My husband and I have often discussed the fact that many kids today are growing up with an attitude of entitlement. We admit that we struggle with this even in our own home. My youngest, though he has everything he could want, is always wanting more. My husband and I have both come to realize that he is indeed spoiled and we need to nip this in the bud. But how? How can we teach our children that, “We have enough.”
Before I proceed I want to make it clear I am not giving parenting advice — I’m certainly not qualified to do that. Rather, this post is about what I would like to teach my own children and how we are striving to do just that.
I have had a cushy life compared to most people in the world. I enjoyed a blessed middle-class life. Both my parents were educated (they each had their high school diploma and my father had attended university for a few years). By no stretch can I say I struggled, though there were stretches when my father was unemployed (he was a saw-filer and the timber industry experienced economic turmoil in the eighties and nineties). We heated our home with a wood stove and enjoyed the comforts of a washer and drier. We had a television and even got a VCR when I was in junior high school. My brothers and I rode the bus to school and took part in a variety of extracurricular activities. My husband grew up in similar circumstances. Our fathers worked in blue-collar jobs and our mothers stayed home with us when we were young, taking on clerical jobs when we (and our siblings) got older.
I am in the fortunate position of having been brought up in a developed country, leading a comfortable life. My life is the American dream; I am able to provide for my children the things that I did not have. At the same time, however, I want them to appreciate how blessed they are to get them.
So what will I teach my kids?
What can I teach my kids who will grow up in the upper-middle class American society? I can’t teach them frugality .. it just won’t stick. Instead, I will teach them…
- There are many people who have it worse than you. Appreciate what you have and focus on taking advantage of that. Be grateful for that and do not focus on what you do not have. [Note: This is one area we work on daily with our youngest. The skills and mindset we hope to instill is a life-long pursuit.]
- Shed the sense of entitlement. In America, many are becoming reliant on the system. In other countries, however, there are no food banks, unemployment benefits, Medicare or Social Security. As we are fortunate to have the means by which to travel, I try to communicate an awareness of poverty in other countries as well as our own. I hope to instill in my children that which was common in my grandparents’ generation … hard work and persistence will pay off.
- Take responsibility. I feel responsible for my parents’ retirement, my kids’ education and my own retirement. Growing up, my father emphasized the importance of putting money away, so saving comes naturally to me. Similarly, when we make mistakes, we own up to our mistakes. When my little guy damaged another’s personal property, he had to pay for the damage himself even though he was only five years old at the time. As parents, it is our job to teach responsibility, not to bail them out or to make excuses.
- Get priorities in order. Realize what is important in your life and figure out if you have the means to provide for it. If not, eliminate or minimize what you spend on things that are NOT important to you. Everything else will automatically fall into place. If is material in nature (a new bull whip, for example), look for opportunities to earn money. You will have a greater appreciation for the value of money when you know how hard you worked to earn it yourself.
- Help others as much as you can. In the United States, people who are struggling to come out of poverty have access to need-based aid or government assistance. What they lack is a mentor or someone to guide them along the right path. They need someone to show them there is a world full of opportunities waiting for them, and give them the hope and confidence they need to get back on their feet. We volunteer at the mission for this exact reason. On a weekly basis, we work with those who are making efforts to put their life back in order.
- Contribute to and take advantage of your social network. When this country was first founded, immigrant communities were some of the most closely knit communities. In many areas, this is still true. As members of the Sons of Norway and the local homeschool network, I offer my skills and expertise to others (coordinating events, publishing the newsletter, etc.). I work hard to build these communities and I model for my children that relationships with others contribute to our own success as well as our happiness.
- There are plenty of non-material ways to feel rich. I feel rich when I can spend time with my family. I cherish the memories of holiday meals and gatherings at my grandmothers and I make efforts to build similar memories and traditions with my own children.
- Be resourceful. I won’t teach my children to make their own clothes or grow their own food just for the sake of saving money. Anyone who has ever sewn or knitted a garment in the United States knows how expensive it is. I will teach them how to do all those things and be resourceful because they are good skills to have.
- And finally, I will teach them to never stop learning. Wherever life takes you, keep an open mind or you will never grow.
Ultimately, I want my children to be good citizens of the world. By living my life according to the principles I’ve outlined, I hope to teach them how to evaluate what goals are important in their life and how they can achieve them. My ultimate goal is that they will say, “I have enough. I am happy.”