Had a fun break with the family for Spring Break. On the five-hour trip back home, we had a good conversation about parenting. It started out with the ideas of Entitlement and Enabling vs. Empowering and Equipping your kids. And we ended up thinking of a bunch of different ideas that started with the letter E. We hope you enjoy it too.
Entitlement. As parents, we don’t set out to raise entitled kids but it’s easy to justify giving your kids privileged or special treatment by saying you love them and want whats best for them.
Enabled. One of my professors on parenting explained enabling your kids as doing something for them that they could do themselves. Another aspect of enabling your kids is letting them get away with not suffering the consequences of their behavior. Again, it’s easy to justify this by telling yourself that you want to love and protect your kids. You want them to know that you always have their back or that you want to show them God’s grace or faithfulness to them.
The problem with this is you as the parent can end up feeling responsible for everything. Raising entitled kids can be exhausting, excruciating and embarrassing. How does it feel when you are at work or working on a group project and someone on the team doesn’t pull their weight, do their share?
It’s exhausting. You can end up resenting the other person. Well, it’s the same when your kids don’t pull their weight around the house. You can end up feeling like you are doing everything (because you are), feeling unappreciated and bitter.
Empowering. It’s not unloving to require and train your kids to work hard, give their best effort, be diligent and finish what they start. It’s not cruel to ask them to do things with excellence. To do chores. To work for what they get. To set goals. To delay gratification. It’s actually empowering to your kids to give them freedom and responsibility around the house and gradually more as they get older. A child 8-10 years old could start to help out with laundry. They certainly could be doing their own laundry by middle school and especially in high school. It’s actually honoring to them to not give them special privileges, just because. It’s fine to give them gifts and to show you love them in special ways. But when they start to expect or feel entitled to have things, or always have things their way, it’s no longer special. It becomes common. And it actually sets them up for disappointment and failure later in life because you aren’t teaching them how the real world works. Their teachers and professors aren’t going to give them special treatment. Their boss at their work place is going to expect them to work, to problem solve, to take responsibility.
Equipping. Not enabling or entitling your kids doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it’s doesn’t mean you won’t protect them, that you are leaving them to fend for themselves in the cruel, harsh realities of the world. Parenting with excellence means you take a coaching and equipping mindset to working with them. You provide the tools, resources they need and you also train them on how to use those tools. You explore, process, experiment, debrief and work through things together. You still have their back and at the same time, you are equipping them to stand on their own, to risk and put themselves out there in different areas, to be brave.
Expectations. Having healthy expectations is a part of growing and stretching your kids to reach their potential. As parents, we don’t want to put too high expectations on our kids but what I’ve seen a lot of parents with too low expectations. Often, parents in the interest of protecting their kids from failure, disappointment or rejection, set the bar low. Kids are often capable of so much more than we think. I was watching a jiu jitsu video that talked about the metaphor of a “Goldilocks tension” and I think it applies to expectations. We don’t want expectations that are “too cold”, too low, and we don’t want expectations that are “too hot”, too high. We want to set expectations that are “just right”. Expectations that are too low, lead to boredom and missed potential and growth. Expectations that are too high, put an adverse amount of stress and pressure on your kids and that can stunt their growth as well.
Empathy. So, how do you know if your expectations are too high, too low or just right? You do that by listening and listening well with empathy. One key to empathy as a parent, is focusing more on what your child may be experiencing and less on what they are doing, on their performance. And you’re not the only one who needs empathy, your kids do too.
Emotional Intelligence. Empathy is one of the pillars of emotional and relational intelligence. EQ has been shown to be more of predictor of a person’s success than intelligence. Delayed gratification is another pillar.
Endurance vs. Expedient. It’s hard to empower and equip your kids, it requires a lot of trust and courage. On both your parts. It requires patience because it will be messy. Things won’t go smoothly at first, things won’t get done as well and as quickly as you would just doing it for them. But you won’t always be there for them, they will have to grow up and do things on their own someday.
It’s sad, very sad when I’ve seen teenagers treat their single mother with contempt. Their mother did/does everything for them and these kids had no gratitude for the sacrifices their mom made (or at least they didn’t express it). It was sad for the kid but also the mom. She poured out herself, bent over backwards, to love and provide for her child and her child barely could stand her. They had no respect for her. They either struggle with selfishness or self-hatred or both. I’ve seen entitled young adults who struggled with anger and resentment at their parents because they feel ill-equipped for life. They haven’t had to problem-solve or bear the weight of responsibility and get overwhelmed by the demands of adulthood. And they struggle with imposter syndrome and feeling behind in life.
So, don’t just give into what’s expedient, what’s easy. As the kids get older, don’t continue in the habit of taking the path of least resistance. Learn to be mindful and intentional about your long-term goals with them. And be patient, consistent. Get help and support if you have to.
Enforce. One way to be patient and consistent is with enforcing consequences and discipline. It’s easy to justify being lax with discipline and consequences by telling yourself you are being caring and compassionate and loving. But often being exhausted and wanting to avoid the stress and upset of conflict is the main reason for not enforcing consequences. It really isn’t about what’s best for the kids, it’s often what will feel best, for you, in the moment.
Expose and Eliminate the Elephants. Instead of avoiding conflict, instead of building resentment or emotionally manipulating your kids with passive-aggressive indirect behavior, it will benefit you and them to expose and eliminate elephants, to call out entitlement, laziness, disrespect, and other behaviors and attitudes that may be poisoning your relationship and family life. It’s easier to do this when those negatives are baby elephant size, not full grown elephants. But even if they are huge, be brave and start to work on it. Sometimes, just the act of exposing them, shrinks them. If you call it out, then everyone has a chance to be aware and take ownership of making it better instead of it being your solo project.
Example. Might daughter suggested this one, besides enforcing consequences and making rules and throwing your weight around, she recommends parents need to be good examples of what you are trying to teach and require of your kids.
Energizing. If you start to be more intentional about equip and empower your kids you will replace exhaustion with energy because you will no longer have to bear all the weight of responsibility for how your kids and home are doing. You will not have to wrestle so much with resentment, bitterness, worry and hurt feelings.
Encouragement. This is hard work. Remember, your kids aren’t bad. They may need some maturity, course correction, training and equipping, but they need encouragement and acceptance most of all. You will need encouragement when they changes you are attempting don’t seem to be working, when you have a bad day, when it seems to be getting worse instead of better.
Enjoyment. Lastly, implementing and being more intentional about the positive E’s for parenting will not just allow you to experience excellence in parenting. It will allow you to enjoy the experience of being a parent, of being in a healthy mutual relationship with your kids.