Do you ever feel like you’re raising UnGrateful children? I’m guessing that any parent can say ‘yes’ to that statement, because at some point in their lives, ALL children are ungrateful. Quite honestly, many adults can be, as well! But what I’m referring to is the child that cannot be sated. As soon as they have a need, they want it met, and if that need is not met in a specific way by a specific person at a specific time, then life as they know it is over.
I’ve noticed this intense reaction in my own children on more occasions that I care to count… sometimes, with my oldest, it’s almost daily. Spend time with me, play a game with me, do a craft with me, take me here, take me there, buy me this, buy me that…you don’t love me, you never do anything for me, you never get me anything…
The constant question of what we’re doing “next”, even after we’ve had a day full of fun events – the incessant need for what everyone else has, even if it’s something my child doesn’t want – the chronic desire to be entertained because they simply cannot keep themselves content – the tears of pity shed because they’re told ‘no’ for something outrageously priced or an item that they would never even use. Holidays, birthdays, family get togethers, play dates… they’re just never enough.
Whereas I recognize that this is a somewhat common event in the life of any parent, if you are parenting a child with trauma or attachment issues, I can bet my bottom dollar that you know exactly what I’m talking about. Here are a couple examples of how this plays out in my own home.
1) For Christmas, we bought the kids a stupid amount of toys. I’m not kidding, it was as if we’d lost our senses and decided that what they needed in order to feel secure was more “stuff”. After several hours of putting together a Barbie Dream House, my daughter, Taylor, now refuses to play with the toy unless I play with her. And upon getting the guitar that she begged us for, she has touched it a total of 3 times… all times were with my husband or I. None of her toys led her to be more independent or self-sufficient in the slightest.
2) My son, Cameron, was also given new Legos, a scooter, and tons of building toys for Christmas – which is exactly what he asked for. So, you can imagine my frustration when I constantly find his toys in the garbage can. When questioned, he says nonchalantly that he doesn’t like them anymore. Hundreds of dollars thrown down the drain for a few months use (some of which he didn’t even bother to use in the first place).
3) Taylor and I played board games for 2 hours last weekend. She got to pick the games and I was a good sport for 120 minutes. (120 minutes of Balloon Lagoon is equivalent to a 6-hour dental exam, by the way.) During this time, Wyatt, the not even 1-year-old, was able to keep himself entertained with his train set next to us. Yet, as soon as the final game ended, she asked what we were going to do next. And when I told her that I was going to get dinner started, she proceeded to act like an insolent child, pouting and whining that I never do anything with her.
4) Cameron had earned money for helping his grandmother with her spring cleaning. He then decided he wanted to use his money to buy toys at the second-hand store down the street. He knew exactly what he wanted and was obsessed with making the purchase. Several hours later, he was angry with his decision, frustrated that he is now penniless with something that he couldn’t stop talking about only hours before.
5) After 4 years of living in our home, my children, especially my daughter, will not smile or respond to any person who gives her a compliment, a piece of candy, a valentines card… nothing! Today alone, I had to prompt her 4 times in two hours to thank someone for doing or saying something nice to her. (Not that she smiled while she did it, even with the prompts!)
6) This morning, we took the children to an event at their school. They’d been pleading with us to go for days and we agreed that it would be something fun to do on a Saturday morning. Only once we got there, both children decided that it was “boring” and that they would take turns crying and pouting over the fact that we were wasting time doing something they had asked us to do with them. Never a thank you, never a smile.
7) Last week, Taylor threw a fit because Cameron had juice and she didn’t. It was a juice that she had tried the previous day and hated. She dumped the juice out and spent a large amount of time raving over its grossness. And yet, the following day, Cameron was given the juice because he likes it, yet Taylor was given water. She proceeded to tell me how unfair I am and that her father and I never do anything for her.
8) Grandparents and relatives have given my children “heirlooms” – toys that were theirs when they were small, significant articles of clothing, letters written specifically to them, even jewelry or tiny items that hold significance and meaning for the giver. Only, to my children, there is no significance – there is no meaning. Instead, I find these items broken, thrown out into the yard, torn up, or in the trash.
Often, it’s hard to see past the lack of gratitude. It’s hard to not become frustrated when they continually argue with each other over something small, but that they show no care at all for the important things in life. Growing up, our family didn’t have much money. Yet my brother and I, we played hard. We were creative, we laughed, we invented, and we made good use of all we had. So, when my kids act like dollar store items or thrift shop play clothes are beneath them, I take it a bit personally. When they demand my attention 24/7 and expect me to give them ALL of my undivided attention or else something in my house will end up broken, a tantrum will break out, or the older kids will fight one another like gladiators, I feel like I’m being blackmailed to spend time with my own children!
Are there any parents out there that can give me an ‘Amen’ to that? When your children are equally as crabby when they’re given everything they want as when they’re grounded for fighting, you know there’s something a bit “abnormal” going on! And that abnormality is, unfortunately, common in Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Children that didn’t get their initial needs met will strive to get any and all desires met from that point forward. Expectations will always be insurmountably high, making disappointment a certainty. However, wisdom tells us that material goods will never fill the holes in our hearts – money will never make us truly happy – all the toys in the world won’t fix an internal need.
I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and take away that inner struggle my children face. I would wave it daily… hourly, even. Because I know the feeling of unrest and discontentment. It leads to anxiety and hopes being dashed. It aids depression and feelings that life isn’t good enough. And that’s not what I want for any of my children.
I simply want for my older kids to be able to have half as much concentration as our toddler, for them to find joy in little things, for them to find peace and comfort in our moments together, without rushing ahead to look for something better.
But I do not hold such magic, just an understanding that their actions are a result of a bigger issue deep down. I hold the ability to not take personal offense when my children act like I don’t do enough, spend enough, give enough. I have the power to reaffirm them in the important ways, such as time, prayers, homework help, praise… and I hold the knowledge that this is not a quick fix. I recognize that children want all the things and they will always want. But with consistency, the proper perspective, a bit of patience, and a good amount of praying that I can meet that BIG internal need instead, I think they may just stand a chance at growing up Grateful.
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