Several years ago I read an article by a dad blogger priding himself on what he was convinced would be the jewel in his fatherhood crown. The assertion he put forth was to remove the word ‘no’ or any likeness from his vocabulary for anything having to do with his five-year-old son. He had formulated a notion, from God knows where, that a frank and unvarnished dissent was exceedingly detrimental to the lad’s mental health. Instead he was certain that a reasoned and tolerant approach to managing his child’s whims and wishes, parenting by consensus if you will, would ultimately produce a far more confident and well-rounded adult.
My first reaction to his brainchild was, ‘dude, you are exceedingly f*$ked!’
For three consecutive years my daughter has tested – of her own accord – for the advanced placement program at her school – she has failed every time. The last two years her score was one point – one point – away from the cutoff. Each year is the same, she wants to test, her teachers wholeheartedly encourage her, and all are surprised when she comes up short. Some have recommended that we go to the principal and program director to persuade them in whatever means necessary to reconsider.
It’s an option I have refused to entertain.
I know she wants to be in in the program and while she hasn’t shown much distress at missing the cut I know her well enough to read the disappointment in her face. As her father I hate that she has failed to reach her goal, no parent wants to see his or her child upset. In all likelihood I could broker a deal with the principal to get her into the program but at what cost? The short-term price would be trivial and the upside significant beginning with the rock star dad I would be in her eyes, but the downside for me is far too massive to ignore.
Some might think I’m unsupportive of my daughter because I’m not using my influence where I can. Besides, look at what she would gain out of it? For most this would be a parental no-brainer – getting my daughter such a distinction even if it wasn’t earned. Not to mention what it might do to my parenting image? It would allow me to bask in the glory of my own perceived parenting prowess.
But I’ve come to believe it’s in moments such as these that, as parents, we can plant the seeds that will eventually sprout into weeds of entitlement. To use legal parlance, it far too often sets a precedent, one that is mainlined into our kids’ consciences and filed away until the next time they find themselves high on want but short on achievement. And it also sets a bar, in other words her expectations that daddy will come to the rescue whenever she calls which will ultimately carry over to every aspect of her life. Instead I want to be sympathetic to her disappointment but help her understand that daddy doesn’t have all the answers and can’t move mountains. A little disappointment now goes a long way later. Frankly, I think losing is good for her.
Much like the chicken and egg debate there’s a question that asks, “are entitled kids born or made”? Do children burst forth from the womb with personalities that demand iPhones and 325I’s and parents are merely resigned to raise these brats or are the kids manufactured through a production process? I think we intrinsically know that answer and who’s responsible – elementary schools and Pee-Wee football coaches don’t buy our children iPads and $200 Ugg shoes. Your daughter who irritates and frustrates you with her blatant ingratitude – is a monster of your own making. And it demands the question, why do parents nurture in their children the very habits they despise so much? Why are we raising entitled brats?
There are copious theories and more than one may be right but from personal experience and observation I’ve come to this wholesale conclusion,
Show me a kid who feels entitled about everything and I’ll show you a parent who feels guilty about something.
Many will argue that insecurity fuels why we spoil our children, giving our kids the best and most of everything helps us feel like we’re the best parents. But that begs the question, why do we feel like we need to prove ourselves as good parents and how would ‘stuff’ even do that? What is it about the kind of parent we are currently that makes us so insecure? Is that ruler based on what we see on TV or at PTA functions? It’s a question worth asking and one that needs an answer. But feeling like a better parent isn’t the real issue because it isn’t what’s really at play here. It might be what we tell ourselves but we know it’s a fallacy. Where to start is discovering what drives the feelings of inadequacy – where do those insecurities come from? It’s only by finding what lies behind my self doubt will I finally get to the heart of the matter the thing that feeds the need – and I’ve learned that nine times out of ten times that answer will come in some form of guilt.
How many stories are there of parents who give their kids everything but what they truly need – mom and dad’s time and attention? How many fathers cave into their child’s every wish because he feels horrible about missing another dance recital because of business travel? He rushes home from the airport with a new doll or some other gift in hopes it will make up for his absence. I can’t count the number of single parents who let their kids walk all over them because they feel guilt over the divorce. Is there underlying guilt that drives these feelings of inadequacy? I’m betting yes if you look close enough.
Guilt is the fuel that powers our kid’s feelings of entitlement, the ‘stuff’ is merely the means. Most parents know they spoil their kids but most don’t know why they do. If we can identify what we are trying to accomplish by giving into our children’s’ desires we can finally begin to change their expectations. We control the assembly line that is building our entitled children, but that’s encouraging news because it means we have a way to stop the production.