In every generation, children’s needs have been a hot topic of debate.
Over the years, you won’t find much disagreement regarding the practical essentials for a child’s health and well-being -- things like adequate shelter, comfortable clothing, sufficient food and quality health care. But while everyone may agree on the need for all four of those items, not everyone sees eye to eye on how much of those things are enough – or when enough becomes too much.
“Luxuries have become necessities for today’s children,” my mother used to lament.
The older I get, the more I appreciate her point of view.
Eras reflect the tensions of the day, of course, especially when it comes to children’s needs. Back in 1917, beset by a tuberculosis outbreak, the health commissioner of New York City implored parents to start feeding their kids a healthier diet. They were also urged to stop serving them drinks like “tea, coffee, soda water, beer, wine, whisky and cider.”
Beer, whisky and wine for kids? It’s no wonder prohibition passed in 1919.
By the 1940s, the Child Welfare League of America expanded beyond food nutrition concerns, stating that “Every child needs to feel secure in his home, school and neighborhood relationships. He needs to feel he is wanted, loved and understood.”
If that was important then, what do today’s children need now?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what else our boys need beyond the physical essentials.
Every child needs many things – and the most important things are the ones you can’t normally see or hold in your hand. As a parent, I’m regularly trying to pass on intangibles like faith in God, along with attributes like honesty, integrity, character, kindness and self-control, to name just a few of the “secrets” to a rewarding and meaningful life .
The late Father Theodore Hesburgh, the longtime president of Notre Dame, once famously said, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”
I think the Irish prelate was right, but there’s another thing our children need:
Our kids need to see us doing what we love.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be work-related, though aligning our gifts with our profession plays a huge role in life satisfaction. Sadly, surveys show that over 70 percent of people don’t enjoy their job.
When our children catch us firing on all cylinders, whether it’s in the midst of a hobby or a job, we’re demonstrating the fact that life can be enjoyable, exciting and full of meaning and purpose. In reaching for our own dreams we quietly encourage them to reach for theirs.
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing,” wrote the late self-help guru Dale Carnegie. I think he was right.
My mother was a fiercely curious person. She loved clipping obituaries and listening to talk radio. She knew everything about everyone in our neighborhood, especially those who walked past our house on the way to the train.
My mom also loved to read. I’d find her on our side porch, pouring over stacks of newspapers and magazines. She was probably never happier than when she had a good book or the Wall Street Journal in her hand.
I realize now that I fell in love with writing because I first saw how much my mother loved to read. She always tried to find threads that a pointed to higher truth in what she was reading, something that I try to do when I write today.
It’s been said values and loves are more often caught than taught. This is certainly the case with the unique relational dynamic that exists between parents and kids.
Whether it’s passion about the job at the office or the joy we receive from sailing the high seas, it’s the wise parent who makes sure their child knows what turns their crank.
That’s because enthusiasm plants seeds of excitement in others – and what we sow today will often be harvested tomorrow by the next generation.