By Jack Petrash
Providing for our children is another of parenting’s paradoxes. Because our children start out in life depending on us for everything, it is vital that we live fully into our role as providers. Food, clothing, and meaningful experiences are all a part of what parents work hard to provide. The more thought and care we put into providing for our children at an early age, the more they benefit. Providing healthy food, warm clothing, and good medical care are just the kind of assignments that good parents take seriously. It is our job to provide the very best for our children and over time these decisions will involve schools, camps, after school lessons, and all sorts of teams. But here too, Emerson’s words apply: “Every excess has its defect… Every sweet hath its sour.”
In his book, Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age, Dan Kindlon points out that providing too much for our children for too long, impedes character development. When Kindlon did a survey on “too good to be true teenagers,” the kinds of healthy children parents hope to raise, he found that there were certain characteristics that these young people had in common. They cleaned their own rooms. They did not have a phone in their room (I assume that also means a cell phone). And they did some kind of community service. What the parents provided was very simple; these children ate dinner regularly as a family.
What is clear from this study is that we should always provide our children with opportunities to give as well as receive. This can mean different things in different families. It can mean that children make their own beds or do the dishes. It can mean that adolescents do their own laundry or clean the bathroom. And with teenagers it can mean that they work outside of the home on weekends or in the summer to earn their own spending money, keeping in mind that independence fosters responsibility and that leads to self-esteem.
A number of years ago, the state of California offered a work program for young people modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, the federally funded program during the Depression. The California program promised “hard work, long hours, and low pay.” It had a waiting list, mostly with young people from well-to-do families who wanted to find out what they were really worth.
In the end children must provide for themselves. How many kids today pay for their own car insurance, their gasoline, their cell phones, or their credit card bills in college? What message do we send our children when we give them so much, other than the message of privilege or entitlement?
Parenting has to be a bi-polar undertaking. We are called on to protect our children, but not over-protect them, to provide for them, but not indulge them. These are the challenges that parenting sets before us; and as with any art form, there are no easy answers. We simply have to be present in the moment and move between the opposites to achieve the right balance. Sometimes this work seems overwhelming and I must say there are nights when I get down. It is then that I look for a little help with this work and this quotation by E.F. Schumacher from Small is Beautiful, helps.
“Through all our lives we are faced with the task of reconciling opposites which, in logical thought, cannot be reconciled… How can one reconcile the demands of freedom and discipline in education? Countless mothers and teachers, in fact, do it, but no one can write down a solution. They do it by bringing into the situation a force that belongs to a higher level where opposites are transcended – the power of love.”
These words remind me that I am just a struggling artist who really loves his work.