Fend for Yourself is an Old Way of Parenting

Ken Kayse


Fend for Yourself is an Old Way of Parenting

Why raise a child, only to let them F.F.Y. when we die?

Courtesy: Gordon Johnson • USA • via PixabayCourtesy: Gordon Johnson • USA • via Pixabay

In my line of work, insurance, for 42 years I talked to thousands of people about their wants and needs, especially in the Life insurance realm. It was very important for me to get to know my client’ hopes and dreams for themselves, and their children. Otherwise, how else could I make a professional recommendation that would actually be of benefit to them?

One specific trend I noticed when I would begin my question and answer session with these parents became apparent early in my career. My questions for a single person always differed from married couples, especially those who had or wanted children. I always started my Q&A session with a very tough question to answer.

A tough question.

The toughest question I had to ask them was designed to make them think:

“If you died yesterday, what would you want me to tell your wife and children today?”

Every time I asked that question — not just once, but every time — the room would go silent as if I had just hit my client with a ton of bricks! I never opened my mouth again until they had answered the question to the best of their ability since I had put them on the “hot spot.”

Normally, after getting over the initial shock of the question, we would begin an important dialog about the standard of living they would want for their wife and kids. The range of answers would be far and wide. No two couples’ answers were ever exactly alike. All of their answers were very personal to them and their family.

Some parents wanted security for their spouses and children. If their spouse was employed and earning an income, the conversation would drift toward providing education funding for college. If the spouse was a homemaker, usually that would entail more planning and we’d start another conversation around fulfilling their wishes.

Sometimes, I would be surprised and quite startled by their answers, because it revealed something I never expected them to say — F. F. Y.!

The most startling response I ever got was “I’m dead and gone. Let them fend for themselves!”

That answer startled me every time I heard it because it negated all the reasons people purchase insurance in the first place. It was counter-intuitive. The primary reason for insurance is to protect ourselves from severe financial losses. Once this issue was brought to the forefront, I would help them explore why they felt that way.

I had to walk a fine line though. I had to make sure their answer wasn’t an excuse to stop me from going further into my interview, but I also had to make sure I wasn’t imposing my thoughts and beliefs into their belief structure.

Every time I heard this reply, I was perplexed! How could anyone start a relationship with someone, start building a life and family together, and then abandon them right at the moment they are most in need of guidance, and support?

Empty SchoolroomPhoto by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

Many of the couples I met have fought tooth and nail to save enough for their kids to be able to attend a private school, or gymnastics, or traveling sports teams.

Are those aspirations now dead? Does a parent truly not care if their child is successful in life? How do we tell this to our children?

“Sorry kids, but your sole-providing parent has passed on without leaving any money for your education. Oh, and there’s no money for eating, no healthcare, no money to buy a new car, or lend you when you buy your first house… nothing! Tough luck… sucks to be you!”

People have differing opinions on what’s proper and what’s unacceptable. Their visions and goals are theirs and theirs alone. I have found through my experiences there isn’t a perfect way to approach these problems.

An antiquated philosophy.

Today’s world is vastly different from the way it was 50 years ago. During those times people would use “fend for yourself” as a teaching lesson: “If you’re ever going to be anything in life, you have to struggle to obtain it, just like we did. Besides, it helps you develop character, and that’s the way we were taught.”

“That dog won’t hunt,” in today’s world — and I know why!

What worked for our parents simply doesn’t work anymore. Not only that, it hasn’t been working since the latter part of the baby boom generation, right around 1960. Our sons and daughters have developed different parenting skills, modernized and in tune with today’s society.

Teaching your elders to bring themselves into the new century by changing the way they think is always going to be a challenge because our attempts are met with cynicism, a “what do you know?” kind of mentality. The older population staunchly maintains their belief system, which inhibits our growth not only as a nation but as a world.

“Fend For Yourself” has died.

How can I say this with any certainty? Studies and articles have brought me to this conclusion.

One article that strikes at the heart of my assessment is from a CNBC report from September 8th, 2020. In it, the author, Jessica Dickler, a contributing writer and editor covering personal finance for CNBC.com, reported an alarming trend: Amid extreme economic uncertainty and few job prospects, most young adults have moved back in with mom and dad.

In fact, for the first time ever, the majority of 18- to 34-year-olds now live at home with their parents, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Need more proof?

The New York Times ran a story written by The Learning Network on December 22nd, 2019. The story’s title was What Students Are Saying About How to Improve American Education — The New York Times (nytimes.com).

As I read this article, I was struck by the honesty and forethought these teens presented. I wanted to learn how today’s students felt about schooling.

Man, they let the “establishment” have it. They fired off both barrels, loaded with quality suggestions. Here’s some of what they said:

Prepare students for real life.

At this point, it’s not even the grades I’m worried about. It feels like once we’ve graduated high school, we’ll be sent out into the world clueless and unprepared. I know many college students who have no idea what they’re doing, as though they left home to become an adult but don’t actually know how to be one.

The most I’ve gotten out of school so far was my Civics & Economics class, which hardly even touched what I’d actually need to know for the real world. I barely understand credit and they expect me to be perfectly fine living alone a year from now. We need to learn about real life, things that can actually benefit us. An art student isn’t going to use Biology and Trigonometry in life. Exams just seem so pointless in the long run. Why do we have to dedicate our high school lives to studying equations we’ll never use? Why do exams focusing on pointless topics end up determining our entire future?

