“McDonald’s,” she answered.

What? How could that be the answer?

“McDonald’s is the reason they are in such a mess. That’s why they have no work ethic. It’s why they don’t have jobs. It’s why they move back in with their parents when they are in their twenties and should be working, married, and having children of their own.”

A friend and I fell into this conversation when she told me that her receptionist at her small business wasn’t there to help her that day. We chatted about how so many 20-somethings were returning home to live because they could not support themselves. I asked my friend how this generation got to be this way and the conversation ensued.

“Ok,” I’m wondering, how can McDonald’s, the fast food restaurant, possibly be at fault for all of these problems and more? How can any restaurant, for that matter, have been the demise for a generation of people?

She continued, “When you and I (my friend is in her early 50’s and I am in my 40’s) were young, McDonald’s was a real treat. I can still remember the first time we ever went to McDonald’s. We pulled up and there were carhops who came to our car to serve us (I really don’t remember my first trip, I’m thinking). I remember it so well because it was such a treat. My family never went to McDonald’s, even when we were traveling we stopped at the greasy spoon diners on the roadside. But McDonald’s was different because it was quick and they brought the food right to your door. You didn’t even have to get out of the car.

“As we grew up, this experience became more common. Similar restaurants sprouted up all over the country, all with drive-thru windows, all bringing service right to your door. What a convenience! By the time we were adults and had children of our own, the experience itself was rather commonplace. Anytime we didn’t feel like cooking dinner, we went to the drive-thru. If we were sick, we went to the drive-thru. Lazy? We went to the drive-thru.

“Then we started giving ourselves real excuses. When we were young, there were not many opportunities for us to get involved with sporting or other similar events. Maybe we would play one sport each year. Or you might have a 4-H activity in the evenings. But it was never something that lasted the entire year, only for a season. Parents generally were far more concerned with having family time in evenings after a long day of work.

“In my family, we played softball (so did mine). That was it! We didn’t do a lot of other running around. Daddy came home from work, we ate dinner, and if someone had a game that night, we went and played or watched.

“Then we grew up, got married and had our own children. And, stupidly, we wanted something more for them.”

At this point, I’m reminiscing over my youth and thinking, “What more could I have wanted for my kids? Ok, so everybody has some stuff in their youth that stunk. Big deal. Overall, it was still a pretty good life. What on earth would have possessed me to change this?”

My friend continued, “So rather than limiting our children to one sport during the year, we let them play one each season. Or we would let them take year-round lessons in something they really liked.”

By then I was seeing the big picture. I chimed in, “Or we let them try out for the travel team and then we were gone from home every weekend.”

“Yes. Now you see it. And since we weren’t home anymore, we no longer cooked meals. We just ate on the run. This actually had a number of repercussions. Our kids grew up thinking that everything needed to be given to them right when they wanted it. When they were hungry, they got food. Right then! If they wanted a toy, it was immediately handed to them. Now think about this, have you ever seen a child at the store throw a temper tantrum?”

I nodded my head in agreement. Surely we have all seen this somewhere.

“Do you ever remember having such a fit yourself? Do you remember anyone of your siblings exhibiting such behavior when you were young?”

“Of course, not! My parents would have killed us if we had even had the thought!” I said with exasperation.

“Then why do you think we saw this as adults? Because our generation gave our children whatever they wanted instantly – food, sports, activity, excitement, entertainment, friends. We gave them more than what we had. We wanted them to have it better than we did. We took them to McDonald’s.

“Then they grew up. We had made sure they had a good education. Their good grades and good test scores got them into college or the military. They could have had whatever they wanted. The problem is, they can’t keep it.

“We trained them to have whatever they wanted on demand. College doesn’t work that way. Neither does the military. And neither does life in general. It took you and me 4 years to earn our college degrees and we laughed at people who were there for longer. Now students can barely stand to be in college for 2 years. In the military, they don’t want to do the work involved to advance, they simply want the glory of being a Navy Seal or in the Green Berets. They don’t seem to understand the years involved, or for that matter, the number of pushups and miles one must run to even be accepted to the schools.

“Those in the workforce can barely keep a job. They have no work ethic. The girl who works for me rarely shows up before noon. She’s supposed to be here by 11:00. I can never get her to stay until 5:00 either. She has made it abundantly clear that she only wants to work part-time, but she just wrecked her car in a DUI, she owes her attorney money, and her apparent goal for this weekend is to go to another party. The saddest part about this is that this is not the exceptional case, but the rule. I would have to interview hundreds of people before I could find one who was much different. People in her age bracket who are any good have jobs or are in school to prepare for one.”

What have we really given our children? A better way of life, or a means to cheap shortcuts, like the McDonald’s?

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