It might have been a long time since you’ve seen the classic movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but think back with me for a moment to that insightful song sung by the half-sized, overly-tanned Oompa Loompas.
Remember the verse describing the kid who is a brat? The problem, the Oompa Loompas inform us, is that pampered children are the direct result of indulgent parents.
While that’s not always the case, in general, we often see an inevitable connection: children behave the way we teach them to and rise and fall to the expectations we set.
In an era where grandparents have taken an increasing role in the raising of their grandchildren, we have to ask ourselves if we are setting our grandkids up for a life in which they believe they are entitled because we’ve done everything but tell them so.
Here are three common causes of spoiled grandkids, and how to avoid them.
1. We Want Them to Like Us
Remedy: We have to remember who we are in Christ. We must remind ourselves that we are loved deeply and fully by God and that no amount of approval shown to us by anyone, including our grandchildren, will fulfill our heartfelt need for the love of God.
If we go looking for acceptance by way of our grandchildren, we will soon find ourselves over-indulging them as we attempt to give them everything they think they want. We don’t love people well by constantly indulging them, and they never love us back the way God will anyway.
If you find yourself doubting the love that God has for you, remember what John said about the love of God for his people: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
And Paul reminds us that we cannot lose that love; we will never be separated from it: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
2. We Want Them to Feel Good about Themselves
Remedy: Just as we need to remember who we are in Christ, our grandchildren need to be reminded as well. We have such an incredible opportunity to tell them that they are loved deeply and fully by God. No amount of stuff or experiences that we can provide will fill the need they have for that love. Only he loves them perfectly, and only he can assign to them their worth, purpose, value, and significance because of what Jesus Christ did for them on the cross.
Instead of trying to boost their self-esteem by satisfying wants, remind them of God's love and faithfulness.
3. We Want Life to Be Easy for Them
We don’t want them to make the same mistakes or encounter the same hardships we did. But God promises us that we all will go through trials. No one is exempt, no matter how we might try to keep a beloved grandchild from that inevitability.
Remedy: We must believe who God says he is. God tells us in his Word that he is faithful. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)
He also tells us that he is good. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19)
If instead of rescuing our grandchildren from the inevitable hardships of life, we aim to take the journey with them as long as we can, pray earnestly and faithfully over their lives, and help only when it’s helpful rather than enabling them, we are actually contributing to their growth as strong, resilient humans who learn to trust and rely upon God rather than themselves.
My own grandparents successfully modeled love and affection without spoiling us in the process. My grandfather was a rugged, blue-collar worker who moved his family to Los Angeles in the late 1940s in search of a warmer climate and better opportunities for his children.
As their own children left home, they eventually settled into a two-story Craftsman bungalow in the Hollywood Hills, and my mom would often drive us grandchildren the four hours it took reach them. We could rely on a few predictable mainstays of our visits. Upon arrival, my grandpa would pull several tiny cans of Welch’s grape juice from the fridge door and hand us each our own. We would then head out to the redwood picnic table sitting on the red, faded, concrete patio. My favorite part of their sunny Southern California yard was the ceramic squirrel that seemed to be climbing a thick branch of their lemon tree.
My children are well familiar with the stories I tell of my “Grandpa B” taking me to ride the ponies at Griffith Park, an activity I assumed he would indulge every time I visited—until he didn’t. I don’t remember the details of why we skipped the pony rides that visit, but I do recall that moment as the birth of a valuable realization: my grandparents surely loved me, but they did not move heaven and earth to give me everything I wanted.
As grandparents, we do well to focus on building loving relationships with our grandchildren, and the best of relationships stand firmly on a foundation of respect and humility, which needs to go both ways. We can humbly serve our grandchildren in times of great need (for instance, reading at the bedside of a sick child, like the grandfather who lovingly does so for his grandson in the 1987 classic, The Princess Bride). But we should never try to buy their respect and love.
We have the privilege of doing lovely little relationship-building things with our grandchildren, but we are not obligated to do so. If at any time a grandchild thinks I owe them something, that’s a red flag to me that I have fallen prey to one of the problems that can lead to an attitude of entitlement.
- Have I been hoping they’ll love me more because I’m giving them what they want? Then it’s time to remind myself that God is the true giver of love and my identity.
- Have I been hoping they will feel better about themselves because I’m dropping everything to meet their demands? Then it’s time to remind them that their worth comes from God.
- Have I been unconsciously trying to smooth the path they are walking, standing in the place of God and attempting to fix everything they are going through? Then it’s time to remember who God says he is.
He loves our grandchildren more than we can ever ask for or imagine, and that’s a truth we can stand on through eternity.
Kendra Fletcher is a mother of 8, speaker, author, and podcaster. She is the author of Lost and Found: Losing Religion, Finding Grace, and Leaving Legalism, and she regularly writes for Key Life Ministries. The Fletchers reside in California, where they play in the Pacific Ocean as often as possible. Find her here: www.kendrafletcher.com
Photo Credit: ThinkstocStudioGrandQuestk/