“My daughter always wants to borrow my clothes,” I told my friend over lunch.

“Really? That’s great! They say that’s the highest form of flattery from a teen,” she said laughing.

“I think so too, unless I have to dig through the laundry on her bedroom floor when I want to wear them,” I said.

That story led to a conversation on entitlement that I will never forget.

“Oh, I know what you’re talking about,” she said. I wondered what she could possibly be referring to since her three kids were just preschoolers. “I wanted to take my little girl on a special mommy-daughter date, so I arranged a babysitter for the boys. I couldn’t wait to tell her about the morning I had planned. I pulled her aside and said, ‘Guess what? Mommy is going to take you on a special date. We are going ice skating, and then we are going to have hot chocolate.’”

Without missing a beat, her four-year-old said, “Is that all?”

As my friend retold the story, I could hear the pain in her voice. She immediately saw the entitlement for what it was and explained to her daughter that she should be grateful for whatever they did together. “Okay,” her little girl said and went off to play, without even understanding that her innocent question revealed her humanity.

Entitlement winds its course through my home, and the more I’ve become aware of its subtle infiltration, the more I see and hear it blatantly. This is all I get? There’s nothing else? From ice cream serving sizes to allowances, the opportunity to demand more is present.

Is that all?

I believe these three little words sum up the tone for those of us in most Western cultures. No one teaches us to ask that question or expect more. It’s in our nature.

Romans 3:23 says:

“Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT).

We are sinful and selfish at birth, and babies run parents ragged through long, sleepless nights demanding their needs be met immediately. But at some point, we grow up and begin to understand that the world doesn’t automatically cater to our demands like our parents did. We as parents have to examine the question for ourselves, so we can say to our children with conviction, “Yes, that is all. We don’t need more.”

See if any of these signs up entitlement sound familiar at your house:

1. I want it now. Kids are impatient and who can blame them? We live in a drive-thru culture and instant gratification is, well, instant. And often we find ourselves living in fear of saying no because our children are used to getting what they want.

2. I don’t want to work for it or clean up my mess. Why work when it can be given to you? It fosters a cycle of laziness and poor work ethic when we constantly give to our children without requiring any work. We need to create entry points, starting at a young age for our children to contribute to household chores and jobs.

3. I expect you to fix all my problems. I love to help my kids out. But there’s a fine line between helping and aiding bad behavior. If my child forgets their lunch every day, and I bring it every day, there’s really not a reason for them to ever be responsible. My kids expected us to give them money for a gift for us. Instead, I found it the perfect chance to teach them about hard work and let them solve their own dilemma.

Yeah, so maybe we are missing the boat in some of these areas. Now, let’s get back on board:

We can start by teaching or reminding them of the basics: Money doesn’t come easily. People work hard to earn money; it’s part of life. If you want something, you need to work to earn it. You are not entitled to things you haven’t earned.

Compassion for others (maybe introduce them to third world problems, so they have perspective on their first world ones) makes us better people.

We are responsible for our actions. There are consequences and rewards for our behavior and choices.

Grab a paddle. Parenting is hard. Doing it upstream in our culture is even harder. But it is possible to raise grateful, hard-working kids who put others first. That’s my goal anyway.

kristen-welch-0015sq1 Kristen Welch blogs at wearethatfamily.com where she shares about parenting, marriage, and inspirational encouragement. Her family founded Mercy House, a non-profit that empowers impoverished and oppressed women around the world. Kristen is an author and her newest book Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World releases today.

  • MB

    A perfect goal! Spoiling doesn’t create happy, content and well adjusted people. We need to be raising children to be ready for adulthood. That hasn’t been happening. Keep up the good work!

  • karen

    Parenting upstream IS hard, but SO worth it…says this mom speaking from the far side! Cheering all of you young moms on!!!!!

  • Rebecca Jones

    I am so glad you wrote this book, I pray it gets into the hands of millions of parents. You can lavish them with the love of God and discipline. My mother and I have worked with children for years, we’ve seen a decline in behavior. I saw the same behavior last weekend, going skating wasn’t enough, let’s go somewhere else, and reading that was boooorring last week, all of a sudden takes center stage, as I eat lunch…..now, now, now. Children are a gift from the Lord and we can learn from them, I suppose there were times when I didn’t obey as quickly, but I don’t think I was ever obnoxious. We have a loving, doting, Heavenly Father who gave us Jesus and we can’t be like oh is that all,when He is everything. Being a Christian does entitle you to His grace, but you still have to be loving and obedient.

  • Sarah m

    I’m looking forward to reading your book!