Bob Karp/Daily Record/AP Photo
Eighteen-year old Rachel Canning made headlines with the story, “New Jersey Honor Student Suing Parents for Tuition”. Apparently Rachel thought her parents offerings of private school, a new car, and a college education being conditional on the grounds that she respect their authority and contribute to the household by doing chores was both abusive and unhealthy, according to her attorney, Tanya Helfand. Her best friend’s parents agreed as they retained Helfand’s services and encouraged her to proceed with the lawsuit.
The fact that this lawsuit made headlines or ever happened at all is merely a symptom of the entitlement problem our society faces today. Depression-Era families would never have considered the possibility of being owed support without doing your part in the family because they just didn’t have the resources to live any other way. The individual character qualities and teamwork those hard times fostered have faded as this nation has prospered and as generations of parents have given our children more.
This suit begs the question, what exactly do we as parents owe our children? Legally, it depends upon your state of residence. Most states require parents to provide their children with shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and parental care and supervision. That includes the fact that we are responsible for ensuring our children are schooled up until the age of 18 or until they graduate from high school as long as they remain enrolled as a full-time student. The most obvious principal the law leaves out is the idea of transferring dependence on parents to being responsible for oneself.
Parents, and particularly mothers, enjoy showing our love to our children by serving them. This is necessary when they are small and unable to do for themselves. It begins to become a problem when they start to make demands and expect us to do for them what they are capable of doing. Lucky for me, my husband always reminds me not to do for them what they can do for themselves.
We encountered one such revolt last year in our home with laundry duties. I had been doing all of the family’s laundry while only requiring our daughters to fold and put away their portion. There came a point where I was greeted many school mornings with shouts of panic on “Where is my school sweatshirt?” or “Why aren’t my favorite khaki’s clean?” without mentioning that they only landed in the hamper last night before bed.
So I finally listened to my husband and decided it was time for a shift in responsibility. Each girl received a week’s training on sorting, washing, drying, and folding their own laundry. Excited to begin, each was eager to push the buttons on the machines and try it all out and seemed to get a great degree of satisfaction when their day’s wash was declared finished. Much to their dismay, however, more dirty laundry surfaced the next day. Now, they have learned to think ahead and fit in these jobs with their already busy schedules of school work and extra fun. Wouldn’t you know that I now get enthusiastic thanks when I pick up a load for them on a busy week? Why? Because they realize whose responsibility it actually is to begin with.
To come back to Rachel Canning’s case, her parents appear to be good and loving parents who require something of their daughter for all of the luxuries they are able to provide her with. Why is it that her friend’s parents allow her to file such a suit and even spot her the cash to retain a lawyer? The problem rests in the shift of our society toward an entitlement mentality that makes it the norm to give them everything they want and depriving them the satisfaction of earning things for themselves. In order for us to recover, we need to give them more.
The Bible says “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Let’s compare each of these parental responsibilities with Biblical training:
Legal responsibilities: Provide a roof over their heads.
Biblical training: Teaching them to care for a home for themselves one day.
Legal responsibilities: Food to eat.
Biblical training: Teaching them how to budget for, shop for, prepare, and eat nutritious meals for themselves and their own families.
Legal responsibilities: Adequate clothing for the weather.
Biblical training: Instruction on how to budget for, shop for, and care for appropriate clothing for any situation.
· Medical care.
Legal responsibilities: Insurance coverage and access to doctors or the timely enrollment in a plan available to children without access to traditional coverage.
Biblical training: Teaching and modeling healthy habits to ensure optimal health, like proper nutrition, exercise, and rest.
· Parental care and supervision.
Legal responsibilities: Watch children to keep them from harming themselves or others and make sure they are clean.
Biblical training: Provide an environment of consistency and discipline in which a child can safely grow and develop to their fullest potential.
Legal responsibilities: Send them to school.
Biblical training: Most importantly, teaching them how to know God by faith and grow in a relationship with him as they build Godly character in their dealings with others. Assume more responsibility for their education by interacting with them in their daily environment and within their interests to pique their curiosity and jumpstart learning.
So maybe Rachel Canning does deserve more than the new car and the college education. More is what all of our kids deserve; more responsibility, more training, and more expectation. This is our only hope for a shift from demands to gratitude, and we owe them that.