Like most kids who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, I had to walk everywhere I wanted to go. My parents didn’t give me money. If I’d asked them for a few bucks, they probably would have laughed in my face. I know for certain if there had been a Starbucks on every corner back then, we wouldn’t have gone. Like, ever.
My parents constantly reminded me that I had it so much better than they did. When they were growing up, their families never went out to eat, so when they took us out we were warned we better clean our plates. And I’ll never forget my dad telling me he had two outfits to wear during his teen years. My parents’ attempt to grind my privileged life into my brain didn’t make me appreciate it more. It made me feel as though I didn’t deserve the very things they’d given to me, which was confusing as hell.
And yet, after becoming a parent, I did the same thing. I reminded my kids how I used to go without when they’d complain about the dinner I made. If they pouted because they got the wrong happy meal toy, I told them I hardly ever got happy meals.
And then one day, I was telling my son about all the chores I used to have to do growing up and he shouldn’t complain about taking out the garbage. He stopped, looked at me, and said, “I didn’t ask to be born and I’m not the one who assigns the chores.”
At that moment, I realized how much I sounded like my parents and it made me cringe. Trying to pound the good life I was giving them into their heads did not make them appreciate what they had any more. Here I was on my soapbox. The very soap box I once wanted to push my parents off.
Here’s what I realized: My kids were not affected by my words in the least. My youngest said to me once, “I know, you always say that.” So, they were hearing me, and showing no more appreciation. I think I know why.
They can’t wrap their heads around it.
Our kids have no idea what we are talking about when we tell them how easy they have it. You can’t feel something you haven’t been through. They tune us out on a good day, so this blabbering isn’t something they can begin to absorb. Save your voice.
It doesn’t make them feel validated.
If our teens are struggling with school work, or they are upset about seeing something online and we minimize it by telling them they have more tools than we did or they should be thankful they have a phone, it doesn’t validate their feelings and they won’t confide in us anymore. Just because they have it better, doesn’t mean they don’t go through hard times of their own.
Making our kids feel guilty for something they have no control over is damaging.
I’m the one trying so hard to give them a better life than what I had. No one has asked me to do this — it was something that I decided to do. I can’t keep doing it then holding it over their heads. That’s not fair to them and leaves them feeling guilt about something they aren’t doing.
How many times have you done something hard or gone through something uncomfortable and someone said, “It could be worse,” or “I had to do something a lot harder so you should be fine”? It doesn’t exactly make you want to rise to the occasion.
After I stopped comparing my childhood to theirs and reminding them how much better they had it, I stopped feeling so resentful. That helped my relationship with my teens tremendously. They are allowed to have their full childhood experience without being compared to someone else’s all the time. It’s opened up lines of communication, and they come to more with struggles, issues, or simply to talk more than they used to.
Our teens are still kids trying to do their best, and if we are constantly comparing them to others (including ourselves) they aren’t going to be their best selves, or trust us very much.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too money online and drinking Coke Zero.