Hardship Values: How to Instill Values in a Generation of Spoiled Kids

Posted by in Articles & Rants, Motherhood Project, Writing

I’m not going to pretend to remember every little thing that we did in our childhood. My siblings and me. But there are certain things that stand out. We were bad kids, though not by our parents’ definition. We stole, got in fights, cursed, tagged on walls and cars, destroyed public and private property, ran away, got in all kinds of trouble. We were a happily quasi-functional family.

I don’t remember my mom ever sitting me down and saying, “Don’t steal from people only from stores,” but we somehow maintained that value. That stealing from individuals was essentially wrong, unless they wronged us first, then rob their sorry butts, lol. And credit must be given to my parents here, before judgments start to fly. We had an extremely hard childhood, we were poor and certain “socially accepted virtues” were absent in us as a means of survival. Yes, stealing was ok, as long as we needed it. We stole food, clothes, school supplies, etc. It’s not my parents fault that we were poor, they worked hard in their roles. It’s just the hand that God dealt us, and I am fully accepting and conscious of that.

(We weren’t always poor, by the way, at times we seemed the ideal family, white picket fence, picnics and all that… but survival values were hard to shake, no matter how your conditions changed.)

So despite our less-than-ideal characters, there were certain virtues and values that we gained. Some, perhaps directly, others somehow indirectly, but being a parent now, I have no doubt that our parents were the primary source of it all. I’m not going to get into some big discussion about the fall of our childrens’ moral character. I think that’s very obvious to all of us, by now. Instead, I’m going to talk about my personal experiences, with my own family and my own kids.

Remembering My Parents
As a kid, even in struggle, I remember my parents being ideal. My dad was a construction worker, he worked long twelve hour days my entire life. He trekked into the house at 6-7pm in tall rubber boots thick with concrete. Dusty crusted jeans, and rough white hands. My dad drank his coffee black, his Crown Royale from the velvet bag, and liked my mom’s cooking, a lot. He was an amazing dad. A stocky muscular white guy, always funny, very protective and a violent side you didn’t want to be on the wrong end of. He spun us like wild on merry-go-rounds, pushed us to fearful heights on chained swings and threw us one after another into shimmering blue lakes, splashing wildly.

My mom was ideal… I imagine her with an apron with ruffles, but I doubt seriously that she had one, lol. She was an awesome cook, always had dinner early and on-time, kept a clean and organized house filled with bright green plants climbing up the walls. She protected us fiercely, packed awesome school lunches, and made every Christmas and Birthday awesome, no matter how poor we were. My mom was amazing. She used to let me keep dozens of cats and dogs, always on a whim, let me decorate my room with Christmas lights, and stayed up all night with a 7-year old homework obsessed little girl, struggling through times tables. She let us have far more freedom than most kids. We never had chores or rules or real structure, but somehow we were a very very tight family. We loved each other, tried to kill each other, tortured each other, but always looked out for one another. In the best and worst of times.

Hardship Values (Lessons learned the hard way)
My parents had 4 kids. Today I have 6 kids, with one on the way. In all of the struggle: poverty, drugs, alcohol, violence… somehow there were certain values that we maintained as kids. A few that stand out to me now are:

1. Selective Stealing: Don’t steal from people, only stores. (Like I said before, unless they wrong you, lol.)

2. Gratitude: Don’t complain about what you have or don’t have. Be grateful you have anything at all.

3. Loyalty: Family comes first. Protect your parents and siblings with your life. Your loyalty always lies with them.

4. Compassion: Consider what others are going through, whether it’s your siblings, parents, friends or an injured animal. Be cognizant of suffering and relieve it when you can.

5. Appreciation: (Different from gratitude in that it was more an action than an inaction.) Show people that you appreciate them, in whatever way you are able.

6. Privacy: Hide your family’s secrets. Never go out and tell people what is going on in your home.

7. Courage & Hope: Do not be afraid of anything or anyone. Do not become hopeless and dejected. Be strong and brave and face your trials with the sense that you can survive it, overcome it and move forward.

8. Creativity & Ingenuity: If there is a will, there is a way. If you want something, be creative and find a way to get it… this attitude led to a lot of entrepreneurship on my part.

9. Hard Work: Work through adversity. Being sick is not an excuse, being tired, being sad, being any damn thing si not an excuse. Get up and get it done. I don’t remember my dad ever taking a sick day. not once. I don’t remember my mom ever saying she was too tired to rub my dad’s back, cook dinner, clean up. Nothing. She got it done, no matter what. There were no excuses.

…and there are many many others. These values, perhaps come second nature when you have a childhood filled with hardship. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to teach a lot of these values to kids today. They have it easy. They get too much. Even in “poverty” they manage to be spoiled. It’s a conundrum to say the least.

Instilling Values in my Own Kids
I struggle with instilling these values in my kids (well, except the stealing one, lol… I don’t permit any form of stealing ever and deal out harsh consequences if this rule is violated.) But I remember back in California constantly trying to build that fierce bond between Qura and Dhun, “That’s your brother… you defend him no matter what!” “That’s your sister, your hands should be used to protect her, never to hurt her.” Constantly I found myself trying to build that in them. It’s so important to me that their loyalties lie with family, and fiercely so. There were the constant reinforcements of compassion… “Your sister looks sad, Dhun, hug her tell her she’ll be ok. Don’t you feel sad that she’s crying? Let’s comfort her…” or the 24-7 gratitude mission, “Qura I worked really hard on this, don’t you want to give me hug and say thank you? Are you going to do something nice, maybe draw me a picture to show me that you appreciate all my hard work?”

