I want my kids to have a sense of entitlement. They are entitled, simply by virtue of existence:
* to be listened to by people who strive to understand and appreciate them on their level
* to be most greatly influenced by people who take the time to express differing perspectives in a way that can help them learn empathy and compassion as well as whatever else the person has to offer
* to speak out loud, and say whatever they feel is necessary without fearing that they’re “not worthy” or that their opinion isn’t valid or worse, that their truth will somehow bring harm to someone they love
* to trust that the people who care for them really have their best interests in mind
* to benefit from the material and nonmaterial wealth of the people whose lives they enrich, without being condemned or subject to constant judgment of whether or not it is “worth it” to have their needs met
* to see resourcefulness in action and learn by experience that the world is not filled with “paths to contention” but “paths of contention” meaning that you’re not really going anywhere if you haven’t learned the lessons of where you are.
Have you seen Mazlow’s heirarchy of needs? This is something I was exposed to in my first psychology class at Antelope Valley College in 1993 when I was going for a degree to be a teacher. I never finished that course of study, but the lessons have lasted a lifetime. Except for Mazlow’s heirarchy. In order to get myself into one of the biggest life lessons of my existence, I had to kind of forget a few things that are very basic human psychology.
Here’s a quick rundown of Mazlow’s heirarchy of needs. You will need to know this in order to follow the rest of my diatribe.
OK, first I’m going to start with a screenshot of the images that come up when you search for Maslow’s heirarchy:
It’s always represented with a pyramid or triangle shape and the idea is that at the top of this triangle is self-actualization. In English, it means “living up to your highest potential”
So your highest potential is at the top and at the bottom are your basic needs as a human (food, water, excretion, sex and sleep)
The heirarchy is worked like this:
If your lower level (Physiological) needs aren’t being met, then you CAN NOT move up to the next level. What’s on this mysterious next level?
The next level up is safety. The idea is that when your physiological needs are being met, you can experience the feeling of safety that comes from NOT being afraid your basic needs won’t be met. At this second level, a human is secure in the knowledge that they don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from, whether or not they will be beaten or yelled at, whether or not their belongings are secure. It’s at this stage that people can generally live by their own basic morals. For example… none of us would steal food from the grocery store, right? But what if your kids were starving? What if you were starving? Hopefully a strong family and community connection would mean that all you REALLY need to do is call someone and say “Hey, can I have a hand with dinner tonight?” Having received that call plenty of times, I can tell you without a doubt that the world is full of abundance and when you’re EMPOWERED with a sense of ENTITLEMENT to ask for help meeting your own human needs, you generally get it. Remember the story of Stone Soup? Pooling resources is a good thing, sharing with others is a good thing and when you love someone, you NEVER allow their physiological needs to be overlooked. Including yourself.
Asking for help does not reflect an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Asking for help does not reflect failure. But it feels like failure when you’re raised to value independence and self-sufficiency without a corresponding value of the joy of giving, or worse, a sense of guilt that says “You are receiving because I AM SACRIFICING, and not because I love you enough and want to share with you.”
In a happy place, when you are giving to someone you love, it feels good. Spoon-feeding little bits of avocado to a three month old feels sweet. Handing a turkey dinner to the woman in the soup line FEELS GOOD.
But in the opposing paradigm, the one where entitlement is a BAD thing, there’s a feeling of failure that comes along with asking for help. Where’s the balance in that? Where is compassion and empathy modeled in that paradigm? When it’s easier to ask total strangers for help than it is to ask your family, then you’re in a load of trouble, right? Or so I thought. I guess it depends on what sort of community you’ve created for yourself.
Asking for help is HARD and one reason I struggled with it for so many years is because I was taught to “speak when spoken to” and that my needs, as a child, were secondary to the needs of the adults in my life. Here are words I strive to NOT repeat to my children:
“I’m the adult, that’s why”
“Because you’re a child”
“When you get older you can do that”
“When you get older you will understand”
“Because I said so”
Soooooooo much to say on this topic, but let’s just move up that triangle, to see that after physiological needs and after safety there comes love/intimacy. This includes sex and friendship, both emotional intimacy and physical. According to the heirarchy, you won’t feel loved if your basic needs aren’t being met. Let’s Byron Katie that statement and say that you can’t participate honestly in an emotionally intimate relationship if you’re in an environment where there’s no sense of safety and physiological needs aren’t being met. Your underlying survival instinct will ALWAYS find a way to keep you alive.
