I spent 5 hours with my teen cleaning out her room on January 1st. Clearly, we know how to party.
She was turning 16 that week and she wanted a more grown-up space. But we knew we had to get rid of old things to make room for new. We couldn’t believe how much stuff she had collected and held onto. We laughed at the 5th grade school projects, old journals and too small clothes.
This is a part of life—letting go and getting rid of what doesn’t work (or fit) any longer so we can make room for something new, better.
I want to raise grateful kids, but we live in an entitled world. So how do we swim upstream against the strong current of excess? We do the same thing in our parenting that we do in our home when we recognize we have too much stuff. We clean house and get rid of it.
Here are 4 things we can toss out:
A couple of years ago in December, I got behind with all the holiday busyness, and when I finally had a chance to sit down and wrap a couple of Christmas gifts, it was already late in the season.
“Mom, when are you taking us shopping to buy gifts for you and Dad?” one of my kids asked.
“Do you have money to buy gifts?” I asked.
“Well, I was thinking you could give us money to, um, buy your gifts,” came the answer.
As a part of our family’s economic plan, we give our kids money every month if they complete their assigned chores. After they give a percentage into their savings and tithe, we stress that this money can be spent however they want. When I reminded my daughter of this, she said, “Oh, I wanted to buy a cute Christmas shirt with my money.” Ah, choices.
When I polled my other two kids, they were also short on funds and big on expectations. Now, I didn’t want to rob my kids of the opportunity to give gifts to others. But I also refuse to rob them of the privilege of hard work because that’s when the joy of giving is revealed. I hired them for some jobs around the house, and when they shopped and used their own money, it made all the difference.
If we hand out money freely, most kids will take it, and it won’t take long for them to acquire the habit of keeping their hands out for more. If we require a little sweat and hard work, we are beginning to do away with the “you owe me” mentality.
Goody Bag Mentality
My first two kids are barely two years apart. On our daughter’s fourth birthday, our son was nearly two. I didn’t want him to feel bad that she was getting gifts and he was not (in other words, I didn’t want him to have a tantrum), so I gave him a gift on her birthday. But a couple of months later, she expected one on his birthday. I had created a monster of a problem and put a stop to it.
It’s okay for our kids not to be rewarded all the time. Goody bags at birthday parties are harmless, but if the mentality behind giving these party favors is to not make kids feel bad, then maybe we are missing the point. And it’s not just birthday parties—it is school parties, holidays, soccer parties, you name it. We constantly reward our kids with trinkets they don’t need and that eventually end up in the garbage. The message we send our kids every day is about more, more, more—and it doesn’t take long for a special treat to become an expected one.
I think telling our kids they’ve done a good job when they have is great. It’s the overpraising that comes off as artificial and disingenuous and causes more harm than good. I know I’ve been guilty of saying, “Good job” and “You’re the best!” when their attempt was just average.
It’s more helpful to replace constant praise with encouragement. One definition of the word praise suggests that praise glorifies; by comparison, encouragement inspires.
It’s natural from the beginning of our parenting journey for us to see ourselves as the rescuers and our kids as the rescued. We want to take care of our children.
Part of our job is to reassure our kids that we will be there for them, and we are, but the rest of the job requires that we walk away. Kids will continue to let us rescue them if we continue to rush to their side.
As hard as it may be, we have to let our kids fail. It’s the only way they truly learn how to succeed. Self-sufficiency is as natural as those first baby steps. Don’t be afraid to let them take these steps, and when they fall or fail (they will do both), it’s okay to let them stand back up by themselves. It starts with saying no and following through, and then backing away and letting them learn how to navigate the world on their own.
Renovating and redirecting can be a slow hard process that takes time and consistency. Don’t give up! You’ll love the space your intentional parenting creates!
Kristen Welch blogs at wearethatfamily.com where she shares about parenting, marriage and inspirational encouragement. Her family founded Mercy House, a non-profit that empowers impoverished and oppressed women around the world. Kristen is an author and her newest book is Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World.