October 11, 2012

Question 11: Entitlement

In your parenting how do you approach entitlement.  What do you do/plan to do (or not do) in regards to the rampant sense of entitlement people have?  I’ve mostly lived in the Boston area but assume what I see her is how it must be in most of this country.  

Entitlement? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Oh, might you be referring to the woman I knew in Mountain Lakes who was complaining her property taxes were too high because she lived in a giant, lakeside mansion and paid $35K a year in property taxes while sending FIVE children to the public schools. FIVE. That means she was getting her kids’ education for the bargain-basement price of $7,000 per child, with the lakefront mansion to boot.

(It might have been four children, but that math is way to complicated for this hour of the night.)

I walk around every day feeling so grateful and even embarrassed for all that I have. I don’t write a lot about it here because I’m acutely aware that others have less, but I’ll come out and say it: I have enough money for everything I need and many of the things I want. It helps that I’m the kind of person contented with jeans filled with holes and new underwear once a year, but still, that’s a pretty incredible statement to be able to make.

All the time, all the time, I think about how fortunate I am and wonder about ways to give back. That’s why I do stuff like buying diapers for people I read about who need them or getting my kids involved in raising money to help a homeless man. But it doesn’t seem enough because it isn’t enough. I feel like I should be taking my kids to volunteer every week, and I’m not. I think of my friend Catherine, who is intentionally living with her family in a community that is considerably poorer than what she can afford in order to be able to more effectively work with the people she has chosen to serve.

And then I feel like a heel.

How do I teach my children, other than telling them regularly, “We have enough money for everything we need and some of the things we want”? Mostly, it’s little things like forgoing the first night of gifts on Hanukkah and sending presents to kids on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Or talking honestly about the severely mentally handicapped adults they see in the pool at the JCC.

We give our kids a lot. They have tons of books and a lot of Legos. They have chances to take all sorts of classes from gymnastics to piano. They seem pretty happy with what they have, as well they should be. We get a little kvetching about the fact that we don’t have any sort of gaming system nor plans to buy one. To make up for its absence, the kids have found other things to play with, including but not limited to: four old chairs from the basement, pine needles, old pajama pants of mine that had been cut up to make rags paired with Mardi Gras beads from heaven knows where, and the left over ribbon from Lilah’s birthday presents. The STUFF in our house is making me crazy, but I’m grateful that most of it is of this ilk. Also masking tape. I try to thwart their tape-entitlement by keeping it in a high cabinet so they have to ask me to get it for them.

I think that it’s actually entitlement that needs to be taught, not the other way around. Lilah has never had much new clothing. In fact, when she was three, I took her with me to buy myself a pair of shoes, and she was delighted to discover for the first time that there were entire stores dedicated to clothing. She loves clothing, but she loves it best as hand-me-downs because then it is endowed with the essence of the person who wore it before her. She thought it was fabulous that she shared her birthday party with a friend this year. It made it that much more special.

Maybe because we don’t much go to stores or watch TV with commercials, but I just find our kids don’t ask for things that much. Or maybe it’s because we let them bring vast collections of rocks into the house that they don’t feel they need to fill that emptiness with purchases. Or maybe it’s because we spoil them and don’t realize it. Or maybe somehow they sense my unending gratitude for all we have. Or maybe it’s the allowance that they need to split between saving, spending, and charity.

Whatever it is, so far we’re dodging the entitlement bullet. If only we could do something about the 25 fall leaves Benjamin has stacked on the kitchen counter.

How do you approach entitlement in your children and your communities?

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  • Reply Poker Chick October 11, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Speaking of clothes, we have a ton of hardly worn beautiful clothes and never-worn shoes that would love a home. Any thoughts?

    As for entitlement, well, nail polish is not allowed on children. So there’s that.

    What, you expected a real answer? 🙂

  • Reply WendyElissa October 11, 2012 at 1:17 am

    I hope I am teaching my children to not feel entitled to things. I regularly tell them, “we don’t need that” in a store when something catches their, or my, eye, and they put it back without a fuss. They often repeat that statement when looking at things themselves. If I tell my older daughter she can pick out one Halloween decoration at CVS and she picks one and then sees another that is cute and only a few dollars and I know we could buy that one too I still tell her no, we don’t need that. And she understands and I think she is happy for the limitations on her wants. We don’t have enough money for everything we want anyway so I also often explain that if we buy this we won’t have enough money for something else like ballet class or new winter boots or something. I do hope that I am teaching good life lessons to my daughters. We also talk about people who don’t have enough money for things like food or clothes and how we are lucky that we do. They see me donate my old clothes to Goodwill and give their old baby clothes to friends who can use them now that we do not need them anymore. We too, from your example, sent gifts to a little girl on the Pine Ridge reservation last year and I think that was a good experience for Ella.

  • Reply Melanie October 11, 2012 at 1:37 am

    I really do try but I know my kids are still spoiled… I don’t buy things except for birthdays and Christmas and even then I never go overboard (might spend $40 on b-days and maybe $200 on x-mas if you include stocking stuffers/new socks/underwear etc) but still they have 4 very close Aunts, and 2 Uncles and two sets of grandparents and even though I beg in lieu of gifts for things like contributions to their savings accounts, or arts and and crafts supplies, etc they always get showered with way too much crap. The more I bring it up with my relatives the more I am told “you cant tell people what they can buy/do for your child” and I get that, but seriously my kid does not need gifts from that many people! Its certainly a source of worry for me though.

  • Reply WendyElissa October 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

    On the other hand, reading Melanie’s comment, they do receive way too much stuff. Two sets of grandparents who love to shower them with gifts for birthdays and holidays and out-of-town visits make for a crowded household. I tell my mom they don’t need anything when she asks what to bring them but she always brings something. Usually I tell her to bring books or art projects. But it’s the birthday/hannukah/Christmas deluge that bothers me the most. Once my two-year-old held up something, I can’t remember what it was, and said, “Mommy buyed me this!” in a really happy voice and it made me feel uncomfortable because I didn’t want her to feel joy from the thought that I had bought her something. I did not have even half the amount of toys as a child that my kids have. Now everyone I know has a house overflowing with toys. What also bothers me is that my older daughter will want something special and she’ll earn it through a good behavior chart, having to wait and earn it and she gets it and loves it for about two weeks and then forgets about it because there are so many other things to play with. I hate that.

  • Reply Lilian Nattel October 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    You left out one other factor, the time you spend with your kids. And your enabling them to make decisions and to gain independence that are age appropriate. Entitlement takes the form of material goods that often displace shared experience, and disabling kids from making mistakes and/or dealing with the mistakes they make. You’re a good mom.

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