Raising Children to be Last in a "Me First" World (or some lessons I’m learning as a mom)

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Entitlement has been the topic of the summer for me as I deal with my own issues as well as those of my young children. We live in an entitled society where “have it your way” has become a personal motto for most people and where “me first” isn’t just something your two-year-old demands.

But as I have mentioned before, we don’t deserve anything, and if we want to teach our children how to follow Christ, then that means lessons in self-denial, contentment, and living a life of humility–something we have to be intentional about. The world is only going to teach them the opposite.

I don’t have all the answers. My kids beg for stuff every time we go to the store just like yours. I throw pity parties on a regular basis. But here are a few lessons I’m learning as a mom.


Stop indulging them with the material.

I’ve learned that when I bring home trinkets for my kids–even from the dollar bin at Target–they come to expect them. My husband learned this lesson the hard way when he caved to the kids’ request for popcorn and slushies at the Target Cafe. Bless his little heart. He thought that was something I always did 🙂 So, now, every time he comes with us to Target, the girls ask for popcorn and slushies. Smart cookies, but their Daddy’s no dummy either.

When children receive more and more and suddenly you stop giving, they become sullen, confused, even angry. “Why isn’t Mommy buying stuff for me any more?” they wonder. They think they are supposed to have those things, that they’re entitled. That’s when ingratitude and discontent creep in. I’ve seen kids who have been given so much that they show absolutely zero gratitude when you give them a gift. And why would they? They’ve already got it!

Kids don’t need any more stuff, so just stop it!

Instead, indulge them with the immaterial.

Forego the bubble gum and crayons, and shower them with your love instead. Give them hugs, kisses, and lots of time. Listen to their silly jokes. Play hide-and-seek with them. Show them that toys and goodies are nothing compared to your love.

This might be a tough one for you if you‘re a gift giver, but remember that the gifts you give don’t have to be things you buy. Take your kids to the park, make cookies with them, have a pajama day and snuggle up with some books. Indulge them with your love.

Instill in them a strong work ethic.

My husband and I were both blessed with hard-working parents who still run circles around most people. That work ethic seems to be missing in so many children these days. Why? Because parents are no longer teaching their children the value of hard work.  

Many children and young adults today have no sense of responsibility. If they want something, it’s simply handed to them. While parents naively believe they’re giving their children a better life than they had, ultimately, what they’re doing is creating dependent, lazy, entitled children who will never be able to finish college or hold down a real job. These are the kids who come back home to live with you when life is too hard.

We have to start teaching our kids right now how to work. Sure it’s easier when they’re young, but even if they’re older, start giving them chores, even if it’s just to make their own beds and put away their own clothes. I haven’t always done a good job of this because honestly it’s faster for me to sweep the floors myself. But with three children–and constantly dirty floors–I’m realizing I can do 1 of 3 things: (1) work myself to death keeping them clean, (2) let them stay dirty, or (3) “employ” our children. The training is a doozie, but I’m sure the dividends will be well worth it. 

Whether you compensate your children or not is up to you; the point is that children need to be taught that: “We are family and we work together for the good of the family.” A house where the children play and mommy and daddy do all the work is imbalanced. Whatever the ages of your children, start instilling a work ethic in them today!

To give you some ideas, here’s a great chore chart:

The Happy Housewife

 

Find opportunities to serve.

Serving others is the perfect way to teach your children humility and gratitude. When our kids begin to act “entitled,” they need to know that everything they have is a gift from God, and He expects us to use our talents, resources, and abilities for the good of others, to His glory, not for themselves.

 48  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48b


One of our family goals is to serve wherever we can “with humble hearts and willing hands.” Even young children can serve. Recently, our church youth group of children ages 2-8 created a poster for a church we help support. It was a very small gesture, I know, but an opportunity nonetheless to teach our children to think outside themselves. With a little paint, some markers, and lots of smiles, those children took part in serving people they may never meet, but who, Lord willing, will be encouraged by their efforts.

Sometimes we think church has to be all about having fun and entertainment, but it isn’t. Find ways to serve others; that’s real fun.
 

Other service project ideas you can do with your children:

  • Bake cookies to take to a women’s shelter.
  • Visit a nursing home and sing to the residents.
  • Make homemade cards to take to a widow or shut-in.
  • Look around at your neighbors. Could you rake leaves, pick up trash in their yard, take them veggies from your garden? 
  • Go to a local homeless shelter and serve as a family. 
  •  As a family pray for people who you know are struggling. When you see those people, your children may just tell them they’ve been praying for them. What a great evangelistic tool!
  • Take toys to the police station or the Salvation Army.
  • Bag up canned goods to take to the Food Bank or other local pantry.
  • Take flowers to a sick friend in the hospital. 

 When you serve with your kids, they will begin to see the needs of others and anticipate meeting them. They will start to pray for people other than themselves. They will want to give their money to people they see hurting. They will stop asking for toys and trinkets for themselves and instead start sharing what they have with others.

