One of the things that scares me most as a parent is that my children will grow up believing that they’re entitled to whatever they want in life. You see it everywhere: college graduates who expect turn their noses up at entry level jobs, expecting to land high-paying, satisfying work without first paying their dues. People who command thousands of dollars to appear at a club just for being tan and obnoxious. Little leagues in which every team gets a trophy, even if they came in last. In this kind of a world, how do you raise kids not to feel entitled?
It’s rare as a parent that you get concrete, teachable moments that fit the exact moral lessons you’d like to impart to your children, but last week, I was presented with just such an opportunity. I got a call from a friend at three pm a few weeks ago, informing me that he had four tickets to American Idol that were mine if I wanted them, but I had to be at the studio by 4:30. Once I stopped screaming and jumping up and down, I called a girlfriend, who quickly rearranged her son’s baseball lesson and booked it over to my house. I got my daughter from the bus stop, made a quick stop to pick up the tickets, and the four of us took off for Hollywood. We ran the three blocks from where we parked to the studio, and made it inside- albeit sweaty and not at all camera ready- at 4:29 on the dot. The usher showed us to our seats…and there were four other people sitting in them. To make a long story short, turns out the tickets were for the next day. Oops.
I begged the people at Idol to give us seats for that show, but they were sold out. I was told that if we wanted to try, we could get at the end of the long line of people who were waiting outside in the standby section, but the chances were slim that we’d get in. Otherwise, we should come back tomorrow for the show we had tickets for. My daughter and my friend’s son both started to cry. My first instinct was to try to make it happen anyway. I called my friend who got us the tickets to see if he could convince someone to let us in, but he had no luck, either. As we stood outside and watched, about twenty-five people from the standby line were ushered inside to fill the empty seats of ticketholders who didn’t show up. My friend was outraged. They could have given us seats, she argued, but they were just being mean. The kids immediately latched onto this. Yeah, and we’re kids, they added. They so should have let us in.
And this is when I realized that I was being practically elbowed in the ribs with Lesson Number One In How Not To Raise An Entitled Child. You guys need to stop, I told them. It was our mistake, not theirs. Yes, we were told the tickets were for today, but we should have looked at them to make sure. The people at Idol don’t owe us anything, and just because you’re kids, that doesn’t make you more important than anyone else. I asked them how they would have felt if they had been the ones waiting for hours in that standby line, and four dumb people who came on the wrong day had been let in instead of them. Wouldn’t you be mad? Wouldn’t you think that was totally unfair? Yes, we rearranged some things unnecessarily, and we rushed to get here and we have blisters from running so far, but whatever. We’ll come back tomorrow, and let’s not forget how lucky we are that we get to come at all. My daughter stopped crying. You’re right, she told me. But I’m still disappointed.
I told her there’s nothing wrong with being disappointed. But we should try to look on the bright side. My friend wanted to know what that could possibly be. Well, I told her, we learned some important lessons from this. One, our children learned that they’re not entitled to get what they want just because they showed up somewhere. And two, we learned that tomorrow, we should park closer.