I had my rough moments with my parents, and my childhood wasn't always perfect, but the older I get, the more I appreciate having parents who cared enough to give me skills and attitudes I need.
The belief that I can do anything
44% of high school graduates in my tax bracket and graduation year did not even enroll in college. Of the ones who did, a certain amount are likely to drop out or to only get a two-year degree or certification rather than a bachelor's or beyond. These dismal numbers represent an all-time high of college attendees who come from low-income families--when I entered high school, they were significantly lower. But did my parents ever insinuate that I wouldn't be able to college? Not even once. They were realistic--I knew they had no money to give me and that being crushed under the weight of excessive student loans was a dangerous path, but they never made me feel like a victim of our finances. My educational future depended on me and my effort. My success was not predetermined by their income. I was encouraged to work hard, get good grades, and make myself competitive for scholarships. If I wanted college bad enough to work for it, it was possible. Guess what? They were right. It was so much work, but my education is worth more to me because I had to make sacrifices to get it. My parents may not have paid for my college degree, but instead, they gave me a belief in my own capabilities to achieve whatever I put my mind (and my muscle) to.
Waitress: "What can I get for you?"
My mom/dad, to young me: "Tell her what you decided."
Me: "Can you do it?"
Mom/Dad "No. You're old enough to speak for yourself. No, don't just point to it, use your words. Say thank you."
I was taught early on to speak for and take care of myself. Even in small life events (ordering food), I was expected to make decisions and communicate for myself. This doesn't mean I didn't receive help or support (I mean, come on, they were paying for the food, I just had to order), but I knew that if I wanted anything, I would have to do a little for myself. I'm pretty sure they questioned the "encouraging major independence" parenting method into my teen years, but when I was able to move out and support myself, pay my own bills, sign my own lease, etc., just after graduating high school maybe they decided it paid off. When asked how she got her 18-year-old to move out and be financially independent (often by a friend still supporting a child well into their 20s), she likes to joke "I was mean." Really, it's just because I was raised to know how to and want to take care of myself.
One of my favorite videos of me as a little kid (I am the firstborn, so there is a LOT of home video footage) is me eating at the table when someone asked me a question. I didn't answer right away, and (if I recall the video correctly) the question was repeated, at which point I cover my mouth with my hand and around my chewing say "Mouf full. Mouf full." I believe I was only about two or three years old, but I knew not only to not speak with food in my mouth but that if I must speak, to cover my mouth with my hand. That is an example of proper manners that isn't particularly uncommon for children to learn in American culture, but I was also taught much, much more. I don't mean to insinuate that the rest of my generation are the uncultured swine offspring of lazy parents, but I was certainly raised with manners a little more antiquated than the rest of my peers. I send handwritten thank-yous. I know how to host a dinner party. I address my elders with "Mister" and "Missus" and then their last name. I NEVER reach over someone to get food at dinner but say "please pass the...." I always eat what I am served with polite grace and a "thank you" to my host or hostess. I know to wait to eat until the person that made a meal has taken the first bite. Many people would argue that these manners are unnecessary in an ever-changing world, but they have garnered respect among older generations. My manners have served me well in job interviews, in meeting my husband's family for the first time, and in communicating respect and politeness in whatever situation I find myself in.
Love of learning
Everywhere we went since I could crawl (probably before), my parents always found a way to make every situation a learning experience. There was always something new to discover, no matter where we went. As a homeschooler, I did receive a formal education (despite people's fantasies of homeschoolers waking up at noon and studying in pajamas), complete with grades, papers, a schedule, assignments, and tests. However, this wasn't the only way I received knowledge. I think my parents must have seen me a bottomless jar, just waiting to be filled with as much information as they could stuff in. Educating me was a 24/7 job. Every family vacation, trip to the grocery store, or even walk around the house was an opportunity to learn something new. The world was my museum, and my parents were my personal tour guides.
Ugh. I hate putting this one on the list. I know my mom will read my article and chuckle, and my dad will get his infernal "I told you so" twinkle in his eye. But yes, having chores as a child did indeed prepare me for adulthood. You were right, Mom. Screenshot this, now you have it in writing.
I realized just how few of my peers knew how to do tasks I found so simple when I applied for a job to be a maid in 2017. Prior cleaning experience was not required, but my interviewer still asked about how much cleaning I'd done in general. I gave her the whole story of my childhood chores: vacuuming, sweeping, floor washing, dusting, bathroom cleaning, dishwashing, clothes washing (and folding). I could do it all! She said something to the effect of "Well, that's good. You wouldn't believe the number of people I interview who have never even held a broom." I can't imagine the state I would have been in, not knowing basic home skills before I was out on my own. There is an art to these talents. I'm glad I learned it.
So much reading
At any given time during my childhood, I'd be reading an assigned book for school (our curriculum was literature based), reading aloud another book to one or more of my younger siblings, and then listening to my parents read aloud yet another book to the whole family, plus anywhere from 4-10 books I'd be working through on my own. When our local library started their annual summer reading program, I'd make it to the library and ask "Is it okay if I write down books I've already read in the past two weeks since summer started? Oh, and do they count if your parents read them aloud to you?" They'd tell me that was fine, and I'd proceed to take several book log sheets and return a few minutes later with easily 20 book titles. I wonder if they believed me. My parents always told me that reading was the key to everything. With a book, you could learn another language, study math, find something to make you laugh, find something serious, study other cultures, or even find a simple book to help you relax after a hard day. Books are the doors to all knowledge, and I'm glad that I grew up with books being as common around the house as a speck of dust. I read books for my mind like I ate food for my body, and I'm all the better for it.
Some people think that people choose to keep their kids home for school to hide them away from whatever crazy evils are out in the world, afraid of anything different from themselves. While it's true that part of my parent's decision was from a desire to have a more informed and deciding role in the content of my education, they didn't lock me in a hole. I remember going to all sorts of events that showcased music and traditions from cultures all around the world. I watched videos about holidays other people celebrated that we didn't, like Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. When my mom went back to college for a bit and took an Anthropology course, it didn't matter that it was a "college level" textbook, she would call us over and read us sections that talked about the unique traditions of all manner of societies. Not only did we learn about other cultures, but we learned to respect them. Being your standard traditional Christian household, the idea of dressing modestly was one I was always around, but when I learned about tribes in Africa where women didn't wear shirts, my mom didn't condemn them. "It's hot there. It's a different climate and a different culture. It's not wrong for them not to wear shirts. That is their normal, and that's okay."
Every day of my life, I've come upon a situation where I use these skills my parents gave me. I notice that so many of my generation were not thus equipped and have struggled or missed out on very enriching opportunities. Being able to navigate the world and feel capable is the best gift I could have been given. Thanks, Mom and Dad!