Whatever we do, Moms, we need to be teaching our children to think outside themselves, to look for opportunities to help those around them, so that one day they won’t need our prodding. They will simply see a need and meet it. Isn’t that a beautiful goal for our children?

Show them contentment.

As we all know, children mimic what they see, not what they hear. To raise humble, content children, we must be humble, content parents. When our kids hear us whining about not having money for X, they hear discontent. When they see us spending inordinate amounts of time looking in the mirror, they see arrogance and pride. But when we model contentment-when we smile at the good and the bad in our lives–our children see that they too can have joy and be happy with their situations.

More is not better, no matter what the world says. We need to be like Paul, content in whatever situation we face:

 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:11-13

When we are content, our children will themselves learn to find the positives even in the negative.

Moms, we are at war. The world is bombarding us with false messages, telling us that we need to give our children more, the best, the most expensive because they deserve it. What are we doing to defeat those messages? Or are we listening and falling prey? 

What are you doing today to battle entitlement in your own children? What’s your advice?

Praying God’s blessings on you,

 
 
Related posts:
Battling Entitlement in Our Homes
When I Feel Like I Deserve _____________ 
What to do When You Feel Entitled : 5 Tips to Tackle Discontent
for when you want to escape

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Comments

  1. wow Keri! There’s lots to think about here. I agree 100% with you. It’s constant battle to make sure we’re not letting the enemy get his way, but one worth fighting. Most people quote “I can do all things trough Christ who strengthens me” but forget that there is so much more in that passage. The best thing that my mom did when we were younger to show us that we have a lot to be grateful for, is let us stay up to watch those heartbreaking stories about needy children. I remember being shocked that people lived that way. And I vividly remember seeing a whole village of children excited about one balloon. It was eye opening. I have done the same for my kids and although I believe in not giving children more than they can handle, all I have to is remind them of those poor children and it’s usually enough to snap them back to reality. Great post!

    • Jillian, that’s great that your mom instilled contentment in you at such a young age AND that you’re using her same methods with your own kids! Awesome! We sponsor a child through Compassion, and we try to show our children what life is like for this child and most of the world so they will see how great we’ve got it here. They don’t fully understand, but hopefully one day we can take them on a mission trip overseas or just in an impoverished area in our country to show them firsthand what poverty is. That is so important, I think, for kids to see.

      Thanks for sharing your insights and wisdom!

  2. Amen and amen, Keri! I get particularly frustrated with all the little bits of plastic that seem to be more important to the children than their relationships. We don’t buy for them except at holidays, but that junk still seems to creep in, particularly “prizes” from our library’s summer reading program. What we’re fighting is the sin nature in our children. Let me encourage you that your work now will pay off in a few years. My Bigs aren’t stuck on the stuff or fight work like the Littles. The only thing I might add explicitly to your list, although I think it is woven throughout, is to show them Jesus. Read about Him, memorize verses, talk about Him throughout the day. Wonderful post! Sharing to FB.

    • I do, too, Meghan! It never ceases to amaze me that I’ll step on a little doo-dad plastic thingie on the floor and cut my foot! You’re right on; I think we really have to focus on the importance of relationships versus things. What truly matters isn’t that new gadget but our friendships, our family, our neighbors. And Jesus MUST be at the center of all it if we hope to succeed in raising our children to be His disciples.

      Thanks for the words of encouragement. I feel blessed to have you as a blogging friend.

  3. This is a much-needed list in this world right now. I am thankful you wrote it and will be sharing it with my readers.

    • Thank you, Jaimi. My concern, though, is that the people who actually read this post are probably already doing these things, or at least attempting to. It’s the people who won’t read it because it strikes a nerve or they don’t think entitlement is an issue for them that I pray God will send it to, opening their hearts and minds.

      May God richly bless you.

  4. So many great points in this post, Keri. Thank you! It’s a slippery slope I find myself on when I try to make life easier for my children, and for myself. Serving and working together – and seeking out those opportunities rather than waiting for them will go a long way in raising our children to responsible, Godly adults.
    I always enjoy your words, Keri – thank you for sharing with us.

    • I totally agree. I do want my kids to enjoy life. I don’t want them to suffer or endure pain. But even more than that I want them to serve in love, and sometimes that will mean doing the painful. Look at Christ. As Meghan mentioned her comment above, Christ has to be the center of all we’re doing. We have to keep our eyes focused on Him.

      Being intentional about serving and working to God’s glory is tough. I’ve been thinking all morning about how we can spend ourselves today. What can we do for someone else? Being always on the lookout for places and people to serve is what we have to do. We can’t expect those things to simply fall in our laps all the time.

      Thanks for your comments!

