Teaching Determination to Teenagers – This is gonna hurt

I found myself fighting yet again with my 15-year-old daughter about an issue of character recently.   It’s becoming quite a hobby of ours.  My daughter really enjoys sharing these moments with me (sarcastic emoji).  On the bright side – with all the energy I’ve been expending I am pretty sure I have lost a few pounds.

The argument of the moment was over removing a tree sapling from our flower bed.  It was a nasty thing that had sprouted up fast and was now over my head.  The worst part was that it was growing squarely between a Lilac bush and our neighbor’s fence so it clearly HAD to go.  The fact that this would be a tough job was not lost on me.   We have almost an acre of land which is quite large for the suburb we live in and this is not an uncommon occurrence. These “weed trees” as I call them have a couple different varieties, but what they all have in common is their ability to grow to large sizes before we catch them.

At ten a.m. on a ridiculously hot and humid July morning – after pointing out the enemy tree to be removed, I handed my daughter a spade shovel (which she is well adept at using) and recommended to her that she start before it got too hot.  I also warned her that if she wanted to go to her friends birthday party at 2pm – she shouldn’t wait until the last minute to do it.

What my daughter actually did was clean out a couple weeds in the immediate area, sweep the sidewalk, and then go inside to watch yet another episode of Gray’s Anatomy on Netflix.    I was busy with my own stuff so I figured she must have gotten it done.  Well as you can guess,  I was wrong.

Most parents would say “well she did do a lot – you should let her go to the party”.   I am not most parents.  If I give my kid a task and she does less than her best than it is not “a lot” it is a slack job, period.   When I inspected the area around the tree – she hadn’t even broken the ground with the shovel.

My daughter who was already showered and dressed for her party made several attempts to dissuade me by making declarations such as “it is impossible to even get to that tree” and “it’s ridiculous that you would even expect me to do that” and “You dig it out – go ahead and try because you can’t!”

I am no stranger to hard work, but considering that I just turned fifty and that I have two able-bodied children,  most of the work that I do around the house usually is more of the academic nature.   I am the parent and I have no guilt about this.  Kids are strong and have a lot fewer miles on their knees and elbows.  Hard work is good for them.

I admit that it was not pleasant being challenged by my daughter this way.  I had a project of my own that I was working on,  but I guess I was feeling a bit feisty.  I decided to show my daughter that tree was going to know who was boss around my home.  After much wrangling and sweating, I did, in fact, remove that tree, three-foot root and all!  But wait – my audience had already gone back inside to watch Netflix!  So I marched proudly into the living room,  sporting my prize and flaunting my victory.   Take that you nasty weed – no one tells me I can’t do something!

You’re probably right – it wasn’t really punishing her by doing her work for her – but you just cannot imagine how good I felt that I did it.  I felt a little like Scarlett O’Hara in the book “Scarlett” by Alexandra Ripley 1991.  This is just a synopsis from memory, but I remember a part in the book when the workers she hired to clear the fields of Tara in Ireland were whining about how hard the work was and that it was impossible.  Scarlett was very pregnant but she got down off of a ladder she was standing on, walked over to the man, squatted down, ripped out a huge weed at the root, handed it to him and said, “There, now it is started – you finish!”.   It was that kind of determination that I have always wanted to impart to my daughters.  I wanted to be unstoppable and I wanted them to carry that spirit on in their own lives.

For that day, however, there was only punishment for the bad choice my daughter made in her decision to wait until the last minute to argue about the job I gave her.  She probably expected me to just take her at her word that she had “done all she could do” and then get in the car and drive her over to her friend’s house.   Well children, that was not to be.

My daughter was immediately grounded from television,  her phone, laptop and tablet, and although she really threw down and even begged me – she did not attend any birthday party that day or anything else for the rest of the week for that matter.  I felt worst of all for the birthday girl who was expecting my daughter to be there.  But I am not about to feel bad because she knew from the beginning what the consequences were.   I wish my daughter had made a different choice.  Standing my ground was even harder than digging out that tree if I am to be honest with you.   I looked like a mean mom that day – and I even had to listen as  my older daughter told me “you should just let her go”.   I looked her square in the eye and made it very clear that this was none of her business – and that she could spoil her kids any way she saw fit when it was her turn.

That is when I got to thinking – whatever happened to the lost value of determination? Did my daughter have any guilt about not completing the task she was asked to do? Or did she feel that she was smarter than I was because her words provoked me to to the job she refused to do?  If so, is that the kind of character we should be rewarding in our kids?

Why is it so easy, even honorable to quit these days?