Then there was the appreciation… as a kid I was so used to not having anything, when I got something, I knew it meant a lot, even if that meant breakfast or a back pack or penny candy from Circle K. My mom served us dinner, we ate it. When friends or family served us food, if we didn’t like it, we kept quiet (and occasionally tried to feed it to a cat or dog, lol) But we didn’t complain. There was no special treatment… no Kena doesn’t like cheese and Lona doesn’t like broccoli, so let’s adjust the meal. Nope. We got served the same dish, we ate every bit of it. end of story. We appreciated our mom’s hard work and didn’t complain. I remember making my parents breakfast in bed to show our appreciation. I made her a million art projects to show her how much I loved her, how much her caring for me meant to me. My sister and I rubbed our dad’s sore back, with promises of a couple bucks we knew we’d never get and we didn’t mind. Dad worked hard, he deserved it.

My dad bought me this awful Lisa Frank looking knitted sweater for Christmas one year. God, it was awful. I hugged him, kissed him, thanked him and wore that ugly sweater. Often. My mom would find beaten down bikes and big wheels and dirty stuffed animals and clean them up and bring them home to us. Man, dirt or no dirt, our eyes lit up. There was never… “Oh, gee thanks mom, um…” or “This isn’t what I wanted.” Nope. We appreciated it, loved her raggedy second hand gifts, lol. I mean REALLY appreciated them. It wasn’t fake. We were grateful and we showed it.

…and of course hard work. That’s a hard one to instill in your kids. I push Qura and Dhun hard, especially in academics. Some teachers may look at me like I’m crazy when I’m standing over my daughter like a Nazi making her rewrite her name until she develops clean, precise handwriting. But best believe, the girl has beautiful handwriting when she’s putting forth the effort, I’ve seen it, she takes pride in it and yes, it’s that important. People may think I’m nuts for letting my kids stay up 1-2 hours past bedtime to finish up homework and projects. “You’re tired? Lets take a cocoa break and back to work. This is due tomorrow and you have to try your hardest and always put forth your best.”

Instilling Differing Values in a Blended Family
I can’t say I was always successful, it’s hard to instill these values in the absence of hardship. Qura and Dhun have a long way to go. And getting married and blending families, I realize that not everyone was raised with the same appreciation or commitment to these values. So sometimes it’s even harder, because my own husband was raised differently and has raised his kids differently and I am constantly trying to reconcile that difference.

I love being mom of the year, and spoiling my kids with all kinds of fun activities, love and attention, etc. But at my core, I still have these “hardship values” that both my and my husband’s kids often lack. Their familial loyalty is weak, their respect of privacy almost non-existent, their gratitude scarce, their appreciation even more scarce. Their compassion superficial, their commitment to hard work… please, what commitment to hard work? We have a bunch of lazy, spoiled, ungrateful kids who we’re trying to shape, and instill into them, not just these values but dozens more, values I developed as an adult, values my husband was raised with and values he developed as an adult. Oh and then add in Islamic values!!! Yeah, it’s a lot! But with regards to my core values, these hardship values… I’m not sure how to teach and instill them in the absence of hardship. I mean, if one more kid complains about their meal, I’m going to kill them! If I hear one more “I’m tired” when chores haven’t even been begun, I’m gonna flip! One more, “When can we get our own computers? Why do I have to share with so and so? When are you gonna do this or that for me?” I’m gonna lock myself in a closet and call it quits!

To Our Childrens Credit
That’s not to say there aren’t instances of these values in them, or that their not generally great kids. They are. Not to toot our own horns, but our kids are some of the most well-behaved, respectful kids I know! Na’ilah is very appreciative when she gets what she wants, lol. She is quick to hug you and shower you with kisses of gratitude. Qura is the same way and incredibly compassionate when she sees me upset or struggling. The other day Jamilah cleaned up the living room before we even got out of bed and brought me and Shaheed sliced apples as Breakfast in Bed! Sufyan wrote me a note telling me “You’re the Best! Love, Sufyan” Hussam has a quiet indirect way of showing his gratitude and he’s fiercely protective of his sister. Dhun is a very hard worker, even if he requires a push. You can push him to full capacity with minimal resistance. They have instances of these values in them… but we have yet to build it into their character, and as much as I love to spoil the kids, I’m not sure how to really go about teaching this to them.

Since this is just a rant, I suppose I don’t have any solutions. Just needed to vent, get some things off my chest. I love my kids, I love my husband. My family is beautiful and amazing. I suppose it’s just challenging being the only person in our 9-person household who was a bonafide “have-not.” Everyone else, my husband, my step-kids and my own kids have been spoiled in comparison. I have a set of core values that are inherently different. I’m sometimes shocked by their behavior, can’t understand why they would or wouldn’t do a thing, including my own kids.
Sometimes the lack of compassion or loyalty hurts. Sometimes the loose commitment to hard work and the lack of courage and strength are frustrating. I love them all so much and want them to embody, not only these “hardship values” that I was instilled with, but my husband’s values as well.

I’ve never seen such a strong commitment to honesty and integrity, growing up thieving and scheming doesn’t always leave room for that, lol. I want our kids to be brave in always standing by the truth, when they give their word I want it to have value. I want to embody these values myself. I want them to know and have pride in their history, something my husband is big on and something I was disconnected from as a kid. I want them to be humble and modest, again, values that I lacked as a child that I see ingrained in my husband. I want them to be strong, a value we both embody.

There’s so much that we both have to offer our children as parents growing up with different lifestyles. I want them to have the best of both worlds. I want to build a strong and firm foundation so that they can grow up to be strong people. Allah help us, this is not an easy road to walk them down. Please, just guide us and make it easy.

<Originally Written December 2010>