By Bill Buchanan
Some of my friends have children in their mid-twenties who still live at home. It seems that a universal lament from these friends is about how their kids are totally helpless around the house and expect their parents to do everything for them. These children pay no rent. They do not cook their own meals. They have to be cajoled into cleaning up after themselves, and for that matter, into doing pretty much anything for themselves.
I don’t have much patience with any of that. Let me go on record here with the following disclaimer: I was not a great kid. If left to my own devices, I would certainly have been the same way. But I was fortunate enough to have caring parents who loved me, but also knew that I needed to learn a few things to get along in the world. Two incidents from my childhood illustrate this. The first happened one Sunday when I was about seven or eight. The small country church we went to when I was young believed in getting everything they could out of the Sunday service. Everything was long. The songs were long. The prayers were long. And the sermons all seemed longer than the Bible itself. So one day, after thinking that I might grow old enough to shave before I ever got out of church that day, I came home, tore off my dress clothes and ran out the door to play ball with some friends.
My daddy came to the door, and called me inside. Now, my daddy had a deep, resonant voice that sounded something like God talking to Charleton Heston’s Moses in “The Ten Commandments”. When he was unhappy, there was nothing vague about it in the tone of his voice. You knew he was serious, and unless you wanted to make a date with the business-end of a belt, it was wise to pay attention. So I left my playmates and went to see what kind of trouble I was in this time.
Daddy took me into my bedroom, pointed to my rumpled suit and shirt and asked why my “good” clothes were in such a mess. I don’t remember what I said, but apparently it was not the right answer because he replied, “If you take care of things, they will last for a long time. I’m going to show you the right way to hang up a suit.” The implication being that this was a one-time demonstration, and the next time would probably involve the use of some negative reinforcement to get the point across.
That lesson took hold, and I was very good about hanging up my clothes as long as he was alive. After he died, and I became a teenager, I became moody and sloppy and careless – in other words, typical. I started dropping my clothes on the floor in of my room. My aunt, who lived with us, would dutifully pick up after me and either hang up my clothes if they were clean, or put them in the clothes hamper if they were not. I thought this was a pretty good deal, one that certainly worked well from my perspective. And it did until my mother came home one day from work and caught my aunt picking up after me. Mother immediately took me into my room, pointed to the clothes still on the floor, pointed to the clothes hamper in the bathroom and said, “That clothes hamper is 20 feet from here. If you are not physically able to walk in there and put your clothes in the hamper, then we need to take you to see Doctor Weatherly.” Then she led me into the room where my aunt was sitting. Mother pointed to her and said, “That woman is your aunt. She is not your maid, and you will not treat her as if she was.” Lesson learned. With the exception of a few years in college, I have been picking up my clothes ever since.
Let me make a second disclaimer: I do not have children. This was a conscious choice for Ava and me. Neither of us wanted children, and we decided the issue before we were married. We both like kids, love our nieces and nephews dearly. We just did not have the desire to be parents. Parenting is the most important job in the world, yet many people seem to give more thought to what kind of ring tone they want on their cell phone than to whether or not they would make a suitable parent. That may be a column for another day.
So Ava and I elected not to have any children, even in the wake of significant pressure from relatives – including extreme pressure from one of my aunts who never married, much less ever came close to having children. Ava deftly deflected one comment from my aunt, who queried, “Well, if you don’t have children, who will take care of you when you are old?” Ava’s reply was brilliant as well as accurate, “Just because you have children doesn’t mean they will take care of you later on.” Score one for Ava.
When my friends complain about their kids, I am usually not asked for my opinion. But that has never stopped me from giving it, anyway. So I would say that first of all these people may be your children, but they are not kids. These people are young adults. Then I would say that since they are young adults, they should be doing things for themselves. If you do everything for them, what motivates them to change? In another not-so-distant time, they would be charged with the responsibility of not only taking care of themselves, but for taking care of some of the rest of the family as well. If they do not take charge of their own lives now, then when? If they are not challenged to become mature now, then when exactly do they grow up?
We do not expect much of them, and they meet our expectations. I really think this carries over into a number of other areas. People have kidded me about my beloved Alabama football team (who disappointed me greatly this past weekend), and how Alabama always carries the unrealistic expectation of winning the National Championship into each season. That is right. It is unrealistic to expect to win every game. No one ever has, no one ever will. But I think if you expect to win every game, you will win your share. And I think you will win more times than those who expect less.
Is it any different with children? It seems to me that low expectations yield low results – whether you are talking about sports, the classroom, business, or life in general. There are a few exceptions. Some people will rise above what is expected of them, achieve more than anyone ever thought they would or could. But those people are rare. The rest of us need motivation. We need to be pushed. We need lofty goals set for us. We may not achieve those goals, but we need to be challenged to work toward them.
If parents don’t provide these challenges for their own children, then who will? And if not, how will these children ever be prepared for life?