If you stick with something that is hard, that requires the full extent of your energy for more than the duration of your average spin class, you are frowned upon as a zealot.  You are laughed at as being a fanatic.  And God forbid  that you ask your child to push themselves to their limits doing work around the house.  Shhhh!  The neighbors better not hear you or they will be whispering “Abuse!  Someone call protective services these parents are brutal and unfit!  Someone get that little girl a juice box and a snack she has been working in the hot sun for almost an hour!!”

If this continues to become the norm, what will happen to our world?  Without the dedication of artists like Michaelangelo, and the perseverance of scientists like Isaac Newton and Copernicus,  and the lifelong commitment of Beethoven how much less would our world have today?

Our kids are living in a time when if it takes more than two sentences to say you are a bore and irrelevant.    If the work takes more than five minutes – it is unreasonably hard and considered punishment.   If the job requires thoughtful attention – well you just better do it yourself because you just can’t expect that from kids today.

Guess what?  I do expect it. In fact, I don’t just expect it, I demand it of my children and if I don’t get it the first time, I am perfectly okay making them do something over, and over, and OVER again till they get it right.  Bring on the tears and tantrums because you are not going to leave till it’s done!

So what does that make me?  Demanding?  Yes.  Bossy?  Yes.  Bitchy?  Probably.  A mom with anger issues?  You bet.  But my kids go so far as to say I am “insane”.  I think this is because they simply do not know anyone who expects as much of them as I do.

And why is that?  Why aren’t schools, coaches, pastors, teachers, and other organizations setting the bar high enough that our children might have to stretch a little?  Why is this society so against watching young people work their butts off?  Child labor has a bad rap.  When exactly is a child supposed to learn to work anyway?  When he or she is sixteen?

I have always felt that child labor has a bad rap.  My kids have worked as long as they can remember.  There were folding laundry and cleaning their own rooms since they were 4.  By the time they were 8 they could cook with supervision and do their own laundry.  After all – when exactly is a child supposed to learn to work anyway?  When he or she is sixteen?


Sorry to you “super” moms out there who did EVERYTHING for your sweet little darlings.  You are probably gritting your teeth at me right now  because you are feeling a bit judged.   But it is not too late to change.

Why are you driving your kids to school when you live two blocks away?  Why are you driving them to work at all?  What is wrong with a bike? Or walking?  Or has that become unreasonable punishment these days? Why are you filling out their financial aid applications and filing their taxes for them?  WHY???

Do you think if you don’t help them they will fail?  Maybe they will.  And if they do, that is exactly the lesson they need to build real character,  not more dependency.

Is it funny that your daughter didn’t know how to put gas in your car the fist time you let her after getting her drivers license?  So is Arby’s supposed to teach your kid to use a broom properly because you never made him clean?  Is it Love Culture’s job to introduce your child to the advanced skill of folding a shirt and using a hanger because your kid never did their own laundry?  These examples would all be REALLY FUNNY if they weren’t actually true.

Is it any wonder when you go to Taco Bell, the kids are just standing behind the counter staring out into space until the manager says “hey could you go pick up the garbage in the parking lot?”.  Why did this even need to be said?  Didn’t that kid just get dropped off outside the door by his mommy?  Didn’t he SEE THE GARBAGE blowing around in the parking lot?  Probably not – he was probably texting.

Even GOOD coaches, the kind that will mold your kids into leaders cannot bench your kid when she doesn’t show up to practice because sometimes it’s your fault.  You  were the one who thought that skipping practice to go to a doctors appointment or get a hair cut was no big deal and she agrees with you.  Where is the value of commitment when this is what they are learning?

Schools can’t give your kid detention for having bad attendance skipping school because it was YOU who wrote the note because the kid overslept, or how about when you sent the message that school was secondary to staying up all night to see the latest Harry Potter movie.

Teachers can’t waste all their time arguing with your kids to put the phone away in class when you let them text while you are talking to them.  They learn early on that adults don’t really care if they listen, so why should teachers be any different?

What is a tough mom to do when she is raising kids in a world that expects almost NOTHING from them?

She reminds them that they are DIFFERENT.  That they are made of tougher stuff. because she expects MORE of them and sets the standard that they will follow long after the work is done.  She demonstrates for them that honesty and character are of the highest value and that integrity shouldn’t be sacraficed for convenience or popularity.

She reminds them that true leadership is about service, and that if you cannot take instruction, you are not equipped to lead anyone.    She also reminds them every day that things like discipline, determination and hard work are gifts,  not curses, and that a good job is its own reward.

A tough mom does all of these things while swimming against the tide of popular opinion, because she is not simply caring for children, she is building extraordinary men and women who one day will change the world.


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