What do we owe our kids?

A young lady (YL), in her mid-teens, and her long-suffering mother (LSM) are preparing to leave the house to go their respective Saturday morning activities.

LSM: So, I’ll see you back here after lunch some time?

YL: Yup (while texting)

 LSM: Do you want to do something this afternoon?

 YL: (stops texting for a moment) YES! You can take me to Winners  and buy me new clothes.

LSM: Ha ha. Your bedroom floor is 3 feet deep with clothes. I don’t think you need anymore right now.

YL: (whining) Yes, I do. All my clothes are old and yucky.

LSM: Maybe if you and all your friends didn’t have to walk over them to get into your room, they wouldn’t be so yucky? Maybe you should buy your own clothes and then you’d take better care of them.

YL: WHAT? I already have to buy everything myself.

YSM: Everything, eh? Like what?

YL: Like everything. It’s not fair. No one else has to have a stupid job and pay for all their own stuff.

YSM: All your own stuff? Like what?

YL: I had to pay for the movie yesterday. My friends didn’t have to pay for their own movie. My friends’ parents just give them money whenever they want it.

 Listening to these two quibble reminds me of a hundred similar arguments I’ve had with XUP Jr. I’m sure that somewhere in her heart of hearts she knows she’s doing okay and that there are kids in the world worse off than she is, but you wouldn’t know it by some of the hard-done-by stories she comes out with.

 And this always leads me to question: As responsible people and parents, what exactly do we owe our kids? Aside from the basics like love, nurturing, food, water, shelter, etc.?

I’ve chosen where we live based on the quality of the available schools in the area. This is great in many ways because she goes to school with kids who are mostly quite motivated to learn; who have fairly stable home lives; and who generally walk the path of straight and narrow.

In other ways, this rather insular peer group has given XUP Jr. a bit of an unrealistic  picture of what is “normal”.  Based on her peer experiences:

  •  All kids have large homes with rec rooms in the basement where teenagers can hang out, watch big-screen TVs, play air hockey, steal booze from the wet bar and crash out for the night
  • All kids take one major vacation a year to Europe or China or Australia or cruise to Alaska
  • All kids also have one minor vacation a year during March break to somewhere warm or Disneyland
  • All kids go on two or three road trips every year to New York, Chicago, Montreal or Vancouver
  • All kids spend a good part of their summer at the family cottage
  • All kids have computers and TVs in their rooms
  • All kids have the most current cell phone technology and the most current iPod (both of which change every 6 months)
  • All kids buy their clothes only from only the most expensive boutiques
  • All kids’ families have at least 2 cars and will drive the kids anywhere they want to go any time, day or night

Some of her friends do have jobs (though she chooses to forget that) but many of her friends don’t and yet always have money for shopping, eating out, movies and other outings. So, I have to assume that what she, and they, say is true – their parents just give them money whenever they want it.

I think parents do owe their kids something beyond the basics. Though circumstances don’t always make it possible, we should strive for some enrichment activities for our children – sports or music or dance lessons or something. Something that encourages their particular passion or skill or strength. Something that they can feel especially proud of themselves for. Something that may give them an edge as they go through life.

I think we also owe our kids some sort of additional start in life – whether that’s paying for their first university degree or college diploma or, if that’s not the way they want to go, some seed money to start up a business or buy their first home or whatever.

Travel, though it has so many issues these days, can also be a very important part of a child’s growth. Travel doesn’t necessarily have to mean exotic vacations. Just getting kids out of their own town once in a while and letting them experience a different community, different people, different lifestyles is good.

 Anyway, these are things I always tried to provide for my kid above and beyond the basics. And as much as we can poo-poo the cliquishness of school, I confess I’ve always done what I could to help her “fit in.” She was already a bit of an oddball because she doesn’t have a father and because she eats “weird stuff” and because I don’t have a car to drive her around in.  So, I bought her trendier clothes that cost a bit more than the sensible clothes. And, she was one of the first kids to have a cell phone – though that was more so we could keep in touch than to be cool. And she has the the best iPod in the whole world thanks mummy.

And contrary to what she may tell everyone, I still buy most of her stuff. Her money goes to movies and nail polish and $70 leggings from Holt Renfrew. I worry sometimes about her values. I hope they’ll sort themselves out once the self-centered teen years are over.

It’s a tough parental line to walk – that balance between your desire to give your kids every thing/every advantage and letting them learn how to set and accomplish their own goals, to expect them to put some effort (aside from sticking their hand out)  into achieving their desires.

How do you, or how did your parents, work that one out?