8 Life Lessons to Teach Your Parents

“And you, of tender years/ Can't know the fears that your elders grew by/ And so please help them with your youth/ They seek the truth before they can die.” ~Graham Nash, from the song Teach Your Children

A guest post by Jon Giganti of 1440.

Editors Note: As I've created my blog and built my online business, I constantly realize how much there is to learn — and that most of the brilliant teachers are years younger than me. In fact, my entire lifestyle outlook has shifted as a result of connecting with these younger online experts. I asked Jon to write a post about what he believes his generation can teach those older than he is. Here's what he has to say.

It’s 1940. My parents haven’t been born yet. They’re soon to be part of the baby boomer generation and grow up in an age of many changes. TV’s, moon landings, leisure suits, Rock n Roll, Vietnam. Many in this generation came from immigrant parents (as did mine).

They were taught to put their heads down and grind out their lives. Take a steady-paying job and support your family. Don’t rock the boat – blend in. They also grew up in a time where men still ruled the world (check out this Good Housekeeping article about being a good wife in 1955).

The times, they are a-changin'

The world has changed. Someone in Chicago can connect in an instant with someone in Hong Kong. Many times it’s the woman who’s the breadwinner. We will see a day in the not too distant future where a woman is President. It will happen.

Typically, we talk about what we can teach the “future” generation. I’m about to tell you what we can teach the generation before us. My parents are in their 60’s. I’m in my mid 30’s.

Sometimes I think life was easier, so there’s a lot we can learn from this generation about slowing down. There’s also a lot we can teach our parents.

Life lessons for our parents

1.  Work is not life – This generation was a lot more blue collar than the current knowledge worker group. After many learned from their immigrant parents that working hard was the way to go, they remained a victim of that mentality. Nowadays, it’s about performance and efficiency. Get the work done, but it’s not all about blood, sweat and tears (although commendable). A former colleague of mine used to say “work smarter, not harder.” I didn’t understand this for a while and found myself at the office at 8pm on Friday nights. As I learned to focus on performance and efficiency, I finally understood the value in this.

2Tough love is okay, but real love is what’s most important – A lot of parents, especially fathers, prided themselves in being old school. I don’t remember hugging my dad that often (although we do a lot now). I’m sure his dad hugged him even less. Sure, as a parent, you have to teach your children to be disciplined and respectful. There is, however, a way to do this in a more loving, affectionate way.

3. Spend quality time – I mean real quality time with your kids. I’m not talking about watching TV together. I’m talking about real conversations. I’m talking about a walk in the park for no reason. Getting to know your kids on an intimate basis. Ask questions and be authentic. Relationships are the key to life. Too many times, even today, they are transactional. When in doubt, focus on experiences over stuff. It’s the experiences that last a life time and that you remember on your death bed. By the way, it’s never too late to do this.

4Create a legacy – Similar to the “work is not life” idea, it’s not all about working hard. In the blue collar world, it was about putting in an honest day’s work. The world has changed. We all have a legacy to offer the world, and it’s about creating something that others can find useful and valuable. For example, I started my site, 1440, as a platform for creating content to inspires others. It’s fulfilling, to say the least.

5. It’s okay to be different – A lot of folks wanted to blend in and not rock the boat. Screw that. Don’t settle for being commonplace. Try new things. Be adventurous. Question authority when necessary.

6. It’s not all about retirement – Our parents grew up in the era of the retirement planning and the 401k. While very important, this shouldn’t be the driving force behind what you do. Sure, you have to make sure there’s enough of a nest egg to live comfortably, but don’t sacrifice precious years with your children, spouse, friends and family. Take that vacation. Go out to a nice dinner every once in a while. Buy your wife a new dress just because – you don’t have to wait for Mother’s Day or her birthday.

7. It’s not a man’s world – Women shouldn’t settle if they want more than changing diapers and cooking meals. Some of the most successful people in this day and age are women.

