I am the proud father of three, happily married, functional adults in their 30s. They have blessed my wife and me with seven grandchildren so far. (If I had known how great grandkids were going to be, I would have been nicer to their parents.) I love these kids and grandkids more than life itself and would do anything for them to have their best life. However, you should know I am devastatingly old-school.
All the family was at our lake house last summer and I asked one of my super articulate 4-year-old granddaughters where her cousin was. She said, “He is in the house with his dad.” “What are they doing?” I asked. “My cousin is experiencing consequences,” was her 4-year-old response. “Have you experienced consequences from your mom and dad?” I asked, about to laugh out loud. “Oh yes, Pappa Dave, and it’s not fun, but I learned a lot.” Too cute. I walked away really proud of how my grandkids are being parented.
My friend and bestselling author Andy Andrews says our goal as parents is not to raise great kids, but to raise kids in such a way as to create great adults.
When parents protect their child from pain and do not let them experience the consequences of their bad decisions, they set them up to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Psychologists call this “enabling.” Teachers call this “helicopter parenting.” Whatever it’s called, the data is now in that suggests this approach is a big parenting failure.
In a recent article in The Hill, Daniel DeVise says that nearly half of parents still pay their adult children’s bills. The average is $1,442 per month and 25% of millennials have their parents paying for their housing!
Lest you think I am simply a heartless, out-of-touch boomer, let’s make some clarifications. I do believe it is healthy and loving for parents to provide a safety net for an adult child (weird phrase) who has hit some kind of hard times. Illness, divorce and other calamities could give parents an opportunity to TEMPORARILY provide support and maybe even a place to live. This is a safety net, and this act of love is not a problem, nor has it ever been. The problem occurs when these full-grown adults continue on the take indefinitely. This is when the safety net becomes a hammock.
You may have heard that an eagle builds its nest of large thorns, then lines the nest in down to protect the eggs and first-born eagles from the thorns. As the baby eagles mature, the mother begins removing the down, making the nest a thorny, uncomfortable place to live. This natural discomfort is not due to the mother eagle being a big meanie. It’s so that, at the appropriate time, the baby stands on the edge of the nest, spreads its wings, flies and . . . soars. This is why when you observe all adult eagles, they seem to be sticking out their chest, full of pride, at their soaring offspring. Our current trend in culture is for a 28-year-old to be living in his mother’s basement and—in an act of true irony—playing “Call of Duty” all day. In other words, an eagle who does not leave the nest at the appropriate time eventually becomes known as a turkey.
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There is great dignity in hard work. There is great dignity in being an adult who stands on their own two feet. The act of working hard, having grit and persevering through daily life builds powerful, confident men and women. When we rob our children of the wonderful results of strain, effort, and personal agency, we not only keep them from being their best selves, but we also start to shift society to a bunch of soft, whining, entitled brats in grown-up bodies.
I am a huge fan of Gen Z and millennials. I have several hundred of the good kind working on our team at Ramsey Solutions, and they are passionate, hardworking, and mission-driven. The good ones are more philosophical and care more deeply than preceding generations, as a rule. We love them.
However, the individual members of those generations who are useless to their employer, their spouse, and are of no service to society, are born of helicopter, enabling parents who made sure they got a trophy for breathing air instead of actually winning. They have little to no grit or work ethic and spend their passion trolling and being “activists.” This group is to be pitied because it is their parents’ and society’s fault. They have lived such sheltered, comfortable, luxurious lives that they have no toughness. They’re triggered by mere words and must be provided “safe spaces” because their whole lives have been way too safe.
Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist trained at Harvard and The London School of Economics, shows clear statistical evidence of this mess in his book “Men Without Work.” He has identified that there are 7.2 million able-bodied males, ages 25-54, who are not only unemployed, they’re not even looking for work. They are apparently supported by parents, girlfriends, spouses or the government so that they simply see no need to work. Before you feel the disgust rise up, you should know that these people are not happy. Depression, addiction and suicide are high among this group. It is really sad. So, their families and we as a society have done them no favors by supporting their inability to soar. We as a group have stolen their dignity.
Michael Easter, in his bestselling book “The Comfort Crisis,” outlines how all of us have worked so hard to become comfortable, we have lost the ability to do hard things. He accurately suggests the anecdote is to intentionally require of ourselves and those we love to—you guessed it—do hard things.
Parents, you are not loving your baby eagles well when you provide a hammock rather than a safety net. When you clip their wings, they lose their dignity. We should not remove consequences. We should intentionally engage in hard things and acts of noble service at personal loss. We should get tired from hard work. Calluses on our hands and our character, earned through stress and strain, are the trophies of service to others. Others-centered rather than self-centered people have the best lives.
How do I know? My team and I study this stuff—the money and job trends and the resulting mental health issues. More than that, we talk to hurting people every day on our call-in shows. We see and hear the personal and societal effects of a people giving up. But for the last 30 years, we’ve also seen the undeniable effects of millions digging in, doing the hard things, and improving their finances, their careers and their relationships. People need to be reminded that doing hard things produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope, my friends, never disappoints.
Sharing and spreading hope is what my team and I get the privilege of doing every single day on The Ramsey Show. Tune in here.