Few things trigger me more than interacting with a child who has an entitled attitude. Why? Because I was one of them. I grew up in a traditional Mexican upper-middle-class family, with a stay-at-home mom and two maids who did all the housework so we didn’t have to. I never did my laundry, tidied my room, or set a table. Those things just happened!
When I was 18, my mom went back to school and decided that I needed to learn how to run a home. One night, my dad was coming home a bit later than usual, my mom had class, and the maids were gone, so I was tasked with re-heating my dad’s dinner. With the burner on high, I stirred the tomato sauce and thought, How will I know when it’s ready? It eventually burned and my dad had to eat charred tomato sauce on his pasta. I remember the feelings of shame and incompetence that washed over me as I watched him pick through the blackened bits on his plate.
The irony is that I ended up in hotel management school in Switzerland, which is like Practical Life boot camp for rich kids. Within weeks I went from not knowing how to boil water to cooking coq au vin; from not knowing how to make my bed to mastering hospital corners; from not knowing how to set a table to prepping a banquet room for 350 people. My teachers were kind, but they also had high expectations and only a few short months to prepare us for demanding industry internships.
After 12-hour shifts scrubbing pots and pans, I would drag myself to my dorm, body aching but self-confidence bolstered by what I had accomplished. During my three six-month internships, I sometimes cried in the bathroom after getting chewed out by the head chef, but then I’d wash my face, put on my apron, and continue plucking thousands of chicken feathers or slicing tray after tray of tomatoes.
The resilience, growth mindset and grit that define my adult personality were not developed in my posh private high school or in my comfortable childhood home. They came from three bone-crushing and character-building years of meaningful work, high expectations, and caring guidance.
Meaningful work. High expectations. Caring guidance. These are the three cornerstones for the development of true self-worth. They’re also inherent in the work children do in Montessori environments (both in school and at home). When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the experiences that will help them forge strength of character, develop autonomy, and lead fearless lives.
PS: About a decade ago, my father lost his business in one of Mexico’s financial crises, and my mom had to go into the workforce to support them. She works long hours and doesn’t have time to cook, so my father was forced to prepare the meals. He’s now a passionate home chef who pours over elaborate recipes and has found self-worth through cooking amazing meals. It’s never too late to transform your life through meaningful work.