Kay is a mother of 5, three of which fall into the tween/teen category. She’s a recovering enabler, procrastinator, controller, grammar hacker and is calendar challenged (among other things).
EASLEY: We’re talking today on inContext to Kay Wyma, the mother of five children. You got us beat, sorry. We just have four. I feel like I’m lazy. Three of your children…
WYMA: Therein lies the comparison.
E: Three of your kids fall in the tween, teen category, still? Is that correct?
W: Yes, it is.
E: Your bio says you are a recovering enabler, procrastinator, controller, grammar, hacker..I love it.. and calendar challenged among other things. I loved reading some of your blogs and preface to your newest book, from your book about doing big TV interviews then jumping in a van to go sit in a line and pick up your kids at school.
W: Yes, it’s the story of my life.
E: Life goes on, doesn’t it?
W: Yes, life goes on and that’s the good part of life, really.
E: Well lets talk about first of all, I know it’s old news for a lot of your followers, but some who may not know you, your first book Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. A) Did you ever anticipate, “I’m going to write a book and share my story and encourage people with this whole thing?”
W: No, I really didn’t. I kind of went down that road kicking and screaming because I was an investment banker in a former life and I always kind of thought I would go back to that. However, the fact that I cannot complete a fifth grade math assignment should open my eyes to the fact that I wouldn’t be in investment banking anymore, but one can hope.
E: Well investment bankers probably couldn’t do well with Common Core, but we’ll leave that alone. So you decided to write this book; you come into it reluctantly, because?
W: Because my kids at that point, the oldest was a teenager, I was nervous quite frankly. I loved MOPS, which was a wonderful ministry for moms of young children. They have people come in and tell you this is going to happen, this is regular, this is normal and here are red flags and I needed that for my teenagers as I sat at the cusp of that. That’s when I started a blog. I was with some friends who were equally in a precarious spot, wondering what’s normal and what’s not. I got great people to just give us advice and along the road is how Cleaning House came out because I got frustrated with my kids one day when I felt like they were looking at me to do everything for them and they were like looking to the state to serve them. I realized I was the state and I was grooming socialism and I don’t even believe in socialism and that was that. I thought it would be funny if I blogged about that. Then I had a couple of publishers that wanted to publish a book from it and so that’s why I just didn’t really expect it. I didn’t know that I was a writer. I enjoy it though. I love it.
E: Well you’ve got a knack for it. It’s fun to read your stuff.
When you think about entitlement, of course Cindy and I lived in Dallas the area for thirteen years and even compared to other places we lived, Dallas is the epicenter of entitlement.
E: And wealth and materialism so you’re really going upstream.
W: I guess so.
E: At what age did your children’s friends have iPhones?
W: It’s starts about…it probably starts with Kindergarten here. It starts early and..
W: ..it’s very regular and normal so very few people think about it here and I know it is the epicenter. I have so many friends that come in and say that we don’t really realize it. In the midst of all of that it might be, but gosh, the people are so great you know.
E: No question.
W: These festers that we live under, that we don’t even realize we live under and they sap the joy out of your life. Entitlement for sure saps the joy and parents do it because they love their kids. You know, they want life to go well for them and we’re duped into thinking that life goes well if you prepare the road ahead of them and then walk it for them. The other side of that people are crippled but it’s very hard to see it because everyone’s racing around trying to keep up and beat the people that are next to them for their kids sake.
E: Now Kay, I know a little of your family. I know a little of your history. You did not grow up in a tough situation. How did you compare your entitlement, is it even fair to use that word, with your children and let’s generalize, and my kids too? This current crop of teens, what was the difference?
W: Such a great question. Because I did grow up comfortably. At the same time my dad was very clear to tell us that though we may be comfortable today, that’s not something to expect. So there was very much a mantra of hard work. We weren’t allowed to just skate by. If you’re going to do a job, you should do it well. I don’t think he was afraid of failure either, to let us fall. I don’t think people were really as afraid of that even then as they are now. There’s certainly wasn’t a trend to bubblewrap your children either. We would leave the house in the morning and come back at night.
E: When you look at the cultural shifts, and again I think some neuroscience is going on here too. I use the analogy that our parents made do with what we had. They imperceptibly and intrinsically wanted you and me to have it better than they did; so you got to college, you get a good job, you save, you live under your income, you know all the things that were handed to us. There almost seems to be an unintended consequences that they did well with what they had. They wanted us to have it better. What did we, without intentionality, give to our kids?