8. Stay current and engaged – As part of my research in writing this post, I talked to my mom. My parents divorced about 15 years ago, and my mom gave up her teaching job to help raise my brothers and me. This left her in a bit of conundrum post-divorce. She felt like she lost her identity and wasn't prepared to join the “real world” and fend for herself. She wasn’t prepared to be on her own. She wished she would’ve maintained her independence enough to support herself. Make sure you’re prepared if things go awry.

A new perspective

This is an interesting way to look at things. Usually, it’s all about passing advice down to the upcoming generation. The fact of the matter is that each generation will learn different ways to go about their days. There’s no doubt that my generation will learn a lot from my children’s generation. Look at my kids (ages 2 and 3). They love to play on my ipad. Are you kidding me? I can’t imagine what they’re going to be able to teach me about technology and connecting with others. As scary as it sounds, I look forward to it.

In closing, I may have outlined some advice, but the truth is that I’ve learned a lot from the prior generation. Maybe what not to do on some occasions : >). For that, I say thanks!

What comes to mind for you? What can you teach your parents? What have you learned from your parents that you’d never take back? Please leave a comment and we’ll have a great discussion.

Jon is dedicated to learning and helping others optimize performance and productivity. Visit him at 1440 where he writes about making the most of your 1,440 minutes each day. You can subscribe to Jon’s future articles and download his free eBook, Achieve a Week’s Worth of Productivity in a Day. Connect with Jon on twitter or facebook.

Comments

  1. Fantastic post!

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi Kim,

      Thanks for the kind words! Really appreciate it. I was a bit challenged at first when Barrie gave me to the topic, but it was fun to work through it and write from this perspective.

      All the best to you.

      Jon

  2. Cathy | Treatment Talk says:

    I can totally relate to learning from the younger generation, especially when it come to technology. My kids certainly help me in that area, as well as all the other younger people online with websites and blogs.

    Many of us in that are older than 30 were very focused on our career and being settled early in life. I notice so many kids, mine included, who are still exploring and finding their place later in life. It is wonderful than many are postponing marriage until late twenties and early thirties so that you have time to find out who you really are.

    I agree how important it is for women to keep their place in their career if that is their choice. It know sometimes it’s a hard decision, but even more difficult if you find yourself suddenly on your own with no way to produce an income. Good post!

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi Cathy,

      Great thoughts. The great thing is that every generation gets to learn from the one’s before and after. My kids are 2 and 3 and I’m sure they will teach me a few things – actually they already have : )

      It’s been an interesting change with women being more independent today. Being more career driven definitely leads to marriage later in life, as well as children.

      I heard a quote recently that said something like “your 20’s are for learning and your 30’s and 40’s are for earning.” I agree with you in that it’s okay to explore and try to find your place in the world (and your passion) before you settle down.

      Thanks again for the comments.

      Jon

  3. Leah McClellan says:

    Hi Jon,
    I enjoyed this, and if I could, I would want to teach my parents the same exact stuff. I remember that saying “I’m from the old school” and lots of others, like my mom saying “I’m too old to learn that” when she was only 35 or 40 (!) or so.

    I think what I would want to add is a spin off from point #8–don’t stop learning. Evolve. My mom was only brought up to change diapers and serve meals and I know she wanted more but couldn’t figure out how to get there. So I would add “don’t be afraid to look inside at yourself and see what thinking needs to be changed to reach your goals–even if you weren’t brought up to think of goals or fulfilling your dreams.”

    Also: don’t box yourself into an identity based on age or an ego identity of who you think you are in a way that prevents you from growing and learning because, once you stop learning, that’s when you start getting old. I’ve seen some older relatives sort of settle into their rocking chairs at 40 or so and just complain about life, their diseases, and their aching joints etc and not do anything about it except pop pills and so on-it’s so sad and hard to be around when so many people their age and older are running marathons.

