This is part 3 of a three-part series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
Picking up where I left off last week, here are a few final thoughts about guiding our children toward Godly contentment in a consumer culture…
squelch stupid comparisons
Somewhere around age 6, children become aware of the purchasing patterns of others. They begin to ask for things that their peers are wearing, playing with, or bringing in their lunchboxes. The child asks: “Can I have light-up sneakers like Lily has?” The parent hears: “Don’t you love me as much as Lily’s parents?”
It is difficult to say who wants to “fit in” more – the child or the parent. Christian parents must recognize that keeping up with the Joneses has no place in the life of the believer. We are called, rather, to live as aliens and strangers. This means our expenditures will not be targeted at fitting in.
When our son was twelve he asked for a cell phone. All his friends had one, he explained, and he felt left out because he was phoneless. We encouraged him to pay attention to that feeling of being different, to lean into it. We explained that the Christian life is marked by the tension of not-belonging, and that our spending choices would not be geared toward helping him feel accepted by others. The problem was not that he wanted a phone, but that he wanted a phone to find acceptance with his peers.
promote valid comparisons
Give your children tangible ways to learn the proper value of possessions. Rather than just talking to them about how much they have in comparison to others, show them. Sponsor a child in a third world country. Let your children contribute to his support and write him letters. Volunteer as a family at a food pantry so your children can see the faces of those who live in daily need. If possible, go on a mission trip together or send your kids on one through your church. Take a trip to the landfill or recycling plant so they can see how much we throw away. Don’t make it a guilt trip – let the evidence speak for itself.
Look for allies in Christian families of a similar income level who also spend with care. If you have like-minded friends who set similar spending limits, point your children toward their example when the charge is leveled that “we’re the only ones who don’t have x, y, or z”.
stall on them
As a general rule, try not to respond with a “yes” to a first-time request, particularly with young children. Take a “wait and see” approach. Requests made in the heat of the shopping moment rarely represent a child’s true desire to own something. Those that recur over a period of time are more likely genuine requests. Even if you can afford a purchase for your child, wait a couple of weeks. Let your child know the joy of waiting patiently and then receiving what she has waited for.
Let big purchases be “milestone purchases”. You can have an iPod when you turn 12. You can have a phone when you turn 14. Once the milestone expectation has been clearly set, all negotiations on the part of the child should cease. If they continue, simply ask the child, “When did we say that would happen?” Reward the correct answer with “You’re exactly right!” If the child persists, say “I have already answered that” and move on. Bear in mind that whatever milestone age and corresponding purchase you set will need to be repeatable for younger siblings.
understand a true “deal”
Just because something is affordable or a deal doesn’t mean it is a good purchase for your child. When we finally made the cell phone purchase for our son at what we deemed the age-appropriate time, we were faced with two options: add our son to our plan at virtually no extra cost, or let him foot the bill. We went with option 2. Matt got a pay-as-you-go phone that cost him a quarter every time he called or texted. Because he pays the bill he texts and calls very little, using his phone for needful communication instead of recreation. The price-tag is higher, but the pay-off is huge. We didn’t get a deal, but Matt learned a lesson in stewardship he would otherwise have missed. True “deals” are purchases that can teach as well as meet a need or want.
do a gut-check
Check your motive for wanting to give in to a request: is it fear or love? Fear purchases to avoid drama or rejection. Love purchases (or withholds a purchase) to bless. Fear tends to parent in the short-term (to get through the day, meal, or shopping trip). Love parents for the long-term (to get a child to functioning adulthood). Fear concerns itself with avoiding or encouraging a child’s outward behaviors. Love concerns itself with training and equipping the heart.
Don’t you wish I had stopped after the previous point? A parent who sets good spending habits and philosophies for her child but fails to exercise them for herself will likely learn the hard truth about actions speaking louder than words. Our children are watching us to see if our words and our actions are consistent. And for that matter, so is our Heavenly Father. Work hard to model Godly contentment for your children. Pray hard that God would teach you yourself to desire it above all possessions. In your example lies your child’s greatest hope for finding satisfaction beyond “stuff”.
And I--in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. Psalm 17:15