Is the “ability to plan” an inherited trait? I know. I know. Teenagers are not good planners. It goes back to that brain development stuff. They may know, factually, all about sex and drugs. But that doesn’t mean they will have condoms available when needed or that they will refuse a beer or smoke when offered by a peer.
But the planning I’m talking about is the ability to set a goal and take steps to achieve it. This type of planning includes elements of self-sacrifice and personal investment – “skin in the game,” if you will…
Friday morning, as I was driving kids to school, I asked my son what he wanted to do this weekend. Here is our conversation:
Mom: “Are you sure there isn’t anything you want to do?”
Son: “Well, I want to buy Beats [earphones].”
Mom: “How much are they?”
Son: “The kind I want are $300.”
Mom: “But you don’t have $300. You have a little less than $200 in your account.”
Son: “I do with clothing allowance.”
Mom: “Clothing allowance isn’t for earphones.”
Son: “But I don’t need any more clothing.”
Mom: “Great. Then the money can go back in the general family fund to be used for other things the family needs.”
Son: “That’s not fair. It’s my money.”
Mom: “It’s not your money. It’s the part of the family’s budget that his been designated to spend on clothes.”
The conversation went on for a while with more explanation about discretionary spending and necessary items, etc. My son was not happy. I tried to give him hope by suggesting that he find ways to make some extra money that was his to spend as he chooses. Suggestions included cutting lawns or yard work, babysitting, a fast-food restaurant job, and more. He wanted no part of it. I talked to him about making money for bigger things like buying a car and gas. He sunk lower in his seat. When we arrived at the school, my son slammed the door as he departed.
Now, it’s not just this child who lacks the “ability to plan.” There have been some recent heated arguments with my daughter who wants a horse. She bargained to make superior grades in exchange for the animal. But when I suggested to her that she needed a “business plan” for how she was going to pay for housing, food, vet bills, and the like to sustain the horse, my daughter balked. “YOU need to pay for it,” she demanded.
I reminded her that we recently purchased a puppy for her younger sister from the Atlanta Humane Society for a modest price. Within a month, however, we had invested more than $2000 in the puppy in veterinary costs. Animals are not cheap. You have to be in it for the long haul. It infuriated my horse-loving daughter when I suggested she think of her parents as potential investors and that she provide us with some assurances that she was going to carry part of the financial load. She, get a job? “No way!” she exclaimed. The conversation continued to degenerate from there.
I know there are teenagers who plan. One mother of a teenage boy recently told me that her son is obsessed with monitoring his grades. He analyzes what each grade is worth in the mathematical calculation of homework, classwork, projects, and tests that feeds the final grade. He figures out the lowest score he can make on a particular test or piece of work and still maintain his A average. His mother lamented, “He should be focused on doing his best rather than calculating the least he could do.” Privately, I was impressed that her son was so invested in the grading process.
Another teenage boy I know got a job to pay for his gas and car insurance. A teenage girl worked long hours as a babysitter to save money for a car. Some teenagers do plan.
Can a person go through life without goals? I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m peculiar because I can’t remember not having goals. I wanted to be a singer like Julie Andrews when I was young. I sang in choirs, formed a singing group, put on plays with friends, and watched dozens of musicals, playing and practicing the songs. I’ve wanted to be a starting basketball player, a minister, a teacher, an attorney, etc. I’ve had more goals than I could possibly achieve, but they kept me moving in one direction or another. I don’t remember ever expecting that I would achieve my goals without some blood, sweat, and tears. I also remember how smug I felt each morning, as a young adult, when I went to class after having delivered 500 newspapers between 3 and 6 a.m. I had “paid my bills” for that day, while most of my classmates were still sleeping. My personal investment in the process of achieving my goals meant the world to me.
So, I ask the question again: Was I born with the “ability to plan” or did my parents or my particular circumstances “nurture” that quality in me? If it is the latter, then I have done something wrong as a parent. John and I have made life too easy for our children. We have nurtured the expectation that to ask for something is all that is required of them to receive it. It won’t be that way outside the family, for sure. What do other parents do?
After I wrote the foregoing, I picked up a book that my father gave me for my birthday, The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. Dad knew I had been asked to preach at a church this spring and had provided me with some inspiration. This reading could not have been better timed. In a sermon on 2 Kings 5:1, 14-27, Craddock discusses a man who steals from his enemy. There are ways to rationally justify the taking. The man is poor and underpaid, though he does good work. The enemy doesn’t deserve all the wealth he has and had previously offered to pay the man’s employer for services rendered. The problem, Craddock says, is that the man damages his relationships. To cover for his theft, he lies to his employer. Later, he will lie to his wife, to his kids, and to others to explain his newfound wealth.
Craddock suggests: Thank God for what you have. “I’ve never known a person who was grateful who was, at the same time, mean or small or bitter or hurtful. Not when you’re grateful.” (p. 31)
John and I were picking up pizza for dinner last night and discussing both our kids and Craddock. We realized that we have not verbally expressed gratitude for what we have as frequently or fervently as, perhaps, we ought to. If we speak boldly and repeatedly about our gratitude, will our children want less? Will our children begin to realize how privileged or “blessed” they already are? Will they begin to connect effort with reward? We can hope… For myself, expressing gratitude for “what is” has the added benefit of reminding me how lucky I am to have this set of problems and not others.