|Tyndale House Publishers
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About the Author
Meredith Mitchell is an actress who has performed in film, in television, and on stage. Her film work includes Mona Lisa Smile and The Reunion. She has recorded numerous audiobooks, and she earned her MFA in acting from Brandeis University.
Read an Excerpt
Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World
How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead To Life's Biggest Yes
By KRISTEN WELCH
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Kristen Welch
All rights reserved.
WANTS VS. NEEDS
In one of comedian Jim Gaffigan's stand-up routines, he describes how we act when we first arrive at a hotel. We walk into the lobby and exclaim, "Wow, this place is amazing!" We find our room, take a good look around, and we love it. By day two, with unmade beds and suitcases strewn across the floor, the mystique begins to wear off. Suddenly, we look around and say, "This place is a dump." When we return from a day of fun and the housekeeping staff hasn't had a chance to clean up our mess, we are outraged. "There's a wet towel still on the bathroom floor! How could they? I'm calling to complain!"
Gaffigan's audience explodes with laughter because it's funny. But the problem is, it's also true — and maybe that's not so funny, especially when our kids are standing next to us in the hotel room, listening to our indignant attitude. It's startling how quickly our gratitude turns into ingratitude.
But, we reason, if we've paid our hard-earned money, shouldn't we be guaranteed a good night's stay with impeccable service? We are entitled to at least that. They owe us, right?
If we look closer, we can see that this same attitude pervades not only our culture, but also our homes. We often buy things not so much because we need them, but because we feel like we deserve them. We work hard; we owe it to ourselves. It's so easy to get wrapped up in this way of thinking.
I'm guilty too.
We've been in our current home for two years. I've grown tired of the builder's drab beige walls, and I started toying with the idea of painting. But with neck and back issues of my own and a husband who loathes painting projects, I knew the only way to get it done was to hire someone. Terrell agreed it would be a great improvement, but he suggested we should wait since he was transitioning out of his corporate job into the role of CEO of our small nonprofit. He was being cautious about our finances.
I was immediately indignant. Wait? I have waited. And then I began to go down the list of my self-sacrifice and service, the reasons I deserved this home makeover. Terrell smiled and said, "You sort of sound entitled right now." Oh. That comment took the wind out of my sails. And honestly, it hurt my feelings because he was right.
We don't want to wait. Here in the United States, we live in a fast-paced, convenience-driven, impatient culture. Some might even say this is the beauty of the American Dream — working hard so you get what you want in life, which has attracted countless immigrants to come here. And we are very, very good at it.
THE GOOD LIFE
The term "American Dream" was first used by James Truslow Adams in 1931 in his book The Epic of America. There he described it as "a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable."
But I've discovered that like many things in life, definitions change. A more current description of the American Dream is "an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity." I asked my blog readers for their own perspective on the term and got dozens of responses, such as this one from Kim Frey:
Our grandparents probably viewed it as the ability to get out of poverty, to provide for loved ones, and to have a comfortable home, getting a strong basic education, having a good work ethic, and being content with what you have. ... I think the idea of the American Dream has become much more materialistic in the past few decades ... "Bigger, better, faster, and more" has defined it recently.
Reader Angela Sellman agreed and added this:
[The American Dream is] bigger, more. Newer is better. Everyone must have the newest gadget, cars, and fun fun fun at all times. Happiness all the time is the goal for everyone!
Or there's the definition Terrell heard on the radio years ago that he's never forgotten:
The American Dream is getting all you can. Canning all you can get. Sitting on the can so nobody can get what you can.
Has the dream changed? It seems to have morphed from a rags-to-riches, hard work ethic mentality to prosperity now. Or perhaps the dream is the same, but we have changed. I'm not sure the concept can be quantified, especially considering inflation, but I think we can all agree something has changed. The median income of Americans has dropped considerably since the beginning of the 2008 recession, but we're paying over 15 percent more for new cars.
And it's not just what we drive; houses have nearly tripled in size and families have gotten smaller. In 1950, the average house was 983 square feet, but by 2014 it had reached 2,598 square feet.
And growth like this isn't cheap. USA Today published a report in 2014 that put a price tag on the American Dream:
$130,000 a year, which includes a nice six-figure salary, luxury vacations, college savings, and retirement.
Our family signed up for that track when my husband landed his first corporate job, after nearly ten years in full-time ministry. We finally had a 401(k), dental insurance, and a ladder to climb up. We scraped our money together, packed up our rented 1,000-square-foot townhome, and couldn't believe the sellers had accepted our bottom-dollar offer on our dream house. We moved in mid-December and scrambled to put up a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, mostly for our two kids, who were two and four years old at the time. There were a few gifts scattered underneath the tree, but we all knew we'd really gotten a house for Christmas.
But within two years of living the dream in a house I loved at first sight, I began to see it in a completely different light. And the light glared brighter every time I visited someone else's house. Why hadn't I noticed how small our living room was or how badly the floors needed work? Over time, we began to update our home. We pulled down wallpaper, hired a painter, built a sprawling deck, added a couple of walls ... all great improvements and not bad in and of themselves. But somewhere along the way, I began referring to this house I had once dreamed of owning as our "starter home." What had once been more than enough eventually became not enough.
