If you’ve never seen the delightful 1950 movie in which Jimmy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd whose friend is a six-foot invisible rabbit eponymously named Harvey, you might enjoy it. I too have an invisible friend, though I don’t know how tall he is because he is, well, invisible! He happens to be a highly intelligent Martian named Montgomery, who is entirely and utterly unfamiliar with everything on earth. I find it ever so useful to be able to solicit his opinion about, or his reaction to, various earthly events. Some people dismiss my friend, and insist that all I am really doing is conducting thought experiments but to each his own.
Let me give you an example. I introduced Montgomery the Martian to two very different families. The first, residing in Beverly Hills, California, presents their children with the keys to a new BMW car on their sixteenth birthdays and engages a small army of housekeepers and gardeners to free each child from any onerous household chores. The children address their parents by their first names and receive lavish allowances with very little supervision and few rules.
The second family lives in a small town near Nashville, Tennessee. Each child carries the responsibility for some aspect of the family’s smooth running. Each child also has a job outside of school and is expected to say, “Yes, Sir” or “No, Ma’am” to his parents. The family attends church each Sunday together and dinner times are also family occasions. The children take turns mowing the lawn and tending to the flower garden.
My questions to Montgomery were this: Which set of parents is more likely to raise children with an enduring respect for parents and siblings? Which set of children are more likely to grow up into young adults who will endlessly complain to expensive therapists about how their parents ruined their lives?
Montgomery weighed it up and concluded that the parents who gave so much to their children, asking nothing in return, were surely the parents who would enjoy enduring gratitude and honor from their children. As his earthly friend, it was my duty to inform the Martian that he was wrong. In families where frugality is a fact of life and children are expected to behave like responsible family members and to carry their weight, family relationships are far stronger.