What Life Lessons are You Teaching Your Children? by David Bredehoft

My siblings and I recently came together from all parts of the country to celebrate our mother’s 90th birthday.  For one of her mementos we each wrote a memory or story special to us and placed it in a memory book. Now that the party is over, I would like to share my memory with you because I realize that loving mothers and fathers choose not to overindulge their children - and we grow up so much better because of it.

(58) 90 Years Old (2)

Elsie Bredehoft at her 90th Birthday Party

Dear Mom,

First let me congratulate you on your 90th birthday! What an achievement. I only hope we all live as long and with such a full, rich life as yours!

On this day I would like to take a moment to tell you about four important lessons you taught me. I will always cherish them as they guide me through life.

Life Lessons

Mom, thank you for teaching me so many important “life lessons” which guide me every day of my adult life. These lessons are simple ones, but they have been keys to my success as a college professor.  And, oh by the way, as chair of the faculty senate, I can attest that many intelligent individuals did not learn these lessons, and as a result, have had many difficulties succeeding in their adult professional lives.

Lesson one: “Work hard for what you want”

Mom, you taught me how to work hard for what I wanted. It all started even before I was ten-years-old. I remember I was so proud of the used bicycles you and dad bought us boys for Christmas, 1959. They were used, but wow they were bikes! We were so excited to get them that Christmas Eve; we rode them around the block in the dark. But after a while, I decided I needed the new shiny red bike that I had my eye on in the Western Auto store. I asked you to buy it for me, and you said, “We don’t have the money to buy you a new bike. All we could afford was the used one we bought you for Christmas.” Then you said, “If you want that new bike, I guess you will have to get a job and earn the money to buy it yourself.” And so I did. I went down to the Coffeyville newspaper office and got my first paying job as a newspaper boy. And I was so proud the day I bought that new bike with my own hard-earned money. Whether it was throwing papers, mowing lawns, tending the garden, irrigating the lawns and flowers, raising pigeons, washing dishes at the diner, working for Lyons Van Lines, being a waiter at Christopher’s Restaurant, working as a marriage and family therapist and a college professor; you taught me a valuable life lesson – work hard for what you want.

The kids and mom

Brothers John (left) and David (Right) back row, Sister Barb and Brother Mark with Mom (Front row)

Lesson two: “Choose your friends wisely”

I can still hear your voice inside my head saying: “It is important to choose your friends wisely.” What an important lesson! I have chosen wisely. I have wonderful supportive friends both at work and outside of work. The friends we choose can support us, or they can lead us astray. This simple rule has been so valuable to me particularly at work. I have chosen friends that were leaders, hard workers, who kept complaining to a minimum and were genuinely interested in helping others. My colleagues who chose friends who were complainers who put a lot of energy into getting the “administration” have not faired so well. This is a simple lesson, but not everyone gets it.

Lesson three: “Be kind and share”

How many times did you tell us boys “Be kind and share?” Again, this is a simple life lesson, but one that a lot of children do not learn. Kindness and justice are some of my most cherished values. You worked so hard to treat us children fairly and equally. If John got a new pair of pants, I got one (maybe his used one), and Mark got one too. It was important to treat us fairly. Thank you. As a result, later on in my life, when one of us needed something that the other did not get, it was easy for me to understand that sometimes in life being treated fairly means that another person’s needs may be greater than your own needs right now. They need it more than you do. A time may come when you need something more than the other, and then it will be your time. And BE KIND! I can’t tell you how many times that has been a blessing. Thanks.

Lesson four: “The simple things are sometimes the most fun”

As you know, growing up we did not have a lot of money. Please don’t feel bad about that because we certainly had more than enough love to make up for that. And by not having a lot of money you taught me that the simple things in life are sometimes the most fun. One example of this is going B-B shooting on Sunday afternoons in Albuquerque. You would save bottles and when you had a significant stash of them you would say, “Boys lets go target practicing at the ditch.” We would rush to grab or B-B guns and off we would go. When we got to the ditch, you would throw the bottles in and as they floated along all three of us, John, David and Mark, would take aim and try to be the first to sink them. So simple, but oh so fun!

Mom I love you. Thanks for teaching me well. Be proud of your life work! I give you an A+++++.




Tips for avoiding overindulgence

Teach your children these four life lessons:

·   “Work hard for what you want”

·   “Choose your friends wisely”

·   “Be kind and share”

·   “The simple things are sometimes the most fun”

P.S. Mom passed away at the age of 98 a few years ago. Even though I wrote this for her more than a decade ago, the lessons are still important for me today, and I hope they will be for you too!


Dave Bredehoft

There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).

Photos courtesy of David Bredehoft. 

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2022;  bredehoft@csp.edu