My oldest daughter and I were walking out of K-Mart several years ago when an old, rusty carousel caught her eye. She was barely two and had never actually ridden one before because I was cheap and never put money in them. They’re fun to just sit on, right? But this time, I thought Why not? and ran to the car to scrounge for a couple quarters.
Triumphant, we marched back and dropped the coins inside. I watched her giggle and smile, and giggle and smile, and giggle and smile, as she went around and around. I was sure I was the best mom in the world, because just look at her. Look at all that joy. I did that. Me and that metal pony.
Then, the ride ended. I lifted her off the seat, hitched her to my hip, and headed toward the car. Cue tantrum.
“AGAIN! AGAIN!” she wailed.
“I don’t have any more quarters, baby. It’s time to go home.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!! RIDE IT AGAAAAINNNN!” Tears upon tears streamed down her face. And I got mad.
As I buckled that tiny toddler into her carseat, I went on a mom-tirade that would put Tami Taylor to shame. I preached about “saying thank you for one instead of throwing a fit for two” and “do you think that makes me want to do nice things for you” and “I’m still waiting to hear a thank you.” Ask me how well that went.
That freshly-turned-two-year-old cried until we got home. Eventually, she said thank you, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t know what she was saying thank you for.
It was not one of my best parenting moments to date. But I was so hell-bent on not raising an ungrateful child that I saw a “teachable moment” and got a little too enthusiastic.
As a former teacher, I had just seen too much. I was still recovering from the ingratitude and entitlement I had seen in the kids I’d taught and had thus sworn that One day, when I have kids . . .
Then I had kids. Now I see how easy it is to just let entitlement happen. It’s what comes naturally – both to us and to them. Fighting against it is gritty work, while letting it go requires a lot less effort. So we do. We let it go. And we accidentally raise brats.
So here are five ways you might (unwittingly) be raising entitled kids:
You Teach Them Fair Means Equal
You get him a present for his sister’s birthday party so he doesn’t feel left out. You put a candle on his cupcake to let him blow one out, too. You make sure there are two of everything in your house so they don’t have to share–which makes your life easier. You’re doing him no favors teaching him that he deserves something just because someone else has it. Fair does not mean equal, because everyone’s needs are not the same.
You Clean Up After Them
It’s easier. You don’t have to fight the battle. You don’t have to deal with the inevitable fit. Plus, you’re better and faster at it. But what she is learning is that she isn’t responsible for cleaning up her own messes because mom and dad will. Someone will always come behind her and fix what she messes up.
You Bail Them Out
Got in trouble at school? You call the teacher. Forgot their homework? You bring it to them. Not getting enough playing time? You call the coach. Disrespectful to an adult? You apologize for him. At a certain age, we have to let them take responsibility for their actions. The sooner she realizes no one is responsible for her and her actions other than her, the better off she will be.
You Let Them Freeload
You do their laundry, dump their trash, clean their toilets, mow the yard. You give them money for smartphones and movies and restaurants and gas. They expect you to take care of it . . . because you always do. They don’t understand that a family functions best when every member is pitching in and putting others before themselves, which will make them a fun husband or wife to live with someday. It’s okay to sit them down and tell them you are exhausted and need help.
You Let Your World Revolve Around Them
Every waking moment they have your undivided attention. You wait to clean or work until they are asleep. You never miss a practice, much less a game. You are in debt because of the amount of money you are spending on extra-curriculars: private lessons, SAT classes, cheer uniforms, homecoming tickets. You just want to make sure they get everything they want . . . at the expense of getting anything you need. There’s a fine line between supporting and idolizing. Don’t do them the disservice of making them your idol. They will be hit with a harsh reality when the real world doesn’t find them quite so awesome.
I know none of us head into parenthood intending to raise ungrateful kids. But I also know sometimes we are too blinded by our unconditional love for them to battle against their human-ness. At best, we over-parent. At worst, we mistake overindulgence for love and care.
But in the long run, we are doing them no favors. Love them enough to say no, to let them be responsible for themselves, and to stop taking care of everything for them. Someday, they–not to mention the rest of society–will love you for it.