How to Make a Monster in Three Easy Steps
- Monday, December 08, 2008
A few years back we rearranged our furniture. We wanted to move the TV into a position that would better suit all six of our kids. We found the perfect spot: we moved it into the dumpster. We figured the easiest way to screen programming and commercials was not to bother with it. We're lazy like that.
Anyhow, for the many years that we did have a television, there were a few programs that my family liked to watch. One of them was a funny video blooper family show that caught all sorts of hilarious mishaps on tape. Most of the home videos were truly funny, but I always cringed when they played their "heinous kid" segments featuring children who behaved like little monsters. They would show kids going into a rage over having to eat their green beans or flying off the handle because they were trying to sing and their brother kept interrupting them, or falling down into a crying tantrum because the parent walked in on them as they were doing something naughty (like smearing toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror). And of course the audience would cackle with hearty delighted laughter.
This program would often include a montage segment of ungrateful kids. The video would open with a scene at a birthday party, or a Christmas morning, and show a kid ripping open his gift, staring at it, and crying, "This isn't what I wanted!" He would proceed to throw it, stomp on it, or drop it into his younger sibling's lap with an air of indignation.
I can still remember my surprise when one particular segment featured a clip of a little girl opening a gift. While she was exuberantly tearing into her present she didn't notice that the new dress inside accidentally flew out with the wrapping paper. When she got to the heart of the package, the only thing left inside was the hanger. I cringed and waited for the wailing to ensue. Instead, the child's face lit up like the sun and she squealed, "A hanger! A hanger! Thank you! I love it!" I couldn’t believe it. It actually brought me to tears. Now that was a clip worth smiling for.
When I was little, I was a dreadful little wart. I could write pages and pages filled with examples about how heinous I was. I made Nellie Olsen look like a saint. However, I had one redeeming quality. I was thankful for what I got. My parents did not lavish my sister and me with gifts or treats. Going to McDonalds was reserved for birthdays or important occasions. It was a special thing to go out and eat in a restaurant--any restaurant. I could never understand going back to school after the holiday break and hearing kids complain about getting clothes for Christmas. We did not have lovely wardrobes; new clothes were like gold to us! My dad was in the Air Force, and if I asked for new clothes, he would joke, "I wear the same outfit every day--you can too." My parents were in very good shape financially, yet they taught us to be thankful and grateful by not giving us stuff. A gift was extraordinarily precious to me. It was precious because it was rare.
Consider diamonds and gravel. Diamonds are precious because they are rare. Think about it--no one weaves gravel into a wedding dress; nobody sets gravel in gold or wears gravel earrings, bracelets, or necklaces. Why not? It's because there is an overabundant supply of gravel. Things that are commonplace are naturally taken for granted. Food, water, air, homes, our health, and so on, are not given much thought, nor do they seem very "praiseworthy" until suddenly they become out of reach or are threatened. For the most part, people have been programmed to believe we deserve these basic things in life. And why be thankful for something we deserve? If we deserve something, then somebody should pay big time if we don't get that to which we are entitled.
One of the hardest things for many parents to do is to follow through with "no" (many parents find it easy to say "no"--it's easy to say, but they don't really mean it). There have been so many times that I've heard parents say, "I just want little Timmy to have all the things I didn't have growing up," or "I want my kids to know they deserve good things," or "I want my kids to learn to stand up for themselves and realize their self-worth." Egads ... ideas like that are some of the quickest ways to mold a kid into an absolutely selfish little canker sore. If you want to build a mini-monster, that's a good way to start.
Call me mean-spirited, but I start teaching my kids very early that they are not the center of the universe. I am known to give one of my kids a cookie, but then tell another one "no." They do not get mad or bitter; we have done this enough times for them to understand (and fully accept) that just because somebody else gets something doesn't automatically mean that they are owed something too. We have taught our kids to know that they are not entitled to "stuff." We want them to be prepared for life, and you know as well as I do that life is not fair. I don't want them to covet. I do not want them to grow up and see their neighbor's nice house and nice car and shake their fist at God who may have showered material blessings on others yet withheld material prosperity from them. No, they are learning to be happy for people who receive blessings, not envious of them.
Parents who create an artificial world for their children are setting them up for a cruel joke when it comes time for them to leave. When these kids enter the real world, all of a sudden throwing a fit to get what they want doesn't work anymore. They won't be able to change people's minds by "whining enough." They will mature into full-blown manipulators. The children who have grown up believing they "deserve certain things" will become bitter, angry, depressed adults if they don't get what they want, and they will become empty and unfulfilled if they do end up with a vault of self-serving possessions. It is unlikely that they will realize they have been lied to for the first half of their lives; rather, they will still believe the "self-esteem" lessons their parents ingrained in them. These kids will grow into adults who will wholeheartedly believe that the world just doesn't appreciate their worth, and they will live in conflict with that knowledge. The thought of my kids living a life like that makes it much easier to tell my kids "no."
The other day I took my daughter, Emmiko, to a birthday party. She had not met this little girl before and was a little nervous about showing up and participating in her party. I had made friends with the birthday girl's mama, and I had met her two older daughters (both were very sweet and respectful), but I had no idea what the birthday girl was going to be like. I've been around long enough to know that kids can be especially obnoxious on their birthday, so I wasn't expecting to make judgments about whatever her behavior might be. But I did end up making judgments about that kid when it came time to open the presents.
The birthday girl was turning 9, and she had a total of about six presents. I watched her as she accepted each present. Before tearing into them, she opened each card and read it carefully. She made comments on the cards like, "Oh, this is so cute," and took time to point out different aspects of it. This struck me as odd, because normally people (especially kids) don't care about the card that comes with the gift--unless it has money in it. It was even more interesting to watch as she opened each present. With each one she opened, she would grin her head off and ooh and ah, holding it up for everyone to see, while making declarations like, "Oh, I just love this!" or "Look, Mommy! This is so pretty!" and before she plunged into the next gift, there was always a long pause where she looked at the one who gave the gift and said very sincerely, "Thank you so much! I really like it!" Her behavior was out of the ordinary in the sense that she acted like the birthday presents were not all about her ... she acted like the presents were all about the ones who gave them. She made sure that every kid (and mom) who brought her a gift felt special and appreciated. It was a lovely thing to watch.
The gift of homeschooling gives us the time and opportunity to mold our children's character. I pray that I will be wise with the lessons I teach my children. Ultimately, their "self-view" will be an outcome of what we impart. Cherished? Yes! But not elevated. We are grooming them to be servants--people who value others more than they value themselves. We let them experience the true joy, and the freedom, that comes with denying self. Our hope is that they learn humility--and true humility is not thinking poorly of yourself, it is simply not thinking of yourself at all. The person who moans about how much she hates herself or how dumb she is, is a person who is selfish to the core. She can't get her mind off herself.
Teaching our children to be "others-minded" will lay a foundation of peace and contentment. It will not matter if things don't go their way; they will not fall to pieces or become obsessive. God willing, they will be more concerned about their neighbor than wrapped up with the things they want and can't have. These are hard lessons to learn as a child, but they are even harder to learn as an adult. I pray that as teachers we will use our time with our children wisely. God bless you as you teach your children the real life lessons that will matter in eternity.
Jenefer Igarashi lives in East TN with her husband, Geoff the Great; together they homeschool their six kids on a little farm. She can be contacted by email, Jeneferig@gmail.com, or thru her blog, http://Jeneralities.com
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