Every year Christmas got bigger and bigger in that house. We put up the biggest tree we could find in the front bay window and the thousand white lights that adorned it could be seen from the street. I spent a lot of time and money decorating nearly every room. I'll never forget the Christmas morning when my kids were six and four years old and there were piles of presents under the tree, dozens for each of them. I didn't feel it was excessive because I was an organized deal shopper and had gotten most of the toys on sale months before. I was as excited as my kids, and I couldn't wait to see their faces as they opened each gift in delight.
But it didn't really happen that way. It was a blur of grabbing and tearing into gifts, and within minutes the room looked like a tornado had ripped through it. I watched my kids go from one gift to another, hardly taking the time to even remove all the paper. With piles of opened gifts and still more to go, they actually seemed tired from the exertion of opening so many. We took a break and cleaned up for a bit before we started round two. There were some gasps of delight here and there, but with a room full of stuff, I don't think I've ever felt emptier.
I pushed the depressing thought away and encouraged my kids to say thank you. To my husband, I justified the piles of presents proudly, saying it was a debt-free Christmas. But the nagging feeling stayed with me the rest of the day. I realized what bothered me that morning wasn't just about having more stuff; it was about getting more stuff. And it was my problem, as much as my kids'. Maybe more.
AN ATTITUDE IS BORN
I married my husband two weeks before Christmas in 1994. After a week honeymooning, we woke up on Christmas morning in our first apartment with dozens of wedding gifts to unwrap. It was just as romantic as it sounds. After a leisurely morning of opening presents we didn't pay for, we drove an hour to my parents' house to a feast we didn't have to prepare. We were the newlyweds, and we were special. By the next Christmas and our first anniversary, we lived hundreds of miles from home and it was my in-laws' turn to have us as Christmas guests.
I pitched a fit to my husband about it. I had never spent the holidays away from my family, and even though my husband missed his family as much as I missed mine, I acted like a spoiled brat. I whined and cried and finally gave in. We didn't have a lot of money, but I couldn't imagine not opening gifts on Christmas, so we saved $100 to spend on each other. I shopped and searched and I bought Terrell five gifts with the money.
On Christmas morning at his parents' house, the extended family opened their gifts to each other, but I didn't see any for me from my young husband. Meanwhile, he was opening his fourth one from me ... a used Rook game off eBay. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)
The gifts were all opened and Terrell gave me a sly look. I was trying not to cry. He went over to the tree and pulled off a papier-mâché ornament. He opened the ball to reveal a beautiful pearl necklace inside. When he put it around my neck, I said thank you — and then I went to the bathroom and cried. I was so disappointed that I only had one gift from him under the tree.
Oh, boy. I had a lot to learn. I didn't just want something; I wanted more. And when I became a mom, this attitude spilled over into my early parenting. I wanted my kids to have more, the best. I wanted them to have it all, too.
My buy-in to the notion that I needed more of the best for myself and my kids didn't satisfy me. Its pursuit actually left me feeling emptier than when I had less. Things didn't begin to shift for me until a couple of years later, when I traveled to Kenya, Africa, with Compassion International as a blogger. It was there in one of the world's largest and poorest slums that I began to see my life and my own entitlement in light of how the rest of the world lived. It shook me to the core and flipped a switch inside me that made me stop and reevaluate what was happening. Entitlement didn't start with my kids. It began with me. I entitled them because I was entitled with kids, just like my family, only they didn't seem to be entitled to anything, not even enough food for the day or clean water to drink. I realized how small I was. I saw my glaring selfish tendencies and my spoiled nature, and I wanted to live differently.
That discovery led my family and me on a wild faith adventure of saying yes to God in seemingly impossible ways by helping girls and women trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty. Honestly, I wouldn't have chosen this road for my family — I am entirely too afraid and selfish. But I wouldn't change our journey for all the money in the world because it's given my family the valuable gift of perspective, which reveals our deep need for gratitude, no matter what we have or don't have.
WANTS VS NEEDS
I don't always know how to combat the struggle against entitlement in my life or home, but I need to try.
And as uncomfortable as it sounds, parents who want less-entitled kids have to be less entitled themselves, and parents who want to raise more grateful kids need to start by living more grateful lives.
As Americans, my family and I do have certain entitlements that are found in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."
Joshua Becker, author of the popular blog Becoming Minimalist, says,
As Americans, we are free to pursue our own happiness — however we decide to define it. ... And those of us who have chosen to define happiness and security apart from $250K mortgages and SUVs in the garage are free to do so. Because there are greater and more important pursuits available to us than material possessions.
When we pare down what we have a right to, besides what we've acquired through citizenship — which cost people their lives — the list is small. The gifts of salvation, grace, and forgiveness are free for the taking, but they weren't cheap. They cost Jesus His life.
Considering the issue as parents, what are our children entitled to? What exactly do we owe them? What is too much or not enough? Are they entitled to the latest technology, a new car at sixteen, or a fully paid college education? Some would say yes — these are the responsibilities that come with parenting.
