A Strong Today – Our job as parents

So being a parent right now is a bit challenging. The older children get is the more as a parent you are presented with challenges that you need to overcome. Raising children is both a life affirming as well as a tremendous learning experience.  You learn to learn and think outside of yourself and its never a dull journey.   The trick, however, is to find the balance between being a good parent and also being good to yourself as an individual.   Often we err on one side or the other and the hope is that over the life of your children, you sway enough on both sides so that you give your children what they need while also still leaving enough for yourself.

Our job as parents is to make sure that we prepare our children to be ready to face the world as adults.  And for those of us who are parents, our job today is doubly as hard as our parents.  Our children are being raised in an age where they are bombarded by information from every source.  They are influenced by everything under the sun and we often have little ability to control all the things they are exposed to.  We lived in veritable cocoons while our children are essentially surfing on a wave of information and technology that keeps surging higher and higher.  Our children have every single piece of information in the world available to them in nano-seconds.  Before we can determine if something is appropriate or discuss it with our spouse, they have already accessed and digested that information.  And for those of us who think we are protecting our children from external “forces” – we often forget that what we don’t supply, they simply access from elsewhere. We did it as children, our children have mastered an art at which we were rank amateurs. The example I like to site are children who didn’t know where babies came from and were rudely informed at school by other students whose parents had the foresight to give them early sex ed.

Gone are the days when we can shelter our children from the “bad stuff.”  Now we have to make sure they know what the bad stuff is, where the bad stuff is located and teach them strategies to avoid the bad stuff and then report the bad stuff if they become aware that it is happening – Such a digression from our own youth.  We used to be scared that our young sons would be bullied by the bigger boys; but today we are faced with the fact that bullying is much more a problem with our girls than with our boys. The pedofile might be the person whom your child sees at school each day and is in a position of trust. The drugs may not be peddled by that “sleazy” guy on the corner, but rather by the most popular student in school and in order to be a part of the “in crowd” our children are sucked into the vortex of peer pressure. We live in a sexualized age.  Our children are entering precious puberty now at 10 and 11 and becoming sexual beings much earlier than in previous generations.  How do we curb what is a natural sexual impulse and urge when every message tells them to explore their sexuality at an increasingly earlier and earlier age?

So what do we do? 

Some parents have opted not to give their children such ready access to that information – but is that putting them at a disadvantage or not?  The world we live in today expects that our children will be technologically savvy and much more educated than we were at that age.  Today, many children living in this country are bi-lingual and bi-cultural. They move seamlessly between two languages and cultures.  That is becoming almost a necessity in the 21st century.   In fact European children are already operating in this vein.  Within twenty years, there will be an expectation that our children will not only be national citizens, but more importantly global citizens with an understanding of how nations impact each other culturally, economically and environmentally.  How then do we become good parents and prepare them for that?  That was certainly not something our parents had to contend with?

So now as parents we have to make different choices for our children.  Most of us who have children in elementary school need to figure out how we will educate our children to be prepared for this global economy.  In today’s dollars, it costs between 30,000 and 80,000 for someone to get a bachelors degree depending upon the type of degree and institution attended.  So then let’s add a master’s to that and that’s an additional 30,000 to 60,000.  And then we still need some of our children to earn post graduate degrees and that’s an additional 50,000 to 70,000.  So essentially, those of us who plan to help our children with college expenses are looking at $110,000 to 210,000 (today’s costs), projecting that to future costs at an inflation rate of between 3 and 5%/annum over however many years to your child is ready to go to college.  And these are costs before we think about books, supplies and living expenses. Are we prepared for these costs?  Are we making plans for our children?

In our day, children who chose to become doctors, lawyers, accountants could be guaranteed a wonderful life. Today those persons graduate with debt close to a quarter million with no clear idea of how they will repay this debt and earning very little in comparison to their investment in their education and the trend is only getting more and more expensive.  We need to understand that we need to steer our children in the direction of Environmental engineering and careers that support the notions of global sustainability as well as hands-on health careers if they are to survive in this new global economy.   And the explosion in technology means that our children need to be imbued with this technological data and be willing to explore it and utilize it with the ease with which we now all encompass iphones, ipods, smart phones and other portable devices.  In our lifetime, we have watched computers move from being the size of a room to holding in the palm of our hands.  We have seen obsolescence of machines move from 5 years to a simple 6 months.  Do we even understand enough about the new trends in technology, globalization and the new economic landscape to be able to inform our children about the best choices?

I’ve heard many parents state that their children will need to get scholarships and get loans to go to college, and there is nothing wrong with that?  But, aren’t we putting our children at a disadvantage and behind the curve of those who’ve prepared for these costs for their children?  I was blessed in that I graduated from college with a Master’s degree … debt free.  It was the greatest gift my mother gave me and continues to be the gift that keeps on giving in allowing me to get great jobs and provide for my own family.  But if we are not preparing for our children, what we are then doing is handicapping our children.  So at age 26, they graduate with a Masters’ degree and some $200,000 in debt.  Thus, before they’ve even bought a house or a car, they are essentially pledging to make mortgage payments to pay for their educations. And getting an education is no longer an option, it will become a necessity in the new millennium in order to compete.

So as parents, this is something we really need to think about.  Before we start spending money erroneously on things that don’t really matter, we need to consider how we are planning for our children. Now clearly, I’m not saying to give up vacations, doing nice things for your family today or disregarding yourself completely. But we do need to be more judicious in the way we operate. And maybe this recent recession was good for some of us because it made us think twice before we spent our money.  In our family, we literally waited till one of our cars left us on the road before investing in a new one because we chose to invest our money in our son and in ourselves (in the form of education and educational activities).

Now don’t get me wrong.  Everyone has their own financial situation to deal with, and I’m in no way insinuating that everyone can prepare for their children’s future with meticulous detail.  If you are a mom earning 40,000/year with three kids, there is no way you can find $500/month to put away for your children, I fully understand that. But what are you doing to make sure your child is prepared. Have you found every free and or scholarship program for them to participate in that will make them better candidates for their next level of education?   Are you taking them to the library each week and ensuring that the places they may not visit as children they can learn about between the pages of books. Are you giving them a love of learning so that they can actually earn those scholarships when it’s time to go off to college?  Are you talking with their teachers regularly and finding out their real potential to ensure that it can be maximized? What exactly is your plan to engage your child in the process of becoming a member of the global citizenship of the 21st century?

We are the general of the armies of our families. Are we being ALL THAT WE CAN BE for our children?   Our children are our future, but their future is built upon the today which we create for them.  Are we giving them a strong today?