I left home at the age of 17 taking a job in a town a three and a half hour drive from where I grew up. The plan was that I would work over the summer then go on to college, only I hadn’t signed up for college, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Actually, I did know, it was just that my parents didn’t “approve” of my choices. No, I didn’t want to be a stripper, I was interested in writing and design. I’m not sure why there was a problem with those professions, especially when my parent’s real plan was to marry me off as was the custom back when I was young. Not knowing how to move ahead, I ended up working in high end retail for three years before getting bored and heading to college.
Looking back, I could not have been more poorly prepared for adult life. I had been raised to be someone’s wife. I learned manners, deportment, how to sew, and plan parties. It would have been totally great if Prince Charming had come along right away, but he didn’t. As a result, I spent a lot of time learning life lessons the hard way.
As my daughter headed into high school, I wanted to make sure she was prepared. From managing her finances, to learning cause and effect, we spent six years to covering the bases helping her gradually learn to fly. As a result her first year of college, while bumpy (not because she was unprepared) was a success, which helped create momentum for more.
One basic I see young people struggle with, whether they came from a home that required chores or not, is in the category of self sufficiency and self care. Many parents think that because they created structure at home, their children will naturally carry it forward. Sometimes they do, but most of the time they don’t.
Mothers, myself included, are often surprised to discover that even though we’ve had our children help with meals and do chores, they are at a loss on their own. Starting in the ninth grade, my daughter was completely responsible for her room, laundry, bathroom, breakfast and lunch. It was a rocky go for a while until she learned to develop routines to ensure her clothing was washed, her breakfasts and lunches were made and she had everything she needed for school each day. I made it clear that I would not deliver forgotten food or homework to school and, if she didn’t do her laundry, she would be stuck wearing dirty clothes to school. After the first forgotten lunch and homework, we never had another problem, how ever the cleaning of her room and upkeep of laundry was another matter.
If she came with a problem, the first thing I’d ask is “what do you think you should do?” Nine times out of ten, her instincts were good. As a result, she began to develop confidence in her ability to make decisions for herself.
As we came on the senior year, she handled basic health problems on her own, such as calling the doctor when she was sick or needed her annual check up, managing her personal schedule, maintaining the cleanliness of her living space.
Money Management for Real
One of the most glaring deficits in our children’s education is learning to to make and manage money. Because personal finance is so important, we started early. At the beginning of the summer before sixth grade, my daughter came home wanting a computer game costing $120. At first, I thought we’d pop around to the toy store to pick it up, as we always got a few new toys to keep her busy over the summer, and then I thought better. “Ill make a deal with you,” I said, “if you earn half of the money doing chores, I’ll match it. You can have it as soon as you earn the money.”
We talked about various things she could do to earn money, and she settled on pet sitting. She made flyers and began advertising her pet sitting business. The lady next door hired her on the spot, and soon Brooke’s pet sitting business was going strong. Within two months she made more than enough money to purchase the computer game, a case to go with it and additional game chips. The next summer, without discussion, she set her sites on an Apple IPod and ultimately purchased her first computer after setting up a second business making and selling cookies.
As we worked through her little businesses, she learned about profit and loss, income and expenses, marketing, creating value for the customer, and worked through non payment issues with a couple of her customers. We also worked on goal setting and employability skills. In addition to her own businesses, she worked at a restaurant, taught ballet and worked in a clothing store along the way.
These experiences along with a few mistakes along the way taught her significant lessons about the value of time and money, and she’s managed her money successfully for the past three years.
Knowing when we need help and not to be afraid to ask for it is a lesson even older adults struggle with, and yet, so often simply asking or looking for help when one discoverers they need it. Learning this lesson started by Brooke’s falling behind in two classes because she didn’t want to ask for a tutor. Because she had always been a strong student, she was afraid it would make her look bad to ask for help. (How often have we felt the same way? ). Once she saw how much it helped and how easy it was to ask for help, she was determined not to be afraid or too proud to ask for help again.
I recognized that by the time most kids hit high school, they have, at the very least known other kids who dabble with alcohol, pot and sex. We made it clear we did not condone these things, but were aware that my daughter would be coming in contact with drugs, and alcohol and that most kids were at least a little sexually active. We talked about the consequences of unprotected sex, of excessive alcohol and drug use and talked through what to do if things got out of hand.
Hard, but worth it
For many of us, letting to of what I call “active” parenting is a bit painful. It was difficult to tell my daughter I would not be stopping by the school to drop off a forgotten lunch, or homework, especially knowing she would suffer from the consequences. I hated walking by her room and seeing the mess she left and knowing that she was wearing dirty clothing half the time.
But I knew that it was more important that she learn to manage these things on her own sooner rather than later. By the senior year, her room and bathroom were tidy, her clothing was washed regularly, and she prepared modest meals for herself. When she got to college, she was able to navigate getting to class on time, managing her money, meals, school work and self care.
When her father passed away unexpectedly in her freshman year, Brooke was able to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward because she had developed a strong base from which to navigate. Through that difficult time, she kept her life together, and I must say, I was very proud of her.
In spite of our best efforts, some kids struggle, and may need a helping hand. Kids are unique. But the more we encourage independence and strong self managment skills, the better shot our kids have navigating life.
Do you have any tips that helped your kids prepare for the “real” world? Be sure to share with the rest of the community.
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