I’ll never forget the first time I told my husband not to get me anything for Christmas.
It was the year he got me exactly what I’d asked for.
I watched my kids open their gifts, snapped pictures of their excited faces, made a big breakfast feast and I waited. I knew he was going to pull out a surprise gift.
But he didn’t. And I was disappointed.
Inwardly, I felt like such an ungrateful brat. He was doing exactly what I told him, but the problem was I still had expectations. I still wanted…something.
A couple of days after Christmas, he brought home a belated gift and I said thank you, you didn’t have to. We both knew I had missed the point of Christmas.
A couple of months later, I traveled to Africa for the first time and my life–including my expectations and entitlement– wrecked me. I had no idea this yes would turn my life completely upside down.
There are expectations with Christmas. And with expectations, comes disappointment. And disappointment is the breeding ground for ingratitude.We’ve had our fair share of all of the above in our house.
My youngest is in her last year of elementary school this year. She came home the other day and we had this conversation:
“Mom, my friends and I were talking about Christmas presents. Everyone was telling how many presents they each open on Christmas morning. I told them I get three gifts. The other kids couldn’t believe it. Did you know other kids get 10 or even 20? I think they felt sorry for me,” she said. I could hear the longing for more in her voice. It was a good opportunity to talk about expectations and how gratitude turns what we have into enough.
I spent the first few years as a mother giving my kids everything I wanted them to have whether they needed it or not and I failed to see that I was creating an atmosphere that would be difficult to change.
We all know how hard parenting is… But if I’ve learned anything in this parenting journey, I’ve discovered that entitled kids start with parents who entitle them. And if we are really honest, we might admit we struggle with our own list of things we think we deserve.
Here are 4 ways to battle entitlement this Christmas season–for us and our kids:
1. Give back on Christmas Day | Look for a way to do something tangible for someone else on Christmas Day. For 6-7 years, we’ve taken treats to the local hospitals that took care of our youngest when she was born premature. It’s always a great way to stop in the middle of celebrating and remember someone else. Invite a single person over for Christmas dinner or visit someone who might feel forgotten…
2. Don’t forget to create opportunities for hard work | Grace and salvation are free, but stuff we want isn’t. Sometimes this is more obvious at Christmas (especially if we don’t get what we hoped for). Typically this time of year, we put up a job list up and give our kids opportunities to earn money to buy Christmas gifts. Two of my kids actually argued over who got to do the job that topped the list: SCOOP DOG POOP. It’s these kind of moments in parenting, that we treasure in our hearts. Here are 15 ways to teach kids about hard work. (Christmas break is a great time to start).
3. Look for the lesson -When entitlement rears its head, look beyond the demand. | When my kids expect more than I give them, my first reaction isn’t to look for the teachable moment. But I’m learning that’s often what I need to do. I understand I’ve created some of the problem and it’s to be expected in our culture in certain situations. Offering perspective is often a great way to remind kids how much they already have.
4. Make gratitude a way of life all year long | When we make gratitude and thankfulness a priority all the time, kids are more apt to show thankfulness when they get what they want and when they don’t.
Christmas and kids go together. And in our culture, entitlement right along with them. My family will be opening gifts on Christmas morning probably like yours. Everyone might get exactly what they want or maybe they won’t. But we can start teaching our kids the true meaning of Christmas by making entitled moments teachable ones and thanking them for grateful ones.