Helping kids out of their 'entitlement cloak'

For The Baltimore Sun
Finding a solution when kids are selfish, privileged and uncharitable.

A friend came to our house when our boys were toddlers and stood in my living room crying. Her father had died suddenly, and she was bereft. While I hugged her and cried too, the boys were sitting mesmerized by this uncommon show of adult emotion, when one tapped me on the leg and whispered, "Our Daddy can come to her house."

At 3 years old, he was offering up to her his most precious gift — his own father. I hugged my boy then and loved him just a tiny bit more.

I still love my children — three of them now — but that selfless sweetness that once came so naturally to them? Apparently that went out the door when we stopped buying diapers. The name of the game these days is me, me, me; get, get, get.

Consider this fall when we went apple picking and hauled back enough fruit to stock a small Safeway. On the drive home, I brought up the idea that even after making apple pie, we'd still have too many apples, so wouldn't it be great to give some to our neighbors on our left, and some to our neighbors on our right?

My 4-year-old crossed her arms and huffed, "I wish we didn't pick so many apples! Then we wouldn't have to give any away!"

Setting aside the logic flaws in that lamentation, we're still left with breathtaking selfishness that makes me cringe even now.

A close friend recently told a group of us a similar story. Her son had curtly told her he was "disappointed" in the Christmas showings. "I barely got anything I wanted," he complained.

Our group chat exploded in rapid-fire texts.

"Girl!!!"

"No, he didn't!!"

"Are you kidding me?!"

Our friend asked for advice and the answers ran the gamut: Show him what disappointment really looks like, in the stories of people who tried and lost (famous Olympians came to mind). Bundle up his pricey things — symbols of his great privilege — and let him live without them for a while. Pare back his upcoming birthday celebration.

All seemed fair, but, to me, none quite right.

A paradox of parenting is that, if done well, little children's worlds are safe and small. To protect their innocence, we shield them from the fact that the world is vast and can be harsh or, at the very least, unfair. To the well-cared-for little one, needs are met — and many wants, too. Too-snug clothes are replaced with new ones. "Hunger" is the two hours in between meals and the next snack, not bare cupboards or distended bellies.

This is as it should be. But as the children age, it makes for a dangerously narrow perspective.

It is why I am so grateful to the folks at Casey Cares Foundation, who allowed my kids, their cousins and a few friends to come over during Christmas break and roll pajamas into packages for critically or terminally ill children.

Thankfully, my three have little in common with the kids who will receive the pajamas they packaged. But they understood that tangible act. They were doing something for people other than themselves — people whose situations look different than theirs.

For the King holiday, thanks to a wonderful organization to which we belong — the Baltimore chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc. — my three packed "mugs of love" for Meals on Wheels, stuffing hot chocolate, chai tea and apple cider packets into mugs to share some warmth with people in need. Over Thanksgiving, thanks to Jack and Jill, they made turkey-adorned cards to liven up food baskets for the Baltimore nonprofit Gedco's Cares.

We are trying to incorporate this kind of activity regularly — for them to give of their time and work in the service of others. We are trying — over time — to broaden their perspectives and rid them of their "entitlement cloak," as one friend rightly deemed it.

It'll take years, we know. There will be times we wonder if any of it is sinking in.

But if we keep at it, I pray, our children will become the kind of appreciative adults this world especially needs more of now — those who gladly share their apples with others.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 6-year-old sons, a 4-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatchergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.

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