One of the blog’s I follow – icanteachmychild.com – started a “book club”of sorts. Anyways, the first book that was up was the book Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma. The book talks about a family’s 12 month journey to rid her children of youth entitlement by making them work, do chores, cook, clean, serve, etc. And she describes each month, where each month she adds another task. Her five kids range in ages 4-14.
She describes her own tendencies to do everything for her kids because it’s “easier, quicker, safer, and done to her specifications” rather than taking the time to teach a child and have to enforce that they do it correctly, safely, and in a relatively timely manner. She says time and again how over the years of raising her kids it just became easier to do everything herself.
This is the first book I have read about the “entitlement problem” among America’s youth. I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts about it as many academics and parents lament the rising generation of spoiled, lazy adults who are insecure in themselves and ill-equipped to work and be happy. They’ve dubbed this new Generation Y all sorts of things, like Generation Me, Gen-i, the entitlement generation, the Millenials, Gen Net, Trophy Kids, First Digitals, and Echo Boomer.
Reading this book made me think about the parenting ideal I hear all the time: “My kids come first,” “I put my child’s needs ahead of my own,” and “My children are my top priority.” And I understand what these parents are saying – they are greatly invested in their children and their futures, which they should be. But, too often parents think that keeping/making sure their kids are happy is the best service you can give them as a parent and that worries me.
I don’t think parents should bend over backwards to ensure their child never fails, that they never have to suffer, that they never have to do things they don’t want to do. Doing so is a disservice to them and to yourself. The author of this book often says that she is amazed at the amount of confidence and self-worth her children are receiving from doing meaningful work. When she sets the expectations high they strive to achieve them. When we expect very little from our children and jump in to save them from doing a difficult task, we are saying (often without words) that they are incapable, unqualified, unable, and they start to really believe that’s true. When we give them a task to complete and let them do it themselves, the opposite effects happen, even if they fail a few times. Children today have so many opportunities to truly succeed in life but when coddle them and give everyone a trophy (hence the trophy generation title) we tell them that they can do the minimum amount of work and still be rewarded, that they don’t really have to try hard to be successful.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Like I said, it’s the first I’ve read about this topic in book-format, and greatly enjoyed this one woman’s very honest perspective of “curing it” in her home. While she both succeeded and failed along the way, and isn’t really done ridding them of youth entitlement, she’s made real progress, especially within herself. While I do want to read other, more academic books on the topic of entitlement/spoiling our kids and the pros and cons of it (something I wished this book had more of), this book was a great beginning.
Reading this book also made me both look at how I was raised and how I am raising my 2-year old daughters. Was I spoiled/entitled as a child and am I doing so with my children?
How I was raised
First, let me talk about my childhood and my thoughts about it after reading this book. While I do not believe I was spoiled with material things, I do believe me and my siblings were very entitled at home.
My parents made it clear that they didn’t have money for us to have everything (heck sometimes anything) that we wanted. From an early age they set up savings accounts for us, and encouraged us to save up for toys and things we wanted. I remember saving up for my very own huge clear-cased Gameboy! I also remember buying my own bike and paying for both my senior class trip to DC/New York City and my band trip to Toronto, Canada.
I held a job since I was about 12 years old, working Sunday-Friday as a paper carrier, until I was 16 years old. I sacrificed doing more sports/plays in middle school and part of high school because I had an after school job delivering papers. And my parents rarely helped me roll and deliver them. It was also up to me to go to people’s houses to collect the subscription fees once a month.
At 16 I started working other jobs, from fast-food to retail to custodial, continuing to work through college. I knew the value of money. I knew how to work hard. I enjoyed working. I tried hard not to complain about it either. And by and large I supported myself through college. My parents contributed some my sophomore and junior years, but mostly so they could write it off their taxes. But, I had worked hard in high school to get top grades and then earn several scholarships (both before and during college). Plus I had saved up much of my earnings in high school to pay for college by myself as my parents told us again and again we had to pay for it ourselves, perhaps the reason many of my siblings still lack a college degree.
|A co-worker and I from my high school days working at ShopKo|
But, around the house things were different. We never really had an allowance system. We might be able to earn some extra cash by washing my father’s semi-truck, but he made sure we did a good job or he’d make us do it all over again. Occasionally I remember receiving a little money for regularly unloading the dishwasher as well. But, otherwise I can’t remember receiving much money from my parents growing up. If I went out with friends, I paid my own way.
