This past Christmas, I was late getting gifts wrapped and put under the tree. I don't know about your house, but the minute I do this every year, my kids get really interested in what's happening under the tree. Curiosity kills my kids. And the cat.
"Mom, when are you taking us shopping to buy gifts for you and Dad?" one of my kids asked.
"Do you have money to buy gifts?" I asked.
"Well, I was thinking you could give us money. Um, to buy your gifts with," came the answer.
Every month we give our kids money and it's up to them to buy things they want (we provide things they need and also many wants). When I reminded my daughter of this, she said, "Oh, I wanted to buy a cute Christmas shirt with my money."
When I polled my other kids, they too, were short on money and big on expectations. Now, I'm not a Scrooge and I don't want to rob my kids of the opportunity to give gifts to others. But I also refuse to rob them of the privilege of hard work. Because that's when the joy of giving is revealed.
So, I created a "Jobs to Earn Money For Christmas Gift List" and stuck it on our family memo board. I mentioned it once and waited to see who really wanted to give gifts this season.
In our culture, it's hard not to let entitlement creep into our homes and lives. It's especially challenging not to fuel the expectations of our kids by our own parenting choices to make life easy for them and give them everything they want. We struggle with the "you owe me" mantra in our home. I'm writing about this because it's an issue we really battle. But the first step is admitting it.
According to this Glen Beck segment, there are four cultural trends that contribute to the entitlement movement:
1. Self-Esteem Movement- Raising kids with the "you are special" mantra isn't healthy for kids. They don't need to hear they are the best at everything and everything they do is the best (instead of look at me, it should be I'm a person of value that God created. Self-esteem isn't bad, but narcissism is).
2. Celebrity Culture-Reality TV shows highly dysfunctional people and celebrates bad behavior. Rich celebrities are portrayed as ignorant and they are worshipped in our culture.
3. Emerging Media- The growth of social media has altered reality, enhanced self-promotion and offers a "fake" sense of who we really are, as opposed to who we present online. Technology is not bad. It's like fire -- it serves a good purpose, but it can get completely out of control and dangerous.
4. Credit Bubble-This culture feeds on comparison. Not only in comparing ourselves to what others have, but also in getting it for ourselves even when we can't afford it.
In our own homes, these trends can manifest in our children. This is what it might look like:
5 Signs of Entitlement in our Kids:
1. I want it now. Kids are impatient and who can blame them? We live in a drive-thru culture and instant gratification is well, instant. And often we find ourselves living in fear of saying no because our children are used to getting what they want.
2. I don't want to work for it. Why work when it can be given to you? It's fosters a cycle of laziness and poor work ethic when we constantly give to our children without requiring any work. We need to create entry points starting at a young age for our children to contribute to household chores and jobs.
3. I don't have to clean up my mess. We battle this one often. I'm learning to choose my wars. But I believe this is also responsible living. If you make a mess, you clean it up.
4. I want it because everyone else has it. My 7-year-old has asked for an Elf on the Shelf every day for a week. Why? Because she feels left out that many of her friends have one. And that's awesome for them, but I don't want that to be the focus of our season and I honestly don't have time or energy to create things for the stuffed animal to do. The bottom line for us: it's OK for you not to have what everyone else has. I asked my daughter, "If everyone had a swimming pool, would you want one too?" She said yes. Clearly, we are working on this one.
5. I expect you to fix all my problems. I love to help my kids out. But there's a fine line between helping and aiding bad behavior. If my child forgets their lunch everyday and I bring it everyday, there's really not a reason for them to ever be responsible. My kids expected us to give them money for a gift for us. Instead, I found it the perfect chance to teach them about hard work and let them solve their own dilemma.
My son spent about four hours raking leaves in our big backyard. He had blisters on his hands and he worked very hard.
My oldest babysat for five hours and my youngest earned money by cleaning and organizing under all the sinks in the house. When I took them to Target to Christmas shop, they were so proud to use their money. My teen spent more than she planned, "Mom, I love the way it feels to buy for others," she said as she counted out her hard-earned money.
My job here is done.
Not really, but it did make me smile to hear those words. The reality is, entitlement will rear its ugly head more than once this week and probably next. It's a constant battle to remind our children and ourselves that we aren't owed anything, that life is a gift and it needs to be appreciated.
So, what do we do about it? We can counteract these negative expectations by expecting more from our kids and teaching them these principals from Empowering Parents:
- Money doesn't come easily.
- People work hard to earn money; it's part of life.
- If you want something, you need to work to earn it.
- You are not entitled to things you haven't earned.
- Compassion for others (show them third world problems, so they have perspective on their first world ones)
- Responsibility for Actions: there are consequences and rewards for our behavior and choices
Parenting is hard. Doing it in our culture is even harder. But it is possible to raise grateful, hard-working kids who put others first. That's my goal, anyway.