Raising a Spoiled Generation?

Recently, I posted on my Facebook wall that we had finally made plans for our son’s 10-year-old trip.  Who knew that it would be so controversial?  I should know better, though.  Post something on Facebook and you’re bound to stir the pot even if it wasn’t your intention. 

The basic premise was, “Are we setting expectations too high for our children so that things become expected, rather than appreciated?” Before I answer that question, let me backtrack a bit, if I may.  And, hold up on the judgment.  You’ve gotta read this post the whole way through before you form any of those.  Pinky swear.

When the grandkids turned 21, my grandfather and his wife took each of us – individually – to Las Vegas.  “Twenty-one is a milestone age and I want to spend some time with you before you start living your life,” my grandfather was known to say.

Now that I’m 36, I understand a bit where he was coming from back then.  I turned 21 and began my senior year in college.  My boyfriend (now husband) had just proposed to me and we were planning a summer wedding.  We had graduate school applications and GRE testing on our minds, along with selecting the wedding party, reserving the church and reception hall and picking out tuxes and bridesmaid dresses.  Our life was just about to begin.  But for a few days, I was just a granddaughter.  Hanging with her really cool grandpa and Mimi Ollie.  In Vegas.

I know that my parents sent me with some money and I came back with more after a few lucky pulls on the slots.  I know that I wasn’t really looking forward to the drive all the way from the Texas panhandle to Nevada.  And, I know that I really, really missed my fiancé.

But what I remember is a whole other story.

I remember thinking, “Wow, is my grandpa going to drive the speed limit the entire way?”  Yep.  I remember arriving on the strip (the original one) and my grandpa telling me stories about the WWII soldiers camping out there before they set off on their missions.  He was a tail gunner in the war and his stories are always fascinating.

I remember losing my first, and only, hand at the black jack table and my grandpa reiterating, “Sometimes you gotta know when to fold ‘em.”  Yes, indeed.  A valuable life lesson in many areas of life, I later learned.  I remember being wide awake at 9pm when they called “lights out” in the hotel room.  And, after the 5:30am wake-up call the next morning, I remember that I only made that mistake one night.  I remember eating breakfast with my grandparents every morning and being thankful for the time together.

Could we have gone somewhere closer to home, spent a little less money and still called it a great memory?  Maybe.  But, it wasn’t really about the destination.  It was about the journey.  And trust me.  When you’re in a car for 24 hours over a four-day stretch, you’ve got plenty of journey.

When my husband and I first started planning our son’s 10-year-old trip, I was reminded of Vegas and its many life lessons.  We have what the secular world would consider a large family.  With five children under the age of 10, three of whom are enrolled in a Catholic school and a husband who works for a non-profit, we don’t have many “extras.”  We don’t eat out often.  The kids are allowed one extracurricular activity.  We don’t vacation in Europe.   As a matter of fact, most of our vacations are spent pretty close to home!  We send the kids outside often and tell them to “get creative.”  We don’t have credit card debt that can’t be paid off every month.  We have a mortgage.  We have one paid for car and one almost paid for car.  We live life intentionally, with purpose.

The 10-year-old trip only has two requirements:  1) you must travel on a plane to get to your destination and 2) you must choose only one parent to accompany you.  It’s likely that this will be the only trip our children ever take with us on an airplane.  We recognize that our children don’t get uninterrupted, one-on-one time with us all the time, and certainly not for days at a time.  We also recognize that at age 10 we are still somewhat cool and we pray that the door of opportunity to engage in meaningful, heartfelt conversations is opened and strengthened during our time together.   Our son will be entering middle school in two years.  He’s already lived more than half his life in our home. This trip is about spending precious time with a parent in a place that has significant meaning for that child.

Nothing about the way we live says “expected.”  Just ask my children to show you their chore charts!  So, there’s your Paul Harvey rest of the story.  I doubt any of our children will come home with a bag full of overpriced souvenirs.  Rather, I pray they come home with a full heart, love and respect for their mom or dad, thankfulness for their Creator and more sweet memories than any bag could ever hold.

