Parents and working tweens: has work ethic changed since the 1980s?

When I was a teenager I had a paper route.

One day the weather was worse than bad. It was winter and if I remember correctly, even the highschool sent everyone home early. Back in the 80s in the Greater Toronto Area school was almost always open; this endless closing schools or canceling buses didn’t occur nearly as often as today.

I remember walking home bundled up beyond recognition. I was soaked and cold, and the snow was deeper than to my knees. The wind whipped the icy snowflakes into my face which felt like getting whipped with a piece of string. Repeatedly.

It was miserable.

When I got home my mom reminded me I still had to do the paper route.

I was incredulous. She wants me to go back out there to deliver a local paper that is practically free? Payment was optional?

I said I’d do it tomorrow. I remember this distinctly, not wanting to deliver the paper that night. It was already getting dark at 4:30 and there was no end in sight to the storm.

My mom was equally incredulous.

She mentioned something about how the customers expected their papers, and that I still had to deliver them no matter what.

This is where her work ethic, growing up in Switzerland with a proprietor-father owning a small business, is different from the relatively pampered contemporary kids of the 1980s and beyond. In my mom’s view, nothing was as important as delivering the paper that day. In my view, I didn’t want to risk possibly injuring myself in this nasty storm. I also felt no unease or anxiety that customers would be irate and call the newspaper office to complain about me. In all honesty, I instinctively knew that my papers would likely not even get picked up out of the snow that night…how many neighbours would bother opening the door to the storm for a bunch of flyers and a free local paper?

I predicted maybe one or two at most. I knew this for sure: walking that same way to school regularly I often saw my papers still on the porches of houses days after delivery.

There really was no urgency.

In the end, I went to my room to do homework. I didn’t realize it until later that my mom ended up taking my papers and delivering them for me. She tackled the job, and hereby made a statement to me.

Nothing is as important as seeing your end of the commitment through.

This story resonated in my head this morning when the kids were getting ready for school. They take the transit bus up the street which isn’t exactly reliable in the sense that it does arrive eventually but often not on time.

They have an app. And there’s always another bus. Also, at least one kid is within walking distance to her school.

They were dillydallying while I was getting ancy to get my own day started. Yelling at them to hurry up is futile. They feel little pressure to get to school on time, even though they know there will be consequences for arriving late for reasons that are within their control.

So when their dad followed me into the bedroom while they were still figuring out which coat to wear, and said “I’ll drive them this morning” I was a little stunned.

“No”, I replied calmly.

He looked at me.

I said:

“We coddle them a lot. They get driven a lot, even on dry days. I honestly think it’s good for them to step up their responsibility to get themselves to school in a timely fashion. How will they learn if we keep jumping in to save the day by driving them?”

He listened. I drove home the point that although the kids often complain when it comes to doing something that’s uncomfortable (taking the bus home on a rainy day, homework before AND after hockey, wiping down their bathroom) they need to experience this emotion a touch more.

“How often do you feel overjoyed at the prospect of driving 45 min to hockey after dinner for a late practice?” I asked him. “After working all day?”

He acknowledged he is quite familiar with discomfort…

They ended up walking to the bus.

40 minutes later I was showered, a load of laundry was in the washer, the kitchen garbage was changed, and the bed was made. I went to check my to-do list on the phone.

That’s when I saw this:

3 text messages and a missed call. From the kids.

The bus was late.

Oh well. Maybe tomorrow they will get out of bed ten minutes earlier to avoid this same scenario.


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