Cleaning House : A Mom's Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement
Is Your Home Out of Order?
Do your kids think that clean, folded clothes magically appear in their drawers? Do they roll their eyes when you suggest they clean the bathroom? Do you think it's your job to pave their road to success? As parents, so often we hover, race in to save, and do everything we can for our kids--unintentionally reinforcing their belief that the world revolves around them.
When Kay Wyma realized that an attitude of entitlement had crept into her home, this mother of five got some attitude of her own. Cleaning House is her account of a year-long campaign to introduce her kids to basic life skills. From making beds to grocery shopping to refinishing a deck chair, the Wyma family experienced for themselves the ways meaningful work can transform self-absorption into earned self-confidence and concern for others.
With irresistible humor and refreshing insights, Kay candidly details the ups and downs of removing her own kids from the center of the universe. The changes that take place in her household will inspire you to launch your own campaign against youth entitlement. As Kay says, "Here's to seeing what can happen when we tell our kids, 'I believe in you, and I'm going to prove it by putting you to work.'"
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May 08, 2012
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Excerpt from Cleaning House by Kay Wills Wyma
Driving down Preston Road, I was dutifully transporting children to school with my then-fourteen-year-old son sitting shotgun, when I learned how this kid defines the American Dream. As is typical of this particular area in Dallas, we were surrounded by opulence: on our left was a Lexus, on our right a Porsche, and directly in front a silver Maserati.
"Mom." Abandoning his pose of boredom, my son perked up.
"Which one of those do you think I'd look best in? I think the Porsche...Yeah. That's what car I'm going to get when I'm sixteen."
Fighting back nausea, I looked at him. "What planet are you on? And how do you think you will pay for one of those cars?" A question I knew had no answer, since his primary activity involves a screen and remote control.
Who is raising this kid? I thought. Is materialism and money all he thinks about? Where have all my words of wisdom gone? The hours of volunteer service, the countless lectures on being content with what you have, and all the brilliant soliloquies I've delivered on the fact that "stuff " will never really satisfy you--has none of that penetrated his brain?
After dropping him off, I passed through the last school zone on my way home and dialed my sister-in-law, who is also one of my best friends. Not only did I need to vent my frustration, I needed reassurance that I wasn't crazy and that there is a light at the end of this self-centered teenager tunnel. She delivered on the former but couldn't help much with the latter because she has a few slackers of her own. After we exchanged similar stories, I had a sobering epiphany.
"I think I'm raising little socialists," I said, "the serve-me kind that are numb to the benefits of ingenuity and hard work, the kind that don't just need to be taken care of--they expect it."
And why not? That's what I have apparently been raising them to expect. In that moment and in the days that followed, I came to realize that not one of my five children knew how to do their own laundry. Not one could clean a bathroom--I mean, really clean it. Not one could cook, serve, and clean up after a full dinner. I wasn't sure my eight-yearold could even cut his waffles.
To be fair, my children can do a lot of amazing things. They are genuinely great kids. But they'd been getting a sweet free ride, especially in their home life. With me stepping in and doing for them--rarely, if ever, putting genuine responsibilities on their plate--they didn't have a chance to realize their potential.
As I've since discovered in conversations with other parents, ours was not an isolated case. Raising independent kids is countercultural these days. Instead of teaching our children to view themselves as capable, we step in to do everything for them. We start when they're still young, using safety as our lame excuse ("She'll fall if I don't hover"), then we continue "protecting" them ("If I don't help him get As, how will he get into college?"). We pave a smooth pathway, compulsively clearing away each pebble of disappointment or difficulty before it can impede their progress.
By the time they reach adolescence, they're so used to being taken care of that they have no idea they're missing out on discovering what they can do or who they can be.
I was reminded again of how low I'd set the bar of expectations after my eighth grader, the one who plans on driving a Porsche at age sixteen, brought home an assignment from his English teacher to prepare a declamation. The task: select a speech or essay--something quotable and interesting--commit five minutes of it to memory, then recite it in front of the class. Seemed straightforward enough.
And yet, following in his mother's footsteps, my child procrastinated to the point that his teacher finally chose a passage for him. I tried, with little success, to smother my laughter when I learned that my "what's the least I can do to get by?" teenager would be memorizing and reciting Teddy Roosevelt's 1899 address to the Hamilton Club in Chicago--an address entitled "The Strenuous Life."
I kid you not.
Here's a brief portion of what TR said:
In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who pre�minently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
A life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self-respecting American demands from himself and from his sons shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole.1 Oh, there is much more. And it's all incredibly convicting. TR would climb out of his grave, metaphorical big stick in hand and all thoughts of speaking softly abandoned, if he knew what we have done to the country that he and so many other determined leaders worked diligently to shape. And I'm embarrassed to say that my kids would probably opt for "mere easy peace." They'd most certainly shrink from "hardship" and "bitter toil."
What Message Are We Sending Our Kids?
Incidents like these and countless others brought to my attention a malady that had infected my home. Youth entitlement seems to have reached epidemic proportions in both my family and society as a whole--and I was appalled to realize that I, like many of today's well-meaning parents, am a primary carrier of the germ.
With the greatest of intentions and in the name of love, we have developed a tendency to hover, race in to save, protect from failure, arrange for success, manipulate, overprotect, and enable our kids. Freeing their schedules for sports, school, and increasingly important time with friends, we strive to make our children's lives easier or to make success a sure thing by doing it all for them. We shower them with accolades, proclaiming how wonderful they are--yet we rarely give them the opportunity to confirm the substance of that praise. All our efforts send the clear, though
unspoken and unintended, message "I'll do it for you because you can't" or "No sense in your trying because I can do it better and faster."