Eliana D, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC

I think that the American education system can be improved by allowing students to choose the classes that they wish to take or classes that are beneficial for their future. Students aren’t really learning things that can help them in the future such as basic reading and math.

Skye Williams, Sarasota, Florida

I am frustrated about what I’m supposed to learn in school. Most of the time, I feel like what I’m learning will not help me in life. I am also frustrated about how my teachers teach me and what they expect from me. Often, teachers will give me information and expect me to memorize it for a test without teaching me any real application.

Bella Perrotta, Kent Roosevelt High School

We divide school time as though the class itself is the appetizer and the homework is the main course. Students get into the habit of preparing exclusively for homework, further separating the main ideas of school from the real world. At this point, homework is given out to prepare the students for … more homework, rather than helping students apply their knowledge to the real world.

Daniel Capobianco, Danvers High School

Diminished self-confidence.

Given the accusations of our style of teaching being outdated (for which these teens make a pretty convincing argument), are we, as parents, preparing our children for the future? Or, are we forcing our children into fleeing back under our protective wings?

It’s expected that every parent will want their young adults to get out in the real world and figure out life for themselves. That’s just a natural part of moving from teenagers to adulthood. What is unexpected about this is that we don’t seem to be arming them with the right tools to face society.

How can we expect our children to fend for themselves and be successful if we haven’t given them the tools to enable their progress?

What is the motivation?

There must be an act or some kind of emotional incident that occurred in a person’s own upbringing that will motivate a parent to deny help to their own roots on this earth. The only responses I ever received when I asked about this were always the same — “That’s how I was raised and that’s what I believe.”

Providing a leg upPeggy_Marco

And yet, in the very next breath, they will expostulate the exact opposite, saying “While I’m alive, I will give them a hand-up, but not a hand-out.”

Another one I’ve heard is “I’ll let them struggle, but I won’t let them fail.”

I’ve always interpreted both of those statements to mean a parent is using some form of reverse psychology to encourage their children to do their best, but perhaps I am misinformed.

In a philosophical sense, it can be successfully argued that both of the above statements are valid and necessary — I can agree with that. I understand a parent has to motivate their child to always give it their best, no matter what they are doing.

However, other factors come into play as well.

Suppose, for a moment, everything a child has heard throughout all their formative years was nothing but…

Factor 1–-negativity:

  • You’re not too bright.
  • You can’t do anything right.
  • How dumb can you be?
  • Watch what you’re doing, clumsy.
  • You’ll never amount to much.

Spoken often enough, these statements will demean and ridicule a child, making them unsure of themselves, thinking they are useless. It is a tough world out there, and this instance happens more often than we imagine.

We may have been subjected to this kind of denigration. Therefore, we tell ourselves we aren’t going to be like that with our children.

Factor 2 — improving the breed:

Some families have a long history of drinking, abuse, drugs, criminal activities, and/or obesity. Today’s kids notice these things. They may end up saying, “I’m not going to be like that.”

As adults, we may have witnessed these activities and, as a result, developed a “break the mold” mentality. Thus, we change the way we parent, or teach, or criticize.

Some parents’ struggles are lifelong. They may feel as though they have a responsibility to their children, to help them achieve something greater than they, themselves, have known — in other words, pay it forward. As parents, we want them to have “bigger and better” than what we could achieve, that’s just natural.

Factor 3 — Fear:

The way our parents taught us to succeed was conditioned with fear. There were different consequences to our failures:

  • Didn’t do your homework? Clean the bathroom.
  • Too loud in your classes? Go to bed early.
  • Stay out past curfew? You’re grounded!

Obviously, I could keep going with examples like this, but I think you get my point. Their style of teaching was punitive, not instructional. Instinctively, we decide we are going to parent differently, in a more constructive manner, hoping to achieve a better outcome.

School toolsadonyig

F.F.Y., armed with the proper tools.

Asking today’s students to fend for themselves without giving them the tools necessary to achieve success is a form of slow torture and a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

Today’s generation will eventually become tomorrow’s leaders. They will be the ones enacting laws to control racism, hatred, and corruption. As current leaders, each and every one of us should be committed to providing this generation better tools than we had, allowing them to negotiate with other world leaders with good faith, fairness, and equality.

We are all in this together. It is definitely time for us to put on our “big boy,” and “big girl” pants. We have to address the learning disabilities from above that are keeping this generation from achieving more than mediocrity.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve heard thousands of replies to that hard question. One other frequent answer that was mentioned was the parent saying: “I’m worth more dead than I am alive. They’re going to enjoy all this money when I’m gone and I’ll never see them spend a penny!” My response was always the same because I believe in it wholeheartedly:

“Why not share some of that cash with them today, so you can see them, and help them get enjoyment before you die?”

That would certainly be a paradigm shift from how we presently teach them.

Thanks for reading this!

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I am a retired entrepreneur who devotes time to my grandchildren and writing a variety of entertaining stories. I enjoy writing about life experiences, happiness, the qualities of mankind, mental health, and opinion editorials. Writing allows me to escape the stress of each day.

New Albany, IN

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