We Do It All For You

Do you remember the McDonald's ad campaign "At McDonald's, we do it all for you"? Sometimes I think that's our slogan as parents.

Ever wish you could do more for your children? Maybe it's a blessing that you can't. There is an old zen saying that a rich man's son doesn't stand a chance, while a poor man's son has the opportunity to create. There is a lot of truth to that statement.

So many of us, myself included, wanted to give our kids everything we didn't get, growing up. When I was a kid, we got to pick one toy from the top shelves over the produce department at the A & P for our "big" Christmas gift. So when my twins came along, I showered them with Christmas gifts. Toys, clothes, money, you name it, they got it.

Soon we had a toy room stuffed so full you couldn't even open the door! And my kids, though wonderful, didn't really appreciate all that stuff. As a kid, I treasured my one Barbie doll, and the few clothes I had to dress her in. My daughter had the Barbie playhouse, Barbie's friends and relatives of both genders, a ton of clothes, accessories, furniture, cars, garage, even a horse! And I cannot tell you where all of those things are now. Maybe Barbie took off on an extended trip around the world.

As parents, we seem to have so much guilt about not being able to provide for our children. Yet how much more, beyond a decent, loving home, and the basic necessities of life, do they really need?

As a troubled teen, I often skipped out of school, or intentionally got caught smoking so that I would be suspended for the day. When I started college, however, my parents could not afford to help me out, so it was MY money that paid my tuition. I got straight "A"s and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

One of the clerks in my office is quite a remarkable young man. He starts work every day at 8 a.m. One day he came rushing in at 8:10 a.m. He had forgotten to set his alarm. "That's the first time I've ever been late," he said. "I know," I answered. "No, you don't understand. That's the first time I've been late since I started working, at age 10."

Ten!? Not many people have a track record like him. His parents are wonderful, loving people. They work at jobs helping others, that do not pay what they really should (much like teachers). So they weren't able to shower him with clothes, and toys, and gadgets, or pay his way through school. They gave him a chance to do it himself.

And boy, does he! He's bought his own clothes since he was 13, pays for his advanced education himself, and bought a house with his brother when he was only 19 years old. They put their own money into it and fixed it up themselves. On the job, he is consistently pleasant and easy to work with, and accomplishes an enormous amount of work. I don't know what I'd do without him. And he has the self-confidence you earn through accomplishment.

Of course, Brian may be an extreme example of a young man expanding into his potential. Maybe everyone wouldn't step up to the plate the way he does. But we will never know unless we give our own young ones a chance to do it.

On the other side of the spectrum, I know of a man with a criminal history for fraud and theft that spans two decades. He's been to prison four times already, but his mother will fight like a tiger to keep him from going again. It doesn't matter to her how many people he's cheated or stolen from. All she cares about is making sure her "baby" doesn't get locked up.

The result? A 50-year-old man who lives in his parents' basement, who cons and steals his way through life. He is totally unscrupulous, without feelings for his victims or the havoc he wreaks in people's lives. Because he knows that, whatever he does, his mommy will be there to bail him out.

This too is an extreme example. Most of us fall somewhere in between, as far as spoiling our kids. But it does give food for thought. Next time, instead of going on that guilt trip because you can't hand your kids everything on a silver platter, why not thank the Universe for giving your children the opportunity to find their own greatness?

A recent article in Fortune magazine said that parents are starting to add up just how much it will cost to comfortably retire, and how much they will have to invest to get there. The article said parents are beginning to realize that the thousands of dollars they are pouring into "little Johnny's" education would be better spent saving for their retirement. After all, one can get loans to pay for school, but whoever heard of getting a loan to pay for your retirement?

Our kids are better off learning to create, as I did when I worked my way through college and law school so many years ago. In class, it was usually easy to spot the kids whose parents were paying their way. They were the ones who were goofing off, changing their majors, partying. I was the one in the front row, always participating, telling them to be quiet in class so I could hear the professor. There is no better motivator than having to use your own hard-earned cash to put yourself through school!

I don't suggest tossing your little darling out on the street to fend for themselves. But the universal wisdom repeats itself, again and again: What you send out comes back. When we "do it all" for our kids, we are unconsciously sending them a message that we think them incapable of doing it for themselves. And they act accordingly. Sometimes we can give them a gift by not giving. They are totally adequate for all situations. And so it is.

Mindy L. Hitchcock