Guest blogger Chloe: I have two older sisters (17 and 11 years older than I), and they have grown daughters (Erin* and Amy*, respectively). Erin is, quite frankly, a nightmare. Members of her own family can barely stomach her presence. She is selfish, irresponsible, lazy, disrespectful and manipulative, and at 29, she still receives a monthly allowance from her mother (which, all totaled, equals more than the average working person makes in a year). She's been fired from every job she's had and has an overall attitude of entitlement towards everything and everyone. She wasn't trained how to live in the real world -- and now that she is, she's helpless and still depends on her mother for everything (her rent, her car ... even her gas money). Amy, on the other hand, has been earning her own money since she was a kid. Now 26 and living in N.Y.C., she is a selfless, loving, respectful, go-getting adult. She was given the skills ("at-home training," they call it here in the South) to live on her own, responsibly and productively, by the time she was 18.
I know which one I want my daughters to be like!
At our last family reunion, seeing my nieces side-by-side, I wondered how two beautiful girls raised by two women with similar upbringings could have turned out so different. Later that night, after one of Erin's tantrums (yes, she still has them), my sisters and I had a discussion on how the two of them were raised. My oldest sister, who is beyond frustrated, realizes that she is only reaping what was sown while bringing up her daughter. I asked her what she would do differently if she could raise Erin over again -- to which she laughed and asked how much time I had. To sum up the conversation, my sister said that she would:
Make Erin earn the money for special things she wanted (and later, when she was old enough, get a job). Giving Erin money was easier, my sister felt at the time, than hearing incessant begging. What it taught Erin, though, was the misconception that when you want something, you stick out your hand ... and it will magically appear.
Allow Erin to experience failure. If something was too hard for Erin, my sister took over. But in doing so, Erin was robbed of failure -- and accomplishment.
Walk her talk. I remember this, too: Time and again, my sister would threaten Erin with consequences when she misbehaved -- but never follow through. And what did that teach her daughter? That she could say or do whatever she wanted, without fear of punishment. Touch a hot stove and you get burned, right? Not in Erin's case.
Be a nosier mother. She would have known where Erin was going when she left the house. My sister just gave her a curfew and trusted she'd make it home in time. Erin was an angel, anyway -- and way too smart to get into any kind of real trouble (she thought). My sister learned how wrong she was when Erin got mixed up with drugs, boys and, eventually, the law.
Encourage Erin to be involved. Whether in sports, drama or music, Erin would have had less time to get into trouble (especially in the teen years), and she would have had the chance to become good at something. The only thing Erin excels at now is getting her way!
Allow no "sass." Not even an eyeroll. That's how we were brought up, and that's how my younger sister brought up her daughter. But Erin missed out on that lesson -- and as a result, she has no respect for authority. She's a spoiled brat to this day, concerned only with herself, and takes no care in how she speaks to others. It's no wonder she can't keep a job!
There were other things, too; the discussion lasted into the night. My middle sister said that even she would have done a couple of things differently -- which, considering the young woman Amy turned out to be, we thought funny. It did make me aware, however, that even the best parents aren't perfect, and must allow room for mistakes (just not as many as my oldest sister).
Sometimes motherhood can be overwhelming, and I wonder what I'm doing now with my own daughters that will backfire later. But I've seen firsthand how laying a good foundation in the younger years of a child's life makes it better in the long run. We have a responsibility to society -- and to our kids -- to raise them with consistent and realistic boundaries. Just ask my sister, who loves her daughter dearly, but (like most people) doesn't really like her.
*Not their real names.