Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Dealing with entitled children.

February 18, 2022 by  
Filed under Education, Money/Business, News, Weekly Columns

( As is the case with most Black children, I grew up poor. Well, “working class” is a more specific description. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and I spent roughly half my childhood in a so-called broken home. At times we were on food stamps — when they were actual stamps. (Feel free to insert your favorite joke about government cheese.)

My two younger brothers and I didn’t have many extras. We lived in houses that sometimes had uninvited furry guests. I tell my two teens that I had several choices for spring break destinations — the front yard and the backyard. (I like to think of that remark as channeling Chris Rock’s old joke about growing up poor: “Allowances? We were ‘allowed’ to go outside!”)

I was blessed to have done well in school academically, which led to my becoming a first-generation college student at a renowned institution. In turn, that led to a successful private sector career and a graduate degree from another renowned institution. By age 32, I was director of corporate strategy for a Fortune 150 company. However, after literal soul searching, I accepted the call to ministry. Shortly thereafter I decided to forego my business career in favor of one in the nonprofit and academic sectors.

black teacher

While I do not earn nearly as much as I would be making in corporate America, I have done fairly well financially. Thus, my now former wife and I decided to send our two younger children to private school from pre-K through eighth grade. (They’re now in a public high school and both have grade point averages that are substantially higher than 4.0.)

I was a teenaged parent. (Apparently, I felt that I wasn’t facing enough barriers in life.) My older daughter — who is married and has children of her own — is old enough to remember the leaner financial years. Still, I would argue that she did not want for much materially when she was a child. She reserves the right to disagree (and probably does). Importantly, she insists that I’m “not the same person” I was when she was a child — meaning that I haven’t disciplined her siblings in the way that I did her.

All this leads me to the fact that my two younger children are, in a word, entitled. Their mother and I bear a great deal of responsibility for this reality. We have more than provided for them; we have catered to them. We have indulged them. For example, they have traveled internationally since they were in diapers. In short, we have (inadvertently) spoiled them.

Of course, we have always shared with them the financial struggles that we endured as children. Such disclosures are met with shrugs and other displays of indifference. (Their reaction to the news that I’m taking them out of the country for spring break this year caused me to want to cancel those plans.) I have grown increasingly frustrated.

Virtually all parents want to do nice things for their children. This impulse transcends race, class, geography and just about any other demographic factor. However, for African Americans, especially those of us who grew up poor, there is a deep sense of urgency to ensure that our children have the gadgets, the clothes, the vacations and other prizes to which we were not privy.

Frankly, we feel that it somehow compensates for the disadvantages of being Black in America.

To be clear, I don’t think that my children are exactly ungrateful; I think that they simply don’t understand that their circumstances aren’t normal — especially for Black children. For example, when I point out the sacrifices that their mother and I made to send them to private school (including foregoing financial aid), their response is, “We didn’t ask you to send us (there).” They appreciate that experience, but it feels as though they’re blaming us for wanting them to have advantages that we lacked.

Do I regret blessing my children in the way that I have? Not exactly. Still, I wonder how I/we might have gone about things differently. I hope that I can devise a way to communicate more effectively why they should be more appreciative. Otherwise, I’ll need to start a support group.

Columnist; Larry Smith

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