Your Child Is Not Special… To Anyone Except You, Your Friends and Family

I know, I know. You’ve read the title, and you’re already ready to rip me a new one. But hear me out.
I know your child is loved. I know your child is special. But what I also know, is that this love and feeling of specialness does not extend beyond your inner circle. The same is true of my child.

I attended a seminar this week about generation differences. The speaker pointed out that Generation Y (ages 13 – 30 generally) is more of the “entitled” generation, because their parents spent their lives telling them that they were special “and they believed it.” Parents have taken away the work experiences – there are no paper routes, no lemonade stands, no one mowing the lawns, these kids were too busy with extra curricular activities to babysit. So these children, now some adults, don’t even learn to grow up until they show up on the job, and they need their bosses to teach them what in the past parents did. The speaker told the Baby Boomers to blame themselves for this; so the next time they’re complaining about the know-nothing “kid” straight out of law school, they need to remember that they created these monsters. I completely agree.
I don’t know what the mark of Generation Z will be, but I have a pretty good idea. As “special” as the Baby Boomers told Generation Y they were, many of us Generation Xers are guilty of being even more over the top. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I want to break the mold. Yes, I want my child to understand that she is special—to me, to Pop Culture Dad, to her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and to my friends. But is she special to the rest of the world? No. Should she be special to the rest of the world? Not automatically. Specialness is something that’s earned not given. You don’t earn the title of being “special” simply for doing the things you should do (“Oh! You showed up on time and did your work? How wonderful!!” Uh… no); you are special for being extraordinary. And if you aren’t making the effort or going that extra mile to stand out from the rest of the world, then you need to drop the expectation that the rest of the world will find you as special and wonderful and your family and close friends. And we, as parents, need to stop giving our children these unrealistic expectations and then thrusting these self-entitled brats with me-me-me attitudes on the rest of the world.

I have witnessed far too many kids and adults who walk around with an air of entitlement, because they have been told all their life that they are special and wonderful, and this statement was never qualified. Somehow, these “special” adults have gone throughout life without having the idea challenged – at least, they haven’t recognized that the idea was challenged. These are the people who think that if they don’t get something they want, either it was stolen from them or some sort of unfairness is at play. I don’t dispute that things can be “stolen” or that there is unfairness in the world (a lot of unfairness), but there are many people who think that every time something doesn’t go their way, there must have been foul play. Sorry to break it to you, but the culprit isn’t the world, it’s your ego. Somewhere along the way, someone should have told you (him, her, whoever), that you are not that special – to anyone except your family and your/their friends.

It starts with children. We tell our children from the very beginning that they can do no wrong. Everything they do is perfect and wonderful. There is no problem with this. The problem comes in when we don’t let our children know that while we may hold this opinion, as do Nana and Papa, Auntie Whoever, and Mommy’s best friend, that random person you meet along the way – that person who may at some point hold your academic or professional fate in their hands – does not feel that way. I have heard various stories where someone’s child doesn’t get an award or doesn’t get into their first-choice school, and this person’s immediate assumption – without any hard core proof is “Well, the person who got my child’s spot got it because s/he is a minority/woman/bribed someone.” This parent is part of the problem. Sorry, but the world doesn’t work to conspire against one person. Sometimes – and I know this is a tough pill to swallow – we don’t get things in life, because we just aren’t good enough or special enough.

“But, but, but. My child had a 3.9 and scored a 1580 on the SATs and took piano!”. So did thousands of other children. And, quite honestly, place yourself in the shoes of a college application review board. If you see 15,000 applications from absolutely identical applicants, and you only have 1,000 spots, are any of these children special to you, regardless of how special they are to their parents, grandparents, cousins, etc.? Of course not. But you know who may seem more special than your child? The kid with the 3.6 and 1400 on the SATs, who played a sport and volunteered in her community, who also didn’t have the funds to take the same Princeton Review that 13,000 of the 15,000 identical applicants took. Yes, you may think your child looks better on paper, but you’d likely be wrong. In any event, the specialness that you personally attribute to your offspring is not passed on to a college application review board, a boss, or anyone else in the world. Again, if one wants to be special to others, one must in fact be special.

I know there are some parents who disagree. There are parents who think that I am damaging my child’s psyche by not letting her make every single decision or sharing in the fantasy (nay, fallacy) that she is special to everyone in the world because she is to me. I don’t care. I want my children to be those kids who have learned a work ethic, who have learned how to earn respect rather than just expecting it. I want them to grow up learning over the years how to be responsible adults rather than learning it on the job at age 25. If people don’t agree, then fine. Raise your kids however you want. But for me, I don’t plan on being that parent 25 years from now lamenting over the fact that my child is bouncing from job to job because her “boss doesn’t get her” or “she doesn’t feel fulfilled” after only being there one month.

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  1. Enyo said...

    Brilliant. When I worked outside the home, I found myself in the position of having to teach these children how to be adults. They didn't have the work ethic at 22 that I I had at 16. And they found out for the first time that there are people who have expectations beyond showing up. Some found it difficult. Some thrived under the right supervisor who could teach them work ethic and inspire them to do their best. Others? Well, those people just failed. And I suspect they will fail at everything for their entire lives because they think all should be handed to them.

  2. Alli Johnson said...

    I COMPLETELY agree. I want to raise good people, that other people want to hire, marry, that contribute to the world and make it a better place. You are RIGHT on track with all of this.

  3. FunnyMum said...

    Love this post! I'd recommend it to my 30 year-old BIL (who only recently moved out "on his own", which means that his 90 year-old grandma is paying him $1200/month to live in an apartment and go to school part-time so that Precious doesn't have to juggle school/work at the same time), but something tells me he wouldn't get it. Neither would his mom or grandma.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Love this. Wish I could hand it out at open school night!

  5. otifrank said...

    You have made a wonderfully worded post on a sensitive subject these days. I have a daughter who despite my best efforts, sometimes displays this "entitlement" mentality that you mentioned. Don't get me wrong, I love her to death but, sometimes the things that come out of her mouth or the ways that she chooses to think about certain situations (work, personal responsibility, etc..)makes me wonder who the heck is this kid? Certainly not the one I'm trying to raise right. It's a real struggle as a Gen-X parent of a Gen-Y kid to make sure that we do everything we can to keep from hoisting another entitled know-it-all onto the unsuspecting world.

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