On not raising jerks
By Zoë Foster Blake
I enjoyed a simple, semi-rural upbringing in the ’80s. It was EXACTLY like Stranger Things, just with less paranormal activity, and more wheatgrass.
My parent’s completely biodynamic, self-sufficient approach to food pissed me off so hard, cos it meant junk food was completely off limits, (“White death” mum screeched like a banshee, referring to sugar, as she’d pour the lemonade onto the lawn that Grandma foolishly brought into the house), I had not one Cabbage Patch Doll or Glo Worm, because money was scarce, but also, being the last of eight kids, (blended, Kardashian/Jenner style… which I guess makes me Kylie, only with less Bentleys) there were a few decapitated Barbies around and therefore any further toys were superfluous; and we didn’t own a TV, so I had no idea if Punky Brewster’s sass and charm had carried her through another drama.
Now that I have a kid, and my own wallet with actual money in it that I am allowed to spend on whatever I like, I feel some pull to give my son the toy-heavy, junk food-soaked childhood I desperately craved.
Obviously, this is an atrocious idea.
One, because it implies my parents somehow did a shit job, and six-year-old me could do a much better one. Two, because I am a first-time parent, and we all know what that means. And three, because I am a conscientious, happy, contented woman who understands that she has to work for stuff she wants, and that actually feels pretty good.
I think anyone in a better financial position than their parents were when they were a kid tussles with this: How do you balance the deep-seated and juvenile desire to defy your own childhood and give your kids the stuff you never had, while at the same time instill in them a good work ethic and genuine appreciation for things? Or in other words, how do you make sure they’re not little jerks? The answer is obvious: make them do all the ironing before they get to watch Peppa Pig. I’m kidding obviously: no one irons in our house. (Polyester forever, ironing never!)
I pause before buying my toddler a $20 (insert Disney franchise) toy from Big W because on one hand I can afford it and I know he’d friggen love it, and on the other, I still believe fancy toys should be reserved for birthdays, or as a reward. Just getting toys because they’re cool and in the shop we’re visiting doesn’t, to me, seem like the right lesson to teach a two-year old. (Unless you’re his grandparent, in which case: go bloody troppo.)
I love seeing my boy happy and cosy watching Finding Nemo on a Sunday afternoon, because as a kid Sundays for me were for firewood-collecting, and cross country practice, and it rained sticks and nails, and I had to eat Brussels sprouts for dinner because that’s all that was in the garden. Believe me, there was fuck-all Pixar to be seen at my house. And don’t even get me started on his godamn coconut water.
My husband and I worked hard to get our money, and since Sonny is yet to earn any money (that I know of, he might be busking when I’m not looking) he doesn’t have that license. In an interview on how she and husband Ashton Kutcher work to ensure their kids don’t turn into assholes, Mila Kunis said: “It’s a matter of teaching them from a very early age that, you know, ‘Mommy and Daddy may have a dollar, but you’re poor. ‘You are very poor; you have nothing. Mommy and Daddy have a bank account.’” I like Mila. And I know she’s joking, but she’s also not.
Our son is the furthest thing from an asshole, but he is at risk purely because he leads an intensely privileged, charmed life. I sure as shit hadn’t been overseas by his age, nor did I have my own bedroom. But our job as his overlords – and it’s one we take very seriously – is to teach him grit, the importance and pleasure of hard work, and to appreciate what you have. To teach him he can’t have stuff, even though we know he can. How to earn things; not expect them.
We’re still working out the precise mechanics of this, but how I feel confident in our ability to create tedious, long-term tasks that he must complete before he gets something he wants, and a whole host of dull daily chores. I can’t help feeling like my childhood will come in handy, especially the bit where I was never given pocket money, so I got my first job at 12 in order to afford the Hounddog and Stussy clothing so essential to my social status/pulse.
Will Smith’s dad famously knocked down a brick wall and made Will rebuild it just to teach him about work ethic and not quitting and sweat and hard work and blisters and the importance of having a great brick-based anecdote later in life for press interviews.
I salute the notion, but I would never do that to my son. I’d have him build a whole house, for one thing, and then sell it for at least a 15% profit. THEN and only then would he be granted his bottle.
This opinion piece is from Issue 5. Want some more laughs about parenting? You can order back issues from our Shop here.