Entitlement: What Do You Mean No?

Growing up, I lived in a typical middle class family. My basic needs were well taken care of- and my parents made it very clear that if I wanted basic purchase power beyond a weekly allowance, I would have to develop income of my own. Whether it was shovelling snow, mowing lawns, helping neighbors do chores in their homes, until I could get a regular part-time paying job I needed to help fund my luxury purchases.

My first car I paid for out of 2 1/2 years of work deejaying school dances with my best friend Mike and working 30 hours a week (sometimes 40 during the summer) at a private school cafeteria. You have to love the old cars- my dad helped me shop for the great deal I got on a 1973 Dodge Dart Sweeper, the vehicle that got me through my 4 years at college.

Which brings me to entitlement. The belief that someone deserves something, irregardless of their attitude, their behavior, their personal spending habits, their purchasing power, etc. In today’s society, there is so much emphasis on keeping up with what the media perceives as items you need to have: be it an IPod, a cell phone, the best car, the finest clothes and so on.

Trying to teach my daughters to be grateful for what they have has been a challenge. Considering their adoptive backgrounds, they’ve basically been taken from nothing in their world to hitting the lottery. Last week when I got my car fixed, my youngest said “You’re rich!” when I was paying for the bill with my debit card… to which the mechanic replied , “He’s not Rich- he’s Matt!”. To her, having a card represents unlimited purchasing power- no matter how much I tell her and show her that this is far from the truth, she doesn’t believe me.

So how do you handle the word no when your children want something that you don’t think they are quite ready for, or you are on a tight budget and want to make every amount of money stretch? My wife works very well to make their clothing purchases last as they are growing out of clothes- we’ve been lucky to find gentle worn clothes through a number of second hand shops, and also look for deep discounts at other retailers when clothes go out of season.

I guess having a cell phone at 11 isn’t a problem for some- but my wife and I wrestled with the real need for our youngest to have that cell phone as her main birthday wish  last year. Who does she really need to call? If there’s an emergency at school I believe she can use the school phone(s). Who cares if all her friends have them?

When I say no (or a variation of it) it’s not something that hasn’t been done without forethought. I’m aware that I won’t win a favorite parent of the year award from them, but I believe I would be doing a great disservice if I just give my children everything they desire without working hard for it.And I certainly didn’t become a parent to win a popularity contest- I’m there to be a role model, a trusted adult and a teacher all rolled into one.

I want to prepare them for a world where you often have to make choices to separate the wants from the needs, the necessities from the luxuries. I don’t think it’s cruel to give them a limited amount of money and guidelines- then let them wrestle with decision making  just as my wife and I have to do with our spending habits.

Entitlement versus empowerment. Another work in progress in our household- stay tuned for the journey. I would love to hear your stories and suggestions based on your family experiences.

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