Recently friends took their children on a special trip. They had saved financially for this trip and taken time off from work to make it happen. My friends expected this to be a wonderful family bonding time punctuated with pure joy. They were excited and the kids were too.
Two days into the trip sibling rivalry reared its ugly head. Whining erupted. One child didn’t like the food. Another didn’t want to do a family outing. Two brothers got into an argument that was pure nastiness. Many of the dynamics were the same as at home, just in a beautiful place. And the kids didn’t even seem to appreciate what the parents had done for them. No one said “thank you” for the fun meal at a restaurant or the money spent on a special activity. They just took it for granted.
Most of us can identify. We do and do and do for our kids and rarely do they ever say a word of thanks. More often they want the next thing, something more. Enough is never enough. It’s both maddening and discouraging. It makes a parent want to throw her hands up in the air and say, “Forget it. I’m done trying to make you happy. You are acting like spoiled brats.”
What is going on and how do we handle this attitude?
Our children and grandchildren are growing up in a child-oriented culture. It’s a culture that caters to kids. A culture that says your job as a parent is to make sure your child is always happy. For the child, this means entertain me, buy me the latest technology, make sure I keep up with my friends, have the best education, the most advantages, etc.
Wait a minute.
Our job as parents is NOT to make sure our child is always happy. Our job is to raise confident, faith-filled adults who will make a positive contribution to society.
How do we do this in a culture where values are so different?
4 Things Will Help:
1. You are not running for “most popular parent.”
You will have to say “no” many times to your children. This is not bad. They will have to deal with a lot of “no’s” as an adult and you are preparing them for this. Have a family policy on devices. When another adult visits, your kids should put away their smartphones and focus on the person. That’s respect. Place a phone basket in a common place. All phones (parents’ too) are turned off and left in the basket during meals and other designated times. We want to nurture an appreciation of one another. And we want to teach our kids how to verbally interact and make eye contact with another person. Devices do not encourage this.
2. Be alert to parental peer pressure.
Just because your neighbor’s child is signed up for yet another enrichment class, or sports team, it does not mean you should sign your child up. It might be wiser to say “no” to one more activity and determine to have family dinners several times a week instead of carpooling kids all over. In the long run, do we want to collect another trophy which in ten years will only gather dust on the closet shelf or do we want to invest in building friendships that will last a lifetime. Every time we say “yes” to something we have to say “no” to something else. Guard your family time.
3. Train your kids in becoming “other-centered.”
Our natural instinct is to be selfish, self-centered. Our default mode is “Satisfy me”. Putting others first is not natural. It has to be taught. We as parents are still learning this! Recently I asked 3 of my grandkids to help some younger kids with some crafts. They did not want to do it. I reminded them that their older cousins had helped them over the years. It was time for them to reach out and help some younger children. It was a good opportunity to care for others. Plan a family service project together. Babysit for free. Our job is to create opportunities for our children to serve others.
4. Have realistic expectations but train, train.
It isn’t realistic to expect siblings to become different people just because you are on a fun trip. We too take all our faults with us wherever we go.
Our kids will not appreciate us. It’s a given. (And a big sadness for both parents and grandparents.) Often we and our kids just assume parents “will do” for us. We neglect to thank them. In looking back, I wish I had expressed more appreciation to my Mom and Dad.
Appreciation has to be taught. It cannot be merely caught. Insist your child thank you for the meal before they are excused from the table. Make them write thank you notes for any gift or special experience. Teach them to thank another parent for the ride. You will get tired of doing this, but as long as you have children at home you will have to keep doing it. And be sure you do it as well.
Why does appreciation matter?
God willing, we are raising future husbands and wives and they are going to need to appreciate their mates. If they don’t receive this training in their own home they will be less likely to do this with their own spouse and it can have a negative impact on their own marriage.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, the teacher who writes a recommendation, a boss a reference, need to be thanked for what they do. Taking someone for granted merely fosters the spirit of entitlement.
When we are taught to appreciate other people in specific ways it will enhance our appreciation of our Heavenly Father. A person who is not growing in human thankfulness will be less likely to be growing in praise and adoration of our wonderful God.
Susan Alexander Yates is a mom to five children (including a set of twins) and grandmother to 21 (including a set of quadruplets!). Susan and her husband John have been married 51 years. Susan has written 16 books and speaks on the subjects of marriage, parenting, faith, and women’s issues. Susan’s favorite time of the year is June when all her kids and grandkids are together for a week of “cousins and family camp” in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia.