Many families in my generation and the next generation down have turned their backs on the way we were raised–when children were to be seen and not heard. Parenting culture was different. Expectations were different. We began to respect these little people and recognize them as humans rather than property. We gave them more freedom to be children and develop at their own pace. We allowed them to have a voice.
But some of us didn’t do a stellar job at transitioning them into being respectful and compassionate young adults that could do what they were told WHEN they were told to do it and the WAY they were told to do it. We quite accidentally created very entitled kids…
Lately, there have been some power struggles with BigGuy. We’ve managed to avoid a LOT of these kinds of problems partly because 1) Husbeau and I keep our own control/power issues in check (and help one another when we are caught up in the moment and need to take a breath), and 2) we treat our kids with respect and give them as much control over their life as possible.
But the way we did that appears to have created some significant problems.
Recently we were in the car and having an escalating discussion with my kids (mostly BigGuy). Suddenly, I realized the problem. I turned to BigGuy and said:
“Buddy… Daddy and I have really made some big mistakes here. You have been given a great deal of respect as a PERSON and a lot of say in how your life is handled. That is how Daddy and *I* treat you; but that is not exactly your place in the world; and I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of raising you to be aware of the world outside of our home and that world’s expectations of you. And I think doing that could put you in a position to get in a lot of trouble. I’m not sure how we’re going to fix it, but Daddy and I will figure it out. We’re not going to stop respecting you as a person or limiting your input on your life, but we do need to figure out how to help you understand all of this.”
And the conversation ended peacefully for that moment.
It occurred to me that I am not alone, either. I know plenty of families who have inadvertently given their children the idea that their voice must be heard and that they had a say in every aspect of their life. As I look at BigGuy, I have grave concerns about what would become of him if I don’t turn this around. How many jobs will he lose because he challenges the wrong person at the wrong time simply because he believes he has a right to be heard?
Recently, we have been trying to navigate this territory. It’s mostly come up when I stick to my guns in executing a consequence that BigGuy has not only been told about, but redirected and reminded so that he doesn’t suffer the consequence. He ignores all of it and when I leave to take his sister to the library without him or some other natural consequence, he loses. his. mind. He should be allowed to go because he forgot or he got distracted (we have tried zero reminders and we have tried reminders–the former for extended periods of time to “retrain” him). I have to hear about how it’s not fair; and worst of all is the level of despair that he can produce over missing a trip to the library. A trip that happens OFTEN. And he is reminded that he will have the opportunity to go again within the week. There was nothing special going on at the library–no book he was waiting to pick up. But he will go on ranting about it, even running down the street after the car over it.
THAT. IS. IN. SANE.
I think for a while I attributed some of this to BigGuy being in the autism spectrum. Husbeau and I are often challenged with deciding whether that matters or not when we’re addressing issues with BigGuy. I mean, really–so what if he’s in the spectrum? He still has to function in the world like everyone else. I’m pretty sure my father and his siblings were in the spectrum and I’m also sure they became functional, independent adults because parenting culture was different and inappropriate or intolerant behaviors were met with swift and significant repercussions. Over time, with repetition, you got “behavior modification”.
Sometimes, you’re just going to have to do things you don’t want to do and nobody is going to negotiate with you about it or spend an hour or more explaining why it needs to be done (or why it needs to be done by this time and done this way). And it doesn’t really matter if you don’t like it or you have something to say about it.
All of this sounds more horrible than it is. It can be corrected. As I start resetting course with BigGuy, there are definitely some things that have come up that are giving me some clarity that I want to share with you. First, BigGuy cut me off one time and said “You want me to just do what I’m told and don’t ask questions/push back (or something to this effect)”. And that definitely wasn’t true. I NEVER want my kids to NOT challenge or question things. But I DO want them to understand that there is a time and place to do that. They do need to do what they’re told, when they’re told to do it and the way they’re told to do it. If they have insights about how it might be done better, quicker or why it maybe shouldn’t be done at all–they SHOULD speak up. However, they need to ultimately realize the power dynamics at play and understand where they are in that scenario in case their job or their physical safety is at risk. Currently, that entitled mindset tells him that he has a right to be heard–with no regard for who he’s speaking to or what the situation is. That’s absolutely not okay.
BigGuy also accused me of wanting him to shut down his creativity, or stop reading so much. These were also entitlement issues: he felt that he had the right to do whatever he felt like doing whenever he felt like doing it regardless of what else might be going on in our lives. I made sure he understood that I absolutely did NOT want him to stop being creative or stop reading so much; but he DID need to learn how to manage his responsibilities and know when it was appropriate to move on to the things he enjoyed.
I’m not really sure if BigGuy understands why any of this is necessary. What I do know is that he understands that I’m trying to “reorganize” how he handles things rather than shut him down. It makes a difference.
If I could do it all over again, I would be more mindful and present with my kids and try to instill more mindfulness and being present in them. I would have taken more opportunities to do activities that would expose them to the world around them rather than allowing them to turn inward and become self-centered. I would have spent less time “keeping them occupied” so I could focus on things other than my children. That is exactly what led to this problem because while I was trying to make sure my kids felt valued and heard, I wasn’t doing the other things to avoid creating an entitled kid and instead creating a compassionate and respectful kid. And how many of us are trying to make our kids feel valued and heard on one hand, and trying to keep them out of our hair on the other hand?
This parenting stuff is some hard work, y’all.
We have thankfully done SOME things really right, so this isn’t going as badly as it could. BigGuy doesn’t like it, but we aren’t fighting about it–we’re talking it through. I still get hugs and snuggles on a bad day, and I am hearing my little guy grow up through these conversations as he shares his feedback and thoughts on these situations. I’m so honored that he shares that view of his world with me. I’m so thankful that we have that relationship.
But I still need to make sure that he doesn’t leave my house as an entitled little prick.