National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Grated by Ingratitude


August 27-September 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/28/06 at 10:00 AM


I’m getting real tired of my 14-year-old daughter’s complaining attitude. It’s particularly frustrating because she doesn’t seem to realize how good she has it.

Are you complaining? A core rule of life — as it is rooted in human nature — is that people become less grateful the longer they have it better. What starts out as gratitude for good things becomes expectation for good things becomes demand for good things. Quite bluntly, it is tough for people, young or old, not to complain more as life improves.

Most parents believe we had it tougher as kids than do our kids.

By comparison, what are our kids going to tell their kids? “Five hundred and fifty channels — that’s all we had when I was a boy. You had to make your sister find the remotes for you. We only had nine of them. All of the power buttons were up at the top. You had to stretch your thumb to get that far power button. Sometimes you hurt stuff in your wrist. I remember one winter it go so bad that after my mother finished shoveling the driveway, she only made it halfway up the walk before she collapsed. I had to step over her with my hot chocolate, and I almost tripped. I should have sued her.”

In fact, most of our kids do have it better than most of us did — materially and leisurely, that is. So what’s a parent to do? A second core law of life: If you have less, you appreciate it more. Thus, let’s give your daughter less. Reassess what she has and what she has to do to earn stuff. Some basic starting points:

—  Anything electronic in her room — TV, computer, video games, refrigerator/freezer, six-line phone hook-up — consider removing, either to a more family space or out of the house altogether. Technology is great, but it can easily come to dominate a child’s idea of “the good life.”

     Give less allowance for more chores. The average kid probably earns about $16 per hour, given the big money they get for little work. Forge a much stronger link between money and cooperation. The cooperation must also be willing, not begrudging.

— Link social freedoms not only to maturity level, but also to cooperation. If your daughter wants to go to a friend’s birthday party, before you give a Yes, make her give a Yes to some chores, cleaning, schoolwork, etc. In essence, social freedom and material goodies are no longer entitlements that come with age and breathing; they are privileges that have to be earned first, then gotten.

— Pay close attention to ongoing attitude. If it doesn’t improve, that’s a sign you may need to further reassess what your daughter is getting for what she’s giving. It’s so very easy to think we’re pretty tight as parents when, in fact, a lot of looseness is flying underneath our radar.

Our culture is the wealthiest and most materially comfortable in the history of the world. Raising grateful kids takes a lot of effort. It doesn’t come as naturally as it would if getting more came harder.

For more of Ray Guarendi’s

wit and wisdom, visit