W: I love that you brought that up because the term “better,” “I want my kids to have it better,” that phrase really started after the Great Depression and people didn’t have the opportunity to have an education and so when they were working so hard it really was to give their kids the opportunity to be educated so they could “have it better” than they did. I think we’ve inserted in that “have it better,” somehow in our minds we have decided that it means financial success. That is what “better” is. On the other side of that “kind of better,” “Oh if I pave the road” which they’ve changed the term from helicopter parenting to snowplow parenting because it’s just not hovering. People are getting in the trenches and doing the work for their children. It’s like “See also college applications,” you know. I have a kid that is eighteen sitting at that cusp right now knowing full well that his peers have been to advisors on how to do their college application even to the point of writing their essays for them. All these grooming techniques that we use rather than just letting them live and you kind of sit there and want to say, “Well who says that’s how you have to do that?”
E: I used to use an illustration, and I forget the author, who talked about this parent calling Princeton and Harvard and Yale and they wanted to know the best Pre-K and Kindergarten program for their child to get into one of these schools. The question should have been appalling enough. What was really appalling was that the Universities had an answer.
W: Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure on a little kid and on a parent as if that’s what makes them. In the process and what I saw in our house, that I started apologizing fast. I would never…no one I know would have considered me a helicopter person, because I am entirely too flaky. I’m unorganized and I just can’t keep up with anything, but when I started putting, legitimately putting these household tasks on their plate, I realized what I was doing to them when I didn’t put it on their plate because when you don’t do it, even though I might be saying to them, “You can do anything you put your mind to. I really believe in you” When I don’t believe in them and when I don’t put the task on their plate; they hear the loud implied message which I’m convinced is all they hear anyway, “You can’t do it, or I can do it better,” which really is not what I think. It floored me how I was not equipping and training them. Even through Scripture I loved the verse, train up a child in the way they should go. As they get old they won’t depart from it. In my mind somehow I made that Scripture, “Oh, ok if we read Scripture to them and if they learn it then they’re good to go.” I sort of forgot about the training aspect that involves showing them how to do something and then standing off at the side while they try, then getting out of the way so they do it themselves and really how all encompassing that is. That really is a gift, but it sure does take your breath away and it is countercultural.
E: Let’s switch a little bit although we’re really not switching, though your new book which I love, it really is dealing with…is it too simple to talk about contentment as the key word?
W: Yeah. It’s a big word. When the publisher, they were very nice to come back and say, “We’d love for you to write something else,” and I quickly reminded them, “I’m not a writer,” and they were like, “No, we want something.” We talked about what the topic is where I’ve had such wonderful opportunities to speak different places. I told them in the room wherever I am for sure the biggest issue is this competitiveness. It’s just bizarre, especially in parenting. Competitive parenting! Who came up with that? It’s like an olympic sport. Then I was saying, “At the core of all that is comparison.” I mean that’s really what it is. We just cannot stop comparing ourselves to each other, pretty much from the minute we get up and that was like, “Yeah, yeah, do that.” Boy, did that open up a can of worms. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’m not joking. It has been a really challenging road to embark on this topic.
E: Paul wrote in Philippians 4, and I’m sure you cite this in the book. He says, “Not that I speak from want, for I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” I find it striking. We all like to look back on our past and go yeah, we got along with a little when mom and dad were early in their career or when we were early in marriage. Now we have a lot; yes, but we don’t like the flip it and at this point Paul had flipped it. Paul had had a lot. Now he’s in and out of prison; he’s living on a little; he’s being filled with going hungry and suffering; so talk a little bit about that, not only from your book but just your experience. How do we start to instill this idea of contentment, which in Greek means enough?
