count but are not of the highest ranking. Status means nothing. The character of the individual is gold.
We are all far from perfect but have ultimately gotten over our individual needs to put family first and teach the 'real' lessons to our kids. Through second marriages and pure survival, we have zero tolerance for spoiled and entitled kids. Making them own their mistakes and making right from the bad decisions, have provided the greatest life lessons. Nothing humbles a human more than ringing a doorbell to your friend's parents and owning your shit.
Although all three boys are in different stages of maturity in understanding life, I do know that they generally think outside of themselves. I never have to worry about how they will treat someone when 'no one is looking'. I never have to worry how they will treat their grandparents, their neighbors or strangers of whom they have nothing to gain. I hope they know that the world owes them nothing. They will get out of it what they put into it.
So as parents, how do we raise givers and not takers? Where does this come from?
This comes from allowing our children to suffer and fail without placing blame. This comes from allowing them to be surrounded by imperfection and know how to accept it. It comes from accepting and giving love without expecting anything in return. And as I am sure John Rosemond would agree, our children should never be the center of the family universe.
God | Parents | Children...the order of a balanced life.