Relating to adult children — 19 October 2009
Generosity sometimes leads to a sense of entitlement

There are many successful individuals who are financially generous toward others. They may give lavish gifts, treat their friends to fine dining, host great parties, pay for travel, hotels, food and accommodations for those they love. There are parents who extend themselves to their adult children in giving time, attention, and resources as part of sharing and caring.

Many recipients of the generous acts are grateful to those who are inclined to share their blessings with them. However, there are also those who get accustomed to being treated and may even feel entitled to the generosity of their parents, family members or friends. Those who do not have as much may consider it their right to have others’ well-earned assets regularly shared.

Some people develop an expectation that they will be included, invited and paid for on a steady diet and get indignant if the fruits of others’ labor do not continue to fall their way. “My uncle is rich, so he should let me take his boat out, or fly me to my desired destination for the holidays, or buy me a new car.”

Entitlement occurs not only about financial issues. Some adult children expect their parents to babysit the grandchildren and may become indignant if the elders are unavailable. “My parents are retired, so they should watch their grandchildren more often- they don’t really have anything to do- why would they refuse us sometimes?” Or, “I can’t understand why I suddenly have to call my sister before I come over, I have always been free to come anytime I want before she got married.”

The custom of regularly receiving may trigger greed and selfishness. Kaplan, in his article “Greed: A psychoanalytic Perspective” points out that greed is the selfish desire to acquire, without regard for the needs of others. It promotes a strong sense of self-justification and entitlement and may evolve into envy, jealousy and avarice.

Generous people often feel selfish when they need to set boundaries with those whose entitlement hinders their giving out of the kindness of their hearts. When it is expected, it is no longer a loving act, but a thankless obligation. This stance often leads the generous person to lose the joy of giving, feel taken advantage of and develop resentment toward the entitled ones.

When any relationship becomes very skewed, it loses the equality and mutual respect between the parties and breeds negative emotional sediment for both. Generosity without reciprocity fails both the giver and the receiver. Expectations of benefits without gratitude lead to severed connections.

If you are a giver:

• Remember that in always treating others you set up an uneven playground in which insecurity, greed and resentments may flourish.
• Set clear expectations how the receiver of your generosity can reciprocate in other ways. For example, “We would love to baby sit the grandchildren every Wednesday.” We would also love to get your help with some computer trouble we are having.” This balances the mutual contributions.
• Advise a person who always expect to be treated to an elegant dinner out, “We feel like Pizza tonight, can we be your guests this time?”
• Learn to say “No” when you feel used. “This trip is just for the senior and the youngest generation.”

If you are the receiver:

• Understand that the money is theirs and the sharing is a gracious gift – not an expectation.
• Be appreciative about the generosity and praise the giver every time.
• Abstain from expecting to be treated. You will be spared greed and entitlement and maintain an equal footing and healthy relationship with your hosts.
• Keep your self-esteem intact. You are as worthy as anyone who is wealthier or poorer than you are. Life is not fair and means and comfort do not grace the “more deserved”. Dignity does!

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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