Good relationships are what count
Remember the days of carefree youth when summer meant three months of no school, lemonade on hot afternoons, playing on the lawn under a shady tree to keep cool and swimming in the nearest creek or canal.
Well maybe for some of you I am going a little too far back with those words, but nonetheless there were good times to be had.
In the past couple of years there has been a lot written about adults trying to make their kids grow up too fast; about how we schedule their free time to death with this club or that club, with athletics, with camps and with lessons for this or that. Parents see that as a good thing. In my experience I think it depends on the kid and on the parent who is making up the schedule.
From my observation in the days of late middle age, I can see the light of summer in my childhood and in many ways would like to be able to return to those times; but if you asked me to be a kid today, I would tell you where to go.
Often people lament the fact that kids today have it too easy. Many adults would like to see kids do hard labor all summer and to learn what sacrifice is. But I think it is a bit more complicated than that. Kids today have it tough in some ways; they have pressures we never had, are exposed to all kinds of things we never even thought of and yes, many are scheduled to death.
Of course as a kid I thought I had it pretty hard. From the time I was about seven years old, summers for me were only about a month long. I spent my summers hauling hay, threshing grain, weeding gardens or picking tomatoes. In the fall, just before school started we started bringing in the field corn and digging potatoes. Our farm was hard work; but my father also felt that if I worked hard I should be rewarded well. He paid me for each hay season, and at the age of 11 I could make as much as $100 for two and a half weeks of work.
I was never the best student, but I was a good student. I was never a great athlete, but I still loved basketball and track. I worked a job (actually a couple) through my high school years, had my own car from the time I had my drivers license and spent way to much time worrying about girls. I didn't go to Harvard, but instead a state university. I didn't go to law school or medical school, but I am in what I consider to be a meaningful profession. No I haven't made much difference in the world, but I have done some good things that made the world different.
Did things turn out the way I imagined them they would? No. But then I can't really remember what I imagined. From a youngsters point of view the world is never what we realize it is as an adult. When we are 18 we are all going to conquer the world, be millionaires and make the world safe for democracy.
My parents are long gone now and I am not sure what they would think of me. I hope they would think in some way or another that I made it. I have a great marriage, three great kids, wonderful grandchildren, live in a place I love and face each days problems with whatever courage it takes to get through that day.
But it's not that way for everyone who I grew up with. I have a friend who, along with his wife, believed in perfection out of their kids. He and she were highly educated, extremely smart people. They pushed their kids hard. They also scheduled their teenagers so tightly they couldn't move. They made them excel at everything they did, regardless of the cost to their mutual relationships.
All three kids are now very successful, business wise. Two are professionals on the east and west coasts respectively, another is going to law school in the midwest. My friends wife passed away a few years ago. She was the real perfectionist in the family. He was always the more easy going of the pair.
But the kids moved far away for a reason.Today they have little to do with him; they are disaffected from his religion and his lifestyle. He is the nicest guy in the world, but the kids can only remember the taskmaster parents they had that never let them have a free minute to themselves. It was always push, push, push. They are basically adverse to everything he believes in. There was a time when I have to admit I envied him, with kids who all were honor students and went on to big name schools and professions. It seemed they were the perfect family. Appearances can be deceiving.
All my kids struggled in school. I remember when my youngest was really having a hard time in a class in junior high, I met with his teacher and she pointed out all his shortcomings in the classroom. I told her I needed to get tough on him and I would do whatever it took. I said I would schedule him to death so he didn't have room to move. She looked at me and said "I want him to do well in school and so do you. But don't do anything today that will jeoprodize your relationship with him tomorrow. That's more important than any subject or any grade."
I think that was one of the wisest pieces of advice anyone every gave me. My kids all live far away from me now, but it is because of their jobs and relationships they have developed outside our family. All of them say they would rather live near us. But we keep in touch. They are not lawyers or doctors. They are all basically in blue collar professions that are meaningful for them. They are good citizens with dreams and aspirations. I am very proud of them.
And you know what, unless I am about to give a piece of unwanted and unrequested advice, they love to hear from me. Or at least they say they do.
So think about that long term relationship; expect a lot from you kids, but don't expect them to be perfect.
And most of all don't expect them to be you.