Whether we realize it or not, as parents, we want our kids to have more. Not only more of the things we didn’t get as children, but more attention, more clothes, more talent, more education, more friends, more activities, more hobbies, and generally more of whatever we parents are capable of providing. Kids start out only needing. Parents create their wants. At some point, our children want something before we have even offered it. That is when we call them spoiled or entitled. There is, however, something parents want their kids to have less of . . . struggle.
We think, perhaps if we help them avoid the errors we made growing up, our children can reach their goals more quickly. Yet, without allowing our maturing youth to bang up against the walls of life; to experience failure, rejection, fear, insecurity, mediocrity, boredom, intimidation, hate, and hurt, how are they to understand their own passions and personal motivators? How can they cull out the unwanteds in their journey, and recognize their own path to personal fulfillment?
Kids are parents’ greatest hope of fulfilling their own unreached expectations. With the best of intentions, we perceive struggle as an inhibitor that slows the momentum of their personal growth. We feed them a sugar fix of meaningless “things,” which they consume because they don’t know any better. And we starve them of the everyday struggle that teaches important life lessons providing the tools essential to navigate the rest of their lives. Perhaps we need to flip our practice. Give them less, and let them struggle more. The most successful adult is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. To accomplish this you have to model the behavior yourself and learn to say that awful two-letter word to your kids, “NO!”
To teach your kids to want less you must practice the discipline of recognizing that having is not always as satisfying as wanting. You have to model self-sacrifice to your family. Openly reject an opportunity to have something you desire, and can afford, however small. Your kids will mirror your actions over your words. It takes repetition and practice to master the skill of not having.
Successful families preserve their future family’s behavior by refusing to provide material things beyond necessities. They challenge their child . . . if they want it bad enough, they will figure out how to acquire it on their own. They teach that money is a security blanket for “just in case” moments, and not a hedonistic weapon to satisfy a daily kill of material desire.
Not having requires us to internalize the notion that experiences are more meaningful and memorable. Possessions are not. It takes practice. It’s like going on a consumption diet. Oxymoronic, don’t you think? It’s actually counter intuitive. Like trying to lose weight, you can’t effectively diet with a pantry full of candy bars and snacks. Next time you’re ready to purchase something for yourself or your kids (other than necessities), commit to not having. This could apply to that second Starbucks latte you want, or a brand new automobile because you’re bored with your current one. You will discover your appreciation for what you have increases. Your children are watching!
This past Christmas, my granddaughter, Maclane (age 6), asked Santa for a Hatchimal. A toy creature that hatches into a stuffed pet. The product was in high demand, and nearly impossible to buy. Anxious parents waited outside Target and Toys R Us stores from midnight to the opening the next day. The stores would have this toy in stock for one day only. EBay offered them for $2,000 each (the MSRP was $59). I even called a local Target store dozens of times at 7:00 AM in hopes of achieving the impossible. No luck. I wanted Maclane to have more. Christmas arrived and I knew there was no Hatchimal under the tree. How would she handle this? How would her mother handle this? Apparently Maclane did just fine. When I asked her if she received everything she wanted, Maclane said, “Yes!” When I asked about not getting a Hatchimal, she confidently explained, “Papi, there are some children who need certain gifts more than others. And because I didn’t get one, I know someone else needed it more.” It’s hard to admit I was learning a life lesson from a six-year-old, but her mom taught her exactly right!
We don’t always get everything we want when we want it. Sometimes we have to wait. Other times we have to accept not having. More importantly, my granddaughter learned an invaluable lesson and has an understanding tucked into her tool belt. The next time she is faced with something she wants, but can’t have, she knows that not having is not the end of life. It just means this opportunity was not to be. Disappointment is part of a successful child’s life path. It is okay for them to want, and not have.
Remember, for everything you give your child, you take something away. And everything you take away from your kids, may eventually be a gift. It’s up to a mature parent to discern the difference. Parenting is a responsibility, not a hobby! Your kids are our future. Welcome the tribulations and struggles that help them appreciate each one of their own accomplishments. Let them become as independent and unique as they want to be! They will love you for it.
RICHARD WATTS is the author of ENTITLEMANIA: How Not To Spoil Your Kids, And What To Do If You have! He is a personal advisor and legal counsel to the super wealthy, who call on him to offer counsel on some of the most intimate decisions they have to make. For more information, go to: www.entitlemania.com