My family sat squarely on the poor side of the middle class. In some ways we had plenty. We always had baskets at Easter and a tree overflowing with presents at Christmas. But we spent time on welfare and mostly in geared-to-income housings, often without having a car to get us around. We were never put into sports like many of the other kids or sent away to camp in the summertime. Instead we would play baseball or hockey in the street with the kids in the projects or go to the free Parks & Rec. day camp in the summer that the city provided for low income communities.
So I could see how it might be tempting for someone with my childhood to want to give my kids a “better” childhood than I had by putting them in sports, taking them on elaborate trips or buying them more stuff. But in a way I could see how that desire would be more about me than about them. You could say that I’d be living my life vicariously through them.
Fortunately I have no desire to do that. But I know many people who do. They grew up with little and looking back on their life they resent their parents and want to make sure their kids don’t resent them.
I was reminded of this today when I was reading Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. In counselling against parents who run their kids through a guilt trip by saying things like “I’m sacrificing my life to buy this for you. I’m buying this for you because I never had this advantage when I was a kid.” He goes on to tell a story about his neighbour:
“I have a neighbour who is stone-broke but can’t park his car in his garage. The garage is filled with toys for his kids. Those spoiled brats get everything they ask for. “I don’t want them to know the feeling of want” are his everyday words. He has nothing set aside for their college or his retirement, but his kids have every toy ever made. He recently got a new credit card in the mail and took his kids to visit Las Vegas. “I’m doing it for the kids,” he said with great sacrifice.” (p.193)
Please understand me. The last time I wrote a post of this nature I was accused of passing judgement. I’m not. I write this out of concern. I see people in my own life who have the same philosophy as Robert’s neighbour and it breaks my heart.
Of course there may be someone who grew up with a similar upbringing as mine, but was somehow able to turn their life around in their early twenties. Now with a spouse and children, they are able to put their kids in sports and buy loads of toys for them (not saying they should) without breaking the bank, and still able to help those in need all the while preparing for retirement and investing in their children’s future education.
But I’m concerned for those who, as Robert put in, are “stone-broke,” and yet are willing to go more broke in order to give their kids a fleeting experience that they resented for never having.
There is an experience that I want to give my children that I wished I could have had more of. Time. I’m talking about having quality time with them. Devoted TLC. My dad could have put me in sports and attended every game and practice. But I don’t miss not having that experience. What I miss is not throwing the ball around with him in the backyard, or having him sit down with me to explain things to me with his undivided attention.
One of the fondest memories I have as a child was standing next to my dad looking into his bedroom mirror as he taught me how to tie and necktie.
As I reflect upon parenthood with our first on his or her way, one thing I am going into this believing is that being a parent is not a job. I’m not an underpaid and overrated babysitter. I see too many parents treat parenthood like a babysitting job they can slack at. They do the essentials and let the TV, toys or friends do the rest.
Our children is our legacy. Investing in them will be one of the most important things I’ll do with my life.