I remember the day we called out entitlement in our home.
It was a brisk Saturday in February in Texas, and we’d spent the day the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We attended every year since our kids could walk. It’s something we always look forward to—particularly that year.
Our family was in its second year of running a nonprofit that works to empower and disciple oppressed and impoverished women globally, many rescued from some form of trafficking. It’s heavy work. That morning, the strain of raising money and the burden of broken stories weighed on us. A “day off” together was exactly what we needed.
Maybe that’s why buying our three kids their first pair of cowboy boots was such a big deal. Yeah, it was a lot of money for shoes, but more than that, we had become so aware and sensitive to what we had and how we received it. You can imagine what went down in our minivan on the drive home when one of our kids continued to display a heart of ingratitude. We took the boots away.
And more, we gave our child a three-day weed-pulling job in the front and back yard to buy them back from us because sometimes the best gifts are the ones that we work hard for. It was the worst day. It was the best day. It was the day we realized bringing a global perspective into our home had changed not only the way we saw the world, but it was changing the way we raised our kids.
Entitlement pops up as a buzzword in our culture today, but it’s certainly not a new issue. Selfishness’s path of destruction runs all the way back to Creation. But entitlement takes selfish and self-absorbed behavior a step further: Not only do we want what we want, but we feel like we deserve it. And parents make the problem worse when we endlessly give into our kids’ demands. We find examples like Joseph (spoiled by his father, Jacob) and Absalom (entitled by his father, David) in the Bible as well as modern instances, from reality TV stars to spoiled rich kids suffering from “affluenza” in the news.
When my husband and I examined the attitudes and actions of that day, we recognized some signs of why our kids were struggling—and why they weren’t solely the ones to blame.
1. I want it now. Kids are impatient. We live in a drive-thru culture, and instant gratification is…well, instant. We grow to fear of saying no because our children are used to getting what they want, and so we give into their demands.
2. I don’t want to work for it. Laziness and a poor work ethic are fostered when we constantly give in to our children without requiring any work.
3. I don’t have to clean up my mess. Consequences are a natural part of life, but when we get into the habit of constantly cleaning up after our kids, they continue to expect it.
4. I want it because everyone else has it. It’s human nature for our kids to compare what they don’t have with what others do have. But we can’t let the comparisons stop there or our kids will always see their hands as empty instead of full.
5. I expect you to fix all my problems. There’s a fine line between helping our kids and aiding bad behavior. Sometimes letting them fail is the best way to give them a chance at success.
As parents, one of our greatest responsibilities is to teach our children to see and love others without giving them everything they want. Listen, we love our kids. When first hold that tiny eight-pound bundle, we want to give him everything. We want to comfort, provide, and protect our kids in every way. But if we stay in this parenting position throughout their childhood, they will not only be the boss of us, they could likely become very unhappy adults who have a hard time launching out into the world.
It’s not easy. The beautiful privilege of parenting requires us to say no and exchange their temporary unhappiness for contentment later on. We are consistent. We let them fail. We offer grace. We live by example. We help them work to steward their resources.
Several months after the boot incident, we took our kids with us to Africa to work at the maternity homes our nonprofit supports. I will never forget the gorgeous day in Kenya when we sat on the lawn surrounded by very poor, very young, traumatized moms. Relaxing after lunch, we watched the toddling babies. My teen daughter sat on the lawn, holding hands with Violet, one of the teen mothers. Though Violet suffered burns on over 30 percent of her body, among other horrific violations, that day she was smiling.
The breeze caught their conversation of giggles and teasing, and then I heard Violet ask my daughter, “Why do you think you were born in America and I was born here?” My heart pounded at the hard question and the pain behind it. How would my little girl answer? I watched my daughter clasp her friend’s hand tighter, and she spoke these words with wisdom and grace, “Violet, I don’t know why you were born here and I was born there. But I think, well, I think it’s because I’m supposed to help you.”
So how do we raise them to live in the world without becoming like it? We help them acknowledge their position of privilege through perspective. We do this by showing our kids how other people live. Telling our kids to be grateful doesn’t always work, but showing them people who have less than they do stirs up gratitude often without saying a word.
We can do this is a hundred different ways—not just in shelter soup kitchens at Christmas, but as a way of life. Living a life of service in our community, making others in our lives a priority, will not only give our kids a global perspective, it may just give them the world.
Kristen Welch is the author of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, Rhinestone Jesus, and the parenting blog We Are THAT Family. She is an (in)Courage writer; a frequent speaker; and founder of Mercy House, a nonprofit ministry which empowers women around the globe. Visit Kristen online at wearethatfamily.com.