Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Work and Play

I'm having an interesting time, alone at home with my son while my wife is touring Europe. Without her moderating influence, we two Alpha males are guaranteed to butt heads. And butt heads we do.

Generally, we get along very well together. The things that tend to irk me are usually related to sloth, indifference, lack of punctuality. Yes, those are the very things that can define just about every teenager on the planet, so it should be no surprise to me when my son leaves his clothes scattered around his room, doesn't care what is going on around him, and rarely does anything when he is supposed to.

My son and I each have an extra 'stubborn' gene. When we think we are right about something, we cannot be swayed. Naturally, in those situations, it is I who am right and it is he who thinks he is right. Or is it the other way around? Sometimes, I'm not sure.

One thing I have always tried to stress is the idea of getting one's work done before spending time at play. If work is complete, one can play or amuse oneself without worry. My son has a hard time with that notion. Consequently, he often runs out of time to complete his homework and other projects. Now, with my wife away, he has no choice but to follow my rules. When his work is done, he can play video games or watch TV; if not, not a chance.

It wouldn't bother me so much if he occasionally missed completing a project on time. I am more worried, however, about the larger implications of a 'play now, work later' attitude. Much of society's ills, in my opinion, come from the compulsion for instant gratification. We 'need' a new TV, a new car, new furniture, a bigger house, a more exotic vacation, more more, more, even if we can't afford to pay for it. We borrow to scratch our instant gratification itch. Long before we have paid off the loans to pay off our goodies, our possessions are old and useless, our house has termites, and our vacations are a distant memory. And we have no money to remedy those situations without borrowing again.

That is what I am afraid of. Living within our means is almost an alien concept any more. We are going to live to regret our actions when our economies turn, when interest rates escalate, when jobs are lost as demand diminishes for ever more widgets. I want my son to learn to live within his means, to be responsible, to learn to postpone gratification until he can afford to buy whatever he wants or needs. I hope I am making headway with him.

Our experience as two males alone for several weeks is not all head-butting. It is also fun. We talk, we laugh, we bond, we do things together.

Tonight, we do laundry together. Aren't you envious?


  1. I'm going to ramble on a bit about your point on Instant Gratification.

    I have been trying to train the instant gratification out of TDOW and I have been training Ophelia to be aware of the lingering satisfaction of waiting, when waiting has benefits that may not be as tangible and as obvious.

    Ophelia is learning faster. She can make a 5 cent candy (something she receives only once a month from me) last twenty minutes. A half hour television program, once every couple of days, is chosen with care and after chores and once it's over, she shuts it off herself and tells me all about it.

    TDOW on the other hand.. he believes that if he 'doesn't feel like it right now', then it is perfectly acceptable to do everything else that he feels like, which is usually any and everything on the instant-grat list, leaving him with little motivation or joy and.

    Just as with money, time and reward activities need to be handled with care and responsibility.. So that they do not go unnoticed, so that those moments that he has worked hard to enjoy are treasured and savored and remembered.

    I think that teaching your child against the pitfalls of instant gratification, early on, is one of the best gifts you can give to him for his future.

    However, I should mention that I read recently (wish I could remember the article) that instat-grat type personalities are in part that way because of their genetic makeup. Coming down, once again to nurture versus nature, I guess. And, in that case, I think you have it beat.

  2. It is very perceptive of you to note that 'time and reward activities' are all part of the gratification equation. I like to do things when I can savour them, not necessarily just because I can. We only have one crack at life. It is important to drink in every valuable moment.

    Yeah, that nasty old nurture/nature dichotomy. That has been the subject of many a discussion in my home and, I'm sure in millions of others as well.