Dear Kid Whisperer,
I grew up with nothing. It is one of the great thrills of my life to now be able to take my two children (14 and 16) on expensive trips, to give them gifts, and basically give them everything that they want. I can easily afford all of this. It does take some of the luster away when they don’t say thank you unless it’s a serious luxury item (I bought my daughter a nice, new, luxury car, for example). Am I right in thinking they will come to appreciate these things in time? –Manuel, Sacramento, California
Probably not. And even if they learned to appreciate the things you gave them by the time they became adults, what difference would it make?
By this I mean that the goal of parenting is not to have your kids think you are the greatest thing ever. The goal is to raise happy, functional kids. Translation: this isn’t about you. You should be less concerned about how effectively you are buying their affection in order to make yourself feel better and more concerned about the fact that you may be systematically training them to be unhappy, both as children and as adults.
When we consistently, over time, try to make kids happy by giving them things, it hurts them.
As a recovering entitled kid, I can tell you that kids who are given everything they want are systematically trained to not enjoy getting things and to not enjoy what they have. So, when you are always giving kids things that they have not earned you are actually making it harder for them to be happy.
Growing up I was not allowed to work, and I was given anything I wanted. This caused me to be unhappy, depressed, and unable to enjoy all of the things that had been gifted to me.
It was only after I rejected being gifted everything in my life, after I finished college, and started working for the things that I had, that my serious depression magically lifted. Only when I was earning money to pay rent, to buy food, clothing, and other items, did I feel a true sense of self-worth and happiness.
I know that you probably won’t do this, since your question wasn’t actually asking for advice, but instead was asking me to validate your parenting choices. Regardless, here is how I would change your kids’ paradigm so that they could have a solid chance for happiness now and in the future.
Kid Whisperer: Hi, guys. I am sorry, I think have been doing some things wrong with this whole parenting thing. I have been keyed into the fact that I may have made some parenting mistakes when I bought you guys your own fully functional, working space station that orbits the earth and neither of you said “thank you.”
Kid #1: It didn’t have Netflix.
Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. I feel like I might have tricked you guys into thinking that it is my job to make you both happy by buying things for you. I will be returning the space station and also the Lexus. From now on, I will be buying you a few gifts for Christmas and a few gifts for your birthday, and that will be it.
Kid #2: Will those gifts be luxury ski chalets and small Caribbean islands?
Kid Whisperer: Nope. The good news is that I will be giving you money every Sunday, one dollar for every year you have been on the planet. I will buy you the clothes and food and activities I want to buy you, and you can pay for everything else.
Kid #1: That won’t be nearly enough money to support the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed!
Kid Whisperer: Feel free to get a job in order to pay for your lifestyle.
By structuring kids’ lives in this way, we teach them that they can have any lifestyle that they can afford.