How much does it cost to raise happy children who go on to be productive citizens? My husband and I decided not to be parents since our few surviving houseplants have to spell out H2O — like the Village People dancing to YMCA — just to get water. However, since I was a child once, I remember many of the things that my parents did for me that made a lasting impression. Not surprisingly, many of them were free or inexpensive. Here are seven activities to consider and what they meant to me.
Going to work with each of my parents
My mother was an educator and my father owned a sign company. They each put my sisters and I to work through the years. I learned to see my parents through other’s eyes – students, co-workers, employees, clients. I saw the respect that other people had for them, and I came to appreciate their dedication to their professions. I owe my work ethic to their examples and it has served me well.
When we were little, my father built a monstrous swing using cable strung between two towering pines in the backyard. He spent hours swinging us and the neighbors’ children so high up that we could be seen from the front yard. I remember those times just as fondly as the trip to Disney World.
Trips to the local library
On Saturdays and in the summer, my mother took my sisters and I to the local public library where we learned to love to read. However, we never did learn to our satisfaction if the kindly old librarian was looking at us or at our library card when we checked out our books – each eye was fixed on a different spot. Our awe of her powers kept us in line because we believed her to have vision on par with that of our mother and Santa Claus.
Daddy’s Little Helper
I helped Daddy with plumbing projects around the house. I loved feeling useful. This is where my vocabulary broadened to include words like washer, wrench, plunger and a few others I quickly learned were just for grown-ups to say. I also learned that there are expensive and smelly consequences to flushing the toilet paper roll holder down the toilet.
I learned at too early of an age what the expression hung like a horse means after one fateful day at a local farm. I was innocently approaching the paddock to bring Twinkles, a young mare, some hay. I suddenly became transfixed, like an old white southerner staring at an interracial couple. A stallion named Aramus took Twinkles’ and my innocence all at once. My time at the stables also taught me to respect authority and animals. This is an environment where disobedience can get you killed.
Visiting a friend’s church is where I learned that since my daddy drank beer, he was going straight to hell. But I also learned that it is interesting to go to new places and see what other peoples’ lives are like.
This is where I learned how to lose gracefully and to generally handle public humiliation. Our team name was – I wish I was making this up – Disco Dolls. We won exactly zero games the first year I played. Our coaches let everyone play – no matter what our abilities – and there was no bad sportsmanship allowed towards each other or opposing teams. Since I have been a loser in many situations since then, these lessons have been invaluable.
Think about what you spend on your children and look at it from the point of view of this question: Will this purchase or activity improve, or merely distract from, the development of my child’s character? Children try to teach us the answer to this early on when they are more excited about a plain cardboard box than the gift that came in it. I here people say that kids are spoiled today, but wasn’t it us who was determined to teach them that it is the gift that matters and not all the fun they can have with that silly ol’ box? Maybe we should follow their lead on this one.