And my mother did everything for us around the house. She cooked, she cleaned, she washed and folded everyone’s clothing, she did the shopping and errand running and never made us do much of anything. While my dad/brothers taught me how to wield some power tools and garden a little bit through home improvement projects, and I did from time to time mow the lawn and shovel the sidewalk, those things were much more fun than they were work to me.
And can I say that it was a disservice to me and my siblings that we weren’t taught these things at home. It has been harder for me as an adult to know how to live and manage my own things/home. I don’t know how to cook a lot of things or to meal plan. I didn’t do my first load of laundry until college (I think?). While I do clean, part of that is because I worked in custodial jobs for about 1.5 years as an adult, and I just like to organize and clean. But, the thing is, my mother knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to cleaning and laundering that she never took the time to pass down to me. She knows how to remove stubborn stains from clothes, and how to keep your pots shining bright.
My mother entitled me by not teaching me these home life essentials, because now, as an adult, they seem so much like a chore, so annoying, burdensome, and I just want to pass them off to my husband. But, if I had grown up being expected to do these things, to contribute to our home, I probably wouldn’t feel so much that way.
So, for me, I grew up knowing how to work outside the home, but maybe not as much as I could/should have within it.
With my own kids
Numerous times in this book, Wyma talked about how it would have been so much easier to start these habits at a young age. She laments periodically how she wished she would’ve stuck to her guns and not given in over the years because the teenagers and pre-teens put up so much resistance.
So, I started to look at how my husband and I are raising our kids right now, at the tender age of two. And I think we’re doing pretty well, at least in regards to not raising entitled brats.
My kids, at two, know they need to pick up after themselves if they make a mess. If they throw food on the floor, they will be picking it up. If they don’t right away, they will go in time-outs until they do. They are more than capable of picking up food (plus it works on fine motor skills), and purposely making a mess is not acceptable. Even if they accidentally make a mess, we still need to clean up after ourselves. The girls also help me by taking things, like diapers, to the trash. They also help pick up and put away their toys, not all the time, but sometimes. I help when needed, but make them help the most.
|You bet I made them help me clean this up|
|Cleaning up a similar mess, aged 21 months|
I also encourage my children to help me clean. If they have an accident (which seems to happen all the time lately), they need to help me dry up the pee and pick up the poo. But, they also help and enjoy helping me sweep and mop the kitchen. They’ll often get out the broom and mop and start “cleaning” of their own accord. I’ve had them help me clean windows, dust, and wipe off tables, chairs, and walls. I’ve had them wipe down their crib rails after they made a mess in their crib. They help me put clothes in the washing machine and in the dryer. They help put away some of their clothes and put them on hangers.
Our girls don’t actually have a lot of toys. Most were gifted to us, some were purchased second-hand. We try not to spoil our children with things. And our girls are none-the-wiser that they don’t have the best/most amount of toys. Lately, much of their play is pretend anyways. What a gift that is! They can pretend to have these other cooler toys if they desire. Play foods, pretend messes to clean up, monkey and fox having potty accidents, and more imaginative play are now every day occurrences in our home. Combine that with a little coloring time, book reading, and their smattering of toys, and voila!: entertained children.
The only area we haven’t worked too much with is cooking. I’ve occasionally let them help me cook or bake, but more often having them in the kitchen just means tripping over them constantly and more mess. However, they do love to get out the pots, pans, and utensils, and pretend to cook and bake and greatly enjoy the tea set they got for their birthday.
We also try hard to teach our children to say “Sorry,” “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome.” There is no hitting aloud, and qualifies for a time-out. Same goes for spitting. We also then ask them to apologize to the affected parties or right the problem. We encourage them to say “Please” when they ask for anything, and especially when sharing, which then comes with saying “Thank you” and “You’re welcome.” We are still working on eliminating the whining/begging when they ask for things, but it’s slowly coming. We tell them so say “Please __(fill in the blank)__” instead of just making demands of us. We are not their slaves, nor deserve to be treated as such. It’s just respectful and courteous to ask nicely for the things you want and then to be thankful for what you receive.
I think Josh and I are on a good path. The hard part is staying on it through the years, when more children enter, when life changes, when life gets crazier. Here’s to hoping we will stay true to what we believe to ultimately be the best for our children, even if they call us the “mean parents” or remind us (just as the author’s kids did) that “none of their friend’s parents make them do this.”