entitlement

On Saturday, the Bee told us that she was going to sing us a song that she wrote. She moved the coffee table to the side of the living room, and proceeded to sing a song that was at least as long as “Ina Gadda da Vida.” There got to be a point where landisdad and I couldn’t look at each other, because the hilarity was too close to the surface.

The story in the song involved her playing the part of the benevolent Princess of Jewels, and her wonderful life in the Jewel kingdom. The part that really got to me was when she described how the Queen of Jewels had become a servant when the Princess was born. The id of a seven-year-old girl is an interesting place to be.

The whole thing got me thinking about entitlement, and how we struggle to keep our kids from feeling like the world owes them everything they want. Some days, I feel like the only conversations that I have involve sentences like, “I only have two hands!” and “You’ll have to wait your turn!” Sentences that my own mother said over and over again.

My mom grew up in a huge family (think more than 10 kids). In her family, everyone worked all the time. The bigger kids took care of the little kids, until they got old enough to have real jobs. The little kids did chores and gardening. They all worked their way through college. In addition to the fact that she grew her own vegetables, and made her kids’ clothes, my grandmother was one of those people who naturally recycled, because it was cheaper than buying new. My mom and her siblings are notorious for saving Christmas wrapping paper. It takes them hours to open their presents, because they fold it up and smooth the tape to use it again another year.

I have three brothers, so my mom definitely didn’t go down the same route as her own mom in terms of family size. But she was the kind of mom who, when she was a SAHM, made our clothes and had a huge vegetable garden in the back yard. When I was little, a couple of her sisters would come to our house every summer to make enormous quantities of strawberry jam, on ridiculously hot days. She doesn’t recycle wrapping paper anymore (but I bet she’s still got a closetful), though I do get presents with tags made out of last year’s Christmas cards.

I don’t make clothes, and I don’t cook, but our kids do learn lessons about the time it takes to make food from their dad. I do garden, although it’s mostly ornamental, save for a few tomatoes. I feel as if we’re constantly searching for ways to teach our kids the value of the things that they want, especially because we’re consumers, not producers, for the most part. I don’t remember this being something that I was consciously ‘taught’ by my parents, but it was hard not to learn, growing up in that environment. I feel as if I have to be much more conscious about imparting this knowledge to my kids than my parents or grandparents did.

What do you do, to temper the overweening privilege that kids are born with? How do you teach your kids that they can’t always get what they want, even if they are the Princess of Jewels?

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July 24, 2006. thoughtful parenting.

7 Comments

  1. chichimama replied:

    I say the same things you do. And we have lots of talks about how things are expensive and we don’t want to waste things…etc, etc. I also find myself saying ” we can’t always get what we want” in a rather sing-songy voice or “Life isn’t always fair.” Oy.

  2. chip replied:

    ah yes, I remember those long performances well… CB was also quite the little performer.

    As to your question: part of it is that we let them know that we don’t always just go out and get what we want, that we have to make choices. Part of our choice is to live a more modest lifestyle in exchange for more free time and spending time with them. They know that their mom used to make the big bucks and quit that so she could spend time with them. They know their dad did a similar thing. So they understand that you can’t have everything.

    We get most of our clothes now at second hand shops, and while CB refuses to do that (though she might be shifting on that if we say “vintage clothes”), she sees what we’re doing. We cook dinner every night also.

    Our kids do want things, and we have no problem saying no. They have the opportunity to earn money in various ways if they really want something, they can save up the money. And they have. We also clearly lay out how much stuff they take for granted, comparing it to when we were kids (not that that is particularly effective…). But when we sign them up for classes or lessons, we make sure they know that it’s a choice, that it costs money, and that they are making a commitment. Like chichimama, we too repeat the phrases, life isn’t always fair, and, you have to make choices, you can’t get everything you want…

    The bottom line, I believe, is that this is like a long-term investment. We have to make sure our kids know this stuff, repeating it to them even if it doesn’t seem to sink in. Because one thing I’ve learned is that in fact it does sink in, it does have an impact. Even when I’ve despaired, they say something that makes me realize they understand.

  3. Kate the Shrew replied:

    Heh, servant Queen… certainly describes how I usually feel!

    That must have been quite a performance! Times like that, you wish you had the house bugged so you could catch it all on tape.

    It’s a question I contemplate, myself. We really want to raise Queen B to be a non-materialistic hippie-chick, rather than spoiled yuppie princess. I have no problem saying “no” to her about things, but I worry sometimes that it means she’ll wait til she’s old enough to buy her own stuff, and then over-compensate. I’ve seen how money got used in my dad’s family, and I really want to avoid using it either to reward or punish.

    We’re working right now on, “Please is a nice thing to say, but it doesn’t mean you’ll always get what you’re asking for.” (And whining “pleeeeeeeeease” at Mommy over and over just gets you sent to your room.)

    I guess it’s just a continuing process, and if you demonstrate the values you want to pass on by living them, the kids will pick up on it. I hope, I hope, I hope.

  4. Trasherati replied:

    You know what actually came out of my mouth the other day? “There are children in the world who don’t even HAVE toys.”

    And I’ve pulled out the starving children in other countries, too.

    Neither argument/explanation is as good as demonstrating your values, so I worry that since I trotted both out perhaps we need to re-examine how we’re conducting ourselves in some areas. Kids certainly help with scrutinizing your own behavior, and I, too, recently came to the conclusion that we are consuming far more than we are producing. It’s a struggle.

  5. MetroDad replied:

    Hard for me to comment, LM, since the Peanut is only 21 months old. However, one thing that my wife and I have discussed at length is how we plan to enforce the role that volunteerism and activism will play in her life. Even though she can’t understand us now, we’re always talking to her about being thankful for what she has and how it’s her duty to help those who are less fortunate. Let’s hope it works! Otherwise, I can easily see her being the Queen of Jewels!

  6. Jennifer replied:

    My son has been playing a lot with the 8-year-old girl next door, she’s hilarious, it will be so interesting to see my own daughter at that age. (Neighbor girl is the youngest of 3 and my son is amenable to bossing so they get along great.)

    I live in a town with a lot of trust funders and other wealthy kids & we are definitely not in that category, so I expect to have big conversations along these lines (I mean entitlement, sorry, am I wandering? it’s late) with my kids as they grow.

  7. AML replied:

    It’s a great question and one I struggle with, esp with my dd6 (who also loves to put on a good show!). Like other commenters said, lots of limits (no trouble saying no) and talking about how we have to earn and save money to get what we want. Mommy and Daddy have to, and so do you. Plus we (M&D) have to buy boring things a lot of the time! Giving an allowance plus money for extra chores is great! Everyone has to pitch in to help take care of the house. Talking about tzedakah (Jewish charity) and how many people have less than we do. Every night at bedtime we each say what we give thanks for (the other day ds4 said “tv and dessert!”)

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