One day in the car, my oldest, who was barely a tween at the time, overheard Terrell and me talking about Mercy House, our nonprofit ministry that funds a maternity home in Kenya. We were contemplating some pretty serious financial decisions for the future. It must have made her think because she asked me, "Mom, what is your plan for my college education?"
"Well, it went to Africa," I said, laughing. "I'm joking, but honestly, we don't have plans to foot the bill for four years of college, honey. You will get a college education if you want it and work hard for it. It will happen with a combination of scholarships, work study, local summer school, and your dad and I contributing what we can too."
Madison is a gifted flute player. Years before, at the advice of her school flute teacher, we bought Madison a professional flute, paying more money than we wanted to. The teacher urged us to invest in our daughter's musical gift even if we didn't have college figured out. Since the sixth grade, Madison has known that college scholarships are part of the plan. It has spurred on her love for music. But it's also been a tangible reminder that college is not a free ride in our house.
I believe Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane, coauthors of Growing Up Social, zero in on something that is inarguable.
The only thing a child is really entitled to is his parents' love. Not to keep up with the Joneses. Not a brand new bike or iPad. Just love. Every child deserves to be loved by his or her parents. If a child has your unconditional love, he has the greatest asset in the world. If we as parents can realize it's love that our children need most, and not things, we will stop trying to buy our children's happiness with possessions.
Whatever you choose to provide for your kids is really up to you. The answer will be different for every family. But when our kids begin to expect — even demand — more than our love, that's when we have a problem.
And it goes well beyond providing and pursuing material possessions. What our culture feels entitled to isn't just stuff. It's the desire to fit in, to feel good or happy all the time; it's the desire for instant gratification and the demand to receive something just because we want it, hard work optional.
One of my kids really struggled for a season with the idea of being happy all the time. This child is more of a pessimist by nature (and so much like me), and it became obvious that when my child didn't feel happy, we saw more negative behavior. It takes consistent teaching to remember we aren't owed happiness all the time. That's not our goal because God can use disappointments and even discouragement to draw us closer to Him. Contentment is our aim because it doesn't fluctuate with our circumstances.
In their book The Entitlement Trap, authors Richard and Linda Eyre pinpoint the growing problem.
Kids grow up in a reality-show world, thinking of themselves as the central character on the stage. They have a Facebook page, they are famous in their own minds, they are like rock stars, and to them there is no room (and no need) for true emotional empathy, or self-examination, or personal responsibility. Nor is there incentive or motivation to learn to work. And they think they are entitled not to have limits or boundaries or discipline.
Early on, we chose not to allow our kids to interact on social media until they entered high school. Even after they were allowed to open accounts, we didn't encourage it and monitored their involvement. I think our resistance impacted them, and they are selective about social media. But society is in the age of unbridled and often unmonitored technology. Sometimes it's because we parents are afraid to say no or we don't want our children to feel left out. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that parenting has changed since we were kids.
Excerpted from Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by KRISTEN WELCH. Copyright © 2015 Kristen Welch. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Launch
Chapter 1 Wants vs. Needs 3
Chapter 2 Times Have Certainly Changed 21
Part II Undertow
Chapter 3 Seven Ways We Parents Miss the Boat (and How to Get on Board) 45
Chapter 4 The Selfie Society 67
Chapter 5 Making Smart Choices about Technology 87
Part III Resisting the Current
Chapter 6 Cultivating Obedience 111
Chapter 7 Living Out Gods Love in Your Home 129
Part IV White Water
Chapter 8 Gratitude Is a Choice 151
Chapter 9 Where the Rubber Meets the Road 171
Chapter 10 Dear Parents 197
Appendix A Cell Phone Contract between Parent and Child 221
Appendix B Christian Parent Manifesto 223
Appendix C Recommended Resources 225
Discussion Guide 227
About the Author 243
What People are Saying About This
Kristen’s words are so timely, and I am thankful for her hard-fought wisdom. I am all ears whenever Kristen writes because she just gets it, and it was no different with this book. If you’re looking for support and practical ideas on how to raise grateful kids in an increasingly entitled world, this book is a must-read.
I absolutely love this book. Kristen unearths the heart issue of why many children are selfish and unaware of the needs of others. Her words engage, inspire, and instruct parents in raising emotionally strong, healthy children who are grateful in the important moments of life.
I can’t think of anyone I would trust more than Kristen to teach on this topic. She’s made her entire life a testimony to doing this well, and everyone who reads this book will be inspired by her story, her heart, her wisdom, and her love of the Lord.
Rearing children in our contemporary culture is difficult, but rearing grateful children is even harder. In Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, Kristen Welch gives solid practical advice. Grateful children become responsible adults. I highly recommend this book.
In this fast-paced, instant gratification culture, Kristen’s countercultural message of selflessness and gratitude is much needed! This book left me convicted, challenged, and encouraged, both personally and as a parent.
Parents today fight what seems like a never-ending battle against the current of the culture in raising our children. In Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, Kristen not only inspires us to raise our children differently, but she teaches us how to actually live that out in our homes. So very practical and convicting. A must-read!