It was a hot February day in Texas. We only had a handful of volunteers and hundreds of needy refugees had already formed a line, so everybody had a job. Even our kids. Especially our kids.
From across the parking lot, I watched my 14-year-old give directions to the handful of kids barely taller than her waist. This small army of children were in charge of the mound of toiletry and hygiene items we were sharing with refugees in our city.
I blinked back tears as they divided the supplies into over 100 paper sacks.
They sorted donations, led refugee families around the free garage sale and collected their vouchers for needed items.
They worked for hours and never complained.
Earlier in the weekend, I felt guilty for roping my family into all this extra work. What started out as a simple "yes" ended up being a time-consuming, several-day event that is now an ongoing service project.
Volunteers helped us organize and sort a truckload of donations spread out on our driveway. When my 6th and 8th grade kids got off the bus, their friends asked if we were hoarders.
I think that might be called Junior High persecution.
As I watched my kids work hard in preparation for that day, jump in and serve refugees and navigate a language barrier, I quickly realized they didn't need an apology for not making the weekend fun! Filled with more stuff! Just for them! All about them!
It reminded me how healthy a bit of hard work is for all of us and how rewarding it is to serve other people.
As parents, I think we've missed something very important in our culture. In an effort to make family a priority and give our kids what we didn't have, we've become a child-focused culture. In many ways, we've lost our purpose. The sense of entitlement our kids exhibit is fueled by a parenting model that is obsessed with giving our children what they want and by making our kids the center of our lives.
In a way, we are just too into this parenting thing. We used to have birthday parties where A CAKE made it special and now it's an EVENT. We used to pass out store-bought Valentine cards, now we have them professionally printed with photographs and candy and goodie bags and mylar balloon bouquets. We used to play outside with sticks and get dirty; now kids have a variety of expensive game systems and a lot of technology at their disposal.
This quote by Jerry Seinfeld made me laugh because it's so true. But then it really made me think.
The bedtime routine for my kids is a royal coronation jubilee centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and the stuffed animal semi-circle of emotional support. I have to read eight different moron books to my kids. Do you know what my bedtime story was when I was a kid? DARKNESS. My parents would yell "Go to bed!"
We've all probably done the bedtime dance. I remember one of my kids had to have a certain color of pacifier to HOLD in her hand before she'd sleep. So, clearly, I'm no expert here. I'm learning from my parenting mistakes, too.
But in centering our world around our children and giving into their demands, we foster entitlement.
Most entitlement begins because we lack the courage to tell our children no or because we don't exhibit the strength to keep our no a no.
We continue to enable entitlement by rewarding our kids for everything they do. We may be taking away the sense of satisfaction and pride that comes from genuine achievement. Jason Walsh, a special education teacher in Washington, D.C., witnessed this firsthand during his school's fifth-grade graduation ceremonies. Some students received as many as 14 different awards. "The majority of the students didn't know what their awards really meant," says Walsh. The honors "didn't reinforce a specific achievement -- but a sense of entitlement and of being great.
Kids don't need more stars and stickers.
They need more hard work.
Kids don't need more activities.
They need more unstructured time.
Kids don't need more stuff.
They need more opportunities to give their stuff away.
Kids don't need more store-bought or manufactured fun.
They need freedom to create their own.
I looked at my exhausted, dirty children who gobbled down sandwiches in the car on the way home after our full day of serving, grinning silly and full and I didn't feel bad at all.
Because I realized I had given them something money couldn't buy. I had offered them something more valuable than the latest technology or hottest brand. I had given them perspective. And opportunity.
A few days later, I wanted to reward my kids. I'm definitely not against a pat on the back. But as I offered a small token for their great attitudes and hard work, it occurred to me they didn't need a sticker or star or reward from me for serving others. It was time for me to change the way I parent.
Because working hard and serving others was their reward. Just ask them.