The other day, my 8-year-old was walking past the kitchen table, where the Wall Street Journal was spread across the remains of breakfast.
Spying a picture of an opulent house in the real estate section, he said, “That, for only a million dollars? What a deal!”
Moments like these tell me we have a lot still to teach our kids about money. As vigilant as we’ve been, the reality is our kids are growing up quite fortunate. They never have to wonder about their next meal. They use the word “starving” to refer to the gap between lunch and dinner. Oppression means not getting to watch a movie on Friday nights.
In fact, a common topic among my friends is how to teach our kids resiliency and hard work when their lives are so comfortable.
Kids needs to feel safe and loved and secure. That’s a given. They certainly don’t need to feel the stress and strain of the modern era.
But beyond that, kids do need the kind of experiences that will build and shape character. Enter the manufactured hardship.
I am queen of the manufactured hardship. My boys each play a musical instrument. I call it their metaphorical milk cow. Every day they sit with that instrument, banging out notes or running bows across the string. Sometimes it sounds as pretty as a herd of cows. Through the years, they’ve cried enough tears to fill a milk truck, but along the way they’ve learned patience, perseverance and hopefully a little music.
I was talking to a mother the other day who had her daughter get a summer job in a snack shack. She also drives the beat-up family van. The mother lamented that neither of these things were working: the snack shack was the neighborhood hotspot and the family van had become an icon at the high school.
“We’ll have to think of something else,” she said. I was struck by the deliberate way in which she is trying to keep her daughter humble.
My husband grew up in a family of nine kids. They were expected to pitch in with mealtime prep and cleanup. Saturday was chore day, and it involved hours of house and yard work.
My husband didn't ever learn to love yard work, but he sure learned how to work.
This past year, we rented a home where a yard service came once a week. It seemed like a gift, until I realized there simply weren’t enough house chores to keep my kids occupied.
It didn’t take long for my boys to realize that I was inventing jobs just to keep them working.
“Inventing,” they’d mumble as they went off to wipe the bathroom for the third time that week.
Last month we bought a home. It isn’t the farm I’ve always hoped for, but it is 100 years old.
No more job drought! There is an endless supply of jobs, a century’s worth, in fact, from installing light fixtures to replacing bathroom floors. In fact, one of the reasons we bought the home is because it looked like a giant project, a project where our kids could learn how to wield a caulk gun, repair a fence and stain a deck.
Even if you don’t live in a fixer-upper, there are a lot of ways to manufacture hardship. I grew up moving every five years, which was both awful and one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me.
As important as extracurricular activities are for teens, they’ll learn important life skills from getting an after-school or summer job. And they’ll be able to pay for part if not all of their activities, clothes and future schooling.
Lastly, parents don’t have to give in to every whim for new basketball shoes, new gadgets and new toys. Learning to ride out the fads may be one of the greatest tools you can give your kids.
We knew a big Catholic family in Minnesota that raised awesome kids. Both parents were social workers and the dad worked with troubled teens. They made their children walk to the elementary school, nearly two miles away, every day, rain, shine or snow. If you’ve lived through a Minnesota winter, you know what that feels like.
My boys tease me that the child labor laws were instituted years ago, and then in the same breath they’ll say, “Thanks Mom, for not giving us everything we want. Even though we really want it. And thanks for teaching us to work.”
Because if we don’t, who will?