Let’s move up that triangle one more level. After emotional and physical intimacy, there’s the level of self-esteem, where you are confident in your own abilities, you’re responsible and you have respect for others (and therefore they respect you)
Finally, at the top of the triangle is self-actualization which is the highest of morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, acceptance of facts and lack of prejudice.
My version is SO simplified and if it’s something you’re interested in, PLEASE read up because it’s really a neat way to look at things and also a very basic way of understanding why some people excel under less-than-desirable circumstances while others “fail” under perfect conditions.
Anyway- So the basic rundown of Maslow’s heirarchy, you CAN NOT be your best self if you don’t feel you have a place in your community, you can’t feel “at home” without intimate relationships, you can’t experience true intimacy when you’re not feeling safe. You can not feel safe when your basic needs aren’t being met.
Like any overarching theory or principle, there are voices out there that disagree with it, but as long as we’re using it as a tool instead of as a rule, then there’s no harm in it. Commit to the investigation, not the hypothesis. Especially when unraveling the mass of psychosis that managed to take hold in my family over the years.
Let’s get back to that sense of entitlement I want to instill in my kids:
You are entitled to run your own life. Your decisions are your own. Your mind is your own. You are entitled to believe every awesome thing about yourself that you discover. Even if you can’t prove it. Please don’t try to prove it, really. We believe it, too. You are entitled to dislike anyone who you choose. You are entitled to choose your surroundings and to learn from the world those lessons that further your cause on a daily basis.
It’s not WRONG for children to feel like they’re entitled to dignity and self-respect. Indeed, imagine the flipside. A world of kids who have no dignity or self-respect.
Every day I see echoes of this in discussions where people say “Kids today…” as if there’s some magical generational reason why kids would behave a certain way. As if the souls of these kids conspired before birth to treat their grown-ups rudely. As if every baby who passes another sends a secret signal “Let’s be rude” That makes no sense at all. Is it really so far fetched to see that perhaps the collective parenting consciousness is a little more responsible than the children themselves. I don’t know many children (or adults for that matter) who are conscious about their behavior because they’re just BEing. Is it possible that these kids, with their short answers, “snotty” statements, eye-rolling and “jaded” personalities could be <gasp> reflecting of the adults in their life, instead of existing in opposition.
I have a friend whose kids are angels except when she’s around. She blames it on me because “Whenever we come to your house they’re animals” but after discussing it with my kids and sharing our observations with one another, it’s become quite clear that whenever she comes here she’s a nervous wreck. So her kids buzz with the same frenetic energy that she’s putting out there. It’s sad to watch because she doesn’t see it. But I trust that she will. I’m not judging her journey any more than she’s judging mine because friends (and family) violate those basic security needs when they condemn one another like that.
There’s an excellent book that I bought a few years ago called “Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids” and if you haven’t read it, you really should.
Imagine a world where kids have no idea what “respect” looks like because the adults in their life haven’t SHOWN them. Imagine – a world where kids don’t TRUST their own inner voices
“I think I’m hungry” or “I’m scared”
because the adults in their life are so loud that they drown out that voice
“clean your plate” or “don’t be scared”
Kids aren’t born with any kind of inner sense that says “Your parents might have it all wrong” That develops later in the teen years and in our culture, it’s commonly known as “rebellion” but in a home where the parents are GIVING kids the respect it takes to navigate complicated social situations, it just looks like midnight conversations at the foot of the bed. Or late-night smoothies. Or a mom’s night out where you end up texting your daughter for 2 hours because she’s sharing something funny with you.
The point is, there’s nothing to “prove wrong” when you’re all respectful of each other. A person could drive themselves insane trying to “prove themselves” to people who accuse them of lies. Or… just continue living.
The righteous have nothing to fear.
As parents, it’s our job to make sure our kids’ needs are being met. We SHOULD be able to depend on our community, our family and the people close to us to help out with this. That’s what community is all about. There’s always room at the table for a few more.
But you can’t force someone to sit there.
No one is entitled to feel the joy of helping another when they go about it with a condemning sort of approach that denies the other of dignity and self-respect. That is NOT helpful. As independent Americans, we tend to agree that one way the US “works” is that we “allow” for different viewpoints. We don’t talk politics or religion in certain circles.
Anyone who thinks that their opinion is a universal truth will surely be made a fool of. There are no universal truths, except that actions speak louder than words.
Say what you want.
My kids, and I, are entitled to live our lives in peace. So are you. Please do so.