The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.

Proverbs 21: 25

My grandchildren are typical young children- they want what they want when they want it and they make their needs known.  The other day as I was feeding five of them lunch. I found myself bristling with the cacophony of whining:  Why did she get the pink cup- I want a bigger piece- I want Ketchup, I WANT KETCHUP- where’s myyyyyyy drink- I don’t like cheese- I need a napkin – Losing all patience, I stated rather emphatically “I AM NOT YOUR SLAVE.”  Not exactly a thoughtful statement –  yet it certainly reflected how I felt at the moment – I was someone who was expected to respond to and meet their every demand.
Do you find yourself at times feeling enslaved in your efforts to meet the needs of your children?    They don’t even have to ask – just state a need – and you drop what you are doing to come to their aid.

It’s seems to be the “American way” of parenting but where is it leading?

This past week, a friend forwarded the following article to me – Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost? by Elizabeth Kolbert. The author highlights what an anthropologist observed with regard to young kids and their willingness to perform tasks and serve others, both in a remote tribe in the Peruvian Amazon and here in our country.   The conclusion of the article was that  “ It almost seems as if we’re trying to raise a nation of ‘adultescents’ who are unable to handle the logistics of everyday life.”

While my own upbringing certainly had its share of flaws,  my siblings and I were raised by hard working parents who taught us a strong work ethic. My dad was raised during the depression and my mom immigrated to the states from a very poor farming community in Finland.  They raised us on a 300 acre farm which my father ran as a “side job” to compliment his profession as an attorney.  We learned early on how to tend gardens, mow lawns, make jam, freeze vegetables, churn butter, bake bread, milk cows, feed cattle, bale hay, iron clothes, fix dinner, clean the house.  When we did have time to play, we had to create our own entertainment because my parents did not believe in buying stuff.   So we used a mail order service to rent library books; we climbed trees and tied ropes in the barns to make swings; we built forts in the woods; we made homemade fishing poles to use in a nearby river and caught crayfish with our hands.  Having lived a rather isolated childhood, I left for college somewhat naive about college life and about the academic demands that lay ahead. Still I embarked upon my college career, at a relatively rigorous private liberal arts college, with confidence because I knew how to work and apply myself.  The skills I learned as a child, although not related to academics, served me very well all throughout college and the same was true for my siblings.  I thank my parents for having modeled a strong work ethic and for expecting it from me at an early age.

So what’s my point?

An important duty of parents is to teach children how to live in a world that will not give them everything they want and especially when they don’t deserve it. Expect your kids do more around the home and teach them how to contribute to the needs of others.  You may be hurting their confidence by doing too much for them and expecting too little out of them. Nothing produces more anxiety than inability to face challenges and manage life. It’s the chief reason kids drop out of college today.

What can you do?

  1. Don’t respond to whining or to their stated needs. Expect them to respectfully ask when they need something.   “I want a snack” should be “may I please have a snack.”  “I am cold” needs to be “may I please have a blanket.”  Expect them to wait their turn and actually just wait sometimes for their needs to be met.  It’s tempting to give in to their interruptions and drop what you are doing because it does stop the whining- temporarily.  But doing so actually encourages more of the same.
  2. Expect more from your kids with regard to household responsibilities.  Even little kids can get their own water, set the table, put away their toys, fold clothes, etc.   If you employ a housekeeper, do so for yourself and not for your kids.
  3. Expect more from them with regard to taking care of their own needs. If they are capable of doing something- don’t do it for them. If they are not, teach them how.  While it’s easier to do it for them, in the long run, it may be very costly. Set up your household so that your children can learn to take care of their own needs.   They will gain a healthy pride in learning how to and being treated as if they can. Have a basket of allowable snacks available that they can take something from when permissible.  Put their glasses and dishes in a location they can reach.  When thirsty teach them how to get their own water.
  4. Rather than making it a  priority to serves them, prioritize teaching them to serve others. You duty as a parent is to NOT meet their every need in life; rather it is to grow responsible adults who willingly love and serve others.  A true sense of worth grows from serving others.  It’s what we were created to do.
  5. Don’t give them the idea that buying stuff will appease their emotions.  If you find yourself wanting to reward them with material things, they are less likely to learn how to motivate themselves intrinsically and they won’t value things because they wind up with so much so easily.
  6. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t “like you” at the moment.  Learning how to handle NO is far better than dealing with the effects of not knowing how to down the road.

“Our offspring have simply leveraged our braggadocio, good intentions, and over-investment.  They inhabit a broad savannah of entitlement that we’ve watered, landscaped, and hired gardeners to maintain.”

Sally Koslow in Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest”