The other day I got into an argument with my youngest teenager. He was complaining about our family’s strapped financial situation and was quick to point an accusatory finger at me. He understands that I’m a struggling writer trying to earn a buck, but he couldn’t resist asking when I was going to get a real job. The argument quickly turned sour and I wondered why I felt the need to defend my reasons to a belligerent teenager.
His worst jab was yet to come when he questioned what I’d done for him and for our family. His question cut to the bone. I stared at him in disbelief and swallowed hard against the lump forming in my throat.
I raised four children while working three in-home jobs to help support the family. I sacrificed a writing career because I was too busy wiping noses, changing diapers and breast feeding babies at all hours of the night with minimal amounts of sleep.
What have I done for my children? Cooked thousands of dinners, packed their school lunches, folded laundry, cleaned the home, volunteered in their school classrooms, helped with homework, read bedtime stories, chased away the monsters they thought lurked in their rooms at night, dried their tears, drove them to choir practice, to church, to school and to their friend’s homes. I sat up all night with them when they had fevers, and made sure they had a roof over their heads, clean clothes in their closet, and a full belly every night.
There are too many teenagers out there today who are wondering what their parents have done for them. They’re crossing boundaries I never dreamed of stepping over in my youth. Older values have given way to self-centeredness and greed in a throwaway society. Social networks and the anonymity behind a computer screen have enabled our children to forget their manners. Disrespect for authoritative figures is being reinforced by popular television programs that degrade adults.
I grew up in a different generation, where acts of kindness were rewarded with gratitude and love rather than monetary compensation. If we wanted something special, we earned it through diligence and hard work. Parents and the boundaries they set were respected. Broken rules were followed by strict consequences rather than empty threats.
Our generation survived just fine without the convenience of cell phones, computers, and high speed internet. We didn’t need video games and 500 channels on cable TV to keep us entertained — we were too busy playing dodgeball in the streets with our neighbors until dusk. Whether our families were rich or poor, we appreciated the food on the table and the clothes on our back. People were judged on their merits and behavior, not by the designer labels they wore or the size of their bank accounts.
In 50 years society has progressed to a generation that feels entitled to the latest in material acquisitions. People no longer have the patience to wait for what they want by working towards their goals. They have abandoned simplicity in favor of extravagance. This is not the world our children and grandchildren should be raised in.
I’ve never regretted the decision to put my writing career on hold to stay home with my children. At times we suffered from it financially, but I’m proud of the fact that my children grew up without having everything handed to them on a silver platter. My older children understand the value of a dollar and the importance of a good work ethic. My youngest has yet to test his independence, but I’m hoping he’ll appreciate all that we’ve done and be thankful for the little things that will one day be the big things in life.
What have I done for my children? I’ve been there for them whenever they needed me. Loved them unconditionally. Helped them navigate their way through adolescence and teenage angst. Spoiled them with hugs and praise rather than a trip to the shopping mall. Taught them to be independent, to take pride in their work and become the adults I always knew they could be.
Our family may not have had much while they were growing up, but what they did have was an abundance of laughter and love. You can’t put a price tag on that, and my children will be wealthier because of it.
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