Family life was simpler in the 50s and early 60s when we baby-boomers were beginning to overrun the living rooms of America. The manic postwar consumer culture was only in it’s early stages, and we were used to having far fewer choices about everything from what clothes to wear (white shirt or blue shirt), to what games to play (Cops&Robbers or War). But when it came to doing what our parents told us we had no choices at all.
When our parents said, “Do your chores,” we would stop whatever we were in the middle of and go rake leaves, chop wood, cook dinner, paint the atomic bomb shelter, or do anything else we might potentially be held accountable for. The threat of barbaric punishments involving wooden paddles, leather belts and castor oil always hung over our existence, along with our mothers’ constant reminders that “There are children starving in China!” This phrase wasn’t just invoked if you failed to clean your plate, it was used as an all-purpose final say. “Mom, can I wait till tomorrow to mow the lawn. It’s starting to rain.” “What do you mean, rain? Don’t you know there are children starving in China!”
But now that we’re parents, we find ourselves groveling and begging our children to perform even the simplest requests. “Please, honey, I know you have a page of homework, and there’s a really good TV show on, and we just bought you that new Playstation game, but you promised three days ago you would pick up the 3000 baseball cards in your room so I could come in and vacuum your floor.”
We are a generation who promised we would never be like our parents. And, boy were we right:
Then: If we did our chores our parents would say nothing. Or perhaps they would acknowledge our accomplishment with an enthusiastic, “It’s about time!”
Now: When our children finish their chores we say, “This is the best job you’ve ever done of putting away your laundry! Let’s celebrate by going out for pizza. Sure, you can invite your friends to come, too, but no more than six will fit in the van, OK?”
Then: If we asked our parents for ice-cream they’d say, “What do you think, I’m made of money!”
Now: Our children know we’re made of money. They’ve seen the Gold Card. When they ask for ice-cream and we say, “I just bought your three favorites and put them in the freezer: chocolate chip, cappuccino crunch, and pistachio.” They reply, “But, Dad, we don’t have any macadamia nut white chocolate swirl. I want to go out to Ben and Jerry’s.” So we say, “Well, can you wait just a few minutes until I’m done gluing together your science project that’s due tomorrow?” They proceed to argue with us until we just hand over a $20 and hope that they bring back some change.
Then: Our parents said, “Do your homework.”
Now: We say, “Have you found a place on your Palm Pilot schedule for homework after piano lessons and before your internet chat meeting with your ski club? Do you need me to help you with your homework? Or I could ask Dr. Wilder to help you, he’s a professor of botany, he might know the answer. If there’s any supplies you need, I could take you to the 24 hr. store. I know you’re mentally exhausted, dear, would you like some cookies first?”
Then: If we needed money our parents would say, “Why don’t you set up a lemonade stand or mow the neighbor’s lawn.” We got paid for mowing other people’s lawns, not for mowing our own lawn.
Now: Our pediatrician offered our kid money to do drug testing of a Pertussis vaccine. Uncle Mark offered one of them $5 a week to stay away from his car. If my son is really broke, he’ll steal his siblings toys and sell them on E-bay. And if he wants to make a large purchase he can always tap into his mutual fund, “Lemonade Stand Aggressive Growth.”
Then: Our parents would say, “Go to bed.”
Now: We say, “Honey it’s way past 10 o’clock on a school night and Daddy has a big meeting tomorrow and he needs to go to bed, so could you please go into your room and promise to turn off your TV right after South Park?”
Then: “Get off the phone! Don’t you know it costs money!”
Now: “Of course we’ll get you your own cell-phone, but you have to promise to take it with you wherever you go in case we need to get a hold of you. Like if I’m at the grocery and I can’t remember whether it’s Coco-Puffs or Reese’s Puffs that you like I can call to ask. Maybe you’d like two phones, that way they can match your different outfits. Would you like them with text messaging and MP3 players, or with web-access built in?”
Then: “Because I said so!”
Now: “Look, I’ve read quite a few books on this subject. In fact I took a couple of courses on it in college. And I’ve talked to several people who are experts in this field, although, naturally, they don’t all agree. But the majority of them agree, and so does the rabbi. And I checked with a priest too, just to be on the safe side, as well as a doctor, and a lawyer. I’m trying to be as fair as I can about this, really. So based on all my research and inquiry, I believe that I’m going to ask you not to do that. Although I’m perfectly willing to have further discussions with you about it, if you think I’m not being fair.”