  5. I love this. I think training our children to serve, especially leading by example is so important. I have also considered (in hopes of filling my house with less plastic stuff) – asking for donations (to a charity) in lieu of birthday presents – but don’t want to sound ungrateful to grandparents who want to buy their grandchildren toys – I have struggled with it the past few years – but I think I will do it for their upcoming birthdays. Off to find you on facebook. I really loved this list and what it made me think about!

    • Kristin, I can relate to the birthday present struggle. Every year I tell the grandparents and other family NOT to buy gifts. We would prefer them not to have so much “stuff” and yet they still buy things. If it’s something I know they don’t need or that we don’t have room for, then I hide them–usually in the back of my car–and wait until Christmas when we can donate them to Toys to Tots or Operation Shoebox. Our kids don’t need ‘stuff’; they’d much rather have time with us any way.

  6. The chart is spot on! The first chore my now almost 22 year old had was to empty all the little trash cans in the house. She was 3 and it was fun because they were just her size. The next year, I caught her refolding clothes I had put in her drawers. I told her, since she did such a good job she could always fold her clothes. Each time she has made a developmental step, a new chore has come along with it. Now she helps around the house without being asked, works over 40 hours a week, and finds time to crochet security blankets for the local fire department to hand out to kids at fires. Early chores and service to others really does build good character. She still has her moments of entitled thinking (Target ads do it to her), but it doesn’t last too long and she is back to her normal self. I know you will have great luck with your children and as you see them improve their behavior in these areas, I think you will be pleasantly surprised to see yourself changing with less pain than expected. You are doing a great job!

    • Thank you for your inspiring and encouraging comment. What a blessing to be able to look back on what you’ve done as a parent and see the beautiful progress in your child. (By the way, I think those Target ads are pretty tantalizing myself!)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Great post, and from someone with small kids. Great that this is on your radar now and not just when they are older. Such a challenge to raise them right despite all the influences of the world.

    • Well, honestly, I can’t handle ingratitude and disrespect, and that is what I was seeing my own children. They seemed to think they were “entitled” to more toys and clothes “just because” and we want to nip that in the bud right now before it gets way out of control.

      Thanks for your encouragement!

  8. This echoes much of many of my own parenting convictions. Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing at the Weekly Homemaking Party! 🙂

  9. Great suggestions, Keri. It’s so hard to say no to kids when they want this or that at the store. But so necessary. It’s always tempting for me to leave them home with my husband while I run out quickly to the store (so much easier that way!) but lately I’ve been trying to take them with me more often, so that I can teach them how to make frugal, financially responsible shopping decisions, and also teach them that impulse shopping isn’t a very good thing.

  10. What an inspiring, practical post! Very encouraging and a great reminder about not coddling our kids, but preparing them to serve and give. I would love for you to link this post up at my Tuesday Blog Hop, so my readers can enjoy it! http://thecharactercorner.com/?p=5524
    Thanks!
    Kathie

  11. Great post, Kerri! I’m particularly guilty of point #1. Our kids expect me to stop by Tim Hortons every time we’re in town because I usually grab a coffee and naturally, they want something too. It’d a bad habit I’m trying to cut out. Prevention is so much easier! Thanks for the great words of wisdom. Sharing on my Facebook page. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing, Jacinda. I think prevention is a good tactic. If I don’t go to the coffee shop, then I don’t feel guilty for getting myself a coffee while the kids leave empty-handed. I know I feel guilty myself (although I’m usually too cheap to splurge on treats for them there.) The key is that they have to learn not to expect something every place they go, that Mommy or Daddy doesn’t HAVE to buy them a trinket “just because,” that the money we possess is God’s and we are only stewards of it.

  12. This was a great post, Keri!

  13. I think this post is a great reminder! In case this is helpful for anyone who does like to give gifts but still wants to work on entitlement:I have memories of my mom occasionally bringing home a small treat and I really loved it. We did not grow up with a lot of money so it was a big deal. So I do like to occasionally bring home a small gift for a child. I guess it reminds me of my mom and how I felt. I have five kids so there’s no way I could afford to bring each one a treat every time, nor would I want to. I’ve made a point to always tell my kids that fair is everyone getting what they need-not everyone getting the same thing. They don’t EXPECT me to bring each one of them something every time I go out (although sometimes they ask anyway), and I frequently remind them that- while I may not have brought anything for you today, do you remember last month when I bought you new shirts because you were outgrowing yours? Tonight was your brother’s turn because he needed new shoes.- I’ve always let them know that a treat is a Treat, not something they deserve, and I let them know that it brings ME pleasure to give to them. It feels good to surprise someone and make them happy. Hopefully they will want to bring pleasure to themselves and others by giving then also. PS. We are homeschoolers and for birthdays we ask for a lot of science or art kits/supplies. It doesn’t add to the “Stuff” in your house as much and is useful. If the grandparents are wealthy enough you could ask for gifts like museum or zoo memberships, maybe a coupon for a day out with the grandparent to go somewhere together. Then they still get to give a present, but it’s a relationship building gift and isn’t stuff.

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