This post might also be called: Totally Uncool Things My Parents Did That I’m Really Thankful For Now
Lately I’ve been thinking about a lot of unconventional and counter-cultural things my parents did in raising my siblings and me. I like to think their methods helped us NOT to become total schmucks or entitled kids. Even though I despised many of these parenting strategies at the time, I totally intend to make my kids suffer the way that I did.
Therefore, assuming that you don’t think my siblings and I are punks or entitled kids (or adults as the case may be), here are some uncool things you can do to your own kids.
1. Don’t Buy Them a Car
My siblings and I drove some truly uncool vehicles to school, none of which were ours. Almost all the cars my parents ever owned were paid in full, which meant they didn’t cost much and were more than a few years old. My brother endured and overcame whatever shame came from the two of us rolling up in this ’78 Olds Cutlass Cruiser wagon during his Junior and my Freshman year. After that character building exercise, he got to drive the much cooler ’86 red Ford Tempo.
The ’89 white Dodge Dynasty that my sister and I drove during our high school years seemed virtually new. We never had exclusive access to any car, and had to catch rides on days my mom needed the car.
This likely helps me appreciate my current 2000 Taurus wagon with a ginormous crack in the windshield and 192K miles. Also y’all, IT HAS A CASSETTE TAPE DECK, so I’m truly rockin’ it.
2. Don’t Promise to Pay for College
To make the car humiliation work properly, you have to give the proper incentive. While my parents never promised us that they would pay for our college educations, they did assure us that, should we obtain a scholarship to pay for college, they’d give us the wheels to get there.
I knew from my first moments of thinking about college that it would be my 18 year old duty to afford it. I worked my tail off so that I would obtain a scholarship and work study to pay for it the remaining. My siblings did the same, getting scholarships, taking AP classes, CLEP tests, and graduating early where necessary. While my parents DID help us pay WHEN they could, I never had the expectation that MY schooling was THEIR job. It was always mine. After my first year of maintaining my academic scholarship, my parents got me a four year old car with 109 K miles on it, BUT it was mine. I earned it. I’ve taught a lot of entitled high school students who just assumed their parents would pay for them to attend college, and then partied their way through because they were not invested in their own education.
3. Make them Work for Privilege
Since we are on the topic of cars, here’s one more. Before my dad would add me to his insurance, he made me learn to change the oil in the car and the tires. I remember laying on the ground in the driveway grumbling as the oil dripped down into the pan next to my head. On the other hand, I felt pretty empowered jacking the car up to change the tire. Thanks to marrying a very mechanical man, I have NEVER done this since, however, I understand the premise. With privilege, comes responsibility. If you want the privilege of driving a car and having someone else insure it, you need to know how to maintain it. I don’t think he made me contribute to my car insurance in high school, but I do know that I had to pay for gas. I worked all through high school and college and seldom if EVER was just handed “spending” money.
4. Don’t Tell Them to Do Better Than You
I always cringe when I hear parents saying they want their kids to be able to “do better” than they are doing OR to “do better” than what their parents did for them. Unless the parents in this analogy are abusive or neglectful, saying this just implies that providing food and shelter for your children isn’t enough. Telling children that they need to DO BETTER undercuts a good work ethic, a loving home, and a thankful heart. My parents NEVER implied that the simple life wasn’t enough; they never disparaged their humble beginnings; they never suggested that we should be anything less than totally thankful. While neither of my parents finished college, they never suggested that it was my responsibility to do so in order to correct their mistakes. They told us to do OUR best, but never made it our job to improve upon theirs.
5. Don’t Fight Their Bullies
Before you freak out, let me explain. My parents ALWAYS stood up for me at home when I was hurt by a classmate or teacher. They validated my feelings and affirmed me. However, they did not always call the teacher, write a note, or go to battle for me. Neither were they enrolling me in karate and teaching me to fight my own battles.
A friend had a tantrum while walking home from school one day and used my back for a punching bag. My mom said I shouldn’t walk with her anymore. In middle school, when a mean girl threw my clarinet off the bus and used a few choice words against me, my mom wisely suggested that I steer clear of her. When I had teachers who I accused of unfairness or discrimination, my parents never disparaged them, instead recommending that I keep my head down and my mouth shut.
While I suffered the routine number of childhood and teenage related injustices, my parents basically taught me to accept that unfairness and meanness were part of life, not a reflection of who I was or my worth in God’s eyes. I learned to avoid deceptive people, ignore cruel people, and advocate for myself. Basically, I learned to seek peace and pursue it.
