We have never been the parents who succumbed to whining at the grocery store check-out by buying our kids whatever cheap junk the store purposely puts right there at a kid’s eye level. We don’t buy our kids what they want immediately or, as is often the case, at all. We consider all requests carefully before making a decision. We buy used. We frequently ask our kids to make tough (to them) choices, like narrowing down desired activities to those that are affordable or what to do with gift money. The kids have always had age appropriate chores to do, started doing their own laundry around 9/10, and are responsible for keeping their own schedules and school loads straight. And we are THAT family who keeps most birthdays simple, often times family only, and Christmases even more simple. Plus, when they ask how to spell a word, I respond, “D-I-C-T-I-O-N-A-R-Y”. They totally love that.

So you’ll understand if I am completely shocked when one (or all) of my kids comes out with an attitude that seems awfully — I’m going to say it — entitled. Nothing drives Mamma crazier! I would love to claim that it is just a natural part of development, but I can guarantee you that millions of children all over the world are not complaining right now because they have to choose between the left-over homemade soup or making their own meal from the full refrigerator for today’s lunch (just off the top of my head).

I have come to the conclusion that, in the absence of completely (materially) spoiling a child, this attitude of entitlement is so easy to come by nowadays because there is very little for which North American kids have to wait.

Warning: rant about the good old days to follow.

Remember when we were kids, way back in the 70’s or 80’s and we had a question? Our parents or teachers would tell us to go look up the answer. So off we would trot to our home encyclopedia set (we had one) or the library for either their resource section or microfiche (goodness, I LOVED microfiche). Occasionally, I sh*t you not (my favorite 80’s phrase), I would call the local news station and see if they knew the answer to my current events question. Sometimes our answer could take a week to find. But we waited patiently and looked forward to it. More often than not, my searches led me to deeper study (Who was the genius who figured out that putting things like see clams or see horse and buggy at the end of encyclopedia entries would get you to read more entries?).

MMIentitlementWhen we started to consider homeschooling, much of the literature I read and most of the meetings I attended were centered on the idea of raising happy children. I wanted that too, particularly since two of my children had already experienced more trials than many adults I know. What I did not realize then was that enveloping ourselves and our children in an environment that basically replaces challenges with bling — or more often, self-esteem and warm fuzzies — does not equal happiness.

I want my kids to experience hardship, not the alcoholic parent kind or the abuse or war or starvation kind, but the kind that sends them off to bed each night with a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling that they have taken a step — or even a partial step — towards making a difference in the world. So in the beginning, the kids pretty much chose how and when they wanted to learn. This seemed idyllic in so many ways. They lounged with books and absorbed much of their academics through games and activities. There were no schedules and no grades. It should have been nirvana.

It was not. Anytime they faced a challenge, they would quit whatever it was they were doing, tossing it aside, often accompanied by unspeakable histrionics, and choosing more favorable — read easier — pursuits. When I asked them to do a chore or clean up after themselves, they were astounded — so I would get creative and make it fun. But when I was too exhausted or just plain uncreative and the work was not fun, they rebelled. Not fun was simply not okay in their books.

They had become….entitled. The kids with their thrift store clothing, second hand toys, minimalist parents, no cable, and only the occasional educational video game were complaining about having to clean their own pee off the toilet seat. THEIR OWN PEE!

Now, I am a dreamer. I’ve always been a dreamer. I still kind of think I might someday get a Nobel Peace Prize or medal in ice skating at the Olympics. So I honestly entered homeschooling believing that homeschooled children are exempt from that feeling of entitlement. They would not be standing on their elementary school playgrounds with all the other kids and their iphones and obscure silk-screened t-shirts playing video games during their only break of the day (because back then, when I was still working through the whole idea of homeschooling, I pictured schooled kindergartners as mini-hipsters). They would feel grateful and blessed to be in a loving environment with their parents and people would sing my praises for such incredible parenting — oh, they would sing!

And then one child of mine started to rebel against the man — only “the man” was me, her mother, the one about whom all the people were supposed to be singing. This child figured out that my favorite form of discipline was to add chores or work of some sort. Time-outs meant folding some laundry or choosing a few worksheets (What? A parent does what a parent does). Said child sought out punishment and, when given in the form of challenging tasks, would smile in response. The child devoured the imposed schedules and tasks, begging for more and proclaiming some evenings, “I feel so satisfied, Mamma!”

Nobody writes about THAT in the parenting books.

Of course, I reasoned, this was what that particular child needed, but surely the other two did best with more freedom. So we tried that. The diversity of it drove me to watch The Bachelorette marathons. One kid wanted the schedule and wanted the work; the other kids wanted their freedom, to go on outings and to work as little as possible while soaking up whatever they could learn and, not coincidentally, chuck the parts that were difficult.

Out of necessity, though (and The Bachelorette’s hiatus), our schedules had to coincide so I imposed structure on the other two kids. I signed them all up for all sorts of classes through our homeschooling groups and in the community. Schedules!! was my new mantra. Schedules would change the world!

They were not thrilled.

There was little of that elusive happiness for a while. I kept the local school on speed dial and a melting bar of chocolate in my pocket for moral support.

And then I got sick and could no longer physically accommodate those life-saving schedules. We had a family chat over homemade maki rolls. We discussed the pros and cons of each method of homeschooling. Turns out that, despite two out of three kids preferring complete pandemonium (and it WAS pandemonium), they all felt the most satisfied when there was plenty of work to do. The caveat was that they wanted more control over their learning environment than the loads and loads of classes supplied.

We chose an online curriculum that they can complete at their own pace, created daily schedules that also allowed for playtime, plenty of creative time, free time, and outings.

Here is what happened: One of those two started requesting an early wake-up call in order to complete schoolwork and chores before noon. This child wanted more play time and figured out how to get it. This child also began adding extra work to the day, asking if any other chores needed to be completed, requesting an extra hour here and there for academic work, taking on challenging projects. The other child stopped asking to watch videos all the time (preventing me from having to say “no” all the time) and started creating an independent schedule. In addition, that child started seeking challenges to overcome and worked pretty happily to surmount those self-imposed obstacles. All three kids stopped melting into conniptions every time they failed at a task. Instead, they pushed forward until they found solutions, even solutions that did not match the originally expected solution — out-of-the-box thinking.

What I realized was that our free and easy, non-confrontational, no pressure homeschooling was making my kids avoid failure at any cost, fueling their false sense of entitlement. I can admit that now because we are removed from it. And the solutions I sought, enrolling them in more outside classes and activities, were merely exacerbating the situation. They weren’t looking for external pressure. They were looking for a way to create some self-pressure, to learn within the safe confines of a set dictate of standards and schedules, to overcome challenges that would allow them to unlock the door to greater creativity – but to unlock it at their own paces.

They are happier and I am delivering far fewer speeches that begin, “Do you think children in (insert developing country here) are complaining about…”