Material Provision Is Inconsequential
It Can Be Destructive
I know you’ve heard it. The parent who groans in response to a wayward child, “I provided my child a roof over their head, a shirt on their back, a good school to attend and food to eat and this is how they repay me.”
This is usually a statement of defense, not grief. Wayward children reflect badly on parents. What better way to defend the failure than to point to all the material things provided as if providing materially is all one can or need do to raise happy, healthy, reliable kids.
It’s a way of shifting blame.
The fact is, parents do provide all those things for kids and many times kids aren’t grateful. Instead, they learn to expect more and then become demanding. They don’t want just a shirt. They want a particular style and specific brand.
Since they aren’t beggars, they assume the role of choosers.
This scenario could describe many first world economies, the ones that provide everything a person’s heart could desire. The parents are the conduits through which all material things are made available. The children do all the receiving and the one-way nature of the relationship changes little over time. The parents keep doling out. The kids keep consuming.
There is a reason this becomes chronic.
The parents gain credibility through the respectable jobs they land and the large checks they earn. The job is so demanding, however, they have little time left for family but they do have money – or credit – so that’s what the family gets.
Providing to excess actually becomes another notch in the belt of the bread winner so there is no motivation to change things but it does little for the self esteem of those on the receiving end. Providers keep receivers umbilically attached to material things so the kids never learn what it is to go without every want being satisfied immediately.
Not only does this approach create an addiction for material things and a dependency mindset, it’s also easy. No emotional currency is involved either way, parent-to-child or child-to-parent. Eat this, wear this, sleep here, drive this, spend this and stay out of my way. And on the other side: provide me, give me, feed me, protect me, coddle me and don’t stress me.
Those words aren’t spoken but they are understood.
Because money really can’t connect people at the heart level, no relationship develops, at least not inside the family. People in the home connect only with people outside the home and there is no guarantee the connections are wholesome. It may involve illegal substances or activities but a parent whose only provision is material would never know until it is too late.
Children are not relationally neutral. They need connection just like any other person. “Things” can’t fill that gap and the first and most significant connection should be with the parent. And there is good reason to think kids start out very open to this connection. Their first impression of Mom and Dad is only admiration.
I remember thinking that my Dad was the biggest person in the whole world. My initial perception was he could do anything. I also naturally believed he would be my leader, confidant, guide, protector, mentor and best friend in life. As a three year old I didn’t come up with those exact words but that was the sentiment. In my heart I felt it.
But kids also learn to take what they can get. If mentoring is needed and only money is offered, so be it. Thank you very much, may I have some more please.
Yes, children should be thankful for the material support they enjoy but gratitude isn’t automatic. Like every other important attitude it is taught and nurtured. And, no, I wouldn’t say that kids must pay for what they get – they really can’t afford to – but the old saying “earn your keep” does apply.
Here are a few tips for enabling your child to develop a grateful and contributional attitude. Yes, I said “contributional.” The ability to be truly thankful goes hand in hand with the ability to contribute. That idea stresses a valid point. If kids are to be thankful for what they have they must learn how to provide it in the first place.
- Keep them a little hungry.
An African gentlemen I was acquainted with ate a small breakfast and had nothing but water till supper on most days. I asked him if he got hungry and he said, “I drink water and after awhile the hunger goes away.” No, that isn’t a great nutritional plan to follow but he lived through it and developed good qualities too.
Kids go to bed hungry all the time and are motivated to do better because of it. Other kids eat plenty and are worse off for it. Allow your kids to go with a “little” less. Giving them food or money or entertainment just to keep them quiet teaches them to expect whatever they want whenever they want it with no effort on their part.
Not a smart strategy.
- Model the right language.
Say “Please” and “Thank You” often and teach your kids to do the same. Acknowledge the things for which you are thankful, especially when facing less than happy circumstances. Thankfulness isn’t a fair weather attitude.
Also, employ the language of finance constructively. “Save” is not a four letter word. Children should learn to associate a sense of gratitude with words like “budget” and “frugal.” They should become second nature.
- Practice the lifestyle
If your kids are constantly begging for the next great toy or even for something sweet to eat and you feel compelled to shell out the money you’re headed in the wrong direction. Your kids will never learn to live by a budget if their belly is in charge.
Give them a weekly or monthly allowance to cover these wants and let them learn to manage it. The exercise develops discipline and an appreciation for the value of money, the foundations of gratitude.
One parent started early by giving their five year old a supply of sweets for each week. They placed the sweets in a drawer to which the child had access. She could all the sweets at once, a little at a time or save it up for days. People are much more thankful for the things they wait for.
Another parent gave the kids enough monthly allowance to cover all clothing and entertainment expenses. It put a cap on how much could be spent and taught the kids to be frugal.
The next time your tempted to brag about how much you provide for your kids stop and think. What are they really learning from it? Are they learning to control their appetites? Are they developing a sense of the value of the things they have? Would you class them as savers or consumers?
If you want to be a good parent you’ll have to do more than pay utility bills, buy food and provide shirts.