Since my childhood, I’ve observed and heard of dozens of helicopter parents and others who train their kids for ENGAGING conflict or even write homework excuses to their kid’s college professors. I think this is a mistake. Instead, train your kids to value themselves and respect others, but not expect respect back. I’m not saying that there is NEVER a time when you might need to step in the ring with your kid, but first, give them a chance to get up and leave the ring. If there is ONE thing that I would stress in this paragraph, it is this. In NOT speaking against my unfair teachers, my parents taught me how to DEAL when other adults, coworkers, employers, and life in general didn’t like me. I learned that NOT everyone would like and respect me, AND moreover, I wasn’t entitled to that. This knowledge has been VERY helpful in my personal and social development.
6. Makeout in the Kitchen
My parents had a PDA problem. It was bad. In retrospect, it was actually totally NOT bad, but at the time, I found it revolting. My dad was constantly complimenting my mom in a very “hubba-hubba” type way. We’d walk into the kitchen to find them kissing. My mom would touch up her lipstick and “freshen up” before my dad got home from work because she wanted to impress him. She’d grow or cut her hair according to his preference. They went on dates and kept their relationship central in a very antiquated and unfeminist way. Bleckk. However, this gag-0-liocious behavior instilled an unshakable confidence in us kids of their commitment to one another. My dad had a plaque in his office that read, “The greatest thing a father can ever do for his children is to love their mother.”
While they certainly fought, squabbled, or were tense with each other at times (and still can be as normal humans), I knew absolutely they wouldn’t divorce. They also demonstrated a kind of genuine working commitment to maintain love and passion in their marriage, which I internalized as the standard that I’ve adopted in my own marriage.
7. Inundate them with Scripture Music
Maybe Scripture music doesn’t necessarily seem uncool to you, but trust me, some of what we listened to WAS dorky. Nonetheless, much of the music we heard in the car and at home became fused in my brain forever in a way that I was UNABLE to forget. Because the Word of God never returns void, I am sure that there were pieces of Scripture that floated to the forefront of my brain and kept me out of trouble that I REALLY wanted to get into it.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? By no means!
Behold what matter of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God.
You are not your own! You were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
He has shown you, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Each of those songs are trapped in my brain from the early 80’s. With the exception of the last one, I have no idea where in Scripture they are from, but I know they are in there somewhere. My parents even PAID us to memorize large portions of Scripture, which may seem strange considering all the things they DID NOT buy us, but I think they knew that having God’s word in our hearts would be a solid investment. As you may have noticed, I’m already enacting this one with my own kids.
8. Interview Their Dates
I’ve mentioned this before when I wrote a letter to my teenage self. My dad had a practice of interviewing all my dates. He didn’t have a gun to clean in front of them or anything. He just loved subjecting my boyfriends to awkward conversations, asking them probing personal questions, all the while referencing Scripture, AND his deep and abiding love for me. It was gross. Any guy who did not have relatively decent motives would not have endured such relentless, utter dad-weirdness. While I totally hated this at the time, I now see that it protected me from the idiotic predisposition to think my behavior didn’t matter. I hadn’t the faintest clue then–anymore than my dates did–how much parents cherish tiny brown-eyed girls–who want to go dancing off into the world with some adolescent boy. Oh wait, I digress. But my point is, any boy or girl who wants to date my kids better be willing to endure much weirdness.
9. Charge them Rent
After college, all three of my siblings and I lived at home for a while before we got married. During that time, my parents charged us room rent. It wasn’t a large sum, since we didn’t have our own kitchen, or our own privacy, or the TOTAL freedom to come and go without inquiry. But it basically reminded us that we were adults, not mooches. It also reminded us that we needed to work and pay our bills. After my college graduation, I had a teaching job, but when I went back to grad school my income decreased. Still, my parents charged me rent, albeit a somewhat reduced amount.
10. Just Say No To Media & Free Speech
We didn’t have a color TV till I was 11, and even then we were only permitted to watch a few hours a week. The banned list of shows was LENGTHY. We couldn’t watch PG-13 movies till we were AT LEAST 16. (My mom made an exception to this to allow me to watch Arachnophobia at a sleepover when I was 14. WOW! What an utter waste of that privilege.) She ripped the rape scene out of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and just summarized it for me. Even though I STILL may not agree about all the media they censored, I now respect their right to define boundaries and beliefs for our home while we were young. At the time, I found my uncool parents horrifyingly restrictive, but now I’m glad I was “sheltered” by them. I learned about the “evils” of the world in time, just as my kids will, but in a world where 12 year olds are twerking at cheerleading practice, I want to be unabashed at saying “Nope. I’m sorry. Not in our house.”
So, those are things my parents did that may have made me crazy at the time, but ultimately made me a pretty darn functional adult. What sort of things did your parents do that you’re thankful for now?