I’m Teaching My Kids To Work Their Asses Off Because The American Dream Is Real

workI was watching an episode of Shark Tank a few weeks ago that got me all kinds of inspired. As a side note, I’m really obsessed with the show because my husband and I are e-commerce business owners. We have been running our coffee and espresso retail website from our home for the past five years, and we do every single bit of the work ourselves—web design, shipping, customer service, sales, blogging, you name it.

Anyhow, on this particular episode, one of the many entrepreneurs was peddling her adorable little baby moccasins. But that’s really not the point. The point was that she told a story about how she had absolutely no money when she wanted to start her own business. She said that she begged for her brother to give her old windows from his contracting company so that she could bang out the glass in the summer heat and sell the aluminum frames to a scrap yard for $200. Hell, yes.

I was raised lower middle class, and so was my husband. Perhaps it was because we had three kids in each of our families, but we always felt like money was very, very tight. My dad had more of a hoarder mentality and gave me even more money issues as a child, and later, as an adult.

The silver lining in all of this is that I am an exceptionally hard worker. My husband and I did not go to college, and we both work as self-employed entrepreneur types from home. This is not a brag, just fact—I have worked my ass off ever since I got my first job at 16 and am making three to four times more than I was in my early twenties. I am proud of myself for this.

On the one hand, I really want to spoil my kids because I work so hard to have money for my family. I never want them to feel guilty for asking for school clothes, like I did when I was a kid. On the other hand, I’m preparing myself to push them to work hard and make mistakes and sometimes go broke. That’s all part of the American dream, and in my opinion, it’s part of the pathway toward success.

I want my kids to feel comfortable and cared for. I also want them to understand that your work ethic and integrity are the most important things that you can have to create the life you want. I’m living proof.

(photo: Getty Images)

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  • Kheldarson

    This is awesome! I won’t say my folks made things harder, but all I ever heard was college = good job. I was completely unprepared for the retail world or the difficulties of job searching. Good for you for wanting to impress good work ethic on your kids!

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thank you! I hope I can find the right tough love balance. :)

  • Kay_Sue

    We restructured our allowance-and-chores system because my kids were getting too spoiled. It was to the point where my eldest actually said, “I am not going to pick up my room because I don’t need my allowance this week.”

    WTF? Really, kid? So now we have “chores for the crew”, which are the duties that we each have to do to keep our house running smooth and help each other out, and he can see “Jabba the Dad” and “Darth Mom” for available bounties on other chores above those.

    It really is a balancing act for me between wanting the kids to have what we can afford to provide and making sure that they don’t become entitled and do realize that they still have to work hard.

    • Bethany Ramos

      You explained this so well! And you always make me lol :)

    • Kay_Sue

      I try. :-P

    • Bridget

      I like this too! I was always jealous of my friends who got allowances for doing chores or getting good grades, but now I’m glad my room didn’t “pay” me for doing stuff I should have been doing anyway.

    • Kay_Sue

      Good grades are an expectation, although we usually do something special as a family when he gets his report card. The allowance thing is working out well right now. We always got a set allowance going up, in the same fashion I did with him originally, and we turned out fine–I was kind of shocked when he had that response. I would never have thought of it that way. Just goes to show every kid is different, I guess, lol!

    • K.

      My parents never aligned allowance with chores (or grades)–we got money every week no matter what, which seems to some parents like too much, but my mother’s way of explaining it was, “Do you live here? Yes? Then you contribute like the rest of us. End of story. Now go take out the trash.”

      In other words, growing up, we kids did not get bargaining chips.

      Mine isn’t old enough for an allowance, but I do like a variation of this technique which is that the kids get their allowance no matter what but have to separate it out into “Spend,” “Save,” and “Give.” They choose a beneficiary of their allowance and gift it at the end of the year–I like that part.

    • Kay_Sue

      That’s a good plan. I like the way our current system is working. Everyone contributes to the house, and he can earn a little more if he wants something special.

  • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

    I was made to pay for most of college myself (picked a cheap college and then worked 2 jobs on top of school). I think I appreciated my education a ton more than my college friends, many of whom skipped classes, dropped out, etc. I know it can be hella expensive, but I’m making my kids pay for a good chunk of it when they get there.

    • Bridget

      Totally. You gotta have some skin in the game.

    • Ddaisy

      For me it was the opposite. When my parents were paying for university, I felt accountable to them, so I worked a lot more diligently.

      When I started paying my own tuition halfway through, I got the mentality, “My money, my choice, and I need the sleep a lot more than the chem notes.”

      That said. I still think it was better paying for myself, not only because I do think I’d rather earn it than let it be a gift, but also because I was making healthier choices instead of running myself ragged out of obligation. So I 100% support and agree with your decision.

  • Bridget

    My husband and I have talked about this. We both grew up without a lot of money but are now a solidly (well, just starting out but relatively speaking) middle-class JD/PhD couple. He sometimes jokes about trying to raise our kids so that they have no idea how much money we actually have: “We could have the electricity turned off sometimes and pretend we couldn’t pay the bill!” I think that’s taking it a little far (!), but it is a challenge to think of how we want to raise our kids with more than we had growing up.

  • MamaLlama

    It’s all so true! I worked three jobs through undergrad/grad school and also came from a bit of a poor/hoarder parent family… my husband had college partly paid and always like to say ‘we have money’… Um, no we don’t and we need to live like that! I also hope to instill work ethic in my kids! Just today, I worked a side job, and my kiddos asked why– “because we like to have nice things, and this helps us do that”… Nice article.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thanks! :)

  • Shelly Lloyd

    I do not know if it is the depression talking, but I’m having a very, very hard time believing in this so called american dream. I feel like I have worked my ass off for years and no matter how hard I work I have nothing to show for it.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I am so sorry! I also know the feeling of working and getting nowhere, at times. *HUGS*

  • rrlo

    I really want to teach my kids how to manage their money properly, so they are not intimidated by sensible investing, retirement planning etc. And I want them to start early.
    I just want them to learn how to live within their means.

  • Andrew Cole

    There are always two sides to every story. I highly recommend the book “Outliers.” I am honestly happy for every person who worked hard and ended up a success, and I certainly agree that most people need to work hard if they stand a chance at success, but it’s also easy to forget all the advantages you’ve had. Nobody thinks about the people who worked hard and didn’t make it, through no fault of their own.

    We have all heard the statistic that 19 out of 20 new businesses fail—were those 19 people just lazy? Are construction workers who do the same hard labor everyday able to do anything about the weather, or the booms and busts of the construction market? Is a new business owner with a solid plan lazy because a larger competitor decided to destroy them using resources they can’t possibly match after they started becoming profitable?

    The reality is that we all have much less control over our lives than we like to believe, and Americans are some of the worst offenders. We have all bought into the mass delusion that everybody can make it if they only work hard—and it’s bullshit. Thinking like that is the reason why politicians can continue to justify policies that put us firmly behind the rest of the civilized world in terms of taking care of our people; had a bad break? Too bad, that was your fault for being lazy. Stop blaming your cancer and the insurance company that kicked you off the books.

    I have always had a strong work ethic, just like my parents, and I am going to pass that on to my son, if I can, but I am not going to fill his head with lies that working hard is a magic ticket to success. Life is hard, and that is a lesson that is far more valuable than the American Dream.

    • AE Vorro

      Yes. Thanks you for saying this! The American Dream idea is truly an ugly idea wrapped up in a shiny package that most people don’t see through.

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