Owen swam all morning with his buddies at our neighborhood pool today. It was the BEST day. Until he found out Molly is going to a birthday party tonight.
Suddenly, “this is the WORST DAY EVER.”
Back home, we had a heart-to-heart on his bedroom floor. “I NEVER get to do fun things!” he shouted. His eyes began tearing up at the perceived injustice of it all.
“Owen, you just spent the entire morning having fun at the pool.”
“But MOLLY is going to a PARTY. That IS NOT FAIR. She does ALL the fun things. I do NOTHING fun.”
I sat quietly for a moment, aware the words coming next were as much for me as for him.
“I bet if you took all this energy and spent it on being grateful for what you DO get to do, you wouldn’t have any left to waste on being angry about what someone else gets to do. You’re so worried about what Molly’s getting to do, you’ve already forgotten all the fun you had an hour ago.”
His face clouded with renewed anger. I bit my tongue and watched as he proceeded to furiously build a wall between us.
Not just emotionally. An actual wall of lego bins and books.
I burst out laughing. (This went over really well. Probably should’ve bit my tongue a little harder.) It was just so cute and ridiculous.
But then it was sad. He obviously knew I was still there, but he didn’t want to hear what I was saying. So he grabbed everything in reach to stack between us until he couldn’t see my face.
He would take even the illusion of shutting me out at that point, just to be left alone with his bitterness.
He’s actually still in his room as I write this. I left him to stay there and hopefully fall asleep. (And wake up miraculously delightful.) (Fingers crossed.)
How do we teach our kids to deal with life not being fair? Or not even that. Today wasn’t about FAIR. Owen thought it was, but fair wasn’t the issue. Today was about things not being the SAME. My friend Betty said she tries to not dwell on “fair,” but instead teaches her kids life’s not EVEN. That has really stuck with me.
Someone will always have something DIFFERENT. It may not actually be better – or better for ME – but I’ll convince myself it is and become ungrateful for the thing I already have.
Is it wrong for Owen to wish he could go to a birthday party? No, of course not. I don’t think that’s the problem.
The problem is when his desire (not a bad thing) couples with ENTITLEMENT (straight up poison). It’s this mindset: “I DESERVE what he/she has, and I’m not getting it! How dare you deny me this!” Then the heart grows bitter and ungrateful.
The antidote to bitterness is GRATITUDE. And as my pastor often says, “Gratitude begins where my sense of entitlement ends.”
Furiously putting up walls to insulate myself – from others or from God – only provides fertile ground for seeds of bitterness to take root and grow.
Keep the walls down. Celebrate the blessings others receive. (GENUINELY be happy for people – not passive-aggressive crappy-happy.) (You know what I’m talking about.) And remain actively, present-tense grateful for anything and everything you’ve got.
If you’re reading this, I think you woke up alive today, so there’s a start. Also, you can read. And you have a computer or a phone. There – I just gave you three freebies! Now take fifteen seconds and leave a comment about what else you’re grateful for!
Sometimes gratitude feels like hard work. But it’s the good kind of work.
As for ME, I need to go help my son take down a wall.