When I was a kid, my parents were always lecturing my brother and me about how ungrateful we were. “You’re so ungrateful,” my mother would spit. “You just expect everything to be handed to you.”
These invectives would leave us feeling mostly confused and angry. We were ungrateful? What did that even mean? Of course, we were grateful.
What she meant, I think, is that we were entitled — children who expected everything to be handed to us.
Whenever we went somewhere, my mother bought us something. We just had to ask. Relatives showered us with presents. And despite our middle-classness, we had private school educations, cars, even a horse.
And when we were the ones asked instead of the ones doing the asking, we felt sulky. Resentful. When my parents asked us to do the dishes, I’d get pissed off. Not ugh-this-sucks, but genuinely pissed, like how-dare-you angry. I never cleaned a bathroom, took out trash, fed a dog, or washed clothes. I’d occasionally be roped into dusting, which I did so poorly I’d be yelled at and make us all miserable, and vacuuming, which I hated equally. Both only happened when guests were coming over and my mother was desperate. I accepted occasionally setting the table for said guests, when they were there, but when it was only family I huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf.
My brother and I had no chores. My brother and I were entitled. The two are inextricably linked. Because if a child has no chores, a child grows up to be entitled.
This doesn’t happen intentionally. No one sets out to raise entitled kids. My parents certainly didn’t. But there’s a slow slide: it’s easier to do the chores by yourself, either because the kids whine or they take way too long, or because they do a shitty job, and you have go behind them and do it again anyway — it’s easier to do it yourself in the first place. Or they get so busy with school and activities, and you see that as their job, not taking out the trash and scrubbing the toilet.
I mean, when are they going to have time to do this stuff, in between the busyness of their already-packed lives? Maybe you were the chored-to-death older child and want to give your kids a break. But slowly, you slide from a “yes” parent to a pushover parent, and you’re in dangerous territory.
I’m not going to tell you some magic story about my perfect angels and their brightly colored chore chart. I’m also not going to tell you that my kids are not entitled, because they are. In fact, my kids are totally entitled, and part of this is because they mostly have no consistent chores. It’s not like I haven’t tried to make a chore chart. They just ignored it and so did my husband and the idea sort of died a slow, lingering death.
And boy, are my kids entitled. They’re sweet, really. They accept “no” pretty well, at least the older two do: when we go to Target and I say “no toys,” they don’t whine and stomp and throw fits. They don’t even whine to go look at the Legos after I refuse, though they’re obviously disappointed.
But they expect dinner on the table. They expect us to produce snacks at their whims, drinks for the asking, different meals when they ask for them. They expect that if they ignore us long enough, we’ll give up and stop asking them to do something unpleasant, like clean up their messes, and that going to bed means six requests which are grudgingly ignored until there’s yelling.
Lost shoes magically appear. So does clean laundry, a clean bathroom, swept floors, fed dogs. All these chores are performed without their input, as if by house elves. Fuck that shit.
I feel like Dobby the House Elf in Harry Potter, and Dobby wants to be a free elf.
But this isn’t as simple as handing me a sock. I need to hand my kids some actual responsibility, and then follow through on making them perform what is being asked.
They are, in theory, responsible for keeping their bedroom and playrooms clean. But they are always trashed. I make them clean up the den daily, which I suppose is a chore. My oldest will even sweep if asked. My middle son feeds his toads. My youngest screams for his tablet through the whole process. But even when they technically complete a “chore,” they often get pissy and do a half-assed job. I have to come behind them and point out what they missed, and they get resentful and sulky, and then I get resentful and sulky. Vicious cycle.
A simple request to bring me a clothes basket brings on whines and groans from everyone — except my oldest, who has (a) more responsibility, and (b) is the least entitled of my children, the most likely to say thank you, and the kindest of the lot. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
I can spot kids who don’t do chores. The other day, at the local deli, I saw a seven-year-old ask for dessert. His dad answered with a maybe. The kid decided to use the guerilla tactic of yelling “DAD DAD DAD I WANT DESSERT CAN I HAVE DESSERT I WANT DESSERT” over and over, basically taking the entire restaurant hostage to his whim for a red velvet cookie until dad rolled over. That’s entitled. I am sure as shit that little protestor had no chores other than tying his own soccer cleats. Because when you hand a kid everything, this is what you end up with.
Yes, every child has bad days. Mine certainly do. But when this behavior is a pattern, when you can’t get out of Target without buying toys from the Dollar Spot, when your kid insists Mom buys them new clothes or pjs on every outing (that was me), when they live like brats with house elves named Mom and Dad, they become entitled.
And entitled kids grow up to be entitled adults. It took me years to learn how to keep a clean house. Years to learn that people didn’t care about my excuses. Years to realize I had to prioritize my life, years to learn to balance a checkbook and live within my means. Because before I realized all this, if I wanted something, it just appeared.
So I’m going to have another go at that chore chart. My oldest can manage to feed the dogs in the morning. The younger two can pick up their toys, toss the blankets on the couch, and make sure I can see their bedroom floor. Everyone can pick up before bed. The six-year-old can get the mail; the four-year-old — well, if I can get him to pick up the trash on the floor, I’ll do a dance of joy across that kitchen floor. Children can carry or push laundry baskets. They can help put away clothes. Maybe then I will earn some time to drink some coffee before it gets cold.
And maybe the kids will learn that this shit doesn’t just happen. It means hard work, and someone has to do it. That hard work might as well fall partly on them: after all, they’re part of the family. Maybe then they’ll feel less entitled, more in tune with what it takes to run a family of five. Less likely to harangue us for little things and more self-sufficient. Because kids who don’t have chores expect shit to get handed to them.
Right now, that’s where we are. And it sucks.