    What did I learn from my parents? Oddly enough, something pretty modern. I was raised to believe that a woman can do the same work as a man. It wasn’t discussed; that’s just how it was. My stepdad, an ex-marine drill sergeant and construction company owner, didn’t differentiate when he needed some help hanging some sheetrock (drywall), doing masonry, yard work (that was my main chore) and so on. My mom did it, I did it. I was even raised to handle firearms and had my own gun (I don’t like guns now but just as an example). I didn’t realize until I was older what gender bias is all about. People are shocked at some of the stuff I still do–but that early learning serves me well. I can do anything with no limits because I wasn’t taught that this or that is girl or boy stuff (I didn’t play with dolls-boring! They bought me racetracks and bikes :),

    Great stuff to think about! I’ll shut up now 🙂

  4. Jon Giganti says:

    Awesome thoughts Leah. So great that you were taught to do those things at a young age and throughout (unfortunately, I’m horrible at that “house” stuff – wish I learned the same stuff).

    I love your thought on evolving. It’s crucial for all of us, no matter our age, to maintain a thirst for learning. It’s how we challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones.

    The cool thing is we can all learn from each other. The younger from the older, the older from the younger, as well as those in our generation.

    Thanks again for the great perspective.

    Jon

  5. Hi Jon,
    I have a son in his thirties and a son who will turn 21 Monday. Their approach to life and their perspective on what makes one’s life a “success” sound totally different. But in reality, they are the same message expressed in their own generational way. I couldn’t relate to a lot of the examples you gave, but maybe my own parents could. I was born in 1960 and grew up in the hippie generation. We weren’t old school. We were all about love and peace and yes, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. We strived to be different – not to fit in with the “establishment”. We promoted women’s right’s and strived to make our men find their softer side. We used our brains, too! We developed the technology to send men to the moon and have an internet chat with your friend in Hong Kong! Out of curiosity, I asked my 21 year old what he thought I could learn from his generation. His wisdom? ” People need more music in their lives.” I think I can relate to that.

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi Sue – Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing. My parents are a bit older – close to 70. My mom actually went to college and worked as a teacher for a while. She quit to raise my brothers and I and never got back into it (my father didn’t want her to). She struggled quite a bit when my parents split so I wish she would’ve maintained her career after we were young.

      We, as a world, need to continue to evolve. I know we will. I look forward to learning from my kids as well. Actually, I already am – even though they’re 2 and 3 : )

      Thanks, Sue.

      Jon

  6. Betsy at Zen Mama says:

    Jon,
    What a wonderful post! Usually it’s advice to our children.. love the turn around. I’m going to print the post and send to my parents who are at a real fork in their life right now. I look forward to heading over to your blog!

    Barrie,
    As usual, great post!!

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi Betsy,

      Thanks for the comments. Yeah – usually it’s all about teaching the younger generation. My parents taught me a lot, of course, but it’s a unique perspective to flip it around. When I spoke with Barrie about writing a post for Live Bold and Bloom, she presented this to me. I thought it was great and it was fun to write about. Thanks for checking out 1440 as well!

  7. Love this post!

  8. I deeply appreciate Mr. Barrie for sharing his thoughts as I learned a lot from it. It was worth it reading this highly informative and interesting post!

    God bless and I hope to hear from you soon. Your name is worth remembering!

  9. Jon Giganti says:

    Thanks @travelwisconsin!

  10. Here is a slightly contrarian view. Ran across this blog post by accident. At first, I was amused. It smacked of the arrogance of youth. As in “Gee, this sex stuff is great. Wonder if Mom and Dad know about this???”

    But as I read further, I became saddened. In “Lesson 8” Jon talks about mom’s divorce. My guess is Jon still feels some of that hurt. I’ve known too many who saw their parents divorce as they were growing up. Wonder what ever happened to commitment?

    As a long time consultant and trainer, I prefer “sharing lessons learned” over “teaching anyone a lesson.” Just as I prefer “buying” over “selling.” The former focuses on others, while the latter focuses on self.

    Maybe it was just luck, but I learned many of those lessons fifty years ago from parents born a hundred years ago. No need to teach them anything — they did a great job of sharing their lessons on life. Ditto my two grown sons — I leaned a lot from them as they were growing up. And today, I continue to learn exciting new lessons from my six grandchildren.

