People act responsible when they are given responsibility, including children. If we want to eliminate entitlement, we need to set expectations and demand responsible behavior. I’ve seen this play out in my own home. One of the easiest ways to do this is to give kids responsibility. I’m not standing on a soap box of perfect parenting because this took me years to realize, but when we give them responsibility in the home there is a huge difference in their attitudes. They may whine and mope at first but in time they feel proud of themselves for a job well done and they take stewardship over the area they have been assigned.
Here’s an example. Our oldest child just turned 12. She can be the best whiner and complainer. Procrastination? I’m sad to say she probably learned that from me. She loves to do the littlest effort possible, sometimes she’ll even put more time and effort into getting out of the thing she’s asked to do than it would have taken for her to actually do it. Ringing a bell? My daughter also happens to be one of the most talented people I know. She is a beautiful vocalist, artist, and writer. Her creativity seems to have no bounds. We recently put her into voice lessons and paid for the first month ($160). Then I had this brilliant idea! What if she pays for half of her voice lessons? Well that means she’ll need to earn money somehow. Hmm…how can a 12 year old earn money? Babysitting! You mean we can go on dates again? She can earn money? She also gets to have her voice lessons and we don’t have to pay for all of it? She will also feel a sense of pride in contributing to her lessons? She’s also going to learn to value money and that if she really wants something she needs to work for it? WIN-WIN-WIN!!
There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth to get to the point where she accepted being more responsible. Really, I have to give credit to my amazing husband. He loves a clean kitchen and I have a full plate. He’s tried in the past to get our daughter to be the keeper of the kitchen but I’ve always jumped in because I felt guilty for not being able to do it myself. Superwoman complex? Yes, but that’s for another time. After months of us going back and forth between me stepping in and my daughter getting out of being responsible I finally let him do his thing. What has come of it? Miraculously, a clean kitchen! Ooohs and aaaahs! What else has come from it? She is proactive about making sure everyone is rinsing off their dishes, putting garbage in the trash instead of setting it on the counter, there is even a little bit of pride (the good kind) bubbling to the surface because she knows that it is through her efforts that we have clean dishes to eat off of.
My son is no different. This boy would play video games 24/7 if we allowed him to. When he gets grounded off of them (generally for not doing his chores) it is like his life has ended. He is a free thinker. He loves to be imaginative and creative, and doesn’t like to do chores. Last week though, I wasn’t feeling well so I was planted on the couch and noticed that the floor in the living room needed vacuumed…which is his job. I called him in and asked him to do his job and vacuum the floor. After a fantastic display of drama he finally went and got the vacuum. He plugs it in, ran it over the floor in a couple of places and called it good. Haha! Not going to work while I’m overseeing the job. I told him he wasn’t finished. Que the dramatic production. After he was finished with his theatrics he picked up the vacuum again and I told him (which I’ve told him before) vacuum in straight lines, that way you know where you’ve been. He whines back that he’s been everywhere already. I said “Let’s see. Run the vacuum where and how I tell you to and lets listen to see if it picks up dirt.” It did of course, lots of it. I saw a shift in him though as he started realizing that the job he was doing was actually picking up unsightly dirt and it made him feel good. He wound up the vacuum cord with a sense of accomplishment. Then I asked him to fix the couch…theatrics begin… and I’ll save that for another time.
My point is that we all think that having the cush life would be the best life, including our children. Who wants to exert effort if we don’t have to? In all honesty, we all do. We just don’t realize it. We want to feel accomplished, needed, valued, important, in control, and proud. Proud of ourselves and of what we’ve accomplished. Our children are no different. When we deny them the ability to be productive we are actually blocking their ability to learn, to earn, and to be self-reliant.
I have family coming into town today. The feeling of dread set in. I’m going to have to clean this whole house. Then reality dawned on me. The living room is already vacuumed, the kitchen is clean, the floor is mopped. All that needs to be done is the kids’ bathroom (which my daughter will be doing) and the boys’ room needs to be cleaned (which they will do). Two cheers for giving up my control issues. We now have a cleaner house and our children are more responsible! Oh and two cheers for my husband for having a stronger constitution when it comes to the wailing and gnashing of teeth bit.