W: The answer to that topic: I can do all things through Christ who lives in me, which is exactly what you said. That seems like a term that is so heady. How do you really tap into that? How does that work? Because for me that’s where I’d go, “Oh, that sounds so lovely.” How does that work? You go back to where the gentleman or whoever was surrounding Him and said, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love others as you love yourself and later I loved you. It’s like therein lies the secret sauce, “Love others.” Well, if you really are loving God and you are loving others, than your eyes are not on yourself. The entitlement issue. What’s wrong with the entitlement issue? Narcissism, for sure because it’s me. Me me me me me! The same with comparison, whether you’re comparing yourself thinking you’re better than somebody or you’re comparing yourself because you’re not as good which is really where I think people fit, you know? On the short end of the stick of comparison, either way your eyes are on yourself and I feel the Lord is saying, “ Do you want to know the secret sauce of life?” Keep your eyes off of yourself. I’m telling you this because I love you. I love you! I want you to be happy and your happiness is really found in me so look at me. As I started peeling back the layers on this thing, which really you think you’re looking at one, and you just slightly peel it back and there’s a thousand more. It was hard to not go back to the garden because that’s where it started. Comparison was the tool that was used for the fall. You’ve got something because you’re fine. They don’t even realize they have no clothes on. They’re content! Perfect provision even with the tree standing there that was out of bounds. You can’t touch that! Until someone comes and says, “By the way that thing over there. It has everything you need. You aren’t complete, but you would be if you had that.” There goes the comparison and their eyes start to look at them. I don’t have something that I should have and they go for it and I feel like that’s been our problem from that point on. The part that surprises me is how pervasive it is even in my own mind. I can get up in the morning and simply open my drawer and see a pair of pants I might have worn before I had that fifth child, but still I have never worn since that date, and somehow decide I should be in those pants. I’m sort of a lust of myself because I’m not that; I’m not wearing those like I should be wearing those and therein it’s got me. There goes the trap and all of a sudden I see lots of my imperfections which really is just me thinking about me. I just don’t think there’s any contentment in that.
E: So you’re in Dallas; I’m in Brentwood; folks who are listening to this later are in different parts of the country and we’ve all got our spheres; whether its what I used to wear, what I drive, what I used to drive, my friend who got a new thing that he or she drives, the bigger, better, newer, more, penchant. Give us some index Kay. How do we think about contentment? Not that possessions or growth are bad, but how are we content in the circumstances we find ourselves?
W: Right! One is gratitude. Where am I looking? Like right now I’m holding a pair of readers because I can no longer see and I think about those lenses…it’s like what lenses am I looking through when I look at life? Am I looking through these lenses of what I expect? Because expectations play a major role in this whole comparison thing. There’s the theory of the U shaped curve of life is a theory that really stands across societal norms. It doesn’t hit any socioeconomic sphere, like it’s just a part of life. Every region of the world which says that, “At a certain point in life like …you have the beginning of life and you have the end of life and you start out in life fairly content and happy, and then in about your twenties to thirties it starts to dip down and it stays and it continues to go lower in your thirties and forties, and fifties and then it goes back up in the sixties, seventies, and eighties and they don’t know why. Except in that major dip down the load of unmet expectations; you have this idea of the way things are supposed to be and its expectations on yourself; you know this is how I’m supposed to be and there’s a measuring mark on the line either I’m there which really never happens, or I’m above or below. No matter where you are, you have this mark that you think you’re supposed to reach and whoever said that? It could vary in whatever region of the world you live or socioeconomic sphere that you’re in. It’s different for everybody, yet we seem to think that there’s a measuring line that we’re supposed to hit, but as soon as you hit it, it moves and therein lies this odd game that we do trying to measure up. One of the first things I think we need to do is really figure out what our expectations are; what lenses we’re looking through. As a believer am I looking through God’s expectations for me or from what the world has defined for me? I think that’s a big part of the equation and I think gratitude is enormous; to be able to focus not on what I don’t have, but what I do have. I tell my kids that all the time especially like when I hear words like, “Not fair” entered the picture. Can we for a minute look at the good stuff that is going on? Which may be where Paul sat, with his eyes on Jesus being able to say, “I’m good because I trust Him and I trust His provision. Can I see the provision in the midst of what I would see as lacking and I think a lot of our contentment comes along the lines of kind of a reboot of sorts.
E: When you think of our current entitlement culture as you have written in your first book Cleaning House, and you think of the pervasive nature of kids and technology it’s exploded, and I love the fact that the software and applications are written now for preteens so there’s almost this never-ending flow of comparison that comes at them. What they’re doing to themselves with Instagram and the Snapchat and some of the flirting sites where they show pictures of themselves; it’s astonishing. It’s all about comparison.