    Finally, I disagree with lesson number 6. Yes, it IS about retirement, and saving for the future. But it is a matter of balance. Take that vacation — but go camping instead of expensive ski trips. Go out to dinner — but not every night for fast food. Fix the old car — don’t buy a fancy new one every year. Live simple, and sock away what you can. Retirement age comes sooner than you’ll ever realize.

    My parents are both gone. But if they walked in the room right now, I would not waste a minute teaching them lessons. Rather, I would want to know what new lessons they could share with me. Enjoyed the post — best wishes.

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi Daryl,

      Great point on “sharing lessons” rather than “teaching.” That was definitely the intent, so I apologize if it came off the way you mentioned. When it comes down to it, I know I’ve learned more from my parents and their generation than anything I can teach them.

      That being said, when I contemplated where they may be able to benefit from my perspective, these are items that came up. I also had a chance to interview some folks from this generation, which was pretty cool.

      Thanks for the comments.

      • Hi Jon,

        And my apologies if I came across the wrong way. (Probably my poor attempt at some humor.)
        Your points were all well taken, and we can all learn from each other, all through out lives.

        All the best.

        • Jon Giganti says:

          Hi Daryl,

          No problem – just wanted to make sure I didn’t misrepresent what I meant. Thanks a bunch for reaching out!

          Jon

  11. I loved this article. It made me feel very positive and inspired. Great start to my day. I have seen my mother and older co-workers be inspired by people our age due to many of the points you mentioned. I am getting to the age where I am inspired by my younger staff – they have so my energy and a care-free way of living…..very inspiring.

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi Heidi,

      It’s never too late to change anything. I’m humbled that you found value in the article. Don’t stop inspiring your younger staff either : )

      Jon

  12. I’m a 46-year-old inbetweener and found this article dead-on.

    The underlying theme of the post seemed to me to be the need that the older generationneeds to see things fresh, with a new set of eyes, always learning and adapting to new information and new realities.

    The old excuse that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” just does not hold water these days. I don’t believe it ever did, but certainly not now, not if the older generation is to stay relevant and develop a life of ever growing joy and influence.

    Thanks for the younger-eyed insights into an important topic.

  13. Jon Giganti says:

    Hi Ken,

    Really appreciate the insight. It was a fun topic to write about, as well as a challenge. I love your thought on “teaching an old dog new tricks.” You’re absolutely correct – it’s never too late. We all have an opportunity to do great things in our lives and we shouldn’t let any preconceived notions stand in the way.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Jon

  14. I think that parents should really learn about spending quality time with their kids. Time is something that parents should appreciate because it goes by so fast… and sometimes when they are too busy with their work they don’t notice that they slowly grow apart with their kids

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi there! I couldn’t agree with you more. Time and experiences trump material things every time. Thanks for the perspective.

      Jon

  15. You are right, I should give my mom the advice that work is not life. She works 24 hours a day and does some more work on the side. I don’t really understand why, to me it seems she just works to work.

    • Jon Giganti says:

      Hi Alice. It’s easy to get in that routine of non-stop work. I’m a big believe in performance over just doing work. Taking time off and cycling periods of intense focused work with rest is a big part of optimal performance. A great book is Power of Full Engagement. Maybe that can help your mom. Best of luck and thanks for the comment!

      Jon

  16. Alfredo Diaz says:

    If i could teach my mother one skill it would be, to learn how to learn. To be able to turn her confusion and curiosity in life, into answers and gained knowledge. Acquiring this skill is one of the most important and fundamental skills in a child’s development.
    I believe that first we need to learn from each other, the skills needed to raise a child to be able to reach their full potential and abilities. Then as they grow through life, not only in adulthood but their childhood as well, the knowledge we gain from them is a surprise waiting to unfold and alter the lenses in which we use to view our world. One thing i have learned from my mother is that happiness is not a sensation that is gained at somepoint in life, rather it is discovered, within yourself.