Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps your cousins children, your neighbors or God forbid, even your own children have grown to have a false sense of entitlement. Is there a way to raise your children in a society where we are always trying to Keep up with the Jones’, without them believing they are entitled to the best of everything whether it fits within your budget or not? Is it more important to raise well-rounded, honest, hard-working adults who appreciate what they have, than it is to be your child’s best friend? Is there a way to do both? These are the questions parents my age are facing as a whole generation of children become young adults – young adults who expect to be given everything their hearts desire.
I am the mother of three; their ages are almost twenty-one, fifteen and twenty-seven months. To write this article I will first need to tell you a little about our history as a family. My eldest child is my biological daughter and my middle child is my chosen, or as most would say, my step daughter from a previous marriage and my baby is biologically my grandson, though we have raised him since birth, giving us more of a parental love for him. Though we have not adopted him legally, we do have legal custody and he does call us Momma and Poppa. He is our son. I am going to keep the hardships to a minimal, as they are only slightly relevant to this article.
When my eldest child was eleven and my chosen daughter was six, my ex and I divorced. This was a very difficult time for me, as he had controlled me and my actions for so long I did not really know how to function without his commands – not to mention he prevented me from seeing my youngest daughter from the moment he made my eldest and I leave his home. During the first few months of our separation, I found myself slipping further and further into depression and the mixture of medications the doctors had given me were making me hallucinate. Realizing this was not a healthy situation for my eldest daughter, I called my mother and asked for her help while I detoxed from medications prescribed to me. Her answer to helping me was to take custody of my daughter and prevent me from seeing her until after her eighteenth birthday.
My middle child had never had a relationship with her biological mother, as she spent most of her life in and out of prison. I have been the only mother she has really ever known, though she did know and spend a little amount of time with her biological mother. Her father has spent time locked up as well and after we divorced he went back to prison. This opened the door for me to have a relationship with my chosen daughter, through the love and understanding of my ex-husbands mother. So while my mother was keeping my biological child from me, my relationship with my chosen daughter grew stronger through the years. Her biological mother passed away in 2006, which entitled my chosen daughter to social security monies intended for her biological mother. These monies came at a good time, given the fact her father went back to prison for the second time since our divorce and he would therefore be unable to help with finances again. This being said my chosen daughter has been paying bills and penny-pinching since the young age of eleven.
I must admit I have been guilty over the years of making sure my children had everything they needed and at times, many things they did not need. Some of these things were given because the girls wanted them and some (like TV’s for their bedrooms) were given for my convenience. If you have ever watched The Lion King for the millionth time in one week, you know what I mean. Because I was not allowed to be a part of my eldest daughters life during the very important teen years, she did not get some of the lessons I taught – and life taught – my middle child. These are important life lessons – ones which teach us to earn things we want because nothing is free and we must work to have a better life than the one we were handed by fate.
My eldest daughter returned to me four months after her eighteenth birthday, six and a half months pregnant with a child she made clear she did not want. Apparently nobody was paying attention, as my daughter has stated not even she knew she was pregnant. (I promise we are getting to the point of this article – but this paragraph is necessary to tie our history up in such a way as to explain how it applies to my thoughts.) It has become clear to me that my eldest child was not taught important life lessons which would have ensured she would become a productive member of society. I can only think my mother, instead of teaching these lessons, was busy making up for all the things my daughter had lost. She was molding a young adult who would have a false sense of entitlement through her desire to be her friend and to keep my daughter within her walls. She filled her mind with untruths in regard to me, she closed her up in her bedroom hidden behind a computer screen, where my daughter would build her life and she gave her everything. There were bi-weekly trips for a manicure and pedicure. There were the monthly trips to the beauty shop to have her hair professionally tended to. There was one of each gaming system and every game she desired stacked high upon her shelves. Her laundry was washed, dried, folded and put away. Her sheets were cleaned and her bed was made. She was not expected to work on the weekends to earn her playing money, nor was she encouraged to take drivers ed so she could become an independent young lady. She was not taught to prepare meals for the family, or made to do yard work. The maid came in weekly to clean her bathroom and vacuum her floors. She was not taught to take responsibility for her actions, nor does it seem there were repercussions for untruths she may have told. Simply stated, she was handed everything she required and desired on a silver platter. Ahhh yes, welcome to The Age of False Entitlement!
Now for the point of this article. In my frustration I spoke to many of my friends, both in the real world and in the computer world and I found most of them have, or have dealt with young adults who live with this same sense of false entitlement. I have read article after article, story after story and frustration after frustration in search of answers on how to reverse this way of thinking. What I have found is the age-old adage of, “tough love”. You do not need to be in my unique situation to realize how difficult this can be. You need not have your child legally kidnapped and kept from you for seven and a half years and then returned to you with a sense of false entitlement. You need not be a divorced parent, where your ex spouse tends to spoil and give in to your child in an effort to make up for their broken family. Quite simply, any parent in today’s world has the potential to set themselves up to raise children who then become young adults who believe the world should be handed to them on a silver platter, simply because they exist. Are we so eager to not repeat the sins of our parents when raising our children, that we forget to teach them the most basic of life’s lessons? Are we so eager to be our children’s best friend, that we forget to teach them how to lead productive, meaningful, healthy lives? Are we so eager to provide our kids with all of their hearts desires in order to stay on their good side, that we forget what they really need is guidance to become successful, hard-working members of society who have every right to be proud of their accomplishments? I say yes, yes we are that eager.
Sadly it is our children who pay the price in the end; it is our children who wake one day disappointed in themselves, in the world around them – in us, their parents, for having failed them. We have raised their expectations so high, given to them so freely, without making them earn rewards, that one day they will have no choice but to fail because they will not have the required tools to acquire things they desire. Will they in turn raise their children to have a false sense of entitlement, or will they instead repeat the sins of many generations where children were put to work at an early age, where they were to be seen and not heard, where discipline was swift and hard in an attempt not to over indulge them? Is there a happy medium? One where we can be our children’s friends and still be their parents? Is there a place where we can give them all of what they need, some of what they want and guide them gently in to becoming productive members of the human race? I want to believe there is.
I am not saying we should stop rewarding our children, or praising them when they do well. I am not saying we should not strive to be our adult children’s friends – the key words here being adult children. What I am trying to say is this: when our children are young they need our guidance, more than they need our friendship. They need to know they can depend on us to be there to listen, to help them when they fall and to teach them how to work through issues which cause them stress. They need us to teach them about friendship, loyalty, love and family. They need to learn about trust and faith through not only our words, but through our actions as well. They need to know they can rely on us to provide them with the necessities like food, clothing and shelter – while also teaching them that the comforts of home do not come easily, they are not free and we are not entitled to live with heating or air-conditioning simply because of the era we live in.
There is a time for getting down on the floor and rolling around with our children. There is a time for finger-painting and dancing in the rain, a time for singing and cuddling on the couch. There is a time for enjoying the beautiful beings we have brought in to the world and for applauding their accomplishments as we watch them grow. And then there is a time for teaching, mentoring, molding and rewarding the gifts we have been entrusted with by The One I Am. And finally, there is a time for basking in the light of the wonderful, well-adjusted, self-reliant, proud and accomplished adults we have raised, which we can now call not only our child but also our best friend. Is there such a time? Such a place? I want to believe there is.
©Kesia L. Shelton~Miller