Kathryn is still sorting through photographs and hearing stories about her recent 10-year-old’s trip to Washington, D.C.  There were a few souvenirs, lots of joy and a remarkable bond between father and son that returned home.  You can read more about her adventures with five children at Team Whitaker.



  1. says

    That sounds like a wonderful and definitely not spoiled tradition, I hope your son has wonderful time on his trip. My mom made sure that the year we turned the day of our birthday (for example, my birthday is on the 15th so when I turned 15) we got to do something special. So for my 15th birthday my mom and I spent a weekend in Maui, we were living on Oahu at the time so it wasn’t beyond extravagant, it was special, and a time I treasure with my mother. I can’t wait to be able to carry on the tradition.

  2. says

    I think it’s great you have that tradition! It sounds like a very memorable trip. Maybe others were giving you a hard time because they felt they had to offer the same to their families. I’m sure you don’t mean that at all! Every family has their own traditions. One size does not fit all! I hope the trip goes well! God B less You and your family!

  3. Claire says

    Great article, Kathryn! I’m sorry that your FB post sparked so much controversy . I think your approach makes a lot of sense.

  4. says

    My grandfather wanted to take each grandkid to LA when we were sixteen- only my older sister got to do it with him- but the rest of us had the trip with my grandmother and bachelor uncle- but the trip still seemed to have grandpa there.

    These kinds of trips are not making spoiled kids- they are very different than real day to day life…and I hope to do some special trips with my kids as well

  5. Elizabeth says

    It is about spending money on experiences, not things. Most of my fondest memories from childhood come from vacations, and we did not have many. The ones we had, we made them count. Great article!

  6. says

    That’s the problem with facebook and twitter .. you never get the whole story unless you link to a more in-depth article or document. Don’t get me wrong, I use all social media and I enjoy the connections that come from them. But I’m always careful to keep my feelings and judgments in check, unless I have done my homework! Anyone reading your post would be hard-pressed to see anything but the great value that this tradition has brought to your family. On a side note: Cars have always been a great place for conversation with my children. I’m a stickler for making my kids stay unplugged from their electronics when we’re driving—it’s been a parent/child communication goldmine. Thanks for sharing your great story! By the way, I’ve just found out about your site from a fellow blogger friend and I submitted my blog to the blogroll—even have my little photo/link installed … what a great connector you are! Thanks for that too.

  7. thomas tucker says

    Hey, no need to be sorry about controversy. There’s certainly nothing wrong with spirited discussion as long as it is cordial and respectful (not like the political shows these days.) And I gotta say, Kathryn, that your idea makes perfect sense. I love the explanation. Sometimes, the intent of our actions really makes all the difference in the world.

  8. says

    I don’t think thats spoiled at all. In fact, I think thats money well spent. I think the definition of a spoiled child is a five year old with an iPod or a ten year old with an iPhone or laptop. People spend so much money on their children and have very little to show for it except a house full of junk. I have told my husband that I want to take the money that we would use to go somewhere frivolous like Disneyland and go somewhere cool like Rome or London.

    • says

      I think that it’s too broad of a statement to say that if kids those ages have those things, then they are spoiled. Some of my kids have those things (and at earlier ages than you listed), but it’s only because they got hand-me-downs of those items when my husband or I got newer ones. Would seem silly to stick them away or sell them for next to nothing (since old technology doesn’t sell well) rather than just give them to our kids.

  9. says

    What a wonderful idea, to take a one on one trip with your child when they turn 10. We have not been able to do that but we did do a “white table cloth” restaurant meal with our children when they turn 8. The child gets to go out with one parent, and get the full upscale restaurant treatment.

  10. says

    Thanks everybody for your kind words and for sharing your other family traditions. How great! The comments inspired another blogpost :)

  11. says

    This is wonderful! We’ve often talked of doing this when they turn 13. I particularly like the plane trip idea. It seems you can buy a small island for the price of flying the entire family!

  12. says

    I love this idea and hope that someday we can afford to institute something like this. Our oldest is already 10, so maybe we can shoot for 12 😉

    My sister-in-law’s in-laws take each of their grandkids on the same kind of trip when they turn 12. Recently our 12 year old niece chose to come and visit US as her 12 year trip! It was so exciting for all my kids *and* her. What wonderful memories :)