When I think about the qualities I want my children to have when they grow up, I would include several key ones on my list -- a sense of gratitude, a solid work ethic, a generous spirit, and a posture of open hands with their earthly possessions. But here's the catch, we don't accidentally raise kids with those qualities. It requires a whole lot of intention and consistency. And here's the other thing I've learned (the hard way) -- it all starts with how I model those desired values myself. What do my actions, and my purchases, and my attitudes say about my values? My kids are watching and learning their own priorities by watching mine.
Of course my hope is that I’m pointing them toward Christ. Because a life in Christ means we have our hope rooted in something that money can't buy. And to me, that means freedom! But in our culture of instant gratification and helicoptering, it’s easy to inadvertently lead them down a path of entitlement. Certainly we have the most loving intentions for our children. But I think sometimes we unintentionally reinforce their belief that the world revolves around them, simply by trying to offer them the best.
So what are some applicable ways that we can combat the entitlement mentality and lead our kids to a life of gratitude and work ethic? I thought I would share eight ways that my husband and I are being intentional about it in our home. Keep in mind these aren't executed perfectly. But they are done with a ton of grace, and with the knowledge that God is much better at parenting than I am.
1. Give Our Kids Opportunities for Meaningful Work
We do happen to believe in assigning age appropriate chores and allowance in our home. But besides those jobs, I love to think of real life tasks that our kids can do right alongside us that teach them they are capable of many things. My son loves to push the snow-blower after a blizzard. My daughter loves to assist me when I teach Sunday School. They both love to help me cook dinner. Find examples of meaningful work your kids can do in your home to make them feel like a valued contributor besides their usual chores.
2. Say "No" Often
Don't be afraid to tell your kids "No" or, "It's not in the budget" when they ask for something that is a want rather than a need. And make sure to explain the difference! I always have to remember that I am in charge of my family spending habits, not my kids. And I won't let them dictate that or wear me down until I cave in the Target aisle. Stay consistent and give yourself permission to say no often. Despite our instinct to delight our kids with good gifts, it's a huge disservice to give them everything they want
3. Let Them Feel Disappointment
As hard as it is, I need to stop jumping in to fix every mistake or problem my kids encounter. Instead, I'm trying to train them to problem solve and take on responsibility. It's a huge gift I can give them because it prepares them for real life. I let them experience buyer's remorse when they spend every penny of their birthday money. I have made them pay for a toy they have lost or broken. I have even made them wait a really long time for that special new toy they wanted. I find that my kids appreciate things so much more when they have to work and wait for them.
4. Model Wise Consumerism
My kids are watching what I buy, and then in turn, they are processing what their values are based on that. So what do we want our purchases to say about us? I really have to ask myself what I want my children to value in life and then make sure I am living out those patterns myself. This is an eye-opening process because I really struggle with loving my clothes and my iPhone a little too much.
5. Model Work Ethic And Facilitate Discussions On Money
Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about money! I weave this topic into everyday conversations. They need to understand how the world works and how we are choosing to engage in it. For example, Why does Daddy or Mommy go to this place called "Work" everyday for so many hours? How do we buy groceries? Why does the bank keep our money for us? And another fun way to discuss money is to tell your kids about all the humbling and tough jobs you had as a teenager. Share that with them. Help them understand how hard you've worked to get where you are today. Verbally explain how important hard work is and then show them what hard work looks like.
6. Teach Them That The World Is So Much Bigger Than They Can See
I regularly talk to my kids about poverty. I talk to them about how the rest of the world lives. Because the truth is, the way we live in our first world countries is not normal when compared to the rest of the planet. And then we talk about how our luxuries and privileges come with a responsibility to help others. A fantastic book to read with your kids is, Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel.
7. Give Our Kids Opportunities To Give Sacrificially
It's a wonderful thing to box up old toys and clothes and donate them to a shelter. But what if we gave our kids opportunities to give when it costs us something? The old cliche is true...it's better to give than to receive. And anyone who has experienced that feeling knows how powerfully heartwarming and contagious it really is. I love finding ways for my kids to experience that amazing feeling for themselves. So we try to ask ourselves: How can we give when it requires our time, resources or money?
8. Teach Our Kids To Know God As Our Provider
The world will tell us that wealth is what what will allow us to live the kind of life we want. But we have to fight against that, because it's a flat out lie. That pattern of thinking will lead our kids to a path of emptiness and disappointment. A reliance on God as our provider gives our kids a solid anchor of peace and hope. And it's not rooted in anything money can buy. If we root them in a mentality of contentment and reliance on the God of the Universe, then they live in freedom for the rest of their lives.
I really feel a team spirit with my fellow moms when it comes to this topic. Because we need each other when it comes to pushing back against the tide of our self-absorbed culture. Together, let's do this really hard foundational work right now, while we have attentive little hearts living in our homes. Let's model for our kids what it means to work hard, to be responsible, to live with the peace of Christ in our hearts, and to live out a gracious and grateful attitude. I really believe that the seeds of contentment we sow in their hearts now will have deeply influential fruit someday when they're navigating the world as adults.