You know what I realized recently? My kids aren’t suffering enough.
Oh, come on. I don’t mean like that. Not suffering abuse or neglect or whatever. Get your head out of the gutter.
I’m talking about healthy suffering. Toil. Good ol’ fashioned WORK. I’m talking about discomfort, doing things repeatedly that are physically, mentally and emotionally unpleasant because you have to. Because it needs to get done. Because there’s nobody else to do it.
So, I have this husband who grew up on a ranch. Actually I only have one husband, but he did in fact grow up on a ranch. Eighty acres of farmland and a small, family run slaughterhouse (sorry, vegans). And from the time he was old enough to work (so like, 7? 8?) he was expected to, um, work. He had to get up and feed animals – when it was pouring rain, hailing, or Christmas. The animals don’t care. When it was 45 degrees or 106 degrees and a cow got out, he had to go handle it with his dad, whether or not he felt like it. I used to watch him catch chickens and my God he hated it. I’ve never seen a person more irritated. I could tell he was miserable, through and through.
There’s value in misery, I tell you.
And he worked in the slaughterhouse (still does, actually. In fact he’s there as I write this, at 7am on a Saturday). I’ll save you details but I’ll tell you this: It IS NOT pleasant. I don’t care how gently SouleMama makes it seem to slaughter turkeys or whatever the hell she does, it’s messy and disgusting and freezing cold (or stiflingly hot). It’s foul (fowl? hahaha. TELL ME I’M NOT FUNNY.) beyond recall. It’s physically exhausting, and it’s relentless.
But as a result of this relentlessness, his life reflects some principles that make him a damn fine human being (if I may say so myself), and something of a lost art.
- The world is not here to cater to him.
- Hard work is a natural part of life.
- Physical discomfort is not that big of a deal.
- If something needs to get done, YOU FUCKING DO IT.
Sometimes it seems like we all work so hard to provide our kids “comfort” and “a nice childhood” that we forget that a good portion of life is just WORK: dirty, grimy, unpleasant. I mean, isn’t it? Isn’t a good part of your life doing things you don’t feel like doing?
Not that we’ll all be toiling on ranches under the beating sun, but rather, life requires the ethic that underlies that work, the willingness to do the damn job until it’s done because it needs to get done. And even though you don’t want to, even though it’s terrible and unpleasant and exhausting, YOU DO IT ANYWAY.
Let me back up. Here’s what happened. One of my kids was purposely doing only half of an assigned daily chore because s/he found it distasteful to his/her delicate sensibilities. Vague enough for ya? Yeah, well the details don’t matter, and I don’t really want to call my kid out on the internet (well, not directly, at least). The point is the child was purposely deceiving us for a month because doing the unpleasant portion of the job was JUST TOO MUCH or whatever the hell. Couldn’t be bothered. Couldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable. I discovered this and was furious. I’m like wait. WHAT? On what planet does this make sense to you? Everybody in your world works, homie, and hard.
Your dad is an ironworker who commutes 4 hours a day to provide for his family. Your mom is 8-months pregnant teaching 3 classes, trying to develop a freelance career and raising 3 other kids. We aren’t martyrs. We’re working people. Not because it’s glamorous, but because we want to eat.
Your grandparents work. Your great-grandparents STILL WORK. We aren’t some silver-spooned, Town & Country-reading douchecanoes who sit around basking in trust funds and lamenting the plight of the world. Come the hell on, kid!
But then I realized in a moment of painful self-honesty that my kids have never really been made to suffer much, to get their hands dirty, so why am I surprised? If life teaches you that comfort is the expected baseline, why would you ever accept the opposite? If daily existence confirms your right to unadulterated pleasantness, clearly unpleasantness is an anomaly to be avoided. Right?
I’m realizing that sometimes, kids need to work hard, really hard, against every shred of their desire. They need to be made uncomfortable. They need to get super freaking pissed off and do the work anyway.
At least, I think they do.
Yeah, my kids do chores (SORT OF), but rigorous work? Not so much.
Hours of work? Probably not.
Work that really, really pisses them off? Doubt it.
And this is supposed to be a good thing, right? These kids that have such a “nice life,” such a relaxed, supported life?
Right. Until they grow up to be the The Entitled Asshole in my English class. Oops. Was that my outside voice?
OF COURSE IT WAS and I MEANT IT.
I’ve seen the product of “Oh honey, the world is here to serve you” and people, it ain’t pretty. I’ve seen the product of “Dear, we’re all here to make you more comfortable” and “You shouldn’t have to suffer, sweetheart” and it manifests in an expectation that the world should love them for showing up, for breathing. It develops into an attitude of “well I’m here and I’m wonderful and I really feel like I should be able to do the bare minimum of work and you will compensate for my laziness because duh! I’m me!”
I’ve seen the results of the every-kid-deserves-a-trophy mentality* and I am here to tell you IT ISN’T WORKING.
Every kid does not deserve a motherfucking trophy.
You know who deserves a trophy? The kid who works the hardest. The kid who puts in the most time. The kid who shows up and BRINGS IT.
Alright fine. In tee-ball they all deserve a damn trophy, because they’re four.
But after that, kids deserve what they put in, nothing more and nothing less. And I’m not getting all “American bootstraps mentality for the win!” on ya. Come on. I know there’s more to the story than that, and hard work alone doesn’t guarantee “success” in the world, but I also know 100% that I cannot teach my kids the world is here to serve them, or even, really, as harsh as this sounds, that the world gives a shit about them. The world does not care about my kids. The world cares about itself.
My job is teach my kids to ask themselves “What can I contribute to the world?” Rather than “What can I take from it?” So many takers. I want to raise givers. Imagine if we all raised kids who grew up asking what they could contribute to the situation, to each other, to the world?
Okay, John Lennon, settle down.
But seriously, that wouldn’t suck.
And since right now my husband and I and this house are their “world,” we’re going to start with some gardening in the hot sun, some washing of floors and some Saturdays spent cleaning and organizing and sweating, a lot, all day. And there will be no trophies given.
The trophy is knowing you did it, and you did it well, even when nobody was looking, even when you didn’t feel like, because it had to be done, and you, thank goodness, were there to do it. There’s an unparalleled sense of satisfaction there, when you give, when you work your hardest, for yourself and others, because you were needed.
And if there isn’t satisfaction, get over it. Not all endeavors in life are infinitely fulfilling. You did the work necessary because you understand that sometimes work is necessary. And that alone sets you above Entitled Douchebag status, which, I’m sure we can all agree, is a win.
HA! OMG. There. There’s your trophy, kid: You aren’t an entitled douchebag.
You can thank me later.
*Note: I did not invent the trophy thing. Somebody told it to me and I stole it but for the life of my I cannot remember who said it. So, if you’re reading this and you’re the one who said it: 1.) you’re a genius; 2.) sorry for stealing your shit; and 3.) tell me and I’ll cite you, MLA style.