W: Yeah! It is and I think it is actually hard for us to relate to. We can feel it a little bit. It’s the likes, the shares. There are so many opportunities to compare yourself that you wonder why the weight of depression is so high. It’s really at an all time high and the United States suicide is at an epidemic rate, you know, staggering. The CDC says, “That doesn’t even touch the trend to self harm. Why are people so unhappy? Does social media play a role? It’s hard to think that it wouldn’t because again it allows me to pretty much think about myself all day, every day. I could easily go a whole day without a break from myself, which is not going to lead us to a place of contentment. There’s an interesting, since you like reading, there’s an interesting article study that was done by some Harvard guys, I think Gerr is the name of who did it. Because right now one of the very popular topics is mindfulness which people take to yoga, because it’s this concept of where your mind is; filling your mind and what you’re thinking. They did a study on our propensity, human beings do have wandering thoughts. Forty nine point six percent of our day is spent with our thoughts wandering and it could be in all kinds of capacities but when our thoughts wander we tend to not be happy, which is the results that they came up with and our minds tend to wander when we’re on the computer, when we’re in conversation, and when we wander we’re going towards all these things that we think we should have or we think we should be doing. Someone’s talking to us. How do I compare with them? The concept of mindfulness is so powerful and compelling. If I’m on my mind looking at Facebook, it’s hard to peruse through that and come out unscathed.
E: There has been some studies done recently about the level of depression and how much time a person spends on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram; it’s almost corollary. If you spend ten minutes on this three times a day that should be your allocation. It’s all you really need.
W: It’s fascinating isn’t it? I would say for me, even knowing what I do and kind of being a little bit aware I’m going to be tripped up on this stuff. It floors me and I could see for me today with an eighteen year old it is college acceptances. I sit there and I’m like, “Oh that’s so neat they got into Stanford. How did he get into Stanford? Has he finished his application?”
(laughter) My gosh! That is not a college for everybody.
E: Back to your earlier trending getting close to sixty, it’s a fun place to be. I talk to my peers and it’s like I got nothing to prove anymore.
W: Yes! Isn’t that interesting?
E: In your thirties and forties you’re trying too, you’re proving, you’re comparing, you go back to high school reunions. If you went to those things, the tenth, the twentieth, the twenty fifth, whatever, at some point it’s like the times running out is really quick. So what am I doing and who am I? My identity is in Christ, not in what I wear, or what I drive, or how big the thing I own might be. How do we get free from this comparison trap?
W: I think a big part is a mental reboot. Another thing is to be able to see the people that are around you rather than see them as a competitor, but actually see them beyond the moment. There’s the idea of something called the glimpse where you see these things and in the moment you instantly compare yourself for all this kind of stuff, probably going down a road that I don’t compare favorably into all of this rather than seeing the people. I think we see these people and don’t realize that they are people with a lot of other things going on in their life. The idea, if you can take comparison and pick out an r and an i out of that word and switch n and s and an i, you can go from comparison to compassion. To me, how do we get pass this? A lot less us and a lot more others. If I can be comfortable in myself, in my own skin to be able to look at something besides me, I can see these people around me who are dying in the midst of it too because they are bumping up against all this stuff and they equally are unhappy and discontent trying and searching to find the thing which leads back to our kids, you know. If that’s the realm that you’re in. If you’re in the business world, can you really walk into a business meeting and trade business cards and be comfortable that you’re a vice president instead of a senior vice president? Or CEO? Or maybe think that the other people at that table might be comparing themselves to everyone else and meet them in the middle of that offer some encouragement? I got doses of it from my kids. Lessons that I really learn from this are from my children; just finding contentment and number one: actually genuinely being happy for someone else; letting someone else’s grade be ok. One of my daughters plays volleyball and she was given the role of setter on their team which grieved her because she’s mediocre athletic, you know just athleticism. She’s a great volleyball player because she has good hands and so her coach put her as setter. Well the setter has to touch the ball every single point. The setter never wins the point. The setter is setting somebody else up to win and when she got in that car that day and was upset about it for so many reasons including the fact that she would never win a point, it dawned on her how happy she is when she wins a point and that her entire essence of being on that team would be to set up people to win points and it filled her tank. I watched it fill her tank and then I watched her fill everyone else’s tank and there goes the counterintuitive nature of what our Lord tells us. “Do this so it will go well for you.” By the way it may not look like you not winning the point is actually what’s going to offer the most satisfaction, but it does.
E: Watching the Don and Sue Wills family a little bit up close and somewhat at a distance, I think you’re parents did well. You and your siblings all have that sense of making others more and yourself less. Kay Wyma, thank you for your latest contribution. I’m Happy for You (Sort Of. Not really) love that. Finding Contentment in a Culture of Comparison. Thanks for being on inContext.