Toward mid-adolescence, some kids develop an irritating sense of entitlement, especially at home, especially to their moms!
- “Hey, have my shirt clean by tonight, right?”
- “You KNOW I don’t like that! Why do you serve it?!*”
- “Why do I HAVE to put up with my brother!?*”
Beyond the snotty, bratty, over-indulged tone of these comments, parents often sense something more troubling but can’t quite put their fingers on it. After listening to dozens of families in coaching, I think I may be figuring it out.
In a family, there is an unspoken social contract: we love you and we do for you what you need; we love you and we love to please you. The unconscious part of that “contract” is that because we have loved you, you will return our feelings. Because we love you, when you’re able, you’ll do things because you love to please us. Our teen’s bratty, entitled tone makes it clear that they have not understood about the contract. While it is reciprocal, they mistakenly think it’s all their direction…like a…like a…like a hotel! With a serving staff!
One mom I know encountered this especially when her two college sons returned home for the holidays. At first, it was a delight to have them home; but as the days and weeks wore on, the extra work of cooking for them and friends, the extra hassle of late-night schedules, the extra errands to the grocery store left her feeling wrung out and unappreciated. She finally sat the guys down and announced that they had a choice: they could come home as “guests” for the three day period of their choice, special meals, no chores, indulgence on schedules, etc. But ONLY for 3 days. OR, they were welcome to come home for an unlimited stay BUT with family rules: sharing chores, being nice to your brother, picking up your own mess, etc.
It turns out that “living for free” in a family only works for little kids. Once kids are able, we expect them to contribute. And once they’re “big” (teens), we expect big contributions. A family is NOT a hotel. It operates on love and consideration and mutual effort. By the way, so do most human relationships. His room mates, his girl friend, his wife, his mother-in-law, his office mate are not going to treat him as a visiting guest…well, maybe for three days! So helping our teens understand the social contract which creates successful relationships is not just for our selfish benefit. It is social learning which lays the foundation for getting along with others in their lives for years to come. And the bonus for them is that, unlike an impersonal hotel, family loves them, delights in their successes, comforts them when they need it. Now THAT is the lap of long lasting luxury!