I think of it as an exaggerated sense of entitlement.
It happens to the best of us. Our kids will simply behave like that occasionally. Like the whole world is there to serve them and cater to their needs. Like they deserve it. All of it and just because.
It’s easy to feel rather incensed and wonder. Why do kids nowadays – many of them anyway, and if not all the time, often enough – why do they have that sense of entitlement that seems to have eluded previous generations?
Is it that life has become so fast paced that we forget to create opportunities for them to appreciate the things and thus they are taken for granted? Or is it that every generation has it and it manifests itself in different ways. Is it fixable in any way?
Whether their sense of entitlement is learned behavior – yes, we adults are often guilty of it too – or simply consequence of our parenting and societal circumstances, common sense whispers that it is a slippery slope.
I believe the more entitled one feels the less empowered they are. There is no room for appreciation and for building a much better quality; resilience.
Everyone needs to learn how to serve, I told the boys once. They laughed and thought I was being funny. As if.
But, I explained to them, when people get things done for them they tend to forget how something gets done to begin with. The effort, time and energy, the thoughtfulness, the hard work, all of these can be – and are – easily overlooked if you don’t get to be on the other side.
When children have a chance to do things, sloppy and slow and awkward perhaps in the beginning, they get to taste being appreciated. That’s empowering. As it is for all of us. Doing it all the time can make one resentful. Never doing it leads to that exaggerated entitlement. When it comes to children, I believe that by offering them too much we’re robbing them of feeling empowered and capable.
Everything is set on fast forward and we would rather have things done quickly so we can move on to the next item on the day’s list. From chores to preparing meals and going places, parents do the work and while children help here and there, they are spared because they take longer to do something we parents can do quickly and efficiently.
It is ironic one could say that, fast paced life or not, children seem to learn at the same speed they always have. Which is perfectly right, if only we could slow down the pace to synchronize with theirs.
Children are given things, they are given convenience, and they are given the idea that things happen just like that. A clean house, food, toys and games, trips to see places, they don’t just happen yet somehow we create that perception.
Setting a table and cleaning it after a meal gives a tiny glimpse into how dinner happens.
I used to do everything just to have them chores out of the way so we can do the fun stuff. But doing things that way leaves one exhausted and on the other hand, it revealed, in my boys, the ugly side of being served: an increased sense of entitlement.
Asking for small things to be done seemed the logical approach. Challenged at first but slowly mastering skills, the boys gained a new perspective.
It’s a whole dance, I discovered: Them doing things, trying their hardest, me trusting them to do them and showing my appreciation. Them learning to taste it and bask in that warm feeling of “I can do it.”
It works well with our bedtime routine too. Every night after we read and redefine pre-sleep silliness yet again, the boys settle for the ritual of “What are we grateful for.” It’s just like that. We talk about what we’re grateful for.
Grateful for food, for clean water, for all the good people we have in our lives; grateful for being able to walk to school safely, for having a school. The first time I put clean water on my list they opened their eyes wide. “Really, mom?” They added it to theirs after we talked about places where water is more precious than diamonds and after being very thirsty a few times.
They have in time developed their own lists. It’s always interesting to hear what makes them feel grateful. No matter how viciously they jump at each other during the day they are grateful to have each other.
No matter how they whined about that lentil soup at dinner, they thank for food. They thank for being healthy, and they know it is not just happening. So they thank me for taking care of that. Of them.
A reiteration of simple things that make life possible. No sense entitlement whatsoever.
But at the same time, I want them to know they are worth it; part of that worthiness we’re born with, and part will grow along the way as we learn to serve, to do our share, to be grateful.
Originally published as “Bedtime ritual puts focus on being grateful” in The Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, February 16, 2013