“Life’s not fair!” is a phrase heard by every parent. Learning to survive is a skill acquired. As life sends you challenges you either survive or die.   As parents, we must constantly be on the look out to ensure our children don’t become the ones who believe they are entitled to rights, privileges and “stuff” without responsibility, hard work and stewardship. You can’t have the former without the latter.

The concept of “entitlement” has been debated for centuries. Is it learned? Or is it an innate sense tied to the need for survival? Entitlement has manifested itself throughout history from the rights of the first born to gain the father’s inheritance or title to those who received first spoils after hunting and fishing. I think of Jacob and Esau. One was the first-born and by birth was entitled to the inheritance. However, the other son took it from him. Those who possess special strength, abilities or skills have always received extraordinary attention. In recent history, musicians, athletes, singers, politicians, TV or movie stars have learned to expect more and demand even greater. In America, we have a culture in which many feel entitled to many things but they are unwilling to take responsibility for the work.

The expectation of getting things for free and doing nothing to earn them runs rampant in American society. I learned this lesson early.

I realized that I wasn’t going to have a family like other kids. My guardians didn’t coach my Little League team, serve as the team mom, or volunteer to be my scoutmaster. I didn’t get birthday cards or Christmas presents from my biological parents. These were things other children took for granted.

It was different being raised by guardians. My guardians cared so much. To me they seemed stricter than other parents. They believed in simplicity: very limited TV, no rock music, and I could never miss church under any circumstances. We were not consumed by materialism. We worked hard on the farm for food. Accumulating “stuff” wasn’t something we thought about. If it was’t a necessity, we didn’t buy it or receive it. Everyone in the family earned his or her keep.

“It’s not fair,” I mumbled under my breath. I soon learned, however, not to voice my displeasure. Sympathy would not be granted. When raised as simply as I was, it was easy to feel deprived or focus on what I didn’t have.  But in our family, whining or feeling sorry for myself was not permitted.

This simple life taught me a very valuable lesson, however. I learned the value of money and privileges. I learned to appreciate every gift, my paychecks and to plan for my future. I understood the connection between work, money, food and material things.

A child having a temper tantrum is not entitlement. That’s a stage of development. When a three-year-old whines, that’s not entitlement. Entitlement is when a teenager or adult rants because he or she is denied a promotion, a raise, a new car or a home gets tedious and tiresome to responsible adults. Or worse yet, when an adult chews out a server at a restaurant because an order was wrong. They come across as spoiled. Things didn’t go their way and they, of course, are entitled to it.

At times, any one of us could fall into this trap and pass the “entitlement” bug onto our children. I’ve been there and had to apologize to my wife, my children and others. When we  become aware of our unrealistic expectations, when we give up our sense of entitlement, that’s when we grow up. The reality is that nobody owes us anything. We may not “deserve” a promotion more than our coworkers. People make mistakes and we won’t always receive perfect service every where we go, every time we eat out. And owning an “iPad” is a privilege.

For some it takes years to learn this lesson but for others, it never happens; they never take responsibility for their individual lives. As Christian parents, we must teach our children that we are not necessarily “entitled” to certain things in life. Sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes our hard work earns us respect, money or power. Other times, hard work doesn’t turn out that way. Sometimes other people have things we want.

So when they ask for an expensive pair of shoes, the latest and greatest phone or gaming system or a $300 prom dress, consider what you are teaching them when you automatically get it for them. Even if it is a birthday or holiday gift, you want and need to help them learn that we don’t always get what we want. You don’t want your child growing up believing he or she is entitled to the privileges of life — a car, a home, an iPad, a new bike  — without hard work, without saving and without paying their dues. It is OK to tell them, “No.” It is OK to encourage them to save their own money for that expensive item rather than giving it to them.

The life lesson that all children, teens and adults must learn is that “life isn’t fair.” We must learn to deal with that cold, harsh reality. Just because we exist doesn’t entitle us to anything. In the words of the old Smith Barney commercial, “You earn it”.

Plant an act; reap a habit.
Plant a habit; reap a virtue or vice.
Plant a virtue or vice; reap character.
Plant character; reap a destiny.

Author unknown