One topic that kept coming up was how there were some things we wished we had learned as children so we could have avoided struggling with them as adults. The 3 key areas we wish we learned as children are how to handle money, nutrition and portion size, and emotional intelligence.
How would our lives, and our parent's lives, have been different if we were all taught the skills to handle these areas (in school or otherwise)? And, what can we do to change this pattern so it doesn't continue to repeat?
America is now known for its incredibly large "super-sized" portions and fast food diet. Even the abbreviation of the Standard American Diet is S.A.D. :(
Our grandparents (born in the early 1900's) didn't seem to have much weight or portion-size problems. Yet, we know they ate a lot of margarine! The issue didn't seem to become a problem until later in our parent's era (born after 1945). Right around when fast food started and the Great Depression and WWII were just becoming recent memories.
The ease at which we can access food and the "normal" (i.e. 50% larger than 1950) sizes we have today contribute to this. Also, proper nutrition and portion sizes aren't taught to children in every home. Or, if they are, they aren't always enforced.
One way we can start to combat this is to start using smaller plate sizes. Did you know plate sizes used to be 9 inches in diameter and now they average 12 inches or larger!? I'm pretty sure our plates are around the 12-inch size so we're going to pick some smaller plates up at the Thrift Store later this month. We want to try the smaller plates and bowls out next month as one of our experiments to see if it helps us have smaller portion sizes.
Another way we can start to change our perceptions of what a normal amount of food is would be to measure it out or weigh it. Either way, we need to work on being more aware of our portion sizes and work to improve our nutrition through being more mindful when it comes to food.
When I was in grade school, I read a short story that tore me up. I can't even remember, specifically, what the story was about other than the main character ended their life alone. Something about that story just ripped me apart. I was grief-stricken and just cried after finishing the story. I remember running to my mom and I just held her and cried. I didn't know how to explain what I was feeling to her. I didn't understand it. She didn't know what to do.
She ended up calling my dad and had him drive down and pick me up. He stopped somewhere and we had a father-son talk. My dad is a great guy but he is more of a logical thinker and so emotions aren't an easy topic to discuss with him.
Shortly after that, they started to send me to a therapist but because I didn't understand WHY they were sending me to a therapist it actually made the situation worse. The therapist did the typical "therapist thing" and just asked questions but I didn't get any answers.
So, even though my parents were doing the only thing they knew to do to help me, I felt they were basically telling me that my emotions were wrong.
Now, as an adult, I realize that they, unfortunately, didn't know how to handle or deal with emotions either.
How could this story have changed if my parents had been taught the skills to not only handle their own emotions more effectively but teach me as well?
We're taught from a young age that some emotions are BAD and undesirable. When crying as a child we are sometimes isolated ("Go to your room!"), berated ("Shut up! Stop crying!"), or shamed ("Big boys don't cry!").
What does that message say? Either A, you are a big boy and you aren't supposed to cry or B, you're a baby. And, no one ever wants to be thought of as a baby or weak (especially when you're a child!).
This way of handling emotions hurts us not only as children but as adults too. As adults, what do we do when we're feeling intense "negative" emotions? If we cry, we're afraid of being shamed so we try and hide it. We run to the bathroom at work, keep our heads down, or go to our cars just to have a safe space to FEEL and release emotions. Doing so in public is considered taboo and child-like.
+1 TO EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (BUFF UP)
In order to improve our emotional intelligence, we must first realize and admit there is a problem, to begin with. Once we've admitted there is a problem, then and only then can we start talking to each other about how to solve it.
The first step we can take today is just to become more aware of how we respond to our emotions and the emotions of others. An example here would be to understand that when you hand someone tissues for crying there is an underlying message delivered with that square piece of paper. That message is, "Sssh..stop crying and use this." It's essentially promoting the idea that we shouldn't feel this way.
When, in fact, we should start identifying and validating other people's feelings by saying, "I understand your pain. And, it's OK to feel that way." Then follow up with discovering WHAT emotion they are having, WHY they feel that way, and then learn what THEY need to feel better. The more we acknowledge the feelings of others we can begin to truly understand our own emotions and what purpose they serve.
Why should we do this? Every emotion is said to have a message. By improving our emotional intelligence we can begin to decipher those messages.
Both my wife, Emily, and I grew up in homes where money was really tight. My mother didn't talk about money. She didn't talk about things like balancing checkbooks and budgets, let alone, savings or retirement. I was given an allowance for a brief period of time but there was nothing tied to it so I didn't understand the value of it. I learned more about finances from comic books than I did from my parents.
Growing up I started to collect comics and $10 bucks a month, or however, much my allowance was, wasn't even kinda sort of enough. So I scrounged in couch cushions, picked up loose change that I found, and even dug through boxes of junk looking for pennies just so I could make coin rolls to cash in at the bank. This taught me some value of money and how difficult it was to get.
Fast forward to us as adults and what do we have? Emily and I have learned the hard way how important a budget is. We've learned again, again, and again that when we make a budget and then go over that budget we're setting ourselves up for stress and anxiety and well, just adding difficulty to life in general.
We've learned there is a lot we don't know about finances. The few efforts we've tried to self-educate ourselves about investments we just lost money. We never actually learned anything.
We've learned the dangers of credit cards, payday loans, short-term loans, and the burden of a mortgage. As well as the shame of bankruptcy.
Most Americans don't even have a $1000 in savings. They have no investment portfolio and thus no retirement potential. As of 2017, "78% of people in America live paycheck to paycheck. That's 8 out of 10 people!
Just think about that. That means MOST people are unprepared for any emergencies, unexpected illness, or car problems. That means MOST people have not been taught the skills on how to make, invest, or save money.
Once again, the first step in solving this problem is recognizing there is one. We have to understand that there are certain financial skills we do not possess and so we have to learn the value and importance of budgeting and the vital importance of saving.
We've found that we've got 3 options available for changing our money habits:
Option 1) Stay the course (No Change)
Cost = hundreds of dollars in overspending and overdraft fees
Option 2) Self Education
Educate yourself at meetups, free financial seminars, library "How to Dummy" books.
Cost = tons of time, transportation costs, book and class costs
Option 3) Work with a financial advisor
Cost = $300+ to have an initial consult and additional amounts for yearly check-ins
We're planning to do a combination of option 2 and 3 since we are going to need some time to save up the cost of seeing a financial advisor. So we've begun researching and learning about financial freedom by visiting our local library. What do you prefer to do to improve your financial know-how?
By applying the tips above to strengthen your emotional intelligence, financial knowledge, and nutrition you'll be on your way to breaking free from past generations habit patterns and creating your own.
What do you wish you had learned as a child? What can be done today to make a change? We'd love to hear from you!