In Manhattan the other day, Buff and I ran into our friend Tiffany just as she was wrapping up a meeting with Stephen, the adult son of a mutual friend. The young man didn’t stick around, but instead greeted us with a “hi-bye” wave as he jumped into the brand new Toyota Prius he received for graduation.
We listened intently as Tiffany detailed the lunch conversation she’d had with Stephen, who was frustrated because, despite his bright, shiny degree, he couldn’t find a job. Not one, single job. Tiffany offered some suggestions, none of which piqued the interest of the young grad; not in his field, not enough money, not enough prestige. I felt sorry for Stephen, not because he couldn’t find a job, but because he couldn’t find a clue. Then I got a little pissed at his entitled attitude.
But was it his fault? I recalled a phone call I had with his mother, Sarah, a few months earlier as she was pounding the pavement and making contacts for her son. Yes, I know how that sounds!
Sarah, too, was frustrated by the lack of jobs and wondered aloud about why some people (like reality stars) were enjoying fame and fortune while her educated son was back at home in the room he grew up in. Really?
All right listen parents! Unless you want your kids living with you for the rest of your natural life, you’d better get a big, hairy clue and when you’re done with it, pass it along to your youngsters who are also in dire need. I’m no expert but I came up with five things parents need to do to NOT raise entitled brats.
1. STOP HOVERING! Good God, let ‘em breathe! Of course I’m speaking figuratively – and by breathe I mean let them out of your sight every now and again. I’ll never forget how stunned I was listening to two women talk at the start of the school year about whether they were going to let their kids walk the half-mile home or pick them up everyday. I’m talking 11 and 12 year olds walking on the sidewalk and crossing no major streets. There was very little potential for harm, barring some freak accident, yet the upside would have been huge. Being on their own, for even that short walk, entrusting them with a bit of responsibility would have primed the pump for the bigger stuff down the line. Learn to be a safety net instead of a safety harness.
2. DON’T GIVE THEM EVERYTHING: When I turned 18, I was dying for my working class parents to give me a car for my birthday. Of course they did not; we simply couldn’t afford it. At the time I thought it cruel that they didn’t do everything in their power to raise the money so they could buy me a set of wheels. It wasn’t until I watched Stephen drive off in his brand new Prius that I realized which of us really got shortchanged.
See, while at college I worked in a clothing store for minimum wage. It took me the better part of six months to earn the down payment for a 1977 Toyota Corolla and then I had to pay 189 bucks a month for a year to pay it off. The interior was worn, the leather seats had a few rips and the sun had damaged the dashboard but you know something? I treated that car like GOLD! It may have been old but it was clean inside and out and I was always on time with maintenance. Because that car represented the fruits of my labor and I knew if I didn’t care for it, it would be a long time before I could afford another one. My parents whether intentional or not, taught me the value of hard work and of a dollar. I’d be willing to bet Stephen doesn’t have the same connection with his Prius that I had with my Corolla.
3. MAKE SURE YOUR KIDS KNOW THEY ARE NOT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE: When you first bring that adorable little baby home from the hospital, it’s hard to imagine that something so small could be so controlling. But it’s true and they’ll run your house and your life with a balled up baby fist if you let them. Buff and I made a real effort then – and still do now – to make sure Casey and Cole know they are a PART of a family unit. We like to view our arrangement as a benevolent dictatorship; we, the king and queen, are kind to the loyal subjects but they must always remember it is still a dictatorship and what we say goes. As they get older we allow them to have more say on some issues, especially as they pertain to them. But the fact remains, if anyone’s runnin’ the show around here, it’s us, not them.
4. TEACH THEM LIFE IS NOT LINEAR: The part of the conversation with Tiffany that really pissed me off was when she talked about how Stephen thought so many jobs were beneath him. He couldn’t possibly get a job at Starbucks because it would take away from his ‘job’ of looking for a job – and you can see the kind of success he was having there.
I always remember hearing a pastor once say, “You can’t steer a still ship.” In other words, get going! Go in any direction because at least you’re moving. If it’s the wrong direction, you can change it up, but to sit and do nothing will get you nowhere. Stephen needs to know that there are universal skills that he could learn at Starbucks then take to his “real” job when he gets it. Oh and by the way, doesn’t he know who’s buying coffee early in the morning on their way to catch their train?
5. LET THEM FAIL: This lesson is the hardest of all and yet I think one of the most important. It’s heartbreaking to watch your kid struggle and suffer and it’s our nature as parents and protectors to want to swoop in and “make it all better”. But that doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse by inadvertently teaching your child that you will always be there to smooth problems over and make them right. Letting your kids fail teaches in the most tangible way, what works and what doesn’t. They learn responsibility, how to plan better and what to do next time to avoid the same outcome. And guess what? They’ll survive. Wait. I’ll go you one better. I’ll bet they actually THRIVE with failure as a teacher.
So take these words of common sense from your Good Enough Mother. The truly sad thing is the people who would benefit most from seeing this, Stephen and his parents to name a few, wouldn’t even recognize themselves in this piece. The rest of you, prescient enough to make a change if need be, consider this a public service announcement. Do yourself and the world a favor. Don’t raise a brat.
But what about you? Do you agree with the advice laid out here? What would you add to the list? And what’s been your experience with kids who “have it all”?
Start commenting everyone…