I’ll never forget the year 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, but I’d missed the point of Christmas and we both knew it.
A few months later, I traveled to Africa for the first time and my life–and my expectations– wrecked me.
There are expectations with Christmas. And with expectations, comes disappointment. And disappointment is the breeding ground for ingratitude.
You’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding the parents who’ve “canceled Christmas” this year. In their words, “Here is why – we feel like we are fighting a very hard uphill battle with our kids when it comes to entitlement. It is one of the biggest struggles as a parent these days in middle class America. Our kids have been acting so ungrateful lately. They expect so much even when their behavior is disrespectful. We gave them good warning, either it was time for their behavior to change or there would be consequences. We patiently worked with them for several months and guess what, very little changed. One day after a particularly bad display of entitlement John said, “we should just cancel Christmas.” And, so that’s what we did.”
The reaction on the Internet to their decision has been epic and opinions split parents down the middle:
Jeannie Cunnion, who wrote “Parenting the Wholehearted Child,” told Fox News that Christmas gifts should not reflect a child’s behavior — in fact, an undeserved and unearned gift, like the gift of Jesus, best encapsulates the Christmas spirit.
But Ericka Souter, an editor for The Stir, told Good Morning America that Henderson is a “hero for parents with bratty kids all over the country,” encouraging parents and children to make a habit of volunteering and donating clothes and toys.
We all know how hard parenting is… we question our kid’s behavior along with our decisions on how to handle it regularly. But if I’ve learned anything in this parenting journey, I’ve discovered that entitled kids start with parents who entitle them.
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 I would later try and change.
We live in a culture that thrives on getting what we want and our children are a natural result of that. And let’s face it, we are entitled ourselves. We may not always throw a fit like I did a few years ago, but we live with expectations.
While I understand the frustration of wanting to pull the plug on gift giving because of ingratitude, here are 4 ways to battle entitlement this Christmas season:
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). 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.