Self-Indulgence: Years ago, when I was a creative director in the ad biz, I wrote a headline for a luxury item which read: “For People Who Can’t Stand Self-Indulgence in Others, But Who Often Forgive in Themselves.”
I had in mind some of the people I knew who so imperiously wore a mantle of royalty and privilege and who would never deign to as much as ride on a city bus or step inside a J.C Penney’s Department Store. Stay at a Motel 6? “Ewww” they would sniff.
My youngest son is a good example of this kind of personality. Treating him to lunch not too long ago, he seemed oblivious of the B.L.T special that I was having for $5.99, and went straight for the trout almondine costing five times that.
He is of that class of people for whom the word entitlement definitely resonates. As do all my children. In fact, “entitlement” is a family tradition.
When out of control, it’s one of the quirkiest of human behaviors, and one of the most difficult to understand or deal with. And I don’t for a moment believe that I wasn’t tainted by the very same brush. Along with most of the people I know.
It’s only natural for people, Americans especially, to expect the best of everything. And why not? This is a country that offers the best of everything.
So shouldn’t our children expect the best? They’ve been following our example since birth. Some are called fussy, others are called selective. Lesser appellations include “selfish” and “self –centered” and “narcissistic.” All are accurate.
Like all good connoisseurs in training, they’ve been tutored to differentiate between the mundane and the grand. They’ve been dressed in the best apparel we could afford, fed excellent food because they had growing bodies, been sent to good schools, sometimes leaving us in near poverty.
Giving one’s child a sophomore year in Europe has meant a second or third mortgage and a steady diet of canned beans. Sacrifice for parents is huge in this arena.
To deny “your little princess” or “your special boy” (a very bad idea that causes untold grief), a parent may be left feeling wretched with guilt. The diatribe in one’s head will be arguing: How can I do this to my own flesh and blood?
If we, when young, had acted like many of the kids today, we would have been called “spoiled brats.” We might also have endured the humiliation of being taken over one’s knee. Today, therapists caution you to desist in such tactics, besides which, today’s children aren’t dumb. They know how to pick up the phone and call a lawyer.
I personally don’t believe in corporal punishment. Instead of spanking my kids, I gave them lines to write. I will not do this, I will not do that. This kept them in the house instead of being out with their friends.
Then, one day, they came to me with a proposition. “Instead of giving us lines,” they asked, “can you just beat us?”
Try as we might to steer our kids on the right path, we are up against something so huge, so overpowering, so out of our control, that we must eventually bow to it: The Media.
This vast machine is an omnipresent worldwide network that dominates the minds of youngsters, making them into material goods junkies and parents into material goods hostages.
Each and every day, the media claims young victims, those avid followers whose only focus is on what is trending right now. Hard to believe but everybody follows this course in some way or other. Even you. Haven’t you been thinking about getting a new car? And what about that vacation to Grand Canyon next summer?
Didn’t you tell yourself you deserve these things? That you worked hard for them?
The difference is that you did earn the money to make the purchases that make life more enjoyable. The erring entitled entity has no concept of earning a paycheck and will freeload as long as possible, never contributing a thing, not a smile or a thank you in return. Entitlement and self-indulgence are everywhere in the public eye. You don’t think Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip feel entitled? And what about rock star divas who have it written into their contracts that they must have red toilet paper in their dressing room bathrooms? Or movie stars who have decreed that anyone making eye contact with them on a film set will be looking instead at the long line at the unemployment office.
In ancient civilizations, anyone gazing upon a king or emperor might be blinded. Or beheaded. Or both.
Entitlement in a child starts with the seemingly innocent remarks we make in their developing years: “Oh, you don’t want to pick your clothes off the floor?” Let me do it for you.” And “You want that new i-phone? But, of course, my little darling angel sweetheart. Nobody deserves an i-phone more than you, ” And: “You’ll have a screaming fit and swallow your tongue if I don’t give you a convertible for graduation? What color would you like?”
While you may not fall for such ploys, beware of grandparents. They make powerful allies for the entitled child although a true “career” entitled child needs no allies to get what he or she wants.
My youngest son, at the age of nine, merely mimicked me by writing checks and forging my signature to get what he wanted. And what he wanted was drugs.
How he pulled off these capers was something that even a seasoned crook might not have thought of. He wrote notes. He wrote lots of notes. He would fabricate scenarios in which I was too busy or too sick or that I was called out of town, and would the nice teller give the note-bearer $200? 300? 500?
The amazing thing was that the nice bank teller didn’t think twice about handing over these sums.
You might think I would have been on the lookout for future thefts, but no. I was in a state of denial. My little son, even when he became my big, hulking son, couldn’t really have done this deed. It didn’t matter that I didn’t notice the abrupt cessation of bank statements. What became clear after a few years was that he had effectively wiped out his and his brother’s entire college fund.
Well, it could have been worse. He could have robbed the bank itself. A homeboy at heart, he honored us by very thoughtfully keeping all his misdemeanors in the family. On a trip to see relatives in Scotland one summer, he stole his grandfather’s prized stamp collection worth $9,000 and hocked it for $9.00.
Would his visibly upset grandfather like to call the police and prefer charges? I had asked. “Nooooo, I canny do,” his Edinburgh grandfather said. Back home, realizing that my son would stop at nothing to get the money to buy drugs, I finally had to do something about it. I preferred charges. My son was then fourteen and truly hooked on hard drugs.
A judge ordered him to be sent to a rehab for eighteen months. Just days after being released, he was back on drugs. C’est la vie.
If you think that this kind of situation was unique in my family, you have only to stop the nearest person on the street.
Ask the following question: Is there a young person in your family who is using drugs, staying out until all hours, stealing anything not nailed down, destroying the premises, and making his or her parents crazy?
Seems like there’s someone with this description in all families. Chances are the person you have chosen will tell you how the specter of entitlement, sparked by substances, has spiraled out of control creating bloody murder in home, the end result being the cessation of one’s home life as one once knew it.
Disassociation, sometimes for life, with a person’s most beloved family members often becomes a reality. The seriousness of the problem, and the inability to change what is happening, leaves claw marks on the lives of countless thousands each year.
For the entitled child, manipulator supreme, you will never be able to change the scenario. As Quentin Crisp, the author, once commented: “You can give and give and give and then when you are in your grave, you will think you didn’t give enough.”
Heartbreaking as it is, it’s the way it is. The sooner this fact penetrates and is accepted, the sooner a person can take back his or her life. However, It won’t be an overnight accomplishment.
You’ll be screamed at, cursed at, and barked at. It’s a classic scenario. You’ll be blamed and judged. The entitled party will tell you he or she didn’t want to be born into this lousy world in the first place, that it was all your idea.
Their nub of their message is that now you can damn well pay up and shut up! And something inside you agrees. But don’t give into it.
It is said in certain spiritual circles, that we choose our parents before we incarnate, and I can believe that, especially in regards to my youngest son. There he was, pre-born, way up there in the heavens, scanning the planet for just the right parent who would do everything for him, who would be like supple clay that he could mold.
Seeing me, he no doubt made a nosedive straight toward earth, yelling “HELLO SUCKERRRRRR” all the way down.
Then it all changed. I suddenly became a recovering parent. I let go of all that cloying, sickly, namby-pamby destructive crap in favor of doing something I hadn’t done in years: Live my own life.
It wasn’t easy–in fact, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the people I love most in the world–the ones I had to let go of.
But I knew that if I ever wanted to experience peace, love, happiness, and joy, I had to do it.
After all, I figured, I am entitled
Charles Rubin is the author of the international best-seller: Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You: A Guide for Parents of Drug and alcohol addicted Children. This book, written by the author to save his own life, has now helped thousands of parents do the same. Rubin, who is a regular media guest, lives in Sonoma County, CA. He’s working on a follow up to Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You. He also counsels parents–visit him on Facebook (Charles Rubin author).