“No” Isn’t a Bad Word: What we Need to Teach Our Kids About Life

I was sitting at a service tonight listening to a dear friend Linda talk passionately about the importance of tough love for our children. Listening to her personal story of her own kids, her nephew, and how raising them to be the decent men they are today wasn’t always an easy trip, I reflected on my own upbringing, and the contrasting way my wife and I raise our children. She said that her mother would have not appreciated the kinds and amounts of holiday gifts Linda gives her kids. Wisely, she said that the fear is that you give so much, than one day you find you are no longer able to give anymore, and your children get upset; “what have you done for me lately?” Linda recalled a conversation with her 18 month old who blurted out, “that’s not fair“, upon hearing the word “no”. I laughed, because I used to say that. She remembered thinking, “that’s not fair, what do you know about fair, you’re 18 months old?” I say that to my kids.

While traveling for work, I try to spend even more time with my kids over the phone. After I left the service, my son called me to ask me how to load songs onto his PSP from his computer. I asked why he just doesn’t use his Ipod, and he said that he just wants to – At this point I just have to laugh at myself. When I told him that he’d be better waiting until I got home, he said, “that’s not fair,” and I said, “what about having your own computer, your own Ipod and your own PSP is not fair.” It struck me then, Linda was right. What are we teaching our kids today?

I didn’t grow up with the ’70s and ’80s equivalent of Ipods and Computers. I got a Sony Walkman for my 11th birthday after a few relatives pooled their gifts together, and the Atari 2600, used after all of my friends dumped theirs for the Atari 5200; good thing some were also dumping their Asteroids and Space Invaders cartridges. Hey, I didn’t even have Pong when it seemed everyone else did. So now, to make up for lost time and, materialistically, lost opportunity, I never want them to want. That, in of itself, isn’t so bad. However, our children don’t need to get everything they want when they want it. It takes the fun, the surprise and the genuine happiness out of it. I know it, but still, like an addict, I can’t stop.

Thankfully, together, my wife and I have raised them to be mindful, respectful and for the most part, appreciative, yet a little uncertainty, a lot of hope and genuine joy certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Today, too many kids are raised with an unhealthy sense of entitlement and expectation that is derived from a very different set of financial circumstances than my childhood, and relatively greater than the difference between my parents’ childhood and mine. Since the 1990s through the second half of 2008, it seemed easier to make money than it was for my parents back then, and I suspect that many in my generation share the same experience. Finances, guilt, I suppose, and an flawed need to make up for whatever we think we missed out on when we were younger are the driving forces.

With that, I recall Linda’s story about a high school friend who died in a car accident, after this friend’s mother said, “no”, you aren’t taking the car. “No” seemed damning to the 15 year old at the time, yet “no” was the one word to be heeded that night; it certainly wasn’t a bad word.

What we teach our kids about life is essential to how they turn out as adults. To let them have what they want, do what they want, and expect it all to keep coming, potentially sets them up for the harsh fall the that we hope never comes. We have to be stronger; I have to be stronger.

After spending 45 minutes on the phone trying to walk him through this project, I told him that he could either wait for me to come home or risk damaging his PSP, as I did not know the process without reading the instructions or seeing it happen live on the computer. Reluctantly, he relented. I wished him a good-night and he said, “thank you for trying, I love you.”

I smiled.

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