Writer for Rent
This blog originally appeared on June 7, 2012 in Togethr
When Renjie asked me to write about graduation from a mother's perspective, I was stumped. What did he mean? What kind of gifts do you give a graduating student? Weren't these blogs about The Art of Giving? Is that what I should write about? Doesn't Renjie know, like my daughters so clearly do, that I am not an enthusiastic gift-giving person?
I've seen my two daughters graduate from elementary school and the oldest one graduate from high school, (her younger sister has to put in one more year of "hard time" before she, too, gets her high school diploma). I do remember how big a deal Grade 8 "graduation" was for Emily (now 20) because it meant she would be going off to a high school where she knew practically no one - and she was thrilled about it. She was ready to leave behind one world and move onto the next. She wasn't scared. Technically, her "graduation gift" was her first iPod (2nd generation).
Believe it or not, just six or seven years ago giving a 14-year-old an expensive ($150) electronic gadget was a significant gift. Still is in my books. Three years later, when her sister, Madeleine, graduated from the same elementary school she received, as a graduation gift, the cheapest mobile phone you could possibly get. Please note both of these items were my daughters' deepest desires at the time, and most of their friends already owned these indispensible items. Also note, they have each gone through numerous iPods and phones since then, as they have lost, broken or (insert some man-made disaster) and had to purchase new ones. They had to use their own money from part time jobs or "birthday money" given by generous relatives to buy these replacements. That was their responsibility.
Sure call me cheap. They do. But I had no interest in giving my daughters endless material goods as gifts. What I wanted to give them is more valuable than any thing you can buy. I wanted them to have increasing real life responsibilities, which if you screwed them up, had real life consequences.
I wanted to give them the skills needed to accept and embrace change, even when it was scary as hell. They needed to know what it feels like to succeed and what it feels like to fail, and learn to live with both. I insisted they learn how to start a conversation with an adult and how to shake hands. I gave them opportunities to dine in fine French restaurants but also to order a great meal in Little India or Chinatown.
Both daughters know how to cook healthy meals from scratch, and the older one can mix me a mean martini. (The younger one adds too much vermouth.) They are experts canoeists and can portage in the wilds of Algonquin, even though it is dangerous. They are musical and create beautiful art. They know how to garden, put gas in the car and do a bunch of other handygirl chores that keeps our house standing. I also instilled in them the security to know they could tell me anything, come to me with any problem, and we would use our collective brains and assets to figure it out.
So that's the gifts I gave them: To accept responsibility and deal with it. To take chances, but also know that some actions cannot be undone. They have the confidence to try new things and be accountable; even if it means serious repercussions. I gave them the opportunity to learn life skills that will far outlast a fancy watch, an iPhone or even a trip to Europe to celebrate their graduation. (The two of them are about to leave for Ireland this week for an adventure of their own making. My fingers are crossed.)
First world parents don't do their kids any favours by giving them things or ensuring their life is carefree. Great parenting is not about trying to ensure your kids are living an idyllic childhood; although if you have the extra income, give them experiences that involve nature, or science and seeing how other cultures live. (Disney does not count as a cultural experience.) If you don't have the extra income, tap into your community resources for free or subsidized events, programs and activities. That's the stuff of good parenting. That's a gift worth giving.
But most importantly give your children responsibility and start at a young age. Not "pretend responsibility" but real ones that make a difference. (You have to figure these out for yourself.) Then add to those responsibilities, as they grow older, so that they can get used to handling them. Yes, there will be failures and you will second guess yourself, (oh, will you ever!) but when it comes time for them to graduate high school and they are young adults entering into a world where there are only two types of people: those who can handle real responsibility and those who can't, which side do you want your kid to be on?
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