By Erin Wyble Newcomb
Illustration: Anne Dwyer Internicola
Last fall my father had hip-replacement surgery, and all three generations of my family experienced a kind of role reversal. All of a sudden my parents, the ones who help my husband and me out with child
care, were in need of our support. My children rose to the occasion, picking up the house so Poppy wouldn’t trip and cheerfully accompanying him on trips to the physical therapist. It’s harder for my husband and me when my parents can’t ￼￼help, and it’s easy to start to feel entitled to that time, even though we’re not! My dad’s recovery is complete, but this story remains a touchstone for me because I believe it illustrates the antidotes for entitlement: community, thoughtfulness and gratitude.
It’s easy for all of us—children and adults alike—to feel entitled in a culture that idolizes consumerism. If we see our children always wanting more, it’s probably best to examine ourselves first to see if we’re putting things before people or character. I try to avoid that by emphasizing community for my family. That means we all pitch in around the house in ways that suit our ages and abilities; chores aren’t a punishment, and there’s no monetary incentive. We help each other because that’s what families do. When we visit our local library or the YMCA or my girls’ dance studio, we greet people politely when we arrive and say good-bye and thank-you when we leave. Sure, my kids are shy sometimes (as am I!), but social graces are a way of establishing connection with the people around us. And it shows my kids—I hope—that these people are important just for being who and where they are.
Thoughtfulness takes practice, and I try to make sure we practice it at home so that we can carry
it out into the community with us. It means not buying things for my children too often, but recruit-
ing their help (and the older one’s allowance funds) to make or purchase gifts for others. It also means looking for opportunities to help instead of to be helped, to serve instead of to be served; these are positions that fundamentally pull us out of ourselves and our desires. That’s a great thing! And it takes consistent effort for people of all ages.
But perhaps the strongest protection against entitlement is gratitude. If I stop and count my blessings, it’s hard for me to feel like I need or want anything more. And the thing about being thankful is that the more I practice, the more thankful I feel for every little gift. It’s about not taking a moment for granted, not expecting a loved one to always be there, and not knowing what tomorrow might bring. The world around us wants to keep us wanting more, always unfulfilled and ever-entitled. We can heal our families by appreciating the people around us, giving of ourselves